The Earth is Enough

The Earth is Enough

"The Earth is Enough" is the most well-known novel by author, Harry Middleton.

It was published in March 1995 by the Pruett Publishing Company.

The book chronicles Middleton's young life growing up in the rural Ozark mountains.


Annie Dillard

This is a grand true story and its wonderful old men are classic American characters.

Ted Leeson

A haunting book, beautiful and funny and sad, written with enormous warmth and grace.

Fly Rod and Reel, July/October 1996

[H] is masterpiece, a haunted and haunting memoir of growing up in the Ozarks with two eccentric old men as guardians, both of whom are dedicated fly fishers. [H] e left a legacy that demonstrated both his awareness of mortality and his appreciation of how fishing could momentarily stay it.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 24, 1996

His warmly elegiac memoir shows that in the modern world, madness may be saner than sanity.

Kirkus Reviews

Poetically written, filled with neat anecdotes and salty reflections warm and wonderful.

Foreword to the novel

It was shortly after reading Harry Middleton's The Earth is Enough that I made the decision to give up trout fishing. Since fishing is one of the things my life has been largely about, perhaps this might indicate the vitality, resonance and power of this book. I discovered Middleton later than most, a function of my suspicion of all things new, especially books, and especially squared books of fiction or books with fishing in them. I was aware of this author, but put off reading him, a gesture not unlike circling a sleeping rattler for several years.

Now, thinking back, I don't recall exactly what moved me to try. Maybe it was the quotation at the book's beginning by Loren Eiseley, someone I profoundly love and respect. Middleton's own preface was good, too. So, I thought, one page couldn't hurt anything, what was I afraid of? A page it would be then. It was a good one that soon became two, then three, then a blurred rhythm of reading and turning, turning and reading. Everything was there as it should be, the timeless craft of the old, arm in arm with the freshness of a new vision draped around the fundamental constants of life, death, love, God and family.

This is a book about love for all things that matter. In this case, one of those things is a simple fish, brook trout to be specific, brook trout living in Starlight Creek which runs through a poor Ozark farm. It is a book about a boy, three men, and a dog; it is the story of youth and age, and of learning. Like A River Runs Through It, this tale is based on fact, shaped by fiction, and the grace of it comes from the seamless combination of the two. Unlike MacLean's book, which is inevitably ruled by an abiding Scottish sternness, Middleton's work is something of an organic loose cannon, the texture plush and full of real surprises. In common with A River Runs Through It, the elements of humanity, time and place are made rich and true and enervating through genuine passion. Middleton's passion is manifested through intelligence, sensitivity and compassion to create a profound ode to the earth and to mankind, governed by respect, gentleness and humor. At all the appropriate moments this story will make you weep convulsively, burst out laughing, and cause you to ache with longing. The sadness is that these qualities certainly contributed to the doom of their creator. Passion and soul, the dual sources of everything valuable and meaningful, are not very hot commodities in our largely puritanical, Calvinistic, money-driven republic. In a society like ours, layered with ennui, greed, aggressive ignorance, dispassionate, poor-quality living, all soaked in a gooey solution of snake-belly-grade voyeurism a la Oprah et al., the sensitive frequently don't make it.

Shortly after reading all of Middleton's books the first time around, I called Jim Pruett, publisher of this current edition (whose urging to read them in the first place I ignored) because I wanted badly to get off a congratulatory letter to Mr. Middleton and I needed his address. Too late, Jim said, he just died. I'm only going to whine for a minute because, as Jim Harrison is fond of advising whiners, Go tell it to Anne Frank. To which I might add Dylan Thomas, or Rilke, or Calvin Kentfield, or Ray Carver, or Richard Hugo, or Don Carpenter, or Richard Brautigan, etc., etc. Self-pity won't get you a packet of ketchup at the cheapest restaurant on earth. But it still hurts to know that Harry Middleton rode the back of a garbage truck every night during the wee hours to put groceries on his family's table. All too frequently, in addition to endless money problems, many artists have difficult personalities and/or drinking problems, three omnipresent occupational speed bumps, any or all of which can be fatal.

At the end of this beautiful book, a young Harry Middleton takes a break from school to go back and visit the place where the story takes place. Standing on the hillside in the rain, he reflects:

All three men were there . . . . They were of the earth, totally, completely. I stood in the rain for a long time, just looking and trying not to think at all, for I had no wish to make judgments, nor to seek answers, nor harvest messages. It was only important that I had come one last time to this place, a boy's sanctuary. His solace. His home.

How dull the stones looked in the rain against the black-browed hills, the dark sky. Only here in these mountains, here with these old men, amid the creek, the trout, the natural world, had I ever ceased to feel alone. I recalled those winter nights on the roof of the farmhouse when we waited for the geese to come overhead and I'd felt like a giant nautilus adrift in a boundless sea. Yet how contented had I felt, even in that reverie, for all I was, all I would be, was inexorably with me there in my chambered shell. Albert, Emerson, Norwell, Elias Wonder, the wildness of the mountains, all of it was with me, and the weight of it all, my time here, set my course, marked my way. So it was still; so it would always be. "-Russell Chatham Livingston, Montana 1995"

From the Back Cover

It is the year 1965, a year rife with change in the world--an in the life of a boy whose tragic loss of innocence leads him to the healing landscape of the Ozarks. Haunted by indescribable longing, twelve-year old Harry is turned over to two enigmatic guardians, men as old as the hills they farm and as elusive and beautiful as the trout they fish for--with religious devotion. Seeking strength and purpose from life, Harry learns from his uncle, grandfather, and their crazy Sioux neighbor, Elias Wonder, that the very pulse of life beats from within the deep constancy of the earth, and from one's devotion to it. Amidst the rhythm of an ancient cadence, Harry discovers his home: a farm, a forest, a mountain stream, and the eye of a trout rising.


From "The Earth Is Enough : Growing Up in a World of Fly Fishing, Trout, & Old Men" by Harry Middleton, Russell Chatham. Copyright © 1996. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I am along the banks of Snowbird Creek, not far from Sassafras Falls and Burntrock Ridge. Snowbird Creek is on the eastern flank of the Great Smoky Mountains and is full of wild trout, not people, which is why I am here. I enjoy trout. They are never disappointing company. They like the things I like--clean mountain streams, swift- moving water, wilderness. There's not much of it left.

Just a few minutes ago I let a fine brook trout go. The gorgeous and tenacious little brookies are the only native trout of these mountains. Spooky as a blind horse. Suspicious, intolerant, elusive, malingering. Fine, noble qualities. I am sitting on a massive slab of gray stone lodged near the creek's edge and enjoying the morning's rich silence. Another benefit of seeking out mountain streams and trout. The brook trout I released has disappeared into the creek's deeper waters. It slipped from my hand like a shadow moving across flat stones. Sunlight refracts off the water in layers as distinct as the strata deposited in stone. Yet the light is fluid, moving easily over the creak's surface, changing endlessly as it falls upon the side of the ridge, in the deep woods, on the galleries of stone.

Layers of light and wild trout and these mountains. Enough to fill a moan's mornings, you'd think, and yet here I sit on this warm chunk of ancient rock thinking of that last little knot of umbilicus that is my navel. I worry about it from time to time, worry that the knot won't hold. I feel as if I'm leaking. I wouldn't be surprised. A dyspeptic German doctor tied the knot. A nurse handed me to him with giant forceps. He was still upset that Germany hadn't fared better during the war and there I was, another American. Who's to say he didn't tie a quick slipknot? My mother was fast asleep, heavily and happily sedated, after I popped out in the back of a U.S. Army ambulance. In those days there was nothing either natural or chic or glamorous about childbirth.

Many years later I had to go before an American judge. This is what he asked me: Do you want to be an American citizen? He had to ask, I had to answer. After all, I had come into the world on foreign soil. My country had to be certain of my loyalty.

Just another right of passage, another of childhood's puzzling and uncertain moments. American writers are mesmerized by childhood, the quizzical journey from innocence to adulthood. What a journey it is, too: precarious and wonderful; frightening and alluring; delightful and tragic. Not one journey, but many, and every one of them different. I am told that money and privilege sometimes make for a smoother passage. I would not know. I only know about being a soldier's son: the military life and the unexpected fortunes such a life brings. Luck has a lot to do with it, and I was lucky in that my luck went sour early and put me on another road altogether, a road that took me deep into the mountains, a road that led to a trout stream and into the curious and captivating lives of three old men who, by having so little, laid claim to having everything that mattered, was worthwhile, and would last. When my friend Norwell, who was just thirteen, found a grenade in a clear, cool stream deep in an Okinawan jungle valley, and pulled the pin, my journey began. The long trip home. It continues still.

Have I told the whole story of my time with Emerson and Albert and the lunatic Elias Wonder? Hardly. This is but one slice of it, a single beginning. There were others. As for endings, there are none, no final ones anyway.

This is a boy's story. Just that. It harbors no messages, no great quest. There are more questions to it than answers. Just one boy's story of growing up: my story, my memories. All mine and remembered as I want to remember them. (from the Preface)

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