In the Company of Light

Beginning in Maine in late summer and ending on Cape Cod in February, IN THE COMPANY OF LIGHT is a collection of observations framed around the themes of migration, the passage of seasons, and the loss of habitat and species. Often lyric and elegiac, each of Hay’s thirteen essays begins with musings on a wondrous element of nature. Nearly all of the chapters end with epigrammatic passages that impart penetrating insights, poetically stated.

Although loss is one of the book’s persistent themes, Hay deftly avoids slipping into melancholy by sharing his life-long experiences as a watcher of nature. After eight decades of study, Hay still finds joy and discovery in observing herons, seals, foxes, flowers, and the sea and sky. Hay says of his bond with nature, “It is with the eyes of others that I see.”

Transformation is a key theme throughout the book. Hay’s exploration of the “worthless woodlot” at his Cape Cod home yields discoveries such as “foxfire,” the bioluminescence caused by certain fungi on decaying wood. It also causes him to contemplate a world obsessed with short-term profit and a solely utilitarian interest in the land.

In the “Source of the Brook,” one of the most compelling of his reminiscences, Hay returns to the New Hampshire hillside farm of his boyhood where he finds both the eternal beauty of wilderness and the disquieting encroachment of land development. Loss seems sadly inevitable in any clash between a “bloated industrial society” and nature. However, Hay emphasizes nature’s resilience and boundless capacity for regeneration. In the final chapter, his tone is hopeful as he watches the return of migrating shorebirds on a Cape Cod beach. Both the birds and the watchers are “immigrants who had come to a revitalized part of a local shore that extended around the world.”

IN THE COMPANY OF LIGHT offers no facile solutions for protecting nature but it is replete with moments of illumination for those willing to see the world through Hay’s aged but still perceptive eyes.