Before the sun rose over the fallow field across from our home this morning, I picked up the book I’ve been reading since last June, back when the days were longer and darkness was just a brief period before bedtime. It’s not like me to take so long on one book. And it’s not like I haven’t read dozens of books in the meantime: novels, nonfiction, poetry, how-to. But with this book of essays, it hasn’t been the normal speed-read to the end. I pick it up in the summer mornings. I read one essay or part of one essay in the early darkness of late autumn evenings. I put it down after a quick read at lunch, the sky gray even though it is mid-day. The seasons change, the days lengthen and shorten, and over and over for the past nine months I read from this one book.

I bought the book, Earth Works, when I heard the author, Scott Russell Sanders, speak at a library event in a suburban community near the city where I lived at the time. A friend and I scarfed down dinner and drove through rush-hour traffic to sit among a sparse crowd of senior citizens. Obviously the community didn’t know who had come to visit.

Remembering that evening–the readings, the question and answer session, the visit with the author afterward–I feel the exhilaration again. Sanders, who has written fiction, memoir, even children’s picture books, will always be first and foremost an essayist to me. I first met Sanders at a Wendell Berry reading at Indiana University, where Sanders taught literature for more than three decades. But I came to know him in his essays, in his weighing out of life’s mysteries paragraph by paragraph. His literary give-and-take helped solidify my own love of the form, and I am hard-pressed to write an essay without turning my thoughts to Sanders.