"Would you like to knit with me in the library during lunch?"
And so we did, setting up our projects on the table by a window, peering out now and then at the Hemlocks nodding in the late March breeze. (But not too often, as stitches have a nasty habit of skidding surreptitiously off my needles when I look away, even for a moment.) We stopped occasionally to sip coffee, or to talk about our other projects, or commiserate about our heart-breaking failures. (Like the sweater I need to rip apart because it "grew" and is now big enough for a family of three.) But mostly we just sat and plied the yarn over and under our needles. She was working on a beautiful lavender wool-cotton blend sweater, while I plugged away on a pair of lavender-yellow-pink socks. It was quiet as we worked (well, it is a library, after all) and very restful. I managed to finish 2 inches of the cuff on one sock. And I also managed to feel entirely relaxed as I packed up and walked back down the hall to my office.
Labyrinths. The very word conjures up thoughts of confusing pathways, frustrating dead ends, endless, twisting routes. Sometimes confused with mazes, labyrinths have no puzzles or trickery in their design; in fact, labyrinth walking is a tool for meditation and enlightenment, one which has come into and out of popularity since the days of the Roman Empire.
"The Labyrinth helps us focus on the rhythm of walking - it gives us a focus for our meditative thoughts," says Revered Jo Ann Drake, of the Church of the Redeemer. Walking into the labyrinth's center "symbolizes walking into the center of ourselves. Spend as much time in the center as you want to, then move back out into your life."
The church has a labyrinth on its front lawn which can be walked at any time, and Revered Drake says that walkers need not be meditating on religious topics. "Think about anything you wish."
A labyrinth can be used as a path of prayer, to seek the divine, regardless of the tradition in which one stands. The winding path leading to the center serves as a mirror to reflect the movement of the Spirit in our lives. The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. Walking the path with an open mind and an open heart touches our sorrows and releases our joys.
On Block Island, Barbara McDougall, owner of the Turning Point retreat, has created another outdoor walking labyrinth, this one with views of a duck pond and a lighthouse. The labyrinth is made of local stones, and MacDougall says that every New Year's Day it gets bigger when "people bring their prayers and wishes in the form of stones and put them in the labyrinth."
Mathewson Street church has a labyrinth modeled after Chartres Cathedral's famous labyrinth. It is on the church's fourth floor and is walked every Gallery Night from 5 to 8 pm as well as on occasional Saturdays and during the week before Easter.
If you find yourself so calmed by labyrinth walking that you want even easier access, build a labyrinth in your own backyard with sand and stones. Remove your shoes, clear your mind and become aware of your breathing. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go. Your pace will change throughout the walk. You may "pass" people or let others go around you. The center is a place where you may sit or stand as long as you wish. The path is two ways. Those entering will meet those coming out.
You may begin at any time, even while others are on the Labyrinth. Perhaps, you will encounter people who are moving in the opposite direction on the Labyrinth -- you may step aside to let others pass -- you may move quickly or slowly, passing others or being passed -- you may pause at any time. The most helpful directive is to walk at your own comfortable pace.
A labyrinth is a spiritual tool--a path of prayer--a walking meditation. Walking the labyrinth may bring a feeing of peace, uplift you, or may even bring a new awareness to some aspect of your life. We encourage you to utilize this simple, elegant tool for reflection, prayer and contemplation.
This meditative walk can be viewed as a three-step process.
I: Moving toward the center, walkers RELEASE cares and concerns that distract them.
II: In the center, they pause, perhaps for several minutes to receive clarity or ILLUMINATION.
III: On the way out walkers may perceive a sense of UNITY; bringing back to the world a renewed vision and a refreshed spirit.
Your experience of walking the labyrinth is very personal. Each walk is unique.
There are immortals, and then there are those of us who are nearly immortal, who live so long that our beginnings have faded from our memories, bleached away by ten thousand years of life on earth. I feel as though I have never been a child, as though I have been ancient since time began.
My companions, too, have been here forever with you, with the animals and plants, the rocks, the wind, the tides. We are the original magicians, the alchemists. We are the witches and wizards who collaborate with the elements, the forces of nature, to conjure, to dazzle, to bewitch.
I remember the day I realized that I was different from all the people in the valley where I lived. That night I left. I wandered the earth, searching for others like myself, slipping through villages and towns, a master of disguise. I bluffed my way through tribes of wild men. I shifted my shape into a bird and watched the world from high above. I drifted out over canyons. In my travels I began to hear of others like myself, of witches and wizards, of sorcerers who knew how to summon the forces of nature. I heard how one, with the wink of an eye, made rock run like water. I heard of another who, with a single word, could fill a room with light, or laughter, or blinding dust. And there was one who tapped her wand and made chestnuts rain from an empty blue sky.
And I slowly met them, one by one, and together we formed our clan. We shared what we knew of the world and of our unique powers, and we continued to look for others like us.
from "The Witches and Wizards of Oberin" by Suza Scalora
Books about the Women of Gees Bend and their Quilts
Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts
by John Beardsley, William Arnett, Paul Arnett, Jane Livingston, Alvia J. Wardlaw Tinwood Media
Beautifully illustrated with 350 color illustrations, 30 black-and-white illustrations, and charts, Gee’s Bend to Rehoboth is being·released in conjunction with a national exhibition tour including The Museum of Fine Art, Houston, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Quilts of Gee's Bend
by John Beardsley, William Arnett, Pauljane Arnett,
Jane Livingston, Alvia Wardlaw (Introduction), Peter Marzio
Beautifully illustrated with 110 color illustrations, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend includes a historical overview of the two hundred years of extraordinary quilt-making in this African-American community, its people, and their art-making tradition. This book is being·released in conjunction with a national exhibition tour including The Museum of Fine Art, Houston, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Art, Boston, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Milwaukee Art Museum, The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, The Mobile Museum of Art, and The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
In addition to "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" and "Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts" books, Tinwood Media has also produced a 28 minute documentary (also titled "The Quilts of Gee's Bend") and a two disc CD titled "How We Got Over: Sacred Songs of Gee's Bend" (spirituals and hymns performed by many of the quiltmakers). Together with the books, the video and the CD give a multi-faceted look at this unique American community and the stunning artwork they have created.
I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either. But love don't make things nice, it ruins everything, it breaks your heart, it makes things a mess. We're not here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts and love the wrong people and die!
I killed you. Haunt me then. Haunt your murderer. I know that ghosts have wandered on the Earth. Be with me always. Take any form. Drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life. I cannot die without my soul.
— Wuthering Heights
I love that you get cold when it's seventy-one degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're lookin' at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely. And it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
— When Harry Met Sally
Always together…eternally apart. As long as the sun rises and sets, as long as there is day and night, and for as long as they both shall live. You have stumbled onto a tragic story, Phillipe Gaston. And now, whether you like it or not, you are lost in it, with the rest of us.
I have vivid memories of my first journey to Haworth, beginning with the train journey up to Leeds, leaving Kings Cross in London early in the morning and then wending northward into Yorkshire. From there I had to take a bus into Keighley where a picturesque steam train sat huffing and puffing, waiting to take me onto the moors. I felt like a character in an old film as we literally chugged along the valley into Haworth, with great clouds of steam and soot billowing out behind us. "Keep the windows shut!" I was cautioned. (Those who didn't do as they were told emerged from the train in Keighley with black specks all over their clothes and faces.)
The Keighley Rail Station -- a tiny stone building surrounded by flower-filled window boxes -- was tucked in a green valley between two enormous hills. One led up to Haworth Brow and the house where I was staying while the other led up to the village of Haworth itself. Although to call it a village was an overstatement since it was comprised of little more than a church, a parsonage, a graveyard, a tiny schoolhouse, and a collection of shops on either side of one narrow cobbled road. But then, if one can shop, worship, be schooled and buried, what more is needed really?
I was eager to see the village but there would be time for that once I'd settled in. I started up the hill towards the Brow and now it was my turn to huff and puff! The incline was so steep they'd installed an iron railing along the pavement, which I used to pull myself along.
When I reached the Brow I turned and looked down on the patchwork valley of farmland that stretched out before me, on the rail tracks that vanished into the higher moorland, and on the Village tucked into the hill directly across the way. All the homes were grey, built of local stone, and spirals of smoke were coming from several chimneys. Even in summer, the West Yorkshire weather can be chilly and I'd been warned to bring shawls and sweaters and be prepared to use them.
My room overlooked the valley and my hosts - including their three-legged cat - made me feel at home, putting a piping hot supper before me as we chatted about what the next week would hold. "Rambling," I told them, was my chief intention.
I wandered along the Brow after supper, looking out over the surrounding countryside and gazing wistfully towards the forbidding heather-covered hills that stretched out in the distance. The locals called them "Top Withens" and I was eager to find my way there.
The following day I made my way over the Brow and down the hill (a much easier journey than my climb up the evening before!) and then I climbed the steep cobbled road to the village center. The shops were one treasure trove after another and by the time I'd made my way up one side and down the other, I found myself struggling homeward with a satchel full of sweets, books, wooden spoons, a stuffed owlet, all manner of pottery and soap, and wearing a new felt hat.
Once again I spent the evening with my new friends, enjoying another delicious home-cooked meal and then taking my nightly stroll down the Brow, plotting the next day's activities. As I sat in bed, writing letters home and scribbling in my journal, I decided that tomorrow I would tackle the 'Withins'.
The sky was overcast when I awoke but I wasn't going to be deterred. I gathered up a raincoat and a carry bag, slipped into a long skirt, a sweater and my leather hiking boots, and made my way back up into Haworth Village. Stopping briefly at a shop for a bag of ginger biscuits, I asked for directions to the Withens and was given a map of the area along with a brochure that I assumed offered a history of the village. Something to read once I'd arrived at my destination. I wandered down the lane towards the pastures behind the Parsonage. There was a sign on the cattle gate, reminding me to close it behind me and to stay on the beaten path that led over the meadow. (This is known as the Country Code, or more simply, leaving things as you find them.)
Soon I was out in open fields, with only a few stone farmhouses in the distance and the moorlands stretching out before me. The heather was in bloom, turning the landscape a soft purple. After a couple of miles I crossed a road and descended down a rocky slope that led to a copse of trees where a waterfall dripped over large stones into a narrow and easily crossed beck. It was much cooler there, like the interior of a small forest, and the greenery was a relief after miles of open countryside. A steep hillside rose above me and upon consulting the map I realized I had to climb to the top in order to continue on to the Withens.
The weather had grown warm enough to dispense with my raincoat, and the climb uphill left me quite breathless by the time I'd reached its crest. There was an abandoned stone farmhouse at the top, which on the map was called "Virginia." I smiled at this as I started off along the pathway -- if one could call the barely trodden ground a pathway -- clamoring over several stiles in the process, each one more terrifying than the last thanks to their proximity to the edge of the hillside and the sheer drop to the rocks and beck below. Heaving my coat and carry bag over the top of the worst of them, I climbed the ladder and made my way down the other side, glad that the pathway turned slightly and led me over more even ground and away from the hillside's edge.
Throughout the walk I was locked in a good natured battle of wits with the weather. For several hours there was only the uncanny sound of the wind, and the distant bleating of unseen sheep, coupled with a sense of utter isolation as I turned and saw nothing but moorland in every direction. And then, without warning, the sky blackened with swirling clouds and a pelting rain that stung my face and hands. But in the time it took to slip into my rain coat, the wind had pushed the sky clear and the sun was beaming again.
The remaining miles took me over heather-laden earth until I noticed a lone tree that seemed singularly out of place on the moorland. It was bent over to one side as if by the strongest of winds, and its branches were stretched out into the sky, like hands reaching out to something, or someone, unseen. As I walked nearer I could see that it was leaning over a low stone wall, as if to protect it, and I realized suddenly that I was looking at the foundations of a house. Much of the stonework was crumbling, although in some places the walls were still nearly a storey high. There was no longer a roof and the only inhabitants were several Swaledale sheep, chewing thoughtfully and watching me with a wary eye as I investigated their purloined grazing ground.
There was a stone bench near the ruins where I was happy to rest for a moment. As I pulled my journal out of the carry bag the brochure that the shop girl had pressed on me fell to the ground. I picked it up and read the title.
HOW TO STOP YOURSELF DYING ON THE MOORS
I perused its contents, realizing with some chagrin that I'd broken every possible rule for the nearly seven mile hike into this utterly desolate part of the West Yorkshire countryside: I was alone, I was wearing wrong shoes, I had no water and nothing sensible to eat, unless you count Ginger Biscuits as sensible.
With a sigh, I folded the brochure and peered at my surroundings, content and slightly astonished that I was really there.
Top Withins, I murmured to myself.
The wind had quieted and the enormity of the place came over me. I stood and walked through the ruins, running my fingers over the stonework, leaning to pick up a few sprigs of heather and pressing them into my notebook. After dreaming of it for so long, I was finally standing on the same haunted moorland that had immortalized a shy young author more than a century earlier.
Shifting my carry bag onto my shoulder I turned away and started the long walk back down the moors, stopping once to look back at all that remained of Wuthering Heights.
Alison Kraus and Union Station. Not just country. Not just Bluegrass. Something else. That same ‘something’ that struck me when I first heard the music from Cold Mountain and Songcatcher. Something basic, original, hearkening back to another time, an isolated time. The isolation that makes you unselfconscious about pouring your heart out.
And then lo and behold. I learn that Alison Kraus sang “My ain true love” on the Cold Mountain soundtrack. Well, I guess it all makes sense now.
She started playing fiddle at the age of five and her first album was released when she was 16. In addition to the songs she sang for Cold Mountain she also sang “What’ll I Do” for Mona Lisa Smile, three songs for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and performed on the soundtracks for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, and the award winning documentary Down From the Mountain.