Oh my, they just take my breath away.
Basil this week!
Still left from last Wednesday!
There is such an air of leisure as they sun-bathe and acquire that lovely magazine tan. Often a stately gentleman great Dane or a lady Dalmation in her black-and-white summer print sits motionless just at the edge of the picture.Definitely not the reality for most of us! Gladys contrasts the picture of lounging around with her life. As she decides "to take a sun bath in the back yard" she notes that her shoes are old with toothmarks from the chewing of puppies. Her clothes are paint-stained. The chaise longue needs paint, and its chair pad is full of holes, her heavy book falls to the ground and a dog puts his muddy paw on the open page. Much more like real life, wouldn't you say?!
The garden vegetables are a source of endless satisfaction to me now. I think many people who began to garden because of the war will never be without a garden again.As I've said before, I don't have a big garden anymore. But when we first moved back to our home state after college in Boston, it was the time of the back to the earth movement. And at the same time, in our small area we couldn't buy organic vegetables. So we grew tons of food and froze it. Now, our local co-op offers organic fruits and vegetables, and in season most of it is locally grown. The Farmers' Markets in the area are another source of fresh food. It makes me so happy to see new, young farmers in the area.
The weeds in the garden begin to have their way, after the first week in July. There is a new school of thought, as a matter of wonder, that believes in weeds! Their shade keeps moisture in the soil, they say.That's a good thing because in this summer heat our weeds have gotten a bit out of control. And any moisture is welcome. We have had very little rain, and some of NH is in a drought. Our area is defined as "abnormally dry." Tomorrow they say lots and lots of rain, and it will be so very welcome.
My adventures in Spanish have led me to think about education very seriously. Adult education, I believe, is the answer to a good many of the problems we have today. If every parent became a student for one night a week, for instance, there would be a new closeness to children.
And our own outlook would be broader. We tend to grow in on our own circumscribed world, and enlarging the horizon is a magic thing. Whether it be history, or philosophy, or how to plant petunias, no matter. It is a good thing to exercise our minds on something outside the routine of living.In addition to the writing and gardening and tending to an old house and friends, Gladys and Eleanor raised and showed cocker spaniels! What energy! In this particular July, there were fifteen puppies! Three litters were born in the same week. Maybe dog breeders have a special energy gene. The woman who sold us our Lucy the Labrador has seven children and isn't 40 yet! We call her wonder woman.
The banks grow dark, and the sky is peach. It is hard to see the bait on the hook. It is hours after we should have gone home. I see in my mind's eye the dogs, hungry, the puppies wriggling, the people who did not get to come with us looking at the clock every five seconds. The curious thing about fishing is that you never want to go home. If you catch something, you can't stop. If you don't catch anything, you hate to leave in case something might bite. There never is a time to stop.She says what we all know to be true - "the days go by too fast in midsummer", and ends with
"Stay a little, summer, do not go," I whisper, as I take a last look around me before I go in.
It ill behooves me to complain that there are too many book prizes, having won some in my early career. They came at just the right time, they were lifesavers in terms of the money, but more - they gave me confidence that I was right all along. They were recognition. And they are there. No one can take them away. Forty-five years later, they still count.
So I can't complain. But every year the prizes proliferate and every year, a few of them at least come to mean less - particularly the lucrative prizes for the best short story of the year. £20K or £30K for one story? These almost always go to unknowns who may have written a single stunning story and then vanish without trace. The point about book prizes is partly to give the recipient's career a boost, to provide time and financial support for them to climb the next rung of the ladder.Such an interesting section because she has been both a winner and a judge so she has a unique outlook on the whole business.
get large sponsorship, from newspapers or TV companies or local magnates with deep pockets and cultural aspirations. Small ones survive on volunteers and goodwill. Often they cannot pay authors, in which case the authors have to decide whether the gig is worth their while.
But the joy of the lit fest is meeting with people who come to say they have always loved your books, or that this one has meant much to them, or that one kicked off their teenager's love of reading, or was their late mother's favorite ... I asked the organiser of one small book festival why they didn't apply for Arts Council or area arts funding. They had. They were turned down because lit fests are, apparently, too middle class.Completely fascinating.
Heavenly Master, I wud like to wake to they same green places
Where I be know'd for breakin' dogs and follerin' sheep.
And if I may not walk in th' old ways and look on th' old faces
I wud sooner sleep.Susan Hill ends the month with three cautionary tales, two of them concerned with social media and the other with bullying. Lives were changed. A doctor was
tricked and betrayed by her fellow partners, maligned and undermined by a process of passive-aggressive bullying, to the extent that she was forced to resign and lost her confidence as a doctor. ... It broke her, and when she was exonerated and proven innocent of all the trumped-up charges, it was too late. The damage was done.She took early retirement and has not worked since.
It might seem as if June is an old story, with so much poetry written about it, and so many songs sung. And yet every time it comes it is as much of a wonder, as much of a delight.
If I had Aladdin's lamp and the usual three wishes, the first would always be, "Give me the first day of June." The whole complete day, with the sky-blue dawn, and the golden noon, and the violet dusk, and the silvered night. With early roses unfolding and a hummingbird over the border. And a whole packet of smells too. New-cut grass, and pea vines, and freshly hoed garden soil.What was June this year like where you live? Other than ticks, I'd say mine was pretty close to Gladys' description. There is always the odd weather June, but most every year is the same, bringing the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Here are a few pictures from Windy Poplars.
looking up toward the house
When I get to Heaven, I am not going to put on golden shoes or cast down golden crowns around a glassy sea or play on my harp. No, I am going to eat all the hot bread and potatoes I want. Cinnamon rolls, pinwheel biscuits, hot muffins. French-fried potatoes, baked potatoes, creamy mashed potatoes. Potato fluff. Butter will go well, too. And fresh-made jam. Or clear amber honey.Amen! Though I'm not waiting for Heaven.
I used to think of the whippoorwill as a most romantic bird; once or twice I heard one crying in the north woods in Wisconsin and the sound was exquisite. But that was before I got so intimate with the whippoorwill. He has lost his charms for me. All night long I am jerked from my sleep at ten minute intervals, not by one lone one, but by all his sisters and his cousins and his aunts. I never knew they came in bevies, but if this is just one family group going on so furiously, I know they have sore throats.
The voice of the whippoorwill has a penetrating quality, a kind of feverish intensity as he implores me to whip poor Will. I rise up and assure him, and his relations, just as feverishly, that I would be glad to if I could only get a my hands on them. Romance or not, I like a few hours' sleep.She goes on to talk about visiting a man's beautiful place in the country.
"Oh, it is so lovely and peaceful here," I said.
Mr. Bellamy gave me an odd look. "You have any whippoorwills at Stillmeadow?" he asked.We didn't mind being woken up one single bit. We hope he found a mate, and that more and more whippoorwills will come next spring.
I learned Texas Hold'em, teaching myself via an app, and then played a lot online. Too much. I had to stop, not because I was losing - I was breaking even overall and anyway, I never played for high stakes - but because it is very addictive and time-wasting. No, not 'wasting'. I enjoyed it, it was a mental challenge, and I was improving all the time. But time-consuming, certainly. I began to find myself playing every night until the early hours. Time to stop.And then she continues
But knowing the game has made re-reading Casino Royale much more exciting.She writes of Thomas Hardy
Hardy was a melancholic man, glass only a quarter full. He had no optimism, no hope for man or the universe. ... What a delineator of character he was. And people talk about Jane Austen.I loved Hardy when I was in college but I haven't read him since. I think the gloom may have been easier to take before I knew much of the world.
The cuckoo is driving me mad, from dawn, yet for several years he was barely heard here. I defy anyone to explain.we, too, had a bird return. The whip-poor-will is back! It has been gone from Windy Poplars Farm since the 1980s. They have been declining in the Northeast for decades, and the Audubon Society is trying to figure out how to bring them back. This is a most interesting article. The first night it was down the road, another night it was quite distant, but the past two nights and early mornings it has been close to the house. In other bird happenings, we have a red-eyed vireo for the first time. And the phoebe which has nested in the barn for years is gone, but at Margaret's house a phoebe came back to the very same nest it made last year on the porch. Susan Hill is right. Who knows? There is no real explanation about birds. Just magic.
It is always a delight to read his Natural History of Selborne, at random or 'on this date' 250 years ago. He seems so close to us, with his weather and nature and gardening reports. So many things remain. He waits for the first hirundines, records when the swifts are very late, weighs the tortoise and seems to grow enough cucumbers to feed the county. He feels friendly to me as I read, cheerful, methodical, modest, inquisitive, a man in tune with the natural world around him as if it were part of him, ... White is useful, too, for correcting one's feeling that never was a July as hot as this, swallow so early, oak so late in leaf, winter so mild, tortoise so regular in its habits. The sun rises and sets and the moon waxes and wanes and the tides are high and then low and the Earth turns on its axis, for us as for Gilbert White. That is comforting.
May in New England is so close to Heaven that I wonder how the early preachers managed to keep the eyes of their people turned to the future life. Nobody could help being dazzled by the beauty of this world if he rode down a Connecticut country highway in the soft sweet light of a May morning. Heaven enough for me, at any rate; I wish everyone could see it.This is pretty much the way I feel too, though it is heaven with qualification. If you have read this blog very long, you might know that I am going to use the 'T' word - ticks. I still can't figure out why we have them now but never did before. Climate change? I don't know - most things here are the same as they've ever been. Moose population? Deer? Mice? I guess the cause doesn't really matter because none of those things are going to go away. They are a problem for a couple months, and then when the weather is hotter in July, we aren't bothered much. So far today I have found seven on Lucy. I may have said it before but this is the reason we will have only yellow Labradors and not the blacks or chocolates. The ticks are easy to spot. Years ago we had a lot of black flies, the scourge of northern New England in the spring, but they have decreased quite a lot since my kids were little. We would put bee veils on them so they wouldn't get so bitten. It used to be miserable to work in the gardens in May because of them, but now they are just an occasional nuisance. Did they decrease when the ticks came? The latter have been around for at least 14 years. That is when I remember them on our collie, MacIntosh. I've even wondered if perhaps his epilepsy came from Lyme disease, in those days when we didn't really know that ticks were around. We'll never know. Every bit of paradise has its pests and problems. Some have poisonous snakes or spiders or scorpions. Some have fungi that cause disease. There's always some kind of snake in Eden to have to worry about, I guess. But as a kid, the only thing I ever got was a mosquito bite. No black flies, no ticks. So something changed but I've never read a real explanation. Okay, enough about ticks, etc. I remind myself of Gladys as I go off on rambles wherever my mind takes me!
May is almost a perfect month in many ways. One is that now flowers can come into the house. And no matter how involved we may be with the house, the garden, the dogs, there will always be time to arrange flowers. And bouquets will be happy in glass pie plates, wooden mixing bowls, old sugar bowls, bean pots. I have an antique knife box, painted black and stenciled with a colonial design in dull gold. In it go tin cans, cut down to fit. It is lovely with pale misty-gold forsythia and massed jonquils. I use the forsythia for the line of height, and keep the jonquils low, toward the edge of the box. Add to this one Siamese cat, batting the flowers around with a brown velvet glove, and you have something really nice.As you can see, she has an artist's eye for putting flowers and containers together. My 'arranging' is more pick and pop into an old glass jar so they look much like they did outdoors.
Sometimes I stop to think, now, that every day we are making memories. And I wonder whether I make happy memories for my own child. I feel sure that if families would be conscious of the fact that everything they do or say may one day be a memory, there would be less quarreling, fewer harsh words spoken. It is nice to be right, but better to be remembered pleasantly. And there is something so inexorable about the past; you can't change it. You can only try to make today a good one before it, too, slips into the past.I don't think you can read a nonfiction book by Gladys Taber without mention of lilacs in May. And really, around here lilacs come up in most conversations, and we put up pictures on Instagram and Facebook. We can't help it. Every year is like the first time we've ever seen them. My first May here on the blog has a post titled Lilac Time. I went out today in the light warm rain and took pictures of all our lilacs.
A single lilac flower is one of the most perfect of God's creations - the little star with its four points and the translucent color and the heavenly scent.
The white light of the moon falls on the blossoming fruit trees, on the sleeping meadows, on the far dark of the hills. All's well at Stillmeadow in the lovely May night.
When I am wakeful, I like to listen to the stillness of the hours after midnight. The very wings of peace fold over our valley. I can feel how good the world is, and how unnatural it is for mankind to be so ridden with fear and hate. We are all born into the same world, we breathe the same air, that miraculous envelope wrapped round our small planet, we are nourished on the same fare of food and water, and we are one in death at the end.
Seeing this is so, we are communally bound together. We are brothers whether we like it or not! And every time we invent a nice new buzz bomb or jet rocket, it is our own whom we prepare to destroy.
The moon is wiser, for she sheds equal light over the hills of Judea and the silvered meadows outside my New England window.These are words as meaningful now as all those years ago.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room.just after I had seen Monty Don's Instagram photo of blossoms (maybe apple not cherry) and his words:
No apologies for yet more blossom. There is no life long enough to have too much.If you'd like to follow him, you may go here. So much beauty - plants and his dogs!
I discovered Ethan Frome and disliked it. Others think it a small work of genius, but there is something stark and cold about it and it did not ring true to me because it was set in rural America, and above all Edith was a city woman. Still, it is regarded as a great short novel, so I am probably wrong.I was surprised to hear her say that. I don't think any reader has to feel badly if they go against the flow of opinion about a book. I'd be apologizing all the time in that case! I'm always surprised when I like a book which has also gotten public acclaim.
She was a great student of human nature. She understood women, but she also knew an unnerving amount about men. She writes about social ambition, social aspiration, social climbing - the nuances of society, and about the cruelty with which it can appear to accept, only to exclude and cast off, any who are not within its charmed circle by right of birth or at least marriage.Susan Hill writes about Wharton herself:
If you are born into an aristocracy of whatever country, you are an aristocrat for life. You are rooted in a society to which so many aspire to belong and which has formed your taste, manners, beliefs, assumptions, for good, no matter where else you may travel to or in what other country you may settle. It is important to remember this in order to realise just how extraordinary Edith Wharton's life turned out to be, and how unlike most of her own class she became. ... She was one of those children who are unhappy not only in their families and backgrounds, but even in their own skin. She was destined to fulfil herself as an adult but her early years were unhappy, because she was bright and noticed things, and because her mother was cold to her. She loved her father deeply, but he was a weak man who vacillated when she asked him to stand up for her against his wife, who even forbade EW from reading novels until she was married.I found this fascinating. Though I am not interested in her novels, I agree with Susan Hill that "You could find much interest and enjoyment from reading all about her in the good biographies without reading a word of her fiction, and there are coffee table books about the gardens she created, and about her interior design, mainly but not only for her own houses in both America and France."
She was living in Paris when the First World War broke out and very soon afterwards, in August 1914, she opened a sewing workroom for thirty unemployed women, feeding them and paying them a modest wage. The thirty soon doubled to sixty and their work was in demand. She established a hostel for Belgian refugees, and organised the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee, which eventually looked after almost a thousand child refugees who had fled their towns after they had been bombed by the German army. With her friend Walter Berry she even travelled by car to the war zone, coming within a short distance of the trenches, in order to see at first hand what conditions were like. She compiled and edited a book in aid of war victims, prised money for them out of wealthy Americans and was awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French government. And all this time she continued to write novels, essays, stories - and kept up a large correspondence.Whew! I quoted so much because I found it amazing, and I thought you would be interested if you didn't already know. The biography she thinks best is the one by Hermione Lee.
The last time I heard anyone refer to the old railway companies by their nicknames was in the 1970s when a friend said he was off to watch the cricket but was not taking his car. 'I shall go by the Slow and Dirty.' That was the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway. LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) was Late and Never Early. LMS (London, Midland, & Scottish) was Late, Mouldy and Slow. And of course the GWR (Great Western) was God's Wonderful Railway.Aren't they just great?! She had to learn W.H. Auden's Night Mail by heart when she was in school. I wonder if anyone does that now.
This is the night mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order.Just those two lines make me feel nostalgic for something I've never even experienced. The only trains that went by my house were freight trains but we always ran to the 'banking' and looked down as they passed. Now those are gone, too.
An Oxfordshire stone farmhouse, with a big barn to the right, converted as John's studio for his larger paintings. ... Myfanwy was a natural and instinctive cook and, long before it became fashionable, always used local produce, real meat, veg from the garden, other things from farmers or cheesemakers around. And it was far less easy to find those things then. ... I always slept in the Book Room, which was literally that, dark, comfortable, ever-interesting. You only had to look round, reach out a hand to a shelf, to find treasures, and often signed treasures by old friends. The 1920s and 1930s and 1940s, poetry, fiction, topography, France, Venice, art, John's own books, complete Shell Guides to Britain which he produced with John Betjeman. ... I could have spent days in there, looking and reading.She goes on for pages describing her visits - the food, the conversation, the music, the studio, and John's work. I was thinking what a nice couple and what a lovely life they led. And yes, it was lovely but then we see that all of us have sadnesses, even those whose lives seem so perfect. Their son died, their granddaughter died, and John got Alzheimer's. I just stopped and thought quietly after I finished this April chapter.