Spring 2006

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Willa Cather and the Toad

By Carol Steinhagen, Professor, Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio Willa Cather's bones lie in this New Hampshire cemetery, sleeping a heavy Puritan sleep below the hill where the meeting house steeple pierces a watchful sky. Jaffrey Center's white houses are silent, their 24-paned windows revealing nothing. They stand, tree-graced, ignorant of the prairie's tall grass and sod huts, of the broken world beyond the stone fences. She made this corner under a maple her own, left a small space for her faithful Edith to join her after 25 years. And now, another quarter century gone, there is also Mr Toad Died Aug 7, 2005 ran over by car memorialized ungrammatically on a piece of cardboard. He comes here like the earth-owls, wild ducks, and snakes come to Cather's characters, to attach her to the earth. In one of her last public pictures Cather's face seemed all bone, her large square jaw having sloughed off most of the flesh she'd carried for more than 70 years. She looked pure, essential, ready to sink into something complete and great. Now she is there: beyond East and West, wood and sod, among earth-owls, wild ducks, snakes and toads. Image of
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