In the Wilderness

Leithen looked round the wide circle of landscape – the huge drab Mackenzie two miles broad, to the east and south interminable wastes of scrub spruce, to the west a chain of tawny mountains, stained red in parts with iron, and fantastically sculptured.

‘Do you never feel crushed by this vastness?’ he asked. ‘This country is out-size.’

‘No,’ was the answer, ‘for I live in a little world. I am always busy among little things. I skin a moose, or build a boat, or hammer a house together, or treat a patient, or cobble my boots or patch my coat – all little things. And then I have the offices of the Church, in a blessedly small space, for our chapel is a midget.’

‘But outside all that,’ said Leithen, ‘you have an empty world and an empty sky.’

‘Not empty,’ said Father Duplessis, smiling, ‘for it is filled with God. I cannot say, like Pascal, “le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.” There is no silence here, for when I straighten my back and go out of doors the world is full of voices. When I was in my Picardy country there were little fields like a parterre, and crowded roads. There, indeed, I knew loneliness – but not here, where man is nothing and God is all.’

– Excerpt from Sick Heart River by John Buchan


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