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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Stillmeadow - September

I realized that I have gone through most of The Book of Stillmeadow without noting Gladys' poems at the beginning of each month. Here is September's.

Song for September
Not that I ever had her for my own,
Quick in the house I heard her running feet,
Watched the door swing, garnered a sentence blown
Back to my stillness, "Friends I have to meet."
Nor that I knew her, never her secret thought
Came home to me, nor how she dreamed. I knew
Each growing year the size of clothes I bought,
And that her favorite sweater set was blue.

Now sober reason counsels me again,
This was not yours that goes beyond your sight.
Knowing this well, I must perceive with pain,
The bough is empty when the bird takes flight.

Bravely my mind assures me nothing's lost,
But oh my heart admits the killing frost.

Whew! That is deep and so poignant. I think that each monthly poem was generally more wistful, or upset than the prose entry. That's the thing about poetry, isn't it? It can often come right from the heart onto the page. There can be a depth that prose doesn't often touch.

Though my kids are now in their 30s, I still remember those periods of melancholy as they grew up. I had a friend who said of Margaret that she thought she would end up in Los Angeles. What pain that little sentence gave me. You just don't know where they will go. I am thankful every single day that my kids are so close, and that they love the home and the state where they grew up. Lucky, lucky.

This is one of the remarkable things about reading Gladys Taber, all these years after she wrote. She was born in 1899. Her daughter Connie was born in 1927. They are both dead now, but the feeling expressed in this little poem still strikes a chord in a parent's heart, as do all Gladys' essays. This has to be a sign of genius - that your words continue to resonate throughout the years.

So many of us seem to love the month of September.
September wind blows away the fatigue of summer heat, and the listlessness of August weather.
Fatigue and listlessness. Those are great words to describe this past summer. And September was a welcome relief, until we had a reprise of that weather for a few days. The difference was that I knew it wouldn't go on for ages, and the nights were cooler.

Even in my childhood I remember those few hot days that came back in September. I'd be walking home in my wool kilt (anyone remember them? and kilt pins?), simply boiling but I just had to wear my new school clothes no matter the weather!

It is certainly a month of changeable weather. Gladys says,
The September rains are something I just live through. The rain falls straight and dark and heavy and the leaves on every tree and bush are beaten down by the weight. The early-turned leaves are lost now. The rain seems sad, meaning the end of summer days. 
But she goes on,
I don't see how this month can be so exciting and at the same time so sad. It is like the second-act curtain in the play of summer. And every day you feel like begging the play to go on a little longer, before the floodlights go out, and summer is gone.
But there is excitement too. The dramatic first flame of maple, the burning gold of the goldenrod, the coming of the first wild blue asters and the richness of ripening pumpkins. Even the air seems to have color in it; one breathes the color, and the heart beats with it.
I am always frightfully sentimental now. Whether the second-act feeling is responsible, or the color goes to my head, I don't know. But I really go all out with sentiment. 
One of her "sentiments" is so lovely.
I wish we could put up this late summer sunlight in jars. If we could only pack it, clamp the bail down on the glass, set the pressure cooker for, say, ten pounds, and process jars and jars of bright, fresh, mellow sun. I can see how it would look with the jars ranged in the fruit cellar beside the chicken and piccalilli and tomato catsup. And on a dark January day we would bring up a quart or so of sunshine and open it and smell again the warm dreamy air of a late-summer day.
Isn't that just wonderful? It reminds me of my favorite Greg Brown song.

I actually put the lyrics on the blog eleven years ago when I'd been blogging just a couple months.

The Book of Stillmeadow was published in 1948, but the essays have copyrights dating from 1937. Gladys was writing about getting wood together for the winter, when suddenly she says,
We acquired some wood this month at a fearful cost. A small private hurricane descended on us, and in ten minutes took down all the old apple trees in the backyard. Wind and rain made a roaring darkness around the house. A window crashed in and water poured clear across the room, and presently the electric cables to the house were reft away and the place plunged into darkness. ... When day came I looked out on the back yard and felt sure my heart was broken. All the lovely old apple trees, so sweet with bloom in the spring, were sprawled on the grass. Only two were left at the edge of the lawn.
It was an eerie feeling to read this, as I had just seen in the September installment of the Friends of Gladys Taber (which you may read about here) that this past May a tornado went through Southbury, Connecticut. Luckily, the house was spared but a lot of old trees came down, including pines that Gladys had planted in 1938 to replace those 13 apple trees!

After telling Tom about these two things, he began reading Thirty-Eight The Hurricane That Transformed New England by Stephen Long. He thought it was a terrific book. I plan to read it myself sooner than later.

Gladys ends her September essay beautifully with a paraphrase of Keats' words.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too
It has been a little odd for me writing this in the middle of October, but September flew by. Soon, I hope to write about October, the last month in this book.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018


I saw this on Facebook, and I just knew some of my readers would so love it.

The History of 'APRONS'
I don't think our kids know what an apron is. The principle use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.
It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.
From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.
And when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped it around her arms.
Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.
Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.
When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.
When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.
It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes.
Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill to thaw.
They would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.
I don't think I ever caught anything from an apron - but love
---Hawk Seeker of Truth---

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Today's Nature Cam Picture/Coyote and wild turkeys

I decided to make a label just for the nature cam photos so they would have their own place here on the blog. The camera is still on the outside corner of the fence by the road.

The time is off on the pictures. We have to check into the setting.

I'm thinking this may be "our" lone coyote that was in the first nature cam picture I put up here. He must have a trail because there he is in the same place in both September and October. There is a whole life going on while I'm asleep!

I am exceedingly fond of turkeys, which I am sure I've written here before. They are a huge success story in my state. The last sighting had been in 1854!! There is a great article here if you are interested.

And here are a couple pictures of not-so-wild creatures!