The Blue Caterpillar and Other Essays (Hardcover)

By Samuel F. Pickering

University Press of Florida, 9780813014821, 229pp.

Publication Date: March 31, 1997



From "The Blue Caterpillar"
"Sixty-seven girls and one adult danced in "Alice." Eliza was the Queen of Hearts, and I was the Blue Caterpillar. I was excited. Never had I been in a ballet. Fifty-two years is a long time to be a chrysalis, and I was eager to split the pupal shell, pump up my wings, and flutter through an auditorium."

From a review of "Trespassing "
"Reading Pickering . . . is like taking a walk with your oldest, wittiest friend."--"Smithsonian
"Each of these pieces begins with a small, highly personal observation, and from there Pickering (often quite literally) 'takes a walk' . . . exploring the natural world, the world of family and friends, and--most vividly--the world of ideas. Always, of course, that Pickering voice is at the center . . . witty, self-deprecating, funny, clear-eyed, no nonsense, and distinctly his."--Jay Parini, Middlebury College

"Readers will finish Pickering's book. They will do so in a sitting."--Richard Brantley, University of Florida

Movie-goers know him as the inspiration for the lead role in "Dead Poets' Society" (as played by Robin Williams), but thousands of devoted readers also know Sam Pickering for the wit, keen insight, and lively prose style exhibited here and in seven previous volumes of familiar essays.
In the title piece, Pickering is the Blue Caterpillar, a role he is asked to play in his daughter's elementary school production of "Alice in Wonderland," a role which strikes Pickering--and will strike his readers--as wonderfully appropriate. Funny and moving, these essays seem born of the murky inkling a caterpillar must have that things are changing; it is to the changes, especially the small ones, that Pickering attends.
Language changes, ideas of family change, Republicans change, the South changes. In "There Have Been Changes," Pickering remarks that "domestic change is cyclical and wifely." In other essays his two sons suddenly seem distant, and his daughter acquires a new talent at summer camp: "becoming the best mooner in the cabin." Pets--tadpoles and salamanders, dogs, hamsters, kittens, and a baby squirrel--join and take their leave of the Pickering household. In "Down" his wife decides (very much against his wishes) to pierce her ears. Fifteen hundred miles away, an uncle grows old and needs caretaking. Pickering himself grows older. And of course, the seasons change.
Pickering's chrysalis harbors a true naturalist. Seeing and describing the world around him as if for the first time, he watches for "emblems of a decent life, a slow life in which little things matter: pets, wildflowers beneath mountain ridges, friends in wheelchairs, family and community, those soft, dancing dodos and bumblebees over whom everybody should watch, and watch carefully." Pickering watches carefully, writes engagingly, and in the process teaches us that the world is always new.

Sam Pickering is the author of seven books of essays, including "Still Life, Let it Ride, Walkabout Year, "and "Trespassing." Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, educated at Sewanee, Cambridge, and Princeton, Pickering teaches literature at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.