Wednesday, May 27, 2015

So Much Younger Now

So Much Younger Now

The pattern on the tablecloth was subtle but I was certain I could now draw it unaided, the result of staring down at its weave for what seemed an eternity.  Across the table from me sat a young man, not yet twenty, who had spent the last half hour or so stating his opinions on a wide variety of subjects.   I agreed with him on practically nothing, but that was not the troublesome thing.  It was his unwavering certainty, his rigid, relentless grip on the conclusions he’d reached after so few years in the world, that I found so regrettable.     Several of those in my party attempted to challenge him but his thoughts were stacked, brick upon brick, forming an unassailable wall so high he could no longer peer over to gaze and consider.   My eyes kept focus on the tablecloth.  I didn't dare lift them, lest the young man see the pity I knew was there.  But then I had to smile at my forgetfulness; I was no doubt much like him when I was young, comfortable that the knowledge I’d gained would be sufficient to carry me along on a calm breeze of surety for the rest of my days.  I thought I would never face an unsolvable puzzle, an unanswerable question, an unsurpassable grief.  But as Bob Dylan once so sagely observed, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

Days are long when we are young.  They stretch out before us, uncharted, holding their myriad possibilities in a nonchalant hand.  We gather these days like the flowers of summer till one year we notice how quickly they’ve passed.  They fly past our window - spring night upon winter day, autumn day upon summer night - till they seem a blur of color and light.  Beautiful, but ephemeral.  We reach out to grab them by fistfuls and they slip through our fingers like rain.   The world spins faster the older one becomes.  That’s something they don’t tell you when you’re young.  You wouldn’t believe them if they did.  

I have heard it said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.  This thought resonates with me the longer I skip cross the planet.  My curiosity has only deepened, but I am not as sure as I once was.  I have seen too much to rest in my own understanding.  I know there is mystery and I find this fact immensely freeing.  We struggle against this knowledge when we’re young; we want to believe every question has an answer just waiting to be discovered, like a gemstone in a desert full of sand.  We want to know we are right.  How much time we all waste.  There is wisdom in the mystery.  Wisdom, beauty and truth.  Untroubled sleep and open-hearted love.  

Last weekend I accompanied a young friend on a wander around her soon-to-be new college campus.  A gorgeous place with a library straight out of Hogwarts.  (I’m visiting again in the fall, she'd better count on it.)  Beyond those stained glass windows lay Shakespeare and fractals, neuroscience and astrophysics, Bach, law, history, theatre.  A kaleidoscopic world of knowledge and possibility awaits her. Her excitement is infectious and I wish her all good things, for I know there is so much good to be found.  From the perch on which I now sit, I still see a realm of choice and prospect.  There is so much I still want to learn - skills I wish to master, horizons I wish to view.  I feel no need to convince anyone of anything for I know I haven’t the answers to life in my pocket.   And that’s ok.
 I’m joyful in the mystery.
I'm so much younger now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Thunderstorm Companion

The Thunderstorm Companion
The afternoon cracked open and the air turned white with rain.
The old cottage winced under cannonades of thunder and lightning burst through the windows, jagged and unnatural.  In other words, the perfect afternoon to cast aside all responsibilities, curl up on the chaise, and knit.  
The big dog watched me, a tiny flicker of unease crossing his furry face with every shudder of thunder.  
“Perhaps she is scared”, he thought. “Yes.  She needs me close.  That’s what I’m here for.” 
So he jumped up to share my seat.

He is a big dog.  A very big dog.  
And, after a few of my wiggles and squirms to get comfortable….

“What do you mean, you don’t have enough room??”
I just love life with this dog.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

One Place Understood

One Place Understood
There wasn’t much to do in Jackson, Mississippi in the years between the wars.  Nights were quiet and the heady concoction of gardenia and jasmine that had steeped in the afternoon heat now hung, almost liquid, in the humid air.  Spared the robotic roar of air-conditioners, the houses that lined Pinehurst Street shared snippets of conversation, music, and laughter through their opened windows.  As the fragrant night darkened to velvet, a crowd began to gather at No. 1119, a gracious Tudor with an arched front door.  Summoned by an advertisement in the local paper, these lucky souls were there to witness, and to celebrate, a lovely event.  A night flower was about to bloom.

The night-blooming cereus is a strange plant; a rather ugly one, if I am completely honest.  A member of the cactus family, it has but one attribute worth noting, but that one attribute is a doozy.  Once a year and only in the dead of night, it produces a spectacular flower - snow white, spidery, magnificent.  Such a sight to behold, it prompted a group of its fans to form a club in Jackson, Mississippi in the 30’s.  The Night Blooming Cereus Club took its name from the popular song of the time… “Life is just a bowl of cherries.  Don’t take it ‘cereus’, life’s too mysterious”….. and the wonderful writer, Eudora Welty, was a founding member.  Whenever one of the club members had a night-blooming cereus about to do what its name suggests, they would take out an ad to announce it and members would flock to their home for a grand, all-night party.  As I write this, I am looking at one of the ancestors of Miss Welty’s night-blooming cereus, something that tickles me no end.

It was the creation of my new back garden that led me to visit Mississippi.  Having read that there was to be a plant sale featuring plants from the garden of one of my favourite authors, how could I stay home?  It was my first visit to Miss Welty’s home and stepping inside felt both revelatory and divinely familiar.  

There is a scent in the air of all well-mannered Southern houses, a melange of lemons, garden roses and old paper.  This perfume met me as soon as I walked through the door, so evocative that I almost looked around for my great-aunt.  The house has been saved as it was when Eudora lived there.  It’s almost as though she’s just stepped out to go to the store.  Books, oh my soul, books on every available surface - a significant sight that assuaged a boat load of housekeeper’s guilt for me.   Miss Welty’s writing desk sits by the large double window in her bedroom.  From here she could hear the music from the choral classes of Belhaven College across the street as it wafted through that open window.  I could almost see her - could almost hear the song.  

Her famous garden was so recognizable I felt as though I’d walked back into my own childhood.  Here were the old roses, the violets, the buckeye trees, fragrant and unbowed in the face of a promised early morning thunderstorm. Here were the camellias and the irises, serenely feminine in their spring finery. It was an unheard of luxury to gather up some of Eudora’s plants to include in my garden.  I see them now as I write, soaking up the morning sun, and I like to think a little of her remarkable spirit is now residing amongst my flowers. 

 Eudora Welty once wrote, 
“One place understood helps us understand all places better”. 
 I understood her place very well.
I’ll let you know when my night-blooming cereus is ready to bloom.  
We’ll have a party.

Sidenote:  ……In true Southern fashion, there was cake and lemonade being served on the side porch by ladies of the Welty Foundation and I sat to talk with them for a long while.  One told me of the days when her son was small and she would push his carriage past Miss Welty’s house on walks every afternoon.  Framed in that upstairs window like a painting, Eudora could be clearly heard, typing away.  She would look out as the lady passed by, spy the baby and, waving her hand out the window, she’d call out loudly…”Sweeeeet Baby” … and continue writing.  

See more photos from Eudora's garden on my Instagram Page.
And To Find Out More.....

A wonderful tour through the Welty garden. 
I adore this book.
Find it HERE

A slender volume that introduces one to Eudora.
I adore that cover photo, her high-school graduation shot.
She was sixteen.
Can you imagine looking that self-aware and intelligent at sixteen?!
Find it HERE

A delightful collection of gardening letters, 
something I can never get enough of.
Find it HERE

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Literary Rabbit Hole

The Literary Rabbit Hole
Any voracious reader will tell you, this activity is fraught with tempting diversions.  One book can easily lead to twenty - an interest can become a fascination with hardly a whisper of warning, and before you can say “Hermione Granger”, you have fallen down a wondrous rabbit hole with doors leading off to a multitude of magical destinations.  Is it any wonder London’s King Cross Station installed a Platform 9 and 3/4’s?

King's Cross Station, London

Fall in love with Mrs. Dalloway, for instance, and one is soon delightfully lost on the streets of Bloomsbury, making the acquaintance of all sorts of literary giants from E.M. Forster and T. S. Eliot.  Virginia introduces you to Vita Sackville-West and you take a lateral shift to a love of gardening.  Or you open a door to find Vanessa Bell, working on a portrait of her sister while across the room sits Duncan Grant, and in no time at all you have veered away from letters and plants and are immersed in art.  Soon you are in a rental car heading to Monk’s House and Sissinghurst -  Charleston House, and Berwick Church, a besotted and unabashed devotee. 

Charleston, Sussex, England

Or perhaps you discover an old copy of The Pursuit of Love. You are tickled and enchanted and before you know it, you are reading the all the many letters of the infamous Mitford sisters, from authoress Nancy to communist Jessica.  You become conversant on all things Mitford - from Unity’s unfortunate fascination with Hitler to Debo’s chickens.  If you’re not careful, you’re in another rental car on the way to Chatsworth.....

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, England

Daphne du Maurier beckons to Cornwall, the Brontes will lure you to Yorkshire. 
Read Gerald Durrell and you are sure to long for the white-washed sun of Corfu.  But few literary rabbit holes are deeper and more mysterious than the Southern one. 

Most people are introduced to Southern literature by way of Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that rest comfortably and deservedly atop many, if not most, “best books” lists.  From there they are likely to discover Faulkner, Capote and Twain and journeys to Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri are being planned.  I know from experience.  Flannery O’Connor has called me to Andalusia, her peacock-dotted farm in Milledgeville, Georgia and recently, on the week of my birthday, I accepted Eudora Welty’s invitation to visit her lovely Tudor home in Jackson, Mississippi.

It was the late Eudora’s birthday week as well, so how could I refuse?  Plus, known for her garden as she was, the Eudora Welty Trust was having a plant sale in her very own garden.  As I have been in the process of redoing our back garden, this was too good to pass up.  Some of Eudora’s plants in my very own garden, in view of my writing chair on the porch?  What inspiration that would be!  We took a slight side trip to somewhere utterly magical, too.
Watch this space for all the details next!

And I wonder….
Have you ever fallen down a literary rabbit hole like me?
If so, where did you go?
And who lured you there?
Or… who would you like to follow??
Special Note:
Edward and I are now on Instagram!
Follow us for photos of our travels, our home, our garden, our adventures!
We’ll have fun!
Follow HERE.
Some of the authors mentioned in this post, in case you’re interested….
Click on the titles to see more.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The First Morning in May

Out in my back garden on the first morning in May.
Of course, this poem was being whispered through the rusting leaves. 
“Afresh, afresh, afresh.”

The Trees
by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.