24 December 2012

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign. 

19 December 2012

Christmas musings

"Three things in human life are important:
the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." 
—Henry James (1843-1916)

Mr. James's sentiments have never seemed more timely to me than during this season. If only there were more kindness in the world. For the truly charitable soul, kindness is second nature.  For the merely pragmatic, it simply takes less energy to be kind than being mean-spirited.  Surely Mr. Scrooge added age lines and shaved years off his life being so miserly and uncaring. And his step must have seemed far lighter the moment he performed his first act of kindness after waking from such terrible dreams.

Here, in my cottage, the holly and ivy is in place, seasonal music floats on the air, films reflecting miracles, changes of heart, and how wonderful our lives truly are play in the background, and the tree glimmers in the darkness by the hearth. But the wand that spreads true magic over this sparkling tableau, indeed the highlight of every Christmas, is being with my family.  It happens the moment I step into their warmth, see their faces, hear their laughter as they talk over one another, and smell the food so lovingly tendered to us by my mother's hands. Like a static diorama come to life, the garlands seem more lush and colorful, the music more heavenly, the films and their cautionary tales more moving, and the garnished tree a living symbol of every Christmas that came before

It makes sense to me that family should be at the heart of it. It began with a small family, after all, this thing we call Christmas and spend an inordinate amount of energy celebrating with our pocketbooks.  A little family with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Destined to be homeless on what was perhaps the most important night of their lives but for the kindness of a complete stranger.

Which brings me back to Mr. James. 

"Three things in human life are important:
the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." 

There are acts of kindness captured and imprinted on our collective hearts every day if we only pay them heedFor every man who chooses to photograph a person trapped on a subway rail rather than offering him his hand, there is a police officer who bends down to help an unshod homeless man.  For every child whose rage propels him to destroys 20 lives, there is a teacher willing to risk her own life to save as many children as she can. For every looter ravaging vulnerable homes aftera storm, there is a man or woman who uses that energy to bring food, light and hope to those in need.

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world
in a conspiracy of love.” 
Hamilton Wright Mabie


  Things will be quiet here at the Cottage for the next week or so.... 

 Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


17 December 2012

Broken hearted

Artist: Fridolin Leiber

 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted...


10 December 2012

Decking the halls

This week I hope to purchase a Christmas tree. With luck it will be upright, lighted and strewn with treasured decorations and beloved family baubles by Sunday evening. 

The bears in the little den upstairs will be journeying downstairs to sit by the tree in their rocking chair while the tiger next to the hearth will be getting his annual crown of Holly. And a cradle full of dolls will be set up in the parlor.   (There has been much excitement about these developments, if one is to believe even half the gossip one hears upstairs in the night....)

Christmas music boxes will get a random twist each time I brush past, and carols from Kings College Cambridge will be wafting throughout the cottage, in counterpoint with Bing Crosby, Andy Williams and Perry Como. 

I've already watched a few of my favorite Christmas films:  A Christmas Carol (in one of its numerous iterations), Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas with the Kranks, and It's a Wonderful Life. And there will no doubt be many more to come over the next few weeks, ranging from the sublime (versions of A Christmas Carol featuring Patric Stewart, George C. Scott, Alistair Sim, and the Muppets) to the ridiculous (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation), not to mention the beloved cartoons featuring Frosty, Rudoph, the Grinch, and Charlie Brown.

My favorite and well-worn Christmas books are stacked on the old leather suitcase in the parlor: The Night Before Christmas, several editions of A Christmas Carol, various issues of Christmas Ideals, and a favorite copy of A Child's Christmas in Wales with beautiful woodcut illustrations.

My supply of powdered cocoa has been shored up, in anticipation of nightly cups by the fire. Holly, ivy, and spruce greens will be clipped and brought indoors to be placed in pitchers and vases here and there. The guest room will be the nerve center ("Command Central") of my Christmas Present gathering, while the dining room table will routinely be cleared for wrapping and packaging.

The pecans, almonds, white and dark chocolate, brandies and liqueurs, brown sugar, molasses, golden syrup, currants, and sultanas have been purchased little by little over the past month or so, in anticipation of the cookies, fudge, truffles, pralines, and steamed puddings I'll be baking.  (I have walnuts on lay-a-way, and should be able to release them into my custody pending a 2nd mortgage being approved.  Apparently they are dipped in gold after being harvested by elves since there can be no other possible reason for their exorbitant price.)

The cards will be brought down from the attic soon and I will pick a quiet Sunday afternoon to sit and go through them, choosing just the right one for each person before writing messages of peace and harmony and good wishes to loved ones.

It's not easy to hold fast to the magic of Christmas in small ways, while all around you it seems frenetic commercialism scrawls its Surrender Dorothy warnings overhead. But it's important to make the time to wander through the neighborhood on foot at night to gaze at all the light displays, or to enjoy quiet evenings by the fire with hot cider, or to feel the warm wool take shape in your hands as another sock or hat materializes and goes into the present box. 

One Christmas was so much like another...  that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. 

Perhaps I'm inordinately naive, but I genuinely believe we have as much time as we need or wish for, and this is never more true than at Christmas.  It all comes down to refining our choices and selecting those that are important to us and make us truly happy. For me the list is a long but fairly simple one: holly, cocoa, re-reading favorite Christmas stories, baking, knitting, candlight, Carols, and seeing my Christmas tree glimmer in a darkened parlor.  If I don't make time for this then I've truly missed the point.

A Child's Christmas in Wales. (Wood engraving by F. Eichenberg)

07 December 2012

Favorite Thing No. 91

Ever since I was a child I have loved book plates.
I loved the sense of ownership it lent a book.

 My first book plates, purchased by my mother,
still appear in books I received as a child,
my name written in her careful hand
on the scroll beneath the ship's port-hole.

As a teenager I began a life-long love affair
with Antioch Book Plates.
This one—a tree's roots entwined around a book—
was one of the first ones I bought myself.
My name is in a rounded signature that I barely recognize today.
This was followed, in my twenties, by a plate 
that brought reading nooks in English cottages to mind,
and my writing grew more similar to what it would become as an adult.
The book plates of my thirties bore images of a library
that I hoped to replicate in my own home one day.
By now my name was in a hand I recognize:
artistic, almost draughtsman-like, and yes, slightly illegible.

As I grew older I discovered an evocative silhouette
that reminded me of the tree I would sit in as a child.
It was comforting to remember being buried in my favorite book,
surrounded by the scent of lilacs from a nearby hedgerow.

In my dotage, I have reverted back to book plates that are fit for a child,
of anthropomorphic creatures drinking tea in their bathrobes
whilst reading by a fire.

And so the wheel turns.
But at the heart of it are the book plates I've loved
and the possessiveness I feel
when I hold one of my books in my hands.

03 December 2012

'Tis the season

Time seems to have been slipping past quickly these past few weeks but I refuse to let it carry me along on waves of panic or make me feel frantic. Where's the pleasure in that?

I'm a somewhat unhurried and reflective person on the best of days.  (Alright... pokey is a more apt description.)  My mantra, no matter the time of year is, "What gets done gets done."  And I've learned that if I allow myself to get too caught up in preparations for Christmas I miss the beauty of the season entirely.

And so I'm doing what I can to stay at peace and enjoy each day.  It is still Autumn, after all, despite all the artificial snow and sleighbells one sees nearly everywhere. The gardens and pavement are full of jubilant jewel tones—ruby red rose hips, amber andromeda, and sable brown seed heads—and today we are relishing unexpectedly mild weather with a damp earthy scent in the air.  Short-lived, no doubt, but welcome after several very chilly nights.

We had a steady but very light snowfall throughout much of Saturday, filled with "rainy snowflakes" (or perhaps they were "snowy raindrops") drifting downward from leaden skies and coating the trees and shrubberies and roofs like confectionery sugar.  There was a fire on the hearth and scones and tea on the table and a sense of winter stealthily making its way to us until we are entirely consumed with the efforts to stay warm and dry.

But not today.  Today is positively balmy and Christmas couldn't seem further away despite my having turned the calendar to December two days ago. I have been quietly knitting, reading, writing, pondering things, tidying the house, and slowly going through boxes and sacks of presents I've been putting aside all year to see what there is.  Something invariably turns up that I'd entirely forgotten about.

No doubt my own plodding progress towards Bethlehem this year will be as measured and perhaps even as tardy as the Three Kings. Like them, I will have gifts for loved ones—humble tokens of how grateful I am for their presence in my life.  And as Christmas draws near, I will try to remember what is truly important.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give Him -- give my heart.
      —Christina Rosetti

21 November 2012


The Autumn hills are golden at the top,
And rounded as a poet's silver rhyme;
The mellow days are ruby ripe, that drop
One after one into the lap of time.

Dead leaves are reddening in the woodland copse,
And forest boughs a fading glory wear;
No breath of wind stirs in their hazy tops,
Silence and peace are brooding everywhere.

The long day of the year is almost done,
And nature in the sunset musing stands,
Gray-robed, and violet-hooded like a nun,
Looking abroad o'er yellow harvest lands:

O'er tents of orchard boughs, and purple vines
With scarlet flecked, flung like broad banners out
Along the field paths where slow-pacing lines
Of meek-eyed kine obey the herdboy's shout;

Where the tired ploughman his dun oxen turns,
Unyoked, afield, mid dewy grass to stray,
While over all the village church spire burns-
A shaft of flame in the last beams of day.

Empty and folded are her busy hands;
Her corn and wine and oil are safely stored,
As in the twilight of the year she stands,
And with her gladness seems to thank the Lord.

Thus let us rest awhile from toil and care,
In the sweet sabbath of this autumn calm,
And lift our hearts to heaven in grateful prayer,
And sing with nature our thanksgiving psalm.

Kate Seymour Maclean

15 November 2012

The land of Cotton inches northward

Last year I planted a number of cotton seeds in several pots.  They all germinated over the summer months, although none grew enough to put forth any flowers.

I attempted to winter them over indoors, and the plants were doing quite well until December when two of the four inexplicably gave up the ghost.  I watched over the remaining two—like Florence Nightingale fussing over patients hanging by a thread—and was heartsick when the third plant perished.  With fingers cross't, I somehow managed to nurse the fourth plant through the rest of the winter and by late spring was able to put it outside again.

Over this past summer, it grew tall and hardy, but still no flowers.  In anticipation of an imminent frost, I brought it indoors last month, checking on it daily to make sure it was surviving the transition.  Lo and behold! a few of the leaves had formed a wee tent around a nub or 'candle'.

Slowly, over the course of a week or so, the creamy white-green petals of a flower
emerged from its protective tent of leaves.
 And then slowly, slowly, it began to unfurl
until little by little you could see inside...

...and it opened entirely.

 (After several days, to my great surprise, it began to close again
and while doing so it turned a beautiful shade of rosey pink.)

With luck, the flower will dry and change over time....

... until this is happens.

The evolution of a cotton plant, from nub to flower to cotton boll,
is truly a miraculous thing to witness. 
(Especially if you happen to live in Zone 6 New England!?)
I managed to grow cotton twice in the past
and have the soft, lamb-like cotton balls as a reminder.
I'm hoping this will be my third success.

[Images are from the Cotton Growers Association and agricultural departments in Texas and North Carolina]

09 November 2012

Favorite Thing No. 181

With temperatures near or below freezing every night this week
there is no contest as to my favorite thing:

My new L.L. Bean Ultrasoft Flannel Sheet Set 
in a pretty rose ticking stripe.
(It was an early Christmas gift from a kind friend
when the Nor'Easter hit on Sunday.)

Of course the next six days are supposed to be in the 50s and 60s.

As the old adage goes:
"If you don't like the weather in New England... wait a minute."

Get comfy and warm at Claudia's Favorite Thing Party

05 November 2012

Harnessing All That Energy

Late Friday evening I was thinking about all the marathoners roaming the streets of Manhattan. Some had spent a lot of money to travel to NYC and made many sacrifices of time and training. And yet as sorry as I felt for them, I understood completely that despite the loss of income for the city, and the runners' own bitter disappointment, cancelling the Marathon was the right thing to do.

And then within moments I saw a video flash across the television screen: people in the hardest hit burroughs, still without food, water, or heat.  Volunteers stretched to their limits despite trying to get to everyone who needed their assistance.  And as I watched those who were suffering, I thought about those marathoners—so healthy, so full of stamina, with all that energy and with nothing to do. 

The next day I mentioned it to a friend.  "There are thousands of runners in NYC and yet it hasn't occurred to anyone to take this opportunity to enlist them as an army of volunteers to somehow assist all the people who are suffering."  And after all the city had given to many of these marathon runners over the years, it seemed to be a perfect way for them to show their love, gratitude and empathy.  My friend agreed and said the same thing had occurred to her, and she in turn had mentioned it to several other people as well.

And then, I awoke yesterday and heard the news.  That energy had indeed been redirected.

 Some marathoners took the ferry to Staten Island with backpacks full of food and water

 ... and then distributed them to victims there. 

One runner from Buffalo organized marathon-length laps around Deleware Park
raising thousands of dollars for the Red Cross.  

One marathon runner climbed 20 flights of stairs in an unheated building
in Far Rockaway, Queens, to deliver water, sandwiches and blankets to tenants. 

I smiled and wondered if the power of a collective consciousness with a single thought can actually reach out to make an impression on the minds of others, and in so doing, make that thought a reality. I think the answer is yes.  The power of positive thinking can absolutely change the world. Sometimes one runner, one blanket, and one backpack at a time.

02 November 2012

Favorite thing No. 20b (for blue)

Choosing the color was difficult at first,
until a friend sent me a picture she found in a magazine
and then it all just fell into place.  

I looked online just to be sure...
and found one delicious photograph after another.  

 And so it was a simple thing to tell the painters:

 Electric Blue.  Noxema Jar Blue.  Bottle Glass Blue.  Copen Blue.  Delft Blue.

Whatever you want to call it.

(And this bright blue door is one of my favorite things about my cottage.)

Shut the front door and get on over to Claudia's Favorite Thing Party!

Feast of All Souls

"The Day of the Dead" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1859)
Going door to door, begging for cakes ("souling") was the precursor to children dressed as ghouls on Halloween and asking for candy.  The beggars would stop at a cottage and bargain for a soul cake, agreeing, in return, to pray for the souls of the recently departed in that household.  

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.

Soul Cakes were a raised dough filled with spices (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon) and sometimes currants and marked with a cross on top to show they are Alms for the poor. They would be set out on graves on All Hallows Eve (October 31st) for the dead to consume.  (Along with a glass of wine!)  They would also be handed out to beggars and children on the Feast of All Saints (November 1st) and the Feast of All Souls (November 2nd). 

Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,

© Times-Picayune NOLA

One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

In New Orleans, the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls is still a time to honor the dead and celebrate their lives.  The tombs in the "Cities of the Dead" are white washed, armloads of flowers (traditionally Chrysanthemums) are brought to gravesites, and milk (or something stronger!) is poured on the grave as an offering. 

New Orleans Cemetery on the Feast of All Souls © Owen Murphy
And at night, throughout some of the cemeteries,
there are hundreds of candles flickering on the graves. 

Soul Cakes (modern variation)
  • cup butter
  • 3 3/4 cups flour
  • cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • teaspoon cinnamon
  • teaspoon ginger
  • teaspoon allspice
  • eggs
  • teaspoons cider vinegar
  • tablespoons milk
  • powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top

Cut butter into flour. Blend in sugar and spices. Beat eggs, vinegar and milk together in another bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and blend well. Roll dough to 1/4" thick and cut with 3" biscuit cutter. Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake for 20 min. at 350 degrees. Douse with plenty of confectioner's sugar while still warm.   [Recipe from food.com] 

01 November 2012

Naming Heartbreak

I spent much of the past weekend as many people on the East Coast did: battening down hatches, moving every piece of garden paraphernalia into the shed, tying arbors and pergolas down so they wouldn't sail off into the wild blue yonder as projectiles, climbing ladders and emptying gutters of leaves against the predicted heavy rains, emptying the rain barrel and readying it for a deluge.

Indoors I had to make sure I had the necessary supplies for what could potentially be a weeklong incarceration, sans lights, television, telephone, and stove.  As I was charging my cell phone, I pondered what sort of vat of something-or-other I should prepare to keep on hand to keep body and soul together.  Soup?  Stew?  Casserole?  Fritata? Quiche?  In my infinite wisdom I finally settled on Apple Crisp.  Perhaps not the most practical or gastronomically nutritious choice, but typical of my whimsical approach to "food I would like to be stranded with in a power failure".

There are numerous candles around the house, so having some kind of light wasn't an issue. And a friend had recently dropped off a huge shopping bag of cast-off magazines which, in addition to the two books I'm currently reading, would certainly keep me occupied.  (If not a little blind given that candles aren't the best light by which to read.)

As it turned out, the electricity wavered once but never went off. There was quite a bit of rain for two days although it was more of a constant splattering and never very heavy. Temperatures remained at 60 degrees throughout the storm, combined with a sticky humidity that made it seem more like August than October. And while the winds were ferocious on Sunday afternoon, they were eerily mild with only the occasional gusts throughout that night and on into Monday.

All in all, a merciful consolation to see the sunlight on Tuesday afternoon compared to what I'd anticipated.  And a jarring counterpoint to the horror I watched unfold on television for three days.

© Washington Post
The devastation that occurred in New Jersey and New York throughout the hurricane's journey over sea and land was heart-rending to watch in real-time. And each hour it seemed to go from bad to worse until it reached nearly biblical proportions.  Rain and flooding that combined with rising tides to engulf the lower East Side, the subway system, most of Long Island, and the entire Jersey Shore.  Devastating winds that uprooted trees, turned tree limbs into weapons and moved houses off their foundations. Imploding transformers that generated wild fires and levelled an entire community, destroying a neighborhood and its residents' belongings in a night-long inferno.

And then on Tuesday, I watched as the dark side of humanity revealed itself.  People whining and complaining that they had to walk to and from work and cross bridges on foot because the transit system was so crippled. At least you have homes to go to, I thought to myself, watching as those who once lived barely 8 miles away wandered in a daze, looking over the rubble they used to call home.  And there were the petty fights that broke out at bus stops as people pushed and shoved to get on board, when they should be thankful they hadn't lost the entire contents of their lives in wind, fire or flood.

Through it all, of course, the news and weather channels vied with one another to come up with the flashiest and most dramatic masthead.  Frankenstorm. Superstorm. Sandy's Wrath.  Super Sandy. Anatomy of a Superstorm. But how do you put a name on the heartache this force of nature has caused?  And should you even try?  It's impossible to capture within the confines of a pithy commercial title the true horror that has descended on these lives.

People laugh at New Englanders for being so twitchy when a hurricane or blizzard is forecast.  We make our requisite trips to the store for "milk and bread" and fill our bathtubs with water. And then we laugh at ourselves when the storm comes and goes, feeling a bit silly for having been so nervous, and glad that we dodged another meteorological bullet.  But sometimes the slug hits home.  It certainly found its target in New York and New Jersey.  And no amount of preparation can truly stop nature from wielding her heavy hand against you.

I admit that I felt terribly guilty looking out the window into the sunlight on Tuesday while yards away on the television there was so much suffering.  I felt guilty for being able to reach for a light switch or the knob on the stove and get immediate light and heat, knowing that people were surrounded by raw sewage, standing water, and darkness.  And I felt guilty that with Halloween only a day away I was concerned whether I had enough candy on hand, when so many people had few if any belongings left.

I am keeping everyone who sustained damage, heartbreak, and loss in my thoughts and prayers.  And to me, the only 'name' for what they've experienced is unfair

28 October 2012

The Cone of Uncertainty

 So help me, if this beauty .....

 makes THIS beauty fall onto my cottage .....

I'm just gonna open the door and walk out into traffic.

26 October 2012

Favorite thing No. 123b

There's no way around it.  Where I live is one of my favorite things.

I am a coastal dweller. I could never NOT  live near a coast.
(Or at least near enough to be able to be there in under 40 minutes.) 

 Lakes are certainly beautiful. This is a lake near my brother's home.
But they are not the same as an ocean coastline.
For one thing, there is a boundary visible in the distance.
(Unlike the seeming limitless sprawl of an ocean.)
 And barring the occasional swell from a motor boat, a lake has no tide. 
And I am a person who needs a tide.
I need that pulling and pushing and the sense of being drawn away
into something far greater than myself.

I need the scent of salt air now and then when the breeze is just right,
and knowing there are boats at the ready not far from here,
going off in the night or early morning to ply the waters,
bringing bay scallops and other treasures to the markets.

See that little break in the horizon behind the trawler's cottage?
The one between the island on the left and the jutting coast on the right?
That is the pathway I need.... directly into open waters.

Sometimes wandering along the waterfront in one of the nearby towns is enough.
Just knowing that the seawater lapping at my feet is on its way into the Ocean's trough.
(And hours later it may return with stories to tell....
or it may journey on to somewhere more exotic.)

There are the long walkways that stretch outward over the water,
a perfect vantage point for watching Cormorants dive and hide under the waves.
And there are the shingle beaches where I find lovely shells and rounded stones,
worn by countless tides that tumble them in and out of the ocean, over and over again.
 And no rocky coast would be complete without its lighthouses.

 There are quite a few just south of here, some on the mainland
and some on neighboring islands, shining outward over the sea.

 Kindly Lights that have saved so many lives,
impervious to the seas that erode the very rocks that hold them.

"Even at this distance I can see the tides, upheaving... 
a speechless wrath, that rises and subsides."
—H.W. Longfellow

I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Put on a shawl and walk up the coast with me to Claudia's place.

25 October 2012

Closing Up Shop

Autumn landed on the doorstep with a resounding thud a week or so ago with temperatures dropping to near-freezing. But then this is New England, and within the span of a day and a half, the sun had returned, the days were balmy, and the nights mild once again. But not all was jolly in Garden Land.

My Coleus plants had bitten the dust overnight, as did the Morning Glory and Scarlet Runner Bean vines. At first glance the Moonflowers seemed to have survived, although my hopes that buds, which had been threatening to open for weeks, might actually advance into creamy white blossoms have been growing dimmer by the day. Ah well.

I have learned, to my chagrin and my garden's peril, that it's unwise to think I can stay one step ahead of a hard New England frost. So despite the return of these temperate October days, winter's brief and jolting preview was enough of a warning for me, thank you very much.

As a result, I've been busying myself with tasks that herald the end of all that is green and growing.

I pruned the basil and brought the stems indoors to dry for winter soups and stews.

I removed the screens from the verandah windows—always a sad as well as daunting task, given its resemblance to wing-walking—and replaced them with the storm windows.

Into the verandah's more temperate environment is where the potted herbs will remain for the next few weeks, standing shoulder to shoulder along the ledge to catch the sun's rays as they pour in from the East each morning. Come winter, they will be moved into the sunniest of the kitchen windows, but for now they participate in this charade of being "outside".  (I really don't have the heart to tell them otherwise....)

The storm windows in the cottage were lowered, and the boiler was drained in anticipation of having to turn it on once the nights become too brisk for simply another blanket, shawl or pair of socks.

The fireplace was emptied of its collection of cast-off bird nests and haphazardly arranged birch bracken, making way for blazing fires on chily nights. The first fire of the season is one of my favorite Autumn rituals. I love the scent of woodsmoke on the air when I step outside and the warmth that circulates throughout the parlor as the flames lick over the crackling logs.

As for the rest of the garden, I'll be spending the coming days tidying up: pulling up wilted plants, raking leaves and distributing them over flower beds, stowing the garden chairs, tables, wind chimes, plant stands, and trellises away.

And then there's the rain barrel, which is currently filled to overflowing with the bounty of several Autumnal rainstorms. There were many days in mid-August when I would have paid a princely sum for even a fraction of the water that rests there now!  But since the barrel is plastic it has to be emptied and put into the shed to winter over so the seams don't burst. Sadly, this necessitates turning on the spigot and watching as this watery treasure runs out into garden beds that are already a bit sodden. It happens every year but I am always just as heartsick each time.  (And I will think back to this moment on some parched afternoon next August, I'm sure....)

".. summer gathers up her robes of glory and, like a dream, glides away."— Sarah Helen Whitman

Jefferson once said, "But though an old man, I am but a young gardener." I, too, have much to learn despite the amount of soil I have dug under my nails over the years.  But it's the process I adore, and no matter how much time passes I do love these trials and lessons. It is the most humbling of activities, second only to rearing children or trying to read from a knitting chart.