“The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has a blue vigor to it, and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills and the woods a fresh deep blue. In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water… Up in this high air, you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.

Waking up Thursday morning about 4:30, the sky just getting light, the air was the coolest it gets all night in the high desert and there was the smell of dry grass with the dew on it coming from the foothills. And I breathed the grass smell and rolled over (no, not even I can think of long literary passages at 4:30 in the morning). But later I thought of this perfect and heartbreaking passage from Out of Africa. (Notice the change of tense in the third sentence–writing this years after leaving Africa, she gets so caught up in her description she forgets it’s past.)

I’d forgotten how much I love this book (sorry, Dad, I think I took your copy). The first seven pages are, I think, the most brilliant beginning of any book, ever. Well, maybe Anna Karenina ties in brilliance. But that’s pretty brilliant.