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.

21 October 2012

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

During the month of October the Dalai Lama has been touring New England, speaking to enormous crowds in Vermont, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  His message of peace, ethics, healing, happiness, and compassion comes at a time when these attributes seem sorely needed in the world. And not only in the wider global community, but in our own personal communities. Indeed, lacking even in our own interior lives sometimes.

I was blessed to be one of the thousands to hear him speak on this tour.  Simply being in his presence was a gift beyond measure. He is a beatific entity, and yet so grounded to the earth with his warmth and mirth.  The sound of his voice, the message of contentment in his words that passed through his heart and mind into ours, was a remarkable and transcendent experience.

His lessons were so simple.
Be happy. Be compassionate. Do not cause problems for others.  
A simplicity that chastened the heart and yet buoyed it with hope. 

I have been asked what it was like. Being near him, hearing him,
absorbing his kindness and wisdom.  
 It was like climbing into the lap of God... whoever your god might be.

Namaste, Your Holiness.

19 October 2012

Favorite Thing No. 12b

One of my favorite things is placing colored glass in windows in place of curtains.
In each of my kitchen windows there are bottles, plates or other glass items
resting along the sills or suspended from fishing line, catching and reflecting the light.
There is green and amber glass in the window over the sink.
Cobalt blue and red glass fills the ledge of the window over the small built-in desk,
with pale green and amethyst glass along the upper window legde. 
And soft honey-yellow glass fills the window that overlooks my garden patio.  

On the stairwell, there is a reproduction "Tiffany" panel that nearly fills the window,
as well as several pieces of amber glass. And so it is throughout the cottage:

A disk of stained glass, depicting a Monet painting, in the downstairs powder room,
as well as a fragment of stained glass from a dismantled church window,
and several vintage cobalt medicine jars.

An oval disk of a Tiffany waterfall in the upstairs hallway window,
with hobnail blue glass along the ledge.

 And a series of crystal chandelier prisms in the upstairs bathroom,
refracting the sunlight into a quivering dance of rainbows on the walls.

I love watching the colorful glass filter sunlight by day,
or the glow of streetlamps and full moons by night.
On the bedroom windows there are bamboo shades and light voile panels, for privacy.
But wherever I can, I love filling windows with colored glass.

Look out the window at Claudia's FAVORITE THINGS...

Land o' Cakes, Frae Maidenkirk to Johnie Groat's

A friend recently came by to visit and was kind enough to bring me
a souvenir from her journey to Ayrshire—the birthplace of Scottish poet Robert Burns.

 It is a cloth-bound volume of his complete poems and songs.
The silken cover is Royal Stewart tartan.

 In addition to the wealth of delicious poetry that awaits me within its leaves,
the book is also filled with lovely images of Burns
and remarkable photos of the various places associated with him.

It also has poignant images of the people who inspired his verses,
such as his wife, Jean Armour—"the Belle of Mauchline".

Scotland has always held a soft spot in my heart.
While I have never been to Ayrshire, which is on the west coast of Scotland,
I was lucky enough to visit the east coast, staying for a time in the city of St. Andrews.
The journey by rail from Glasgow to Dundee took me through a landscape
that was very reminiscent of New England—
towering fir trees, a craggy coastline to the east, and blustery unpredictable weather.

 Once I'd arrived in St. Andrews, the castle ruins were evocative
of all I'd imagined Scotland to be since I was a small child.

 Scotland meant racing through the heather with Alan Breck in Kidnapped...

 ....or escaping by the skin of my teeth with David Balfour in Catriona.
(Both by R. L. Stevenson.)

During my stay in St. Andrews I climbed St. Rule's tower to look out over the Bay,
and then wandered through the cemetery that surrounds the long-demolished Cathedral.
 I was also lucky enough to stroll along East Sands, the band of beach which skirts the town.
(West Sands, on the other side of town, is famous for the opening scene in Chariots of Fire.)
And now I have this lovely book to add to my own souvenirs,
as a reminder of a place that for me is a magical fusion
of poetry, deposed Queens, and story book heroes.

"No one in Scotland can escape from the past.
It is everywhere, haunting like a ghost.

To a Scot, the past clings like sand to wet feet,
and is carried about as a burden.
The many ghosts are always a part of them, inescapable."

—Geddes MacGregor

11 October 2012

Whose biography would you write?

 Someone asked whose biography I would most like to write if I could.
I pondered this for only a moment and then my answer came easily:
  • My mother, my father and my grandparents... because I feel compelled to be the caretaker of their pasts  
  • Mary Webb...  an author I admire and for whose body of work, home, and person I have a deep affinity
  • Evangeline Bellefontaine...  fictional or not, I would love to craft her story into prose 
And in each case, the research trips would be wonderful! 

09 October 2012

Coming together

One summer evening, many years ago, I was sitting with friends after a lovely dinner out under the stars.  We were all exchanging stories of the most memorable experiences we'd had as travellers. One gentleman smiled and reminisced about the time he took a year off to travel with his family to the smaller islands that surround Greece. He was an academic and, as is often the case, had brought his research along with him on their journey. "Ah, but the true purpose of our year-long odyssey," he said, "was to grow closer as a family. To take the time to know one another better, and to come to know the world around us a little better, too."

On the first evening of their arrival in the small village where they'd rented a house, the family had hoped to enjoy a traditional meal in one of the taverns. But as the supper hour neared, they suddenly noticed that the doors of all the shops and stone houses opened and everyone stepped outside.  They watched with some confusion as the villagers came together in small groups, meeting and talking as they walked up the road and then vanished over the hill that led down to the sea. "We had all but given up hope of enjoying our first meal together in Greece," he laughed, "and were scavenging around the kitchen to see what the previous tenants might have left behind." They needn't have worried, however, because within the hour the villagers returned, straggling up over the hill and down the road, returning to their homes and reopening their shops and taverns. 

Thinking this event had to be an anomaly, the family was surprised to see the very same thing happen again the following evening! Shops closed, taverns were tightly shuttered, and the entire village made the slow and amiable walk to the sea at twilight. And so it was every evening, and always at the same time. 

The family observed this ritual for several nights, wondering what their fellow villagers were doing. One night, they decided to walk down the road as well, keeping a short distance between themselves and the villagers so as not to intrude on whatever event drew everyone seaward.  As they crested the hill they stopped and looked down at the sea. All the townspeople were grouped in random clusters along the shoreline, staring out at the horizon, where the sun was lowering in the sky.

"They're watching the sunset," the man whispered.

Indeed, they were watching in silence as the sun sank into the sea. And as the last of the sun's rays faded, some of the villagers clapped, chatter resumed, and then they turned back to the village, where the shops would open again and suppers would resume.

The man said he knew then that he had chosen the best possible place for his family to spend their time together.  "Any town where the townspeople take the time to come together as one and watch the sun set, must be a remarkable place."

I smiled and told him I could not agree more. 

Sunset over the Mediterranean from Thira. [Lighthouse Internet image]

07 October 2012

Crayola Messes With My Childhood

After a lengthy and insightful conversation with a dear friend about coloring and crayons, I was provoked to go online and look up a listing of all the Crayola colors. 

For a blissful 20 minutes I happily relived my coloring past. (Including trying to solve the old philosophical chestnut:  what was really the difference between VioletBlue and BlueViolet?)  But as I looked further over the color names, I was chagrined to learn that Crayola has deemed it necessary over the years to rename some of the favorite colors from my and my daugter's past.  

ULTRA YELLOW is now Atomic Tangerine. A "pop" change that has neither the immediacy nor sense of "remarkable" that the original "ultra" has. And I'm sorry but YELLOW (ultra or otherwise) is not the same as TANGERINE.

COPPER was renamed Metallic. This doesn't even come close to capturing the gleaming russet sparkle of the original.

HOT MAGENTA and CHARTREUSE were *both* renamed Fluorescent, along with several other shades.  As none of them are remotely alike, it boggles the mind that they could all be called the same thing. (And Chartreuse is such a delicious word.... it would be tragic for children never to learn what that color is.)

As if these transformations weren't disappointing enough, another heartache awaited me. In 1990 the following colors were retired:
  • MAIZE (Another wonderful color term the origin of which children should know)
  • RAW UMBER (The perfect shade for coloring tree branches)
  • VIOLETBLUE  (Ah... so there is no longer that mystery to ponder)

I am not a fan of change, especially when it has an impact on memories of my childhood.  I can only pray that the folks at GOLDEN BOOKS don't jump on the "improve and update" bandwagon.

Carry on.

05 October 2012

Favorite Thing No. 2d

 My cottage is filled with books.
There are five book cases in my parlor.
There are also stacks of books piled neatly on top of vintage luggage,
rickety side tables, cane-benches, the mantle, and the floor.
There's a bookcase in the kitchen hallway,
there's a bookshelf in the kitchen,
there's another on the 2nd floor landing,
there's a large bookcase in the guest room,
and there are four bookcases in the upstairs den.
(There are none in my bedroom, oddly enough. I shall have to remedy that...)
When it comes to books: More is seldom enough.

I love books.  Books are indeed my FAVORITE thing.

To paraphrase Frederick Fleet: this is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Put down that book and come to Claudia's FAVORITE THING party.

04 October 2012

Poe's Lovelorn Corner of New England

I always think of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) at this time of year.  To me he was the undisputed king of horror and the macabre when I was a child. And still is, for that matter.  (With apologies to Mr. King and Mr. Lovecraft.)

One of my favorite places to visit in New England (although I haven't been there in quite awhile) is the Athenaeum, which will forever be associated in my mind with the sad Mr. Poe.

The Athenaeum—a membership library built in 1838—is everything a library from that period should be: atmospheric, full of lovely oiled wood, polished brass and well-worn leather and, of course shelf after shelf of priceless books.

They say if you drink from the Athenaeum's fountain,you will never leave the city...

And the Athenaeum loves dogs!

According to the library's archives: 'In June of 1953 the board of the Athenaeum authorized a change in regulations: "A shareholder's dog, if on a leash, may accompany his master or mistress into the library." In September, Annie Cooke, the librarian, reported "no startling results to date" involving the Athenaeum's hairy new patrons. Since then, two of the Athenaeum's executive directors have brought their dogs to work. Dogs of members are still very much welcome in the Athenaeum today. All repeat canine visitors head directly for the jar of dog biscuits kept below the Circulation Desk upon entry to the library.'

But back to Mr. Poe. In the years just prior to his death, he was engaged to Sarah Helen Whitman (1803-1878), a poet in her own right.  Again, according to the library's historical records, 'The Athenaeum was the backdrop for several turning points in the romance between Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman. A lifelong resident of Providence, Whitman was considered one of the "best female poets of America" and enjoyed an almost three-quarters of a century relationship with the Athenaeum. Greatly admiring the writings of one another long before they had corresponded or met, Poe, on a visit to Providence, saw Whitman for the first time in her rose garden behind her house on Benefit St. Poe later claimed that it was upon this first glance of Whitman that he fell in love with her.'  Alas, their love song would soon end, as a direct result of Poe's inability to stop drinking.   

It is poignant to wander through the Athenaeum's corridors, wondering where Edgar and Sarah might have had their trysts.  Did they hold hands in a dark corner, stealing kisses amidst the dusty tomes? 

Was there a favorite area of the library where they met?

Would they read to one another, as lovers from that era sometimes did? Did he bring drafts of his most recent poems for her to hear, and did she do the same?

According to the archives: 'The two would visit the Athenaeum together during their brief yet intense courtship. The relationship even met its end among the alcoves of the library. On December 23, 1848, Poe and Whitman were visiting the Athenaeum when an unnamed someone handed her a note that said Poe had broken his promise and had been drinking again. Whitman immediately called off the wedding, left the library and rushed back to her house. The two would never see each other again and Poe was dead within a year. Whitman would live for almost thirty more years, continuing to spend much of her time at the Athenaeum.'

Sarah spent much of her later years trying to champion Poe's work and nullify the sting of his critics who saw him as a dissolute failure.  She responded by writing and publishing a book: Edgar Poe and His Critics (1860).
French poet Charles Baudelaire was an admirer of Poe. According to the Harris Collection, he related to Poe on many levels:  'Both lived in poverty, suffered from addictions and depression. Both were under appreciated by the literary establishment of their times. Both embraced mysticism, the fantastic, the macabre and the grotesque in their writings. Finally, both were searching for answers to philosophical questions in their aesthetic and literary pursuits.'
Baudelaire translated many of Poe's stories and poems during Poe's lifetime. And many years after both men had died, his translation of "THE RAVEN" was published with illustrations by Jean Gabriel Daragnès (1918). 

In 1868, French author Stephen Mallarmé, also an admirer of Poe, published his own translation of "THE RAVEN" with illustrations by french artist Edouard Manet. I had the good fortune of seeing both his and Baudelaire's manuscripts last Halloween and was captivated by the illustrations!

I was also able to view a bookplate, inscribed by Mallarmé to Sarah Whitman featuring one of Manet's illustrations. In a letter he sent to her with the bookplate he wrote, "Your name mingles with his."  And indeed at the Athenaeum, their two names are forever linked.

 Sarah Helen Whitman bequeathed the inscribed bookplate to the Athenaeum...
a place that held memories of her love as well as her disappointment.

Interior photos taken several years ago on a trip to the Athenaeum.
Dog photo from the Athenaeum's website.
Manuscripts of "THE RAVEN" from the Harris Collection and the Athenaeum's website.