Altered State by Trudy Hale

It all started when a friend in California sent me three used paperbacks that someone donated to her sidewalk library. My friend and I hoped that my nephew who is stranded here during the pandemic without school or camp might pick up a book and read.

One of the books was The Prairie, by James Fenimore Cooper. I admit I had never been able to read past the first chapter in the author’s The Last of the Mohicans. It was a sweltering July day and I sat at my kitchen table, possibly waiting for a phone call. Why else would I start reading the introduction to a novel I had no interest in.

The introduction begins: “The geological formation of that portion of the American Union which lies between the Alleghenies and the Rocky Mountains has given rise to many ingenious theories . . . the whole immense region is a plain . . . there is much reason to believe that the territory, a large portion of the country west of the Mississippi lay formally under water . . . the broad belt of desert which is the scene of this tale.”

Why was I captivated? I had hated driving through Kansas fifteen years ago in a cross-country trip from California to Virginia. The dry flat lands stretching for miles. Even if I had known it had once been a sea, I don’t think I would have liked it any better. But now in 2020 I became transfixed by the nineteenth century description of the land. Ordinarily overwritten and hackneyed phrases like “majestic mysteries” would have turned me off. But on this particular afternoon I was mesmerized.

What was happening to me?

Photo of wheat fields
Kansas Summer Wheat and Storm Panorama by James Watkins. CC license.

The old-fashioned diction and syntax of a geological description had tripped my brain’s escape valve. The matter-of-fact nineteenth century storyteller’s voice setting the scene for Cooper’s last novel in the Leatherstocking Tales cast a spell over me. I experienced a wave of calm mixed with relief.

Over the past months I have been addicted to news, political discussions, rants, and laments.The act of reading a nineteenth century American novel’s preface triggered an unexplained altered state, a quasi-religious experience. And as in most highs, I wanted more. Like an addict, I spent the rest of the afternoon scouring my bookshelves, flipping to introductions and prefaces of nineteenth and early twentieth century works. Soon I learned that not all prefaces were created equal.

I moved from a surfeit of intros and prefaces to the European travel diaries of the past century. Andre Gide’s Travels in the Congo, a book I had never opened until that afternoon, captivated me. Gide writes, “July 21—third day of passage out. My state is one of inexpressible languor.”

“My state is one of inexpressible . . . ” there it is again, that language.
We are so many days out on this passage of politics and plague.

We find our antidotes where we can.


Trudy Hale
Trudy Hale is Streetlight Magazine‘s Editor-in-Chief. Born in Memphis, she lived a somewhat chaotic and semi-glamorous life in Hollywood, married to a director and raising their two children. She moved to Virginia and opened Porches Writing Retreat in Nelson County, a retreat that supports and encourages writers of all stripes, regardless of age or checkered past. You can find out more about her on www.porcheswritingretreat.com.

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3 thoughts on “Altered State by Trudy Hale”

  1. Wonderful! I have to tell you, I took a class while doing my undergrad degree in English that was entirely James Fenimore Cooper. I read his entire canon with a professor whose work centered on him. Last of the Mohicans was hard, but the professor’s passion floated us through. 🙂

  2. Hi Trudy,
    I loved your piece. It conveys a lot very succinctly. You reminded me of the love I have for the prose in the letters of our founding fathers. I have read a lot of popular history of the colonial and revolutionary period and the correspondence, speeches and documents are written in a very formal but eloquent and poetic style. These forms of expression are beautiful to read and very difficult to emulate today, which just shows the interdependence of language and culture. Best,
    E.H. (Ed) Jacobs

  3. I loved your blog and thanks for publishing this about altered state by Trudy Hale!! I am really happy to come across this exceptionally well written content. Thanks for sharing and look for more in future!! Keep doing this inspirational work and share with us.

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