Monday, June 26, 2017

The Green Place

The Green Place

Over millennia mankind has crafted a myriad of obstacles that hide the doorway to an inviolable part of the soul.  We cover the entrance with arrogance, we cover it with fear.  We visit it only in vulnerability, in brokenness, in wonder. It is a green place that lives in the core of our being, a place which, left ignored or untended, can, over time, turn utterly to dust, leaving us blind to the treasures we are offered in this life. It is an elusive part of the soul, but wisdom floats on its breezes and hope shines down in its light.  I cannot tell you how to get there, I doubt that anyone can.  But you’ll know it when you do.

I have wandered the hillsides of this green place many times, often guided by  poets whose words I cannot explain but understand as well as I do my own name.  They are the weavers of wisdom, people to whom a gift has been given, and so often their words are the incantation that unlocks this door to my soul, setting me loose to wander these illuminated fields like an inarticulate child glimpsing heaven.   Poet David Whyte has written, “Poetry is the language against which we have no defenses.”   And he’s right.  Poetry so often comes bearing a light of truth that only our soul understands.  We need it, especially now.

April was National Poetry Month here in the US and I gave myself a personal challenge of sorts to post a favourite poem each April day on my Instagram page.  Despite my concern that I wouldn’t have enough, I found I had many, many left over and I realized anew how much poetry has influenced and comforted me throughout my life. 

 At present, there seems to be a concentrated effort in the world to devalue the beautiful and denigrate those very things that make the soul breathe.  Empathy is weakness.  Wisdom is superseded by financial success.  When America’s president publicly expresses contempt for the poor and is applauded for it, we have not only turned our backs on truth, but we’ve closed the door on decency as well.   In this time of darkness it is imperative that we find that green place in our soul.  We must dig through any vines that have grown up over the door, dig till our fingers bleed and tears stain our faces.  Once on that hillside we will know we are not alone in our hunger for goodness.  
On that hillside we will hear Shakespeare say, 

“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this scepter sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.  Therefore, Jew, 
Though justice be thy plea, consider this, 
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation:  we do pray for mercy."

We will hear the echo of Mary Oliver’s question:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
 with your one wild and precious life?” 

And we may resolve, like Amy Lowell:
“...For I have time for nothing
But the endeavor to balance myself
Upon a broken world.”

painting above by Gustave Dore

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Waiting for the Bird to Sing: A Summer Reading LIst

Waiting for the Bird to Sing
A Summer Reading List

It often commences around two in the morning.  A song as lyrical as any angel’s, it drifts out of the trees almost casually, as though the singer has no idea how magical it is.  It is a song of pure joy, its lilts and trills like laughter through the darkness.  I often slip from the cool linen and go to the window seat - to listen, to marvel, to applaud.  I have no idea what sort of bird this is, or even if anyone else can hear him.  Perhaps he sings for me alone, a spectral creature visiting one he knows is awake and listening.  
And of course I am awake.
I am reading.

Summer nights, when the air is still as a stare and sits heavy on the cottage roof, I am often to be found reading.  The stack of new books by my bed is a teetering tower of temptations that I found impossible to resist.  There are books I brought home from John Sandoe’s in London, braving the risk of overweight luggage fees without so much as a thought.  ( I made it just fine.)  There are new books, and some old ones I missed.  There are suggestions from Instagram friends and one recommended by writer Anne Lamott when I heard her speak a couple of months ago.  I am making my way through the stack as though it were a box of favorite chocolates, each one more delicious than the last.
In these troubled times I find I'm reaching for both comfort and escape.  Perhaps you are as well.  
For escape there’s always Daphne DuMaurier or Agatha Christie. For comfort, I often find it in John O’Donohue, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry and the aforementioned Anne Lamott.
I hope you’ll find a bit of both comfort and escape on this summer reading list of mine.
And maybe a few laughs, which are always welcome.
Just click on book photo to see more.

As for me, tonight I’ll be reading again,
 waiting for the bird to sing.

1.  The Essex Serpent
by Sarah Perry
I saw this in the window of John Sandoe’s in London.
Could not resist it.

2.  The Riders 
by Tim Winton

3.  My Cousin Rachel
by Daphne du Maurier
Read the book before seeing the movie.

4.  Churchill and Orwell
The Fight for Freedom
by Thomas E. Ricks

5.  Happy All the Time
by Laurie Colwin
Anne Lamott was right.
This book is wonderful.

6.  Grief Cottage
by Gail Godwin

7.  Theft by Finding
Diaries 1977-2002
by David Sedaris
Always witty and laugh out loud funny.

8. The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories
by Penelope Lively

9.  The Chilbury Ladies Choir 
by Jennifer Ryan

10.  Al Franken, Giant of the Senate
by Al Franken
Funny, smart, and wise.

11.  The World-Ending Fire
The Essential Wendell Berry
Selected by Paul Kingsnorth

12.  Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle and read by Stephen Fry
A treat to be sure.

13.  Weatherland
by Alexandra Harris

14.  Highland Retreats
The Architecture and Interiors of Scotland’s Most Romantic North
by Mary Meirs

15.  For Love of Country
A Journey Through the Hebrides
by Madeleine Bunting

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Work We Must Do

Work We Must Do

Southerners are known to scoff at the calendar page of June.  With long-held authority it trumpets the twenty-first of this month as the beginning of summer, but of course we know better.  Already the heat lies heavy on the magnolia blooms; they burst open under its weight in a storm of lemon fragrance and a scattering of sticky stamens that shower the the newly mown ground.  Already the fan whirls. Already the girls are wearing white.  For any Southerner worth her salt knows full well that, here, summer arrives with Memorial Day, no matter what the calendar may say.  Memorial Day was this past Monday.  This, therefore, is summer.

Though it has certain pleasures to be sure, summer is not the favourite season of anyone residing at The House of Edward.  None of us, be they fair-skinned or furry, finds particular joy in humidity, or mosquitos, or heat.  But one of us in particular is especially disapproving of this season now upon us for it brings forth that most despicable creature known to dog, the heinous chipmunk.  Edward has always been too dignified to overly concern himself with these insignificant trifles of den and burrow.  He barely raises an eye when they chance to dart across the garden.  But Apple.  Oh, Apple hates chipmunks.

We were setting the table for breakfast when we noticed Apple wasn’t inside.  A quick glance out the window revealed her to be in her usual summer morning post, sitting on the stones of the courtyard staring into the cool shade of the back garden.  She will sit like this, still as stone, for hours - waiting, waiting, for that one errant chipmunk who would dare cross her path.  This morning, however, The Songwriter followed the line of her rapier-straight stare - out past the bird feeder, on under the poplar tree- till he saw…. a large… a formidable… raccoon.  He grabbed a yellow dustmop from the mudroom and headed outside at a clip.

Unaware of the danger she was actually in, Apple stared at the long-clawed raccoon with complete and utter focus.  She didn’t hear when The Songwriter called her.  She didn’t notice him heading her way.   Dog and raccoon were locked in a confrontational stance and any sudden move would make Apple bolt towards a fight she was in no way prepared for.  Then The Songwriter placed the yellow mop in front of her face and, pop!, her attention snapped.  Just for a second, but long enough for him to hoist her up and lug her inside.  Disaster averted.

Like Apple, it is, I think, difficult for some of us these days to recognize, or perhaps admit, the danger we just might be in.  There seem to be threatening creatures on every newspaper page, every television channel.  Each day brings something new to set our souls reeling.   It’s hard, almost impossible, to look away.  And should we?  As Margaret Atwood wrote in her horrifying book, The Handmaid’s Tale, “Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance.  You have to work at it.”   But is it work we should, on occasion, endeavour to do?  

Even in the face of escalating and frequently overwhelming concern about the state of things in my country, I have found there is a necessity to periodically look away, if only to gain the strength required to adequately, in my own small way, address these concerns with any sense or decorum.  It does not denote irresponsibility, rather it is essential for the nourishment of a healthy equilibrium.  I recently journeyed to London to lose myself in gardens, museums and the occasional custard tart.  It was as therapeutic as it was fun.  We took Edward and Apple to the mountains for a long walk in green shade.  I listened to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music the other day.  I read Beverley Nichols.  Tomorrow night, The Songwriter and I are going dancing.

None of the activities I’ve just mentioned are mere distractions.  Instead, I believe they function like that bright yellow dust mop waved in front of Apple to break her focus, a focus that could have only done her harm.  We need to turn away and lock eyes with Beauty as much as possible these days, for Beauty heals as much as It enlightens.  It is an oasis in this desert, one that stays with you even when you must trudge back out in the heat and sand to once again write your representative in Congress.  It is work we must do. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?” 
Isak Dinesen


There are fields of rapeseed in full bloom on the way to Kelmscott Manor.  School bus yellow, they appear to have been painted rather than planted on the fields outside my car window.  I ask the driver to stop at the top of the road leading to the tiny village; the pathway, lined with lacy faces of Cow Parsley and the drooping arms of newly green trees, is simply too tempting to resist.  Each house in the village of Kelmscott looks like an illustration in an ancient book of fairy tales and the sweet fragrance of white flowers envelopes me as I stroll past.  This is a road I’ve longed to travel for years.

The pathway ends in fields that carpet the vista in green.  The manor house is on my right, hidden by lichen-covered stone walls, and when I catch my first glimpse of it, so familiar to me from photographs and paintings, I still gasp at its beauty.  Well, of course I do, for this was the home of William Morris who once famously said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Through the years, that quote, and the design philosophy and aesthetic of Mr. Morris, have been a confirmation that the way I saw the world was neither unique nor misguided.  And at Kelmscott Manor, William Morris practiced what he preached.

To wander this home that William Morris shared with his wife, Jane, and for awhile, his best friend (and Jane’s paramour), the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is a dream come true.  I pause for a long while in Rossetti’s tapestry-lined studio, beside the long table where Jane would embroider and William would design, and could almost swear I hear sounds long past - the swish of a green skirt as it moves toward the window, the dusty scratch of a pencil on paper.  I have no doubt these beautiful, beloved rooms soaked up a bit of the creative souls that once lived here - a shadow, a whisper, a hint - for those who found themselves able to see. 

Before I visited Culloden Moor last September a friend told me she’d heard it was one of the most haunted landscapes in Britain.  “And”, she said, “if anybody feels it, you will.”
I did, and I have.   It’s never been difficult for me to sense the spirits of those left behind.  I do believe rooms and landscapes retain a bit of the departed ones who lived amongst them -those who loved there, or died there, who dreamed there or cried there - and like mists on the hillside, those spirits drift past, remembered.  They are in the wood and stone of family houses, in the blades of grass on battlefields.  Perhaps it takes a certain kind of spirit to recognize them.  If so, I’m grateful to possess that certain spirit.   
Climbing the well-worn stone steps of the Brontë parsonage in Haworth I could almost feel the light touch of Charlotte Brontë’s small hand atop mine as I ran it along the polished wood of the banister.  As I stood before the table where the sisters wrote, colours swirled and danced into paleness, almost evaporating, and I could nearly see the three of them sitting there, heads bent over their work.  At Monk’s House, the spirit of Virginia Woolf was so strong it was nearly tangible.  She was in the apple green of her sitting room walls, in the leaves that hung like garlands over the garden shed in which she wrote.  I had to turn back from following the pathway of her final walk to the river, so heavily did I feel her presence at my side, absorbed like rain into the very air around me. 

 I have never, I don’t think, seen a ghost.  But I have felt these faded tracings of departed spirits in the places where they walked.  And now I wonder, much like Isak Dinesen wondered in the quotation above, do these places now feel an inkling of me?  Did I perhaps leave a bit of my soul in these corners of the earth that I love so much?  Just an echo of my laugh, a faint scent of my perfume.  Could these rooms, these seasides and hills, possibly remember me?

Last Spring, high up on the moors of Yorkshire, I followed the oft-traveled way of the Brontë sisters, out over the hills to Ponden Kirk where the landscape falls away before you into greens and golds and the wind is a lion at your back.  Upon returning, I noticed I’d lost an earring and was surprised to find myself almost unspeakably happy to have done so.  For a little bit of me will stay there now, blown about by the gales, buried in the soil with the long ago footprints of Charlotte, Emily and Anne.  
The moors must remember me now.

Sunday, April 30, 2017



My Mother might well tell you it started with Peter Pan, and she is probably right.  The nightscape of the city as seen from the Darling’s nursery window was just pure enchantment to me as a child.  I myself think Mary Poppins had a lot to do with it as well.  Following close behind her (“Step lively, now!”)  down Cherry Tree Lane to visit Uncle Albert or to walk through the park was as real to me as anything outside my own front door and much more magical.

Growing up I discovered other parts of the city, each one as captivating as the last. Lady Dedlock and Sherlock Holmes took me down darker streets.  The Schlegel sisters fascinated me.  And my eternal favourite, Clarissa Dalloway, let me through St. James Park on a route I could now walk with my eyes closed. 

 Later I dove into history with abandon, finding, rightly or wrongly, the machinations of the Tudor court infinitely more thrilling than anything that occurred at Lexington or Concord.  Elizabeth I and her doomed Scottish cousin, Henry VIII and his outsized arrogance, Victoria and her grief - I devoured it all with relish. 

I discovered London through books which is, I think, one of the best introductions one could possibly have to the old city.  When I finally placed my own oxfords upon its hallowed ground I was delighted to find precisely what I sought.  The London of books is just as real as air.  Every corner is a revelation, every park an Eden.  It is a magical city, full of wonder and beauty and the ghosts of the past walk beside me, nearly visible, each time I visit, which is as often as I’m able. 

I am on a plane to London tonight.
You are more than welcome to come along with me if you like:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Choosing a Path

Choosing a Path

I recently heard someone say that whenever he sees an adult wearing braces, he smiles. 
Because of the optimism.  
This made me chuckle, and then it made me think.  
Optimism is a tricky thing these days, even for one as preternaturally prone to the characteristic as I.  So many sharp-clawed enemies of optimism are lurking in the bushes, just waiting to pounce on us as we go whistling along our little cosmic pathways, it’s no wonder some of us have taken to wearing the impenetrable armor of Cynicism.  If malignity and mendacity are thriving at every bend in the road it’s best to be prepared when they jump out in front of you on an otherwise beautiful day.  Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and the cynic is rarely defeated.

Cynicism is a hard armor to pierce.  It comes complete with the weapons of apathy and indifference - reliable opponents of feeling - which, used properly or long enough, can easily render one utterly immune to the worrisome vicissitudes of the day.  Before too long, events that would otherwise push you to your knees barely even merit a cursory glance.  You welcome those who urge you to keep your opinions to yourself, those who tell you one person is useless against the tidal wave of history so don't bother, those who dangle shiny objects in front of your face, luring you to distraction and superficiality.   You soon begin to feel quite comfortable in spite of the restrictions such armor can impose.

For it can be difficult to breathe locked tight inside cynicism. You can’t feel the wind in your hair or the sun on your face.  The armor is frankly so heavy you’ll soon find you can’t even run down a beach or bend over to pick up a child.  You can’t lend a hand to a neighbour and of course you can’t even think about kneeling to pray.   But you’re safe, and isn’t that the point?  You can’t be hurt, or worried.  Nothing keeps you up at night.  Nothing alters your plans.  Nothing is your responsibility or concern.  God is in control and requires absolutely nothing from you.  Everything else is a joke, right? Something for someone else to worry about.  Life is good. 

My mind is a busy place, often full of quips and one-liners that zip through at lightning speed.  Some escape from my mouth before I can grab them back; it’s been a lifelong struggle to fence them in.  If indulged too often, these wry observations can gather as one and push me towards the wide path to cynicism when I’d much rather be heading towards mercy and grace.   The ones on the journey to those better angels are not allowed armor, however.   They must walk that narrow road with open eyes and open, often broken, hearts.  They’re required to look directly at the ones in pain and sorrow, they must stop and help the ones in need.  The weather buffets them;  sometimes the wind blows so strong it’s a struggle to stand.  They must hold the hands of faith and mystery, welcoming both as equals. 
It’s the path I’d rather take.

In the continuation of that journey I went to hear the author, Anne Lamott, speak last week. 
 Her new book, Hallelujah Anyway, is one I highly recommend just now. 
And I love this quote by her:

“It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

painting above by Anna Teasdale

Saturday, April 15, 2017

For Spring: A Book, A Movie, A Sale and A Poem

For Spring:
A Book, A Movie, A Sale and A Poem

Spring has slowly wafted down upon The House of Edward like a feather from the bluebird now sitting in my hemlock tree.  The dawn chorus is symphonic and Edward is constantly distracted on his afternoon walks by the myriad of captivating smells rising up from the wakening ground.  There are more shades of green in the forest that in any artist’s palette.  It is a season of newness - new life, new beauty, new hope - and in the spirit of that newness, I’m tickled to share with you some new discoveries. 
 I hope you enjoy them. 

A Book
Readers have a lot in common with one another.  For instance, we all recognize the thrill that’s felt whenever we close our latest book, because this means we get to choose another.  There’s always a flutter of excitement when we find ourselves in this situation, for whenever we explore a new bookshelf we are actually on an expedition of sorts, every colorful spine we see is a ticket for mental travel.  Do we want a journey to other lands, where everything from the climate to the language is exotic and enthralling?  Perhaps we long to be wooed by a stranger, someone we meet on a train to work, someone with secrets too dark to imagine.  Or maybe we want to follow an amateur detective as she attempts, against all good sense and the advice of her friends, to solve a murder most grotesque.  Occasionally we may long to read through an exceptionally adventurous cookbook, planning dinner parties and Sunday lunches to last us all summer long.  That is the joy, and the delicious responsibility, of selecting a new book; it will take us out of ourselves, anywhere we wish to go.
In my experience it is a rare thing to open a book and be whisked away to someplace entirely unique, high up on the magic carpet of an author’s wild imagination that rises and falls over a story like nothing I’ve ever read before.  This was the experience I had recently reading the new book, Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders.    Outlandish, funny, heartbreaking, frightening, challenging, unsettling - the adjectives I could use to describe this book would most likely be longer than the book itself.  Suffice it to say, I was surprised and awestruck by what I found and it’s stayed with me for weeks. 
You might want to give it a try when you close the one you’re reading now.
Find it HERE 

A Movie
It’s almost one year to the day that I was wandering the moors outside Haworth in West Yorkshire.  I’d come for a Brontë pilgrimage, something I had longed to do since I read Jane Eyre at thirteen years old.  (I wrote about this journey in the autumn issue of Faerie Magazine.  You can now download that issue for free HERE. )  Experiencing this land the Brontë sisters knew so intimately was awe-inspiring.  Just standing in their front garden, listening to the rooks in the trees that stand like sentinels over the cemetery and feeling the strong push of the wind roaring down from the moors was akin to stepping inside the pages of their atmospheric novels.  I’ll never forget it.

Feeling so close to the story of the Brontë sisters, I was naturally a bit suspicious when I heard a new version of their lives was being filmed.  They haven’t faired well in the past when this has been attempted.  Having silently wandered the rooms of the Brontë parsonage and walked the moors in their footsteps certainly did not lighten my doubtful concern over this new production.  But how delighted I was when I saw it.  To Walk Invisible is magnificent.  The Songwriter and I watched it in near reverence, so wonderful was the portrayal of the family. 

I was especially fond of the way Emily’s life was illuminated here.  Not much is known about Emily Brontë other than her brilliant writing and because of this a great deal has been invented about her.    It’s true that she took care of the majority of the domestic duties in the household and she did refuse to accompany her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, when they journeyed to London to visit their publishers.  But from these scant facts, Emily has been doomed to be thought of as almost painfully timid, a scared little rabbit content to stay home.  But this has never squared with her masterful writing in Wuthering Heights, a book so dark and dramatic it stunned and shocked the critics.  In this new production, however, Emily is a force to be reckoned with, someone with more than enough soul and grit to fill the pages of that book.  To Walk Invisible is a masterpiece, and you should see it if you haven’t.  
Find it HERE.

A Sale
I am currently making room in my office for some new things to feature in my Etsy Shop.  So, all the beautiful pillows currently there are half off until the end of the month.
Find them HERE
Just use the code EDWARDSPRING

A Poem
April is National Poetry Month here in the states, something that I feel inclined to celebrate with gusto.  To that end, I am attempting to share some of my favorite poems, one each night of April, on my Instagram page.   Truth and wisdom can hide in the lines and verses of poems and I frequently turn to them whenever I find myself in need of comfort.  I’ve been reading them a lot this year.  
Here’s one I recently shared, and one that I love with all my heart.
I hope you find something within it to stick in your pocket.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

*** A note of apology for my recent lack of postings.  I'm currently in the process of writing some new things and find I only have enough brain cells to concentrate on one thing at a time before I go squirrelly.  I'll try to do better.  You can always catch up on Edward and me, as well as all the poems for April, (and come along on my upcoming trip to London!)  at our Instagram page... HERE.***