In her third book of essays, Kathy Bradley continues to ask important questions about humanity, community, and stewardship. Writing from the family farm where she has lived for almost forty years, she has long looked for answers to those questions in her interactions with the natural world B the change of seasons, the wildlife that shares the land, the sky and its occupants B, interactions that provide a framework for making sense of uncertainty and obscurity. In Sifting Artifacts, however, she discovers a new lens through which to look at the world and herself.
An unexpected visit to a doctor's office introduces Bradley to the metaphor around which her questions begin hovering and in which these essays find their theme, a metaphor that causes her to examine what it means to be a writer. “I have spent much of my life searching,” she writes in the introduction, “mostly for the right words, but also for the right time, the right choice, the right person. It is because I have understood without ever saying, ever articulating, ever being able to articulate that just happens. It happens and it leaves something behind, like a trace element. And what is left behind is never gone.”
Bradley invites the reader to accompany her on that search as she moves chronologically toward the understanding that, as she is told by a friend, “It is not simply what you find. It is what you find out."
In her second book of essays, Kathy Bradley continues her examination of the natural world as a prism through which to understand the human experience. With her family farm in the coastal plains of South Georgia serving as the anchor, Bradley uses her observations of animal life, agriculture, and the seasons to create what others have called parables, but what she calls “a map key or decoder ring” for some of the dilemmas of twenty-first-century life.
Bradley shares the story of how, through wandering, she came to know the land that became her home and how that knowledge worked as ransom to gain her release from societal expectations. “Like numbness beginning to thaw,” she writes, “I felt the pinpricks of pain. I rambled with no purpose beyond looking in
order to see, listening so that I might hear.”
The chronological stories, four years’ worth of tales that began life as newspaper columns, are inhabited by wild and unpredictable animals, civilized and unpredictable people, moons and cornfields, tides and floods and droughts—
each described in sensory detail, each a metaphor rich in meaning. Bradley invites readers along on her wanderings in order that they might find their own meaning in the recounting of commonplace events and the lives of ordinary people.
Along the way, Bradley decides to build a labyrinth at the farm, a decision that brings a new perspective to her exploration of the world. “The deliberate and contemplative act of walking an actual labyrinth, the physical movements that I ... imagined would mesh body and spirit and leave me enlightened, the slow and purposeful wandering toward a literal center and back out again has become, instead, a slow and purposeful wondering.”
Breathing and Walking Around is not a memoir. It is a record of four years’ worth of observations of common people, everyday events, and the natural world made by Kathy Bradley from her home in the coastal plains of South Georgia. A lawyer by training, a storyteller by nature, she shares with precision and layer upon layer of sensory image simple tales that emerge, in the end, as parables.
Beginning at Sandhill, the house she built on her family farm, Bradley takes the reader with her as she walks miles of dirt roads with the dogs Lily and Tamar, alert to the details of rural living – the movement of the seasons, the nearness and unpredictability of wildlife, the sights and sounds otherwise drowned out by 21st century living. The meandering continues down the Atlantic beaches, the shorelines of inland lakes, backroads and interstates, and we are at her shoulder as she, like a paleontologist, uncovers joy in the magic and mystery of the familiar and the brand-new.
But Breathing and Walking Around is a true story and, so, along with the joy there are moments of questioning and uncertainty, moments when doubt challenges faith. It is in these moments, when Bradley struggles to bring order to her own life, that she most clearly articulates the universal truths that weave through all our stories, ribbons of continuity and hope. Breathing and Walking Around began life as newspaper columns, each dated entry independent and viable on its own, unconnected to any other. Only upon preparation for publication was it clear that they told one story.
And that that story was a part of the one big story that includes us all.
Q&A with Kathy Bradley, author of SIFTING ARTIFACTS
Mercer University Press
"In her latest book, Sifting Artifacts, Kathy Bradley explores the meaning of life and relationships through an anthology of essays. During her life, Bradley has been a lawyer and newspaper columnist, and she uses her deep familiarity with the Coastal Georgia countryside to communicate her insights into everyday life. In this interview, Bradley discusses why she became a writer, how writing works in her life, and her hopes for readers of Sifting Artifacts."