Monday, November 12, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - October

As I near the end of this most wonderful book, I find myself hoping so much that Susan Hill will write another and another and another like this and Howards End is on the Landing. They are as food and drink to me. My mind and heart are expanded with every chapter. I am in the presence of a real scholar, though she says of herself, "I am not scholarly material."

I feel like October is a pensive month, especially the second half. The days get shorter, daytime itself gets darker, and often the rain or snow prevents outside activities. This makes me happy, as I've noted probably too many times before in the almost twelve years of Letters from a Hill Farm. I am an introvert (not shy), I like sitting and reading, I like time to be quiet and think. So October and November suit me perfectly. The October chapter is 31 pages of many deep thoughts, and I was in reading heaven.

Susan Hill writes about Rievaulx Abbey.

If you arrive late and out of season, when the sun is going down, you really can get some sense of what life was like in this bowl of the Yorkshire Dales, where sheep bleat through the soft air and the light gleams through the majestic ruins, archways, slit windows, whole 'rooms' and magnificent spaces.
I am glad there is so much left of Rievaulx. When you stand alone there, even though the sky and not a roof is over your head, you can hear the whispers of monastic chant and the faint ghostly swish of the heavy robes, see the shadowy procession of hooded figures on their way to and from the chapel. And there is nothing remotely spooky about it. 
The author goes on to talk about Aelred of Rievaulx.
I came to love Aelred because I came to know him. So much of that time is very distant and different, yet there is enough left of Aelred's writings, we know so much of his life and personality, that he can come closer to us than many who have lived later. ... Aelred was a great and good man.
And how did she come to learn about him? Well,
A decade ago I did what I had longed to do since 1963, when I received my first degree, and started to read for another, an MA this time in theology. Having been brought up in a Catholic convent, and spent many years as an adult Anglican,  ... I felt - and indeed, still feel - that I knew too little about the basis of and background to it all and about various aspects of Christian history. But I wasn't about to return as a full-time student to what is now called the campus, I studied by distance learning. If you have already taken a first degree, and especially if you are older and doing this voluntarily, and so anxious to learn and put the hours in, this is an ideal way. The internet has made it all possible. My essays were e-mailed in and marked and returned by the same route, but nice, fat, printed books of the modules came by post.
I loved the course from Day 1. I immersed myself in it as in a warm bath.
So, you see what I mean about her being a scholar!

Suddenly, she stops and writes this beautiful sentence.
A long skein of pink-footed geese has just gone over towards the marshes.
She offers a wonderful granddaughter story.
Lila was only two and visiting once when the owl man appeared to do his ringing. He brought a white cotton drawstring bag, and came right to the house, by the back door, so that we could all watch. My grand-daughter stared in amazement, her eyes really like saucers, as he drew out the young owl from the bag, inspected it, let it open its wings to their full extent - which even on a baby owl is pretty wide - and then ringed it without any fuss, folded its wings gently together and slipped it back in the cotton bag. Two and a half years later and she still remembers.
Susan goes on to write about her granddaughter and books.
It is a joy that she is now having read to her some of the stories we read to her mother, and often from the very same copies. The most recent favorite is Tales of Polly and the Hungry Wolf by Catherine Storr, which was loved by us all thirty-five years ago. Lila's father does a very impressive wolf's voice. And so the same stories are re-born over and again. The Elephant and the Bad Baby, Stanley & Rhoda, Each Peach Pear Plum, Burglar Bill, Mog the Forgetful Cat, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and so on, to My Naughty Little Sister, that everlasting favourite, and now, to my delight, The Magic Faraway Tree.
As you might guess, I loved this so much! We have passed along quite a few of Margaret and Michael's books to them so they can read them to their little ones. We've read a bit to Hazel over the years, though not too much because often with children, much of the reading happens at bedtime. We're looking forward to Hazel, Campbell, and Indy staying overnight when they get older. In fact, right now we are working on the HCI room! Tom has finished the painting. We'll go about it gradually, buying beds, etc.

I think I've mentioned that when we brought the kids to England, Ireland, and Wales in 1992, we bought tapes over there to listen to in the car. The very most favorite was The Magic Faraway Tree. My kids still do perfect imitations of the narrator saying, "Saucepan". We also own two of the stories Susan Hill mentioned - Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

They are in this collection

which was given to me by my long-time blogging friend, Val, last year. Of all the books we have, this is the one Hazel asks for the most.

This month's The Oldie magazine has an article on Judith Kerr.

She is 95, and still takes walks and has written a new book! In this country I think she is best known for When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. It was in Tom's classroom library when he taught 7th and 8th grades.

There is much, much more in the October chapter about authors and prizes and writing and even eels (yuck, me says).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 10

Ted Kooser's poem for yesterday.

november 10

    High winds all night

Most of the snow passed north of us,
but this morning we're given the fancy white lace
on the edge of that blanket,
every weed on the roadside coated with ice.

Behind the counter at the post office,
somebody's small carton stamped with block letters:

I drive very slowly all the way home.

Another little gem! In snow country, "blanketed with snow" is quite a common term, but the idea of "the fancy white lace on the edge of that blanket" is completely fresh and new to me. That's what poets do. They see the world in a different way. He uses the familiar "blanket" but gives the reader a new way of thinking about the "edge". And, as is often the case with poetry, readers see different things in it. Tom interpreted the icy weeds as the "fancy white lace" and after he said it, I thought of course, but I had read it in a broader way - that the blanket of snow missed his area; it was on the "edge" of the blanket.

And what's with that carton at the post office??! I bet he wondered about it on his slow drive home. I think I wouldn't have been able to stop myself from asking what in the world it meant!

I went for a walk from 3:40 to 4 pm. We had a snow squall earlier in the day but by then the sun had come out and it was just beautiful.

The weeds were indeed "coated with ice". I tried to capture this beauty but it doesn't work well taking a picture into the sun. The little green dot must be some kind of sun reflection, but still you can get the idea. They sparkle like the proverbial diamonds.

Amazing, amazing clouds

I love the late afternoon light on the house

Abbey Road  oak leaves (in homage to my blogging friend, Penny who so often finds whimsy in the natural world)

This is one of my favorite spots. I really should put a chair or bench there.

Soon after my walk we drove down to Michael and Estée's house to take care of Campbell Walker and Indy Thomas while the parents had a "date night". We had a wonderful time, as you might imagine. And we had the joy of putting them to bed. Is there anything so precious as a sleeping child? It fills me with feelings that are so deep I can't begin to put them into words. Probably Ted Kooser could though!

Usually it is a straightforward ride between our houses - about 45 minutes on mostly highway. But not last night. Tom wanted to get some coffee. We pulled off in one place, but everything was closed so we drove on to another town, and went to a MacDonald's. There was a stretch limo in the parking lot and quite a line of cars in the drive-through lane, and we thought uh, oh, they've been slammed at  10:30 at night. We waited half an hour! When we finally got to the window, the man gave us our order free (I, of course, couldn't pass up French fries and milk) because of the wait. He told us his employee just walked off the job. Can you imagine doing such a thing?

So we continued on our way. It was snowing further north. At one point we found ourselves behind two side-by-side snowplows. We went 25 mph, and had the safest drive in town! Driving slowly just like Ted Kooser.

Friday, November 9, 2018

November 9

I began a new reading project today inspired by this post on the Sew and Sow Life blog.

I ordered a used copy that is in excellent shape. The idea of the book is, in Ted Kooser's words:
"In the autumn of 1998, during my recovery from surgery and radiation for cancer, I began taking a two-mile walk each morning. ... During the previous summer, depressed by my illness, preoccupied by the routines of my treatment, and feeling miserably sorry for myself, I'd all but given up on reading and writing. Then, as autumn began to fade and winter came on, my health began to improve. One morning in November, following my walk, I surprised myself by trying my hand at a poem. Soon I was writing every day.

Several years before, my friend Jim Harrison and I had carried on a correspondence in haiku. As a variation on this, I began pasting my morning poems on postcards and sending them to Jim, whose generosity, patience and good humor are here acknowledged. What follows is a selection of one hundred of those postcards."

Isn't that just lovely?

Every day I am going to read the poem that corresponds to the present date. I don't expect to post a poem each day, and maybe not even each week, but occasionally I will post one with notes and perhaps pictures of my own walk on that same date, twenty years later, and in New Hampshire, not Nebraska.

november 9

    Rainy and cold.

The sky hangs thin and wet on its clothesline.

A deer of gray vapor steps through the foreground,
under the dripping, lichen-rusted trees.

Halfway across the next field,
the distance (or can that be the future?)
is sealed up in tin like an old barn.

I so love that first line. Such a unique concept. And I think the distance/future is just brilliant. A lovely poem, I feel.

I haven't been very faithful to my idea of walking often up and down my road. I did a few times, and even took photos, but then didn't have the chance to post about them. I do hope to get back in the groove of writing much more often. It is good for me to stop and examine my life. Even if no one ever reads the postings, I feel better when I really take the time to pay attention. So, today with this new reading scheme, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take a walk as Mr. Kooser did, though mine is not two miles. It is half an hour. I dare not walk up the hill into the woods this time of year, but come winter I hope to do so.

Today I was so thankful to see geese. I took this little video. Click to make it larger and turn your volume up, and there they are!! A little magic in the skies, methinks. And you may hear the cheery little chickadee.

The beech and oak are the only trees that still have their leaves.

When we moved here in 1981, we brought an oak tree we had recently planted at our other home. It is quite a mighty oak now.

We've noticed many little oaks have sprung up between this oak and Margaret, Matthew, and Hazel's house. Just for fun today, I decided to count the saplings. There are 19!! Our original oak was the only one on our 200+ acres, and in a few decades, they will line the road. Amazing, amazing.

Nebby and the sheep were curious as I walked back and forth.

I walked from 1:30-2, and it was just so pleasant. Cool, not cold. No precipitation, and all those lovely brownish colors everywhere.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hallowe'en 2018

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the day our Margaret went into the hospital with pre-eclampsia, a dangerous, scary condition that can happen in pregnancy. I've written about it here. There isn't a moment of a day that I am not thankful.

Our Hallowe'en this year was a perfect celebration of the miracle of Margaret and Hazel. It wasn't planned, which in a way made it all the more special. All the families were together except for Matthew and his mother.

For two years we've spent Hallowe'en with Michael and Estée and the boys. In the town next to where they live the tradition is a walk down the main street and trick or treating at the stores. Adults and children alike are in costume. The street isn't open to car traffic for a couple hours. It is a wonderful event.

In 2016 the family dressed as characters in Jurassic Park.

And last year Campbell and Indy were Ninja Turtles.

Hazel's Hallowe'ens have been spent trick or treating in our town, going first to her other grandmother's house.

Yesterday we happened to stop by to see Margaret and Hazel on our way to the boys' Hallowe'en. Even after a whole day at school, she decided she wanted to come with us. So she packed up her costume, and she and her mother hopped in the car and we were off.

We all had so much fun. The kids were older so could walk more of the street. We visited a haunted house that wasn't too scary for the little ones. We saw some really creative costumes - Wolfman and his son, a baby dressed as a mouse in a trap, a child hotdog and her mother wearing a ketchup sign, Sherlock Holmes. All ages and sizes of people. One little girl was Vampirina, as Hazel was, and they were both delighted. Campbell was a vampire and Indy a ghost.

I had the happiest Hallowe'en of my life (so far)! And I'm pretty sure everyone else did too!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Stillmeadow - October

Now I've come to the last month in The Book of Stillmeadow. This has been a wonderful year of reading Gladys Taber, and I plan to do something of the same sort beginning next month. There will be more about my reading scheme in an upcoming post.

In my neck of the woods, October changes dramatically from the beginning to the end.

October 4 (used as blog header)

October 5

October 15

October 24

Gladys begins her October with "nut gathering." She mentions both butternuts and hickory nuts. Do people still do this? I don't know of any nuts that grow up here, and I've never known anyone who picked them (or picked them off the ground). Gladys makes it sound like such fun. She climbs a pasture hill and says,
It is still and peaceful up here, and the air has a dreaming quality. When we have wandered as far as we need, for the gunny sacks do get heavy very soon, we move to the biggest ledge of all, where there is a nice flat place to spread a picnic supper.
If there's one thing I know about Gladys Taber is that she adores picnics.
The menu is an old one, for this nut gathering has all the aura of tradition with us. New-laid eggs, fried crisp at the edges and just firm in the golden centers. Slices of dark bread to lift them on. We have big ripe tomatoes laid on grape leaves, to eat in the hand with salt and pepper.
And this is all, for we can't carry much when the nut sacks are full. Usually we find windfall sweet apples near where we eat, and make dessert of them.
This sounds utterly perfect to me.

Of fall chores she writes that "the real countrywoman wishes she were triplets in autumn. There is no limit to the amount of work".

That is so true around here. We are never finished before the snow comes and the ground freezes.

A great part of the October entry is taken up with the summer kitchen. Do you know what that is? I had never heard the term until we moved to this old farmhouse. Certainly the house in town where I grew up, and then lived as an adult for nine years, never had such a thing. There was a kitchen. Period.

When we came here, this is what we found:

I suppose if we'd had the money we might have transformed this space into something, but it would have taken a lot of work. There was an unsafe attic above, and it wasn't heated. The sink would have been a good place to wash off vegetables from the garden, but it was very shallow and the drainage wasn't good. It was essentially useless space, so in 1992 we had it pulled down. Now that opening in the second picture goes right out to the side yard.

But back to Gladys. She and Jill did wonders with their summer kitchen. 
Many old houses have this large room behind the real kitchen, and many have woodsheds attached to the main kitchen. Almost anyone who has any kind of a back room, I think, would do well to remodel it into a real summer kitchen, for the advantages are countless.
Here, for instance, you may have the old black range, so comfortable, and so good for canning or baking. On cold fall days before the furnace is on, a quick fire in the range warms the downstairs nicely. Here, on boiling days, you may simmer the roast and keep the main kitchen cool for salad-making.
We have always used ours, but only after the main kitchen was made perfect did we decide the summer kitchen must be made equally efficient and labor-saving.
The room is large and runs up to the roof. We put windows all around and windows near the ceiling to let in more sun. The walls are covered with insulation board finished with clear waterproof varnish. They are a warm honey tone and will stand any amount of wear.
It was easy to put in a sink and hook up the washing machine by putting them on the same wall as the inner-kitchen fixtures.
She goes on for several pages until this reader was about as envious as could be!

In each chapter, Gladys spends some of the time writing about her cats and dogs. I don't know why I haven't quoted more of these passages in the past year. They raised cocker spaniels. They had two cats. Gladys was a big animal lover.

Reading of bringing in the harvest and freezing it after years of time-consuming canning, I have the sense that Gladys' household was almost completely self-sufficient when it came to fruits and vegetables. So many of us long for that, but after many, many years of trying, I can say it is very hard work and takes a lot of time. But I hope it still appeals to young people. There is something wonderful about eating what you have grown yourself.

Gladys ends the October chapter in her familiar wise way.
There is a lovely stillness in a fall afternoon. Up in the pasture one can really "busy the heart with quietude." The stillness has the sadness of passing summer, and yet it has a breathless quality of life still to come before winter sets in. All the color that flames in the woods and runs along the horizon is so beautiful that it comforts and warms the sorrowful spirit. While the world continues to be troubled and the atom bomb is apparently the god of all things that are, I stubbornly refuse to despair. There is still love in the world, and kindness, and faith. So let us not abandon hope.
As if that wasn't a wonderful enough ending, she goes on in an exceptional postscript. It is quite long and I won't quote all of it, but I want to give you the feeling that she gave me as I read it. She truly was a philosopher, as I believe I've mentioned before. She is again up on a hill. The passage reminds me a little of Emily in Our Town when she is dead and looks at all her living loved ones.
Sometimes I go away by myself, up the hill, far enough from Stillmeadow so that I only see the slope of the roof almost lambent with sunset. ... From the upper abandoned orchard the yard is partly visible, dotted comfortably with cockers and cats, and if the weather is right, Jill's bent shoulders appear at the end of the tomato vines. If there are guests, and there usually are, the sound of their voices comes dreamily from the open space where the lawn furniture is.
If Cicely is home there is music, too. ... Don is never visible to the naked eye, for he finds the best way to get through all the murder mysteries is to keep out of sight. Too many errands might turn up.
Dorothy and her new husband, Val, will be working on their car; just married, the excitement of being together pitches their voices high and sweet. ... 
There it all is below me, this little world within a world, and I sit down on a warm grey ledge upholstered with feathery lichens and think about it in relation to the rest of the world.
The terrible suffering that man is undergoing all over the earth is like a tidal wave to overwhelm civilization. If we think of this, what can we find in the whole round turning earth to make life good?
The intolerance sickens the soul. Race against race, caste against caste - by what dreadful arrogance could I believe myself better than another woman because my skin is pale? 
But here in the country, we may establish one small territory dedicated to love instead of hate, and possibly that is why we were born. And just possibly when all men have homes, hate will diminish all over the world. 
For we are always pursuing happiness and security. We pursue them, not knowing what they are. Now and then, rarely, we find them, if only briefly. But for me, and for many women like me, and for many men, a small home in a green valley is security and the opportunity to make a happy life.
Looking down on Stillmeadow I see the years that have gone, and the mark of them is a good and kindly mark, for the trees have grown, and the lilacs are spreading graciously. When nature devastates the whole yard full of old and lovely apple trees, she begins new life the next season with young maples, and that year the mallows are as big as full moons. 
The seasons change but new life is always coming, and in the country one never looks backward. As soon as the crops are harvested, we begin to plan next year's garden. When the rose has faded, there is pruning to do for another lovelier rose. Moments of sadness when the delicate amethyst and ivory lace of the lilacs die may shake the heart, but on the morrow we go out to the border and see the rosy red peony, like an English country maid in a lyric, spreading a full skirt.
Gladys remembers the many things that have happened over the years, both the happy and sad. She says, "I remember my mother, who never walked across the lawn her, and is always here." She can talk about the general and the very most personal and we readers feel what she feels. We understand this woman, much like ourselves all these years later. If you haven't read her, I hope you will. And if you have, you know just what I mean. It has been a lovely year with Gladys, and I hope to continue my visits with her each year with a different book. She fills me with joy and hope and real comfort. I couldn't ask for more.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Today's poem by Ted Kooser


Today you would be ninety-seven
if you had lived, and we would all be
miserable, you and your children,
driving from clinic to clinic,
an ancient fearful hypochondriac
and his fretful son and daughter,
asking directions, trying to read
the complicated, fading map of cures.
But with your dignity intact
you have been gone for twenty years,
and I am glad for all of us, although
I miss you everyday - the heartbeat
under your necktie, the hand cupped
on the back of my neck, Old Spice
in the air, your voice delighted with stories.
On this day each year you loved to relate
that the moment of your birth
your mother glanced out the window
and saw lilacs in bloom. Well, today
lilacs are blooming in side yards
all over Iowa, still welcoming you.

Ted Kooser from Delights & Shadows 2004 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Quote du jour/Adam Frost

There's one thing I'm going to do next year. I'm going to celebrate all the things that go right and not worry about the things that go wrong.

Adam Frost on Gardeners' World (I watch on Britbox.)

He was talking about the garden, but honestly they are such good words about life in general.