What Hannah Coulter Did on the Sabbath

(Part III in a series that will last God-only-knows how long, about how fictional characters keep the Sabbath.)


Yes, it’s a Wendell Berry character again. Hannah Coulter, from the book by the same name.


After Hannah’s first husband, Virgil, dies in World War II, she marries a farmer, Nathan Coulter, who has recently returned from the war. She has a daughter from her first marriage, and then they have two sons together. On “bright Sundays of spring and fall,” they go out for picnics.


“We would make big preparations: food and fishing poles and a can of worms and plans. Would we see Indians? No Indians had been seen lately on Sand Ripple, but who could tell? Wild animals? Oh, we are not likely to see them, but they will see us. Can we build a fort? Oh, yes indeed, plenty of rocks for that. And we’ll cook outdoors like the settlers? Exactly. And we’re never coming home? Never.”


This is the most romantic view of Sundays I’ve ever read. It is a view of absolute escape. Just like her kids, Hannah is ready to drop everything and never come home. Never.


During these picnics, Hannah’s husband, Nathan, cuts the logs, and builds the fire, and then supervises the children while they fish. Hannah cooks the newly-caught fish and makes hoecakes.


Hannah summarizes their picnics:


“We ate and talked and rested and played. And then we gathered up our things and walked home again, with just enough daylight left to do the chores.”


Yes, the sabbath does end, and the chores are waiting for us as daylight fades.


But oh, to run away for just a few hours.