Here I confess, Gretchen Legler is a favorite of mine. I have come to her work fairly recently, and I find in her words a model for my own work, a kindred spirit. I don’t take this word – spirit – lightly. Spiritual writing, as I believe “Moments of Being” to be, is often conflated with religious writing, and certainly it can have a religious focus. But generally any writing that invites us to think of ourselves as a small part of a larger world can be said to be spiritual. A lot of spiritual writing has a nature focus, though it certainly doesn’t have to; you can write a spiritual essay set in New York, or a diner, or your own apartment.
One thing to take from this essay is Legler’s use of structure. First, note how she divides the essay into five sections, set off by Roman numerals. This has an episodic effect, and allows her to focus on one aspect of her experience in Antarctica at a time. It also allows us as breaks in between to consider her words before shifting gears, adding to the spiritual effect. In this case, each section stands alone. In the first she gives us an overview, and context for her stay; in the second section, she takes us on a walk, and maps us through the place as she walks, while also reflecting on her own ideas, often in conversation with Thoreau; in the third, she writes poetically about wind; in the fourth, about Antarctica’s color and light; and in the fifth section, she brings it full circle, weaving together many of the elements from the first four sections. Notice that she begins as she ends – lying on her back, looking up and reflecting on the world around her. This synergy is used as a framing device, bring the essay to a close.
I also want to draw your attention to the first two paragraphs, as they illustrate a common technique used in travel writing. She begins in scene, giving us a very specific moment that places us in the cave with her. Then, in the second paragraph, she gives us context – the where, what, when and who elements. Also notice how carefully she maps us through the essay, never leaving us confused as to where we are. She even introduces us to the people along the way. By the end, we feel as if we ourselves have been to Antarctica.
What are your thoughts about this essay? Please comment below about your thoughts of this as a spiritual essay, what that means to you, what structural elements you see her using and/or your general impressions of the piece.