Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May with Gladys and Rachel


To learn more about this yearlong adventure with Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, you may click 'A Year with Gladys and Rachel' - the first of my Letter Topics on the sidebar.

I smiled as I read Gladys' May entry, and thought how little we New Englanders have changed over the years. I wondered if we are by nature introspective because so much of our year is spent in seasons that are not conducive to outdoor activity. Of course we can engage in winter sports, though not that many of us do so. Mostly, we rush from car to house and gaze out the window at the beautiful, still winter scene. But come spring and we are possessed with being outdoors. This past weekend I was consumed with planting and weeding. I barely spoke. I hardly thought. I just dug and pulled with that strength and energy which comes only in May. Pretty much all Gladys talked about in this month was flowers. She begins by singing 'a small tune to myself as I watch Jill moving down the stretched string marking the row'
Plant this when maples are in bud,
And feel the magic in your blood,
Plant that when maples are in leaf,
And that's the END of winter grief!
Honestly, I am sure I can feel that 'magic' in my own blood.

Gladys writes of picking scallions and radishes, and 'the miracle has begun again!'
As I snip the tips of the first scallions, I am always feeling that one of the most hopeful things about mankind is that we go right on planting when the season comes, despite bombs, wars, world crises.
And that work, that physical, hard work, keeps our minds from ruminating too much on the bad in the world. We are focused in the best possible way. It is like caring for a young child, or a puppy, this tending of plants. We plant the seeds, we weed around them so they will grow up strong, we protect them as we are able, and with a lot of perseverance and luck, they turn into adult people or dogs or plants.

Gladys tells us that 'the atlas says we have a humid continental climate.'
That means, in my language, it rains too much here and it is damp. But how the growing things love it! Jill has to hoe out rhubarb now and then, it takes over like a giant tropical creature in a rain forest.

One of several rhubarb plants around here



While people in some parts of the world tend and nurture a single tree to get it to grow, we can't turn around without a new tree sprouting up. I've written before that the work our animals do for us is to keep the open pastures from turning into woods. A few years ago, Tom moved the pasture fence, and the whole area that used to be pasture is now full of trees. After the 1938 hurricane, Gladys and Jill set out
six small modest little pines, and now we can only get to the clothes dryer out back by hacking a path between the two most vigorous ones.
And this goes for certain flowers too.
The iris - ah, the iris! Jill moved and separated, moved and separated, gave away, moved and separated, and one desperate day flung her hands in the air and said, "I cannot take it." She dumped a basketful in the swamp, since when we have iris all over the edge of the swamp, and doing nicely.

My own ever expanding iris



Gladys expressed my very thoughts when she wrote
Rhubarb stalks grow tender and rosy and big all over our place.
And as I cut up the tender pieces for a pie, I think the first woman who kept house here must have done the same thing just about now. Maybe she had a pie cupboard and set her pies on the shelves, crisp and juicy from the great Dutch oven.
Everyone I know has a particular place in their hearts for lilacs, and Gladys waxes poetic as she writes of them.
My special love is the lilac. … I am sure heaven is bounded by a white picket fence that never needs repainting, and with lilacs always in bloom hanging deep clusters over it.
When the lilacs are in bloom and the apple blossoms and the white narcissus, New England is an experience in rapture. I love the lilacs too because they are a faithful flower, they grow around old blackened chimneys where houses once stood, they mark out abandoned gardens.
Gladys ends her month with
White lilacs in the moonlight, white fire of moonlight over blossoming apple trees, white little house under the great sugar maples - and Little Sister and Holly [dogs] waiting by the door - we are deep in spring!


And Rachel's words in her May chapter are also more focused on the natural world, which only goes to show that no matter where we live we may all feel the joy, the inexpressible sensations that only spring offers. Perhaps the very transience of the season, of May, makes our senses more acute. We can't miss a moment, for if we do, we have to wait a whole year to catch it again. She begins with a little trip to a neighbor's place.
His lane, through the woods, would be burgeoning with wild flowers now. It is a little lane, off a little road, off a slightly larger road.
Doesn't that just beckon to you? She goes on to list all she sees there, from ferns to mushrooms, and trillium to violets.

She writes of the apple blossoms.
So I came to the apple tree in the fencerow, now in full bloom. The sight thereof was like a blow, and it was necessary to sit down on a clovered terrace and rest from it. Bees had already discovered the glory of the tree: one bumblebee fumbled at a white blossom, and there were so many honeybees busy there that they made a stream of sound like the noise of distant, rushing water. … Nothing in the whole farmscape that morning could compete with the apple tree, neither the luscious pink of redbud in the woods nor the quiet splendor of raw gold on the tall, sprangly sassafras bushes further down the fencerow. It was as if they all stood ungrudgingly back that morning, letting all the attention be turned to the apple tree, giving it the full measure of its hour of glory.
There are seven paragraphs about a blue jay feather. I'm sure that many of us have picked one up and held it for a minute, thinking the blue was gorgeous and then we either dropped it back on the ground or kept it on a shelf for a while, perhaps never looking at it again. But Rachel really sees that feather.
The two halves of the feather are not identical, either in size, color, or angle. The narrower half is basically blue, cross-marked with short black hatchmarks. The wider part blends so subtly into black that one cannot possibly say, "right here is where the blue ends and the black begins." ...
The blue jay's feather has the texture, dry, luxurious sheen of taffeta. This taffeta is made up of a single layer of evenly placed strong fibers (properly called processes) laid side by side. Not one fiber overlaps another; yet normally there is no space between any two fibers - that would make a slit in the feather. You can pull them apart, but you can also run a finger along the taffeta, stretching it without pulling the fibers apart.
She writes,
Every year I think there never were so many maple seeds before, and every year it is true. This year it is spectacularly true.
She goes on to say that when they fall, the pods
brush the house walls with a dry papery whisper; or they strike each other in falling, with a soft, wooden clash. This is a dinner-bell sound to chipmunks. They bite off the hulls from the seeds and stuff their cheeks until they bulge from just below the eyes to just above the shoulders.
This got me thinking about two facts that I thought were unrelated, until reading this. On Saturday my friend Judi, whose garden I featured in my letters five years ago, was saying she has a lot of chipmunks in her yard. And I have noticed that this has been a 'spectacular' year for maple seeds. We have mini-maples all over the yard. It seems that they are connected after all. Maybe the chipmunks come when there is an abundance of food for them to eat. We have just two chipmunks but I'm thinking there may be a little family before too long.

One of the two. The other had just run past.



Rachel describes the baby starlings in nests.
If you bend above the nests and make even the sound of breathing, four enormous yellow-lined mouths fly open instantly, wide as a suitcase, in each nest.
There is a beautiful passage about a perfect day in May.
If a farm woman ever wondered why she wanted to live on a farm anyway, the answer is here today.
Today the tamarisk bush is a bowl of pink foam; the sweet shrub offers its dark red knots to be tied into a handkerchief for all-day fragrance. Lilacs lean toward the driveway, extending their purple and lilac clusters and reminding everyone that the end of the school year is near, with pomp and circumstance coming up at three levels of Commencements. From early morning until sunset newly opened leaves experiment with shadow patterns against the weathered boards of an old shed's wall. The air is as comforting as a cushion leaned back against.
Now little boys boast of the number and size of the snakes they have seen, and marbles and kites have long been forgotten. Fires have gone out in the farmhouses.
… It is a time of ambition greater than any possible fulfillment; of rapture beyond any reasonable, material reason. The joy of having lived to see this day is immeasurable. Some day next winter, when cold and mud and despair threaten to engulf her, let the farmwife remember this day.
I went out and found a few 'shadow patterns' on my own barn.



Before I close, I thought you might like to see maps of where Gladys and Rachel lived. Please do click to see more clearly.

Gladys' home in Southbury is in New Haven County just on the border of Fairfield County.



Indianapolis is just about in the center. Look down about an inch and find Bloomington. Rachel's farm was in nearby Ellettsville.


Gladys Taber lived from April 12, 1899 to March 11, 1980, and Rachel Peden lived from December 17, 1901 to August 16, 1975.


Well, this is it. It doesn't seem possible to me that a year has passed since I first wrote about my plan to read these two books, month by month.

These readings have greatly enriched my life. I have learned immeasurably from each woman. I now pay more attention. Even living a comparatively slow and quiet life, I do not see everything. I am looking more carefully now. I have also learned much animal and weather lore. But most importantly, I have gotten to know two intelligent, wonderful women.

And what comes now? I know that I want to continue this kind of reading.

My other two books by Rachel Peden are not divided by months or seasons so I think I'll read them separately. However, many of Gladys Taber's books are written in monthly or seasonal chapters.

This year winter begins at 6.12 am EST on December 21, the earliest arrival of winter since 1886. On that day I plan to begin reading two chapters called Winter from two books: Country Chronicle by Gladys Taber in Connecticut, USA and The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill in Oxfordshire, England; New England and old England. Each book is divided into four seasonal chapters. These two women, though not the same age, are writing within a few years of one another. Country Chronicle was published in 1974 and The Magic Apple Tree in 1982. Susan Hill was born on February 5, 1942 so she was 40 when The Magic Apple Tree was published. Gladys Taber was born on April 12, 1899 so she was 75 when Country Chronicle was published.

The last day of winter is March 19, 2013 so please stay tuned for a first posting around that date!

40 comments:

  1. I just love this type of book too Nan. I follow along with you. I tried to find these books but failed. I will look for the new ones you are going to read.

    I live in Indiana. I live in Vincennes, as far West as you can go and a little South of Rachel's town of Elletsville. I have been there before to see a Long-eared Owl.

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    1. Lisa, I just emailed you about where you can get these books!
      As you may have read on some of the other posts, the farm is still in the family, owned by Rachel's son Joe and his wife Joyce.

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  2. Wonderful post- thank you! You have a treat ahead of you with The Magic Apple Tree. I gave it to my mother for Christmas in 1983. It, along with her Gladys Taber books, now lives with me. I've re-read it many times. Enjoy!
    Mary

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    1. I am really, really looking forward to it, and I think it will be fun to see what the two women talk about.

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  3. Dear Nan, this sentence "If a farm woman ever wondered why she wanted to live on a farm anyway, the answer is here today" made me think of my brother-in-law. Paul lives in a village in North Yorkshire and, together with his two brothers, works a dairy farm. He once said to me that he dedicates his life to his cows, and he is one of the most kind-natured, hard-working people I know. Working 19 days from very early morning until late at night in a row to have one day off, that's his life, and has been so for decades. I wonder whether he has moments like Rachel, when he muses about his reasons for doing all this, and finds them in the beauty of what surrounds him.

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    1. I think I could live his life quite happily - right out of the James Herriot books! Thank you for telling me about him.

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  4. I have enjoyed your posts on Rachel and Gladys immensely. The excerpts, the information about the women, and your comments on your own farm life were fascinating, and I shall miss these monthly pieces, but I seem to have reconnected with my own small urban patch, so maybe I will try and write about my gardening efforts occasionally... this morning, for the first time, a glorious pink rose has burst into bloom on the end fence, the lettuces and herbs are flourishing alongside the marigold and garlic, but the beans look a little sorry for themselves, and I'm still searching for rhubarb (the plants in the garden centre were obviously suffering from the heat, so I didn't buy any).

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    1. All gardening is wonderful, no matter how much is grown or the amount of land one has. I've seen photos of lovely terrace/roof gardens in cities.
      I loved reading about what's growing in yours - I love how you say lettuces. It feels more special than just lettuce, which is what we say.
      Wish I could send you some rhubarb. :<)

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  5. I love these posts too Nan and found the maps really helpful so thank you! I hope you'll enjoy The Magic Apple Tree as much as I do - there's a couple of picture books by Susan Hill that go beautiful with it - Through the Garden Door and Through the Kitchen Window if you haven't got copies already.

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    1. Thank you! And thanks for the book titles. I haven't read her scarier stuff, but loved, loved Howards End on the Landing.
      I will look for the two you mentioned.

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  6. The Magic Apple Tree is one of my favorite books - I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. And I would love to reread Gladys Taber. It's been a long time since I have.

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    1. I'm sure I will love it! And I think it will be fun reading the two books together.

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  7. Nan, both of these books sound really interesting. Those women had fascinating lives! Thanks for sharing!!

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    1. They were both such wonderful books. I dearly loved them both.

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  8. Jean (formerly Anonymous)May 31, 2012 at 10:08:00 AM EDT

    The Magic Apple Tree is wonderful and you'll enjoy it. I also recommend the 12 Seasons by Joseph Wood Krutch; in it, he goes month by month and his observations are worth reading.

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    1. Happy to know your name. :<) Thanks for the JWK recommendation. I will look into it.

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  9. I have loved these posts Nan (it doesn't seem possible that it's been a year); for me it is a glimpse into another world. Much of this post reminded me of Oregon though when we used to garden.. especially the way things grow almost too easily in the spring. (I loved the scene of Rachel's friend giving up and tossing those iris bulbs (I know that's the wrong word) away and having them grow in such profusion from then on!) I loved the pictures and your own prose as well!


    I have just decided to try to find these books for our daughter, who gardens and appreciates serenity and the beauty of changing seasons.

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    1. Tom laughed right out loud when he read that part about the iris. :<)
      I am quite sure your daughter will really like both books, both women.

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    2. I so admire the way you take time to answer comments Nan. We are on our way to Colorado tomorrow (flying) to visit kids there and then later in the month on to Oregon.

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    3. Why, thank you! They mean so much to me. This is the joy of blogging for me- the connection between people.

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  10. Lovely enriching post as always. I too love the Magic Apple Tree, I was given it as a present and I vividly remember driving my son to Winchester where he was sitting an exam, then driving out and finding a field to sit in and read. I read for hours, blissfully happy, I did remember to collect my son, but was still really 'in' the book. Several years later I found myself in the village in which she lived, its name is changed in the book. Later read Family, in which Susan Hill describes what was going on in her life when she wrote the book.
    Such a good choice Nan, I look forward to the posts.
    Carole

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    1. Thank you.
      Such a good story. Thanks for telling me. And for offering the other title by her. I can see myself going on with her nonfiction after reading The Magic Apple Tree.

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  11. I am presently reading The Magic Apple Tree, of course I am justing reading the whole way thru ~ because I don't have the will power to stop!
    Next, I will probably reread the "springy" sections of 'a Northern Farm' and 'From an Orange Mailbox'... just because.
    Spring in New England is really quite something isn't it? :))))

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    1. Oh my gosh, that's amazing. And I do so LOVE the Clark book. I'll look into Northern Farm.
      And yes it is!!

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  12. I hope you know how much I have enjoyed this series, Nan, and feel just a bit blue at their ending as you have written them with such enthusiastic tenderness. Now, I will look forward to your next series come March.

    I particularly liked the quote about the blue jay's feather. We used to find them all the time about 10 years or so ago, before the West Nile virus took so many jays. They are just starting to come back. I'll be thinking of taffeta when I see one now.

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    1. It makes me so happy that you've liked them so much.
      I didn't know about the virus and blue jays. Was it all over the country?

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  13. I second the recommendation for Henry Beston's Northern Farm. I wore out a small paperback copy before finding several other editions to give to friends. His prose is rather more stately than what you've been reading from these two ladies, but his observations bring to life New England of an earlier time.
    I re-read this month Gladys Taber's Still Meadow Daybook and Still Cove Journal--different things about her writing struck me this time--its been quite a few years since my last reading of her.

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    1. I'll be looking for Northern Farm.
      There is a lot of GT that I haven't read yet.

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  14. I love books like this, I have read all of May Sarton's Journals, which contained many observations about the natural world around her home. I love the old book, We Took to the Woods, about Maine. And I live in Lousiana, go figure... I think I own the Henry Beston book. So many books, so little time.

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    1. I have read some May Sarton over the years, and do enjoy her. My memory is that she is less cheerful than Gladys or Rachel.
      And the Louise Rich book - I've meant to read it for years. Thanks for the reminder. I looked her up, and found two, among many, excellent pieces:

      http://thisibelieve.org/essay/16925/
      http://new.yankeemagazine.com/article/when-louise-dickinson-rich-came-home-woods

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  15. It has been very satisfying to read your posts every month about Gladys and Rachel. Two other writers I think you would like are Hal Borland, and a special favorite of mine, Ohio writer Pat Leimbach.

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    1. Thanks so much. I have meant to read Borland for years since Gladys mentions him often. I'll look into Pat Leimbach.

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  16. The Magic Apple Tree is a book I return to again and again. I am sure you will love it. I had not heard of your two writers but shall seek them out. I love it when blogging opens up the world like this!

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    1. I feel the same way. I learn so much about writers from reading blogs. For example, there's a seasonal book I'm reading now that I learned about from a fellow blogger. Even though the writer was a New Englander, I'd never heard of her.
      I'm sure I'll love TMAT.

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    2. My only sadness is that I find that the books you were writing about are pretty expensive here in the UK. I will have to keep a look out for a bargain!

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    3. I've ordered a lot of used books online, and even when they came from the UK, the shipping was very little. Try abebooks and alibis. Good luck.

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  17. It's been so lovely reading all your Gladys & Rachel posts, Nan. I especially like the passage about lilacs in this one. Thank you for sharing these with us!

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    1. And I thank you for reading and leaving me notes. Gladys and Rachel have been wonderful companions all these months.

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  18. I'm planning to start my reading with June though I already think I prefer Gladys to Rachel perhaps because she seems more domestic or maybe because, although I haven't been to Connecticut,I'm familiar with New England. Oddly enough Connecticut is the only New England state I haven't visited. Later this afternoon I shall begin Rural Free and Country Sampler.

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    1. Well, their lives were very different in that Rachel was a wife to a farmer who made their living on that farm. Gladys was a writer, and her friend did most of the gardening which was just for them. They didn't make a living off the land. So their perspectives were not the same. Gladys knew the local people but she also knew quite a few famous people.
      I hope you plan to write about the books. I will love reading your postings.

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