Friday, March 30, 2012

March with Gladys and Rachel

To learn more about this yearlong adventure with Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, you may scroll down to 'letter topics' and click 'A Year with Gladys and Rachel.'

Around here March means the return of what I call the holy bird trio: the robin, redwing blackbird, and woodcock. We've heard a few tree frogs. The temps have been in the single numbers and in the eighties. Lots of wind, rain/snow mixes, sunshine.

When the end of the month arrives, I am pleased to check in on Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden and see how their months were all those years ago.

As Gladys talked about cleaning her milk glass, I was reminded of something I read just this morning, and thought quite, quite wonderful. The author of The Hours, Michael Cunningham wrote in the Guardian last June.
In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf asserts that a day in the life of just about anyone contains, if looked at with sufficient penetration, much of what one needs to know about all human life, in more or less the way the blueprint for an entire organism is present in every strand of its DNA. In Mrs Dalloway, and other novels of Woolf's, we are told that there are no insignificant lives, only inadequate ways of looking at them.
I, who have lived my life primarily at home with its many pleasures, am always happy to see this life acknowledged and affirmed. Gladys found deep joy in hers and wrote
Small jobs can be important too. Washing the milk glass would never go down in history as an achievement, but how good I feel after I have done it! I sit down and look at the old corner cupboard and think about the days when the milk glass was made - and all the people who cherished it, and they did cherish it or it would have been broken long ago.
Again, and as always, I think of what a fine and fun blogger Gladys would have been. Her thoughts go all over the place. She writes of Shakespeare and milk glass and dogs and spring cleaning one after the other, and all connecting somehow. She can go from discovering the new joy of good television to her love of cheese without skipping a beat. I smile with utter delight when she writes about the hidden treasures found in the yard after the snow goes away.
In the yard itself, old bones, bits of rubber rabbits, and a few dog-food cans turn up, for Holly [the Irish Setter] makes it a point not to go outdoors without carrying something. Three of my missing socks appear too.
She is unfailing optimistic about the world and its people, even as she voices her worries.
As for the world, it has been in a parlous state so long that there is no sense in worrying about the future. It is better, I think, to go on believing in goodness and beauty and truth and in God, no matter how we define these terms each of us for ourselves.
And better to live one day at a time. This is a hard task, often, for we tend to keep going to the past and trying to live it over again or looking ahead and uselessly trying to forecast tomorrow and next week and next year. …
In grief, one can endure the day, just the day. But when one also tries to bear the grief ahead, one cannot compass it.
As for happiness, it can only be the ability to experience the moment. It is not next year that life will be so flawless and if we keep trying to wait for next year's happiness, the river of time will wind past and we shall not have lived at all.
While Rural Free ends with the month of August, March ends Stillmeadow Daybook. Afterward there is a chapter called Full Circle.
As I go out in the morning to pick the white daffodils, I think of the bulbs secure under the snow in the past winter, of the first green spears that lance the early spring light, and I think of next year's garden, too. And I have no feeling of finality when I cut the faded tips of the lilacs that have again budded, blossomed, died. For by now the homespun sweetness of the Dorothy Perkins [rose] is covering the picket fence, and Silver Moon [probably clematis] opens pale ivory buds by the gate.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned that the subtitle of Rural Free is A Farmwife's Almanac of Country Living. Almanac could easily be translated as blog these days. And when I read Rachel's passages, which were columns in the newspaper, I dearly wish I could see accompanying photographs. As descriptive as her words are, I would love to see this view.
… I had been up on the top of that lovely hill, had seen the wide, free-running view, the green barley fields in spring, the snowy blanketed winter wildness, the dull browns and rich reds and the shaded greens marking off the seasons.
Living in the mountains with hills and curves and trees all around me, I would so like to see what Rachel is talking about here.
A whole rainbow, in all its subtly varying tones, was hung in the sky. One end rose out of Jim Scherschel's fencerow a mile away; the other end stood firmly distinct on the top of Clyde Naylor's barn, three miles in the other direction.
Three miles! That's how far we are from town, and I can barely see two tenths of a mile just down our road.

As so often when I read her monthly reports, I am impressed with Rachel's observations, how she really sees what is around her. 'Little' things that I so often miss she pays attention to, and gives deep thought to. Like cocoons.
… gray-brown like winter leaves, nature having given the worm that bit of insight as part its ration of talent. They lie strewn carelessly on the ground, or hang from trees and weedstalks like old dried leaves that haven't quite got around to blowing loose. They are almost hidden, but not quite, for whatever nature makes provision for anything to hide, she also supplies a few eyes capable of finding it, but not inevitably certain to.
Nature is impartial, and it's hard to tell whose side she's on.
Some of the cocoons picked up by delighted human finders will prove to have been discovered already. There may be little punctures in the tough drab paper, or the ends may have been torn open by moth enemies, not from enmity, but from hunger. The difference between enmity and appetite is a matter of who is eating whom.
Rachel ends this month with her beautiful description of 'the greening rain' which
came in the night Tuesday. There were some tossed-up coals of lightening; there was a wind that began in a careful whisper as if trying to waken one person without waking a small sleeper next to him. But the wind's joy increased as it sang until finally it was roaring and shouting and not caring who heard.
And then the rain began, the tonic, greening, transforming rain that comes only once a year.
At gray daylight, silver drops still clung to the undersides of peach limbs; but the rain had stopped, and now every living blade and stalk whose destiny it is to be green was suddenly astonishingly green.
This miracle happens every year at the beginning of spring.
This one rain is as distinct and set apart from all other rains as one handwriting is from another. Later on the grass will be thicker, taller, tougher, but right now every blade is as greenly green as it can ever be.
Cattle notice the difference immediately. Farmers do, too. This morning every farm neighbor you meet will exclaim happily, "My ain't it greened up nice since the rain!"

I shall end my March entry with a New Yorker cover that has been pinned up on the wall of the kitchen stairs for twenty years. Serendipitously, the date is March 30, 1992. It show what March is like around here, and also in the 1950s and 1960s worlds of Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden.


  1. Hi Nan - Love those rusty bunnies. I was just looking at Twitter (still trying to figure out just how it works) when I ran across a contest for independent book bloggers to win a trip to NYC and access to the publishing industry's big trade show (it costs $$$$ to go to that). I think you ought to throw "Letters" in for their consideration.

    1. You are such a dear! We can be published together. :<)

  2. Every time you post about these two books, I eagerly read the excerpts, and marvel at the wisdom and humour of both these ladies. Indeed, Gladys would have made a great blogger!

    1. What a nice thing to say! Thank you. I'm so glad you like these pieces.

  3. Oh, I do enjoy Gladys and Rachel, and I did their observations about spring. Here in Staffordshire we've had blue skies, flowers everywhere,bees, butterflies and birds flying around, and warm enough to be out without a jacket or coat. But today the weather has broken, it's very grey outside, and frost, snow and rain are forecast in the days ahead - hopefully not all at the same time!

    1. I'm so pleased you like them! I cannot believe what you wrote. Flowers, bees. Let's see. I have a little bit of green in the grass surrounded by brown. Flowers are a month+ away!

  4. I always feel like time stands still a bit as I read your posts about Gladys and Rachel!! I look forward to these so much!

    1. What a nice sentiment. I love that idea. Thank you!

  5. Always a treat, these posts. I especially love Rachel's greening description, Nan. Our spring woke up with a start here this year. No easy, slow emergence. Still, it is a joy to see green again.

    1. I am so happy you enjoy them! It's nice and slow here. :<)

  6. I love these two women, especially Gladys. Thank you so much for introducing them to me. Such humanity in them both, it's in the detail.

  7. So often when you leave a comment I wish you had a blog, so others could read your poetic thoughts. I love that last sentence.

  8. I love reading your G&R posts, dear Nan. And I love that New Yorker cover! I should seek out a book of their covers; they have so many that are beautiful and worthy of framing.

    1. Thank you! I so love these books, and I enjoy sharing them. You can go online to see/buy the covers.

      I have framed a couple over the years, but this one is just up on a wall with pushpins. Not beautiful but much loved.

  9. That framed NY cover is just a wonderful thing! Thank you for sharing. Your posts (and excerpts from G & R are wonderful and give me the taste of emerging spring ... a season we miss (literally and figuratively) nowadays.

    1. I'm so very happy you like them. Thanks for telling me. You may not have 'emerging spring' but you have alligators and pythons!!


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