I am only now, at almost thirty-three years of age, cracking open The Wind in the Willows for the first time. Three pages in, and I am struck by this perfect description of a river in spring, and the joy of one tiny creature along its banks.
"He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before - this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver - glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea."
There's more life in that one paragraph of a so-called children's story than in many whole books I've read. Already the spirit of the book is one of wonder. Wonder. The half-forgotten, curious naivety of bare legs in green grass, of uncomplicated delight in some new and little discovery, that fragile reality the world seems bent on snuffing out. I want to catch it where I can, hold it out to my children as the finest of fairy feasts, preserve and protect it.
Here is an ally. Here is a kindred spirit.