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,Honestly, I am sure I can feel that 'magic' in my own blood.
And feel the magic in your blood,
Plant that when maples are in leaf,
And that's the END of winter grief!
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.Everyone I know has a particular place in their hearts for lilacs, and Gladys waxes poetic as she writes of them.
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.
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.Gladys ends her month with
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.
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." ...She writes,
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.
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!