Saturday, January 31, 2009

King Winter

From the coldest caverns and the bleakest hills he has summoned them. They have journeyed from the twelfth month through the first and finally they are all assembled, ready to do his bidding. At the King’s midnight signal, they shall advance unchallenged across the landscape, warriors older than time, shouldering weapons tried and true; weapons that never fail to hit their mark. Ice and snow and freezing rain, with artillery fashioned to make moods fall as low as temperatures, trailing melancholy and lethargy in their wake. Knowing this to be his last stand, King Winter enters into no mere frigid skirmish. Oh no, this is his February; this is his war. We know it is useless to fight, for we have lived through this before. So, snug in our wool and our fleece, we hunker down, with our beaks under our wings, and we wait. Well supplied, secure in our hope and our imagination, we know we can hold out for the twenty eight day siege, even longer if need be. For soon, we remember too well to doubt, the cavalry shall come. Little green troops of Spring shall awaken - a bit here, a bit there - until whole verdant armies appear on the hillsides and swarm through the valleys, warming and lightening both our spirits and our skies, and driving King Winter into exile once more.
Oh yes, we can wait. We are ready.


King Winter sat in his Hall one day,
And he said to himself, said he,
“I must admit I’ve had some fun,

I’ve chilled the Earth and cooled the Sun,
And not a flower or tree
But wishes that my reign were done,
And as long as Time and Tide shall run,
I’ll go on making everyone
As cold as cold can be.”

There came a knock at the outer door:
“Who’s there?” King Winter cried;
“Open your Palace Gate,” said Spring
“For you can reign no more as King,
Nor longer here abide;
This message from the Sun I bring,
‘The trees are green, the birds do sing;
The hills with joy are echoing’:
So pray, Sir - step outside!”

Hugh Chesterman
19th Century

Painting by NC Wyeth

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Midwinter Fog

We awoke to a veiled world, a world transformed by the silvery cloak of a midwinter fog that had wrapped itself around us in the silence of the dawn. Almost theatrical, as if handknit for sheer effect, it seemed but an ingenious set design crafted to hide life’s more ephemeral players; those rarely seen in sunlight, but much too timid for the dark. Pointillistic halos encircled the streetlamps, creating unblinking golden eyes that stared out in straightlined, ironbacked attention all the way up the slate grey hill. The old trees, with their bare black bones so completely enshrouded, found they had no more need of the children, but could now play hide and seek with one another instead, counting to one hundred in arcane, deep-voiced words of their own. Through the magic gauze of the morning, the big white dog moved about the garden like a Dickensian spectre, casting no shadow, making no sound, as he made his way through the mist, up the stairs and back inside the cozy house to his fat, paisley covered bed where, he was quite certain, mysterious mornings such as these were best spent.
And there he would wait for the sun to return.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Our Anniversary

Outside it was dead of winter, all grey blues, shadow, and chill. But past glowing windows that twinkled with whispered sonnets to the light of Arthurian candles - snow white, ruby red, and roses. So many roses. It was a beginning, a golden circle of serenity, certainty, grace, laughter. A moment in time that continues even today, to warm, to cheer - to shower more roses, even more, through winter shadows, with every passing year until all we know is beauty.
It was a winter wedding. And today we celebrate.

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

by Christina Rosetti

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Edward has a deal with the Blue Jays. I cannot say when it was struck, nor how, but I am certain it exists. It seems the Blue Jays are forever on the lookout for Milo, the neighborhood cat - a cat in possession of a copious amount of chutzpah; a cat for whom boundaries hold no meaning, a cat who knows no fear. When Milo is spotted by the Blue Jay sentry on duty, the sentry immediately signals an alarm to his compatriots in other outposts of tree and limb. They all proceed to convene within our old magnolia tree, like a squawking blue-uniformed battalion. I have become convinced they are merely shouting the name of Edward in Blue Jay-ese. For whatever he is doing, wherever he happens to be - napping in his spot under the piano or exploring the furthermost points of the far back garden - Edward comes dashing. Running the gauntlet twixt table, chair and lamp, sliding across the hardwood floors, like an armored bear of old, he leaps into the chair by the window to let loose his most threatening, ear-splitting bark - a sound designed to strike terror in the heart of any self-respecting feline. Any feline that is, but Milo. For Milo, impassively lounging atop the dining table that sits outside under the magnolia tree, is calmly waiting for any feathered bit of blue that happens to lose its footing from one of the limbs above, and cares not a whit for anything Edward happens to say. Naturally, this nonchalance infuriates Edward all the more and the cycle of Blue Jay squawks and ferocious barks will continue unabated until either the Songwriter or I takes it upon ourselves to venture out and remind Milo of the nature of things. Milo will saunter off eventually, with head held high, his bottlebrush tail a furry flag of dignity, utterly convinced it was his own idea to leave in the first place, as if reminded only that he has an appointment elsewhere. Edward goes for a drink of water to settle his nerves, and soon, one by one, all the tiny bits of blue leave the big tree winter-green once more.
Until the next time Milo happens to visit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I wrote her a long letter today and remembered....

“You really should go down to the bottom of the hill before you leave”, she said. “I know you’re tired and you have a long drive back to the hotel, but it’s one of the most famous views in the country and you should see it”.

She was right, we were tired. Windblown, a bit damp, and now, following her most resplendent and generous gift of high tea, quite full and quite sleepy. The day was fast departing. Already the sky colours were deepening, moody grey clouds were boiling up across the horizon, and we never liked to travel the narrow road around the sea loch in darkness, always being too afraid we’d accidentally hit one of the sheep who preferred to doze just a wee bit too close to the side. But she seemed adamant - she of the gentle and soft-spoken spirit who never seemed adamant about anything - so we thought we should obey. Pulling out of the drive, we headed down the hill, unprepared for the steepness and sharpness of the curve ahead. Finally reaching the bottom we turned behind us to see a view straight out of literature, at once as forbidding as Mordor and as enchanted as Avalon. We looked around - no one else in sight. We could have been the only two people left on the planet. We could have been spirited backward a thousand years or more, perhaps invisible, mere spirits ourselves, with nothing real and solid on earth but those immortal black mountains rising above that churning black sea. Standing where we stood, with the howl of the sea wind in our ears, any scenario could have easily been imagined possible.

It wasn’t until many months later that I noticed the slight similarities between the photograph taken on that day and the Waterhouse painting shown above. Perhaps she had long ago warned him not to miss the view as well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh, What A Beautiful Morning!

There’s a bright, golden haze on the meadow,
There’s a bright, golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,
And it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.....

Oh, what a beautiful morning!
Oh, what a beautiful day!
I got a beautiful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.....

Lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II
Painting by Childe Hassam
Sentiments shared by Pamela and Edward!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


"I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future - the timelessness of the rocks and the hills - all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape - the loneliness of it - the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show. I think anything like that - which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone - people always feel is sad. Is it because we’ve lost the art of being alone?"

Andrew Wyeth
1917 - 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Surely You Jest

Last night I dreamed I gave up swimming for Lent. Now, before someone pauses in admiration of my saintliness, let me hasten to explain that I cannot swim. This dream of mine, therefore, caused a bit of entertainment over morning toast and clementines when I related it to the Songwriter, who wryly commented, ”Wow, what a sacrifice for you”. He is well-versed in irony. My parents tried to interest me in swimming with lessons which I truly dreaded like medicine. The sensation of being under water consistently failed to charm me, and no number of ear plugs or nose clips could ever elevate the experience to an enjoyable level. Needless to say, I did not excel in those lessons. However, as I suspected at the time, much like high school frog dissection, I have never once found swimming to be a necessary skill in my adult life. Decorators are not usually required to work in bathing suits and if they are, they should probably re-evaluate the project.

The only sport I have ever participated in willingly was riding. I did love that with a passion, but seriously suspect it had much more to do with the requisite close relationship with a horse than with my actual enjoyment of any sort of activity that could perhaps have been deemed athletic. No to softball, no to tennis, no gymnastics and no track. Football? Please. Bowling? In rental shoes? Golf? Surely you jest. Watch any of these things on television? What?..... Why? To tell the truth, I just never got the point of competitive sports. The only two sporting events I am ever even aware of during the year are The Kentucky Derby and The Iditirod. (To be honest, I did drive a dog sled team in Alaska once. In a frigid January, no less. And actually, I was quite good at that, but that is another story entirely.) I do walk and run and bike and hike, but that’s about it. Fortunately for me, The Songwriter and I share in this disinterest of the wide, wide world of sports, which makes for quite a happy little life. To best illustrate this, some years back, The Songwriter had one of his songs performed during the halftime show at the Super Bowl. True to form, we were totally unaware of the game and were actually returning home on a flight from Disney World, of all places, while it was played. When we arrived home, our phone was ringing like mad with friends from all over the country calling with congratulations. We had missed the whole thing.

So, all this is to say that, regardless of my dream, I do not think swearing off swimming will actually accomplish much for my soul during this season of Lent.
Why do I think it’s going to have to be chocolate?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Something Shiny

Years ago, my neighborhood was carved out of a forest. Nowadays its ancient oaks and leafy poplars provide a canopy over land that is paradise for wildlife of all sorts, and that includes the Crows. An almost sinister looking bird, the Crow is rarely spotted on his own, but usually descends upon the garden as a member of a loud and discordant flock. A rather gloomy congregation, they swoop and assemble in a winter-bare oak, filling the naked limbs like scores of blue black leaves, creating a haunted tree worthy of an Edward Gorey painting. Make a sudden movement at the window, and whoosh, these changeling leaves are blown upward, enmasse, into the blue sky like an angry storm cloud on its way to rain down on another garden a couple of streets away, leaving their momentary roost January bare once more.

Not long ago, I discovered that the Crows have more than a passing interest in my very own front garden. For down near the edge of the drive, there is a bed of green clover in which I keep a modest collection of glass blue stones. Like a tiny sea lapping the shores of Lilliput, this circle of glimmering blue glass is a delight to my eye each time I see it. And, apparently, the Crows share in that delight. You see, the Crow cannot spot anything shiny without wanting to possess it. He is, quite simply, the shopaholic of the avian world and my little glass ocean is completely irresistible to his sharply acquisitive eye. The daily walkers who stroll by my garden, those who no doubt once viewed my collection of blue with bemused curiosity, now find themselves participants in its care and maintenance. For the Crows steal the stones, and the walkers bring them back. I have been told that they are found all over the neighborhood, and the walkers seem to take a certain pleasure in finding one, pocketing it and returning it to its rightful place by the clover shoreline at the edge of my garden. I find this such a charming game played between bird and man. Both of them out in the fresh clean winter air, looking for something shiny.

Painting above by Arthur Rackham

Friday, January 9, 2009

Edward Looks At Rain

From the late afternoon on there had been something of a drenched, warm feeling to the early January air; an odd soddeness, expected at other times of the year, but most unusual for a winter month. The big white dog had noticed. He knew the rain was purported to be arriving as a dramatic escort to a much colder tomorrow, and for that he was glad. But, still. Rain. His least favourite sort of weather. No walk tonight. For even though his lady had received the black wellies she had asked for at Christmas, he knew she cared far too much for him to take him on an outing in the pouring rain. He would have to get his paws wet, and that was the one thing in life he really, really hated. He hopped up on the window seat to watch the skies and ponder the miserable sensation of wet paws.

The rain was preceded by chariots of wind that galloped through the tops of the tall trees at breakneck speed, occasionally reaching down to the garden floor with a gust that would vacuum up the leftover, paperthin leaves in a tornadic whirl of brown and grey. The big dog watched it all at the window and thought about his paws. Then finally, around midnight, just as they all were heading down the hallway to bed, it came. Rain. He could hear it... blitzing the roof above him, racing down the gutters, pounding its drowned wetness deep into the ground - ground that, tomorrow, he would have to trod on, walk through - ground that would probably get his paws wet. Bother. He sighed. But then his lady smiled and told him not to worry. She reminded him that being snug and dry inside on a stormy night was really a very good thing. Effortlessly, he leaped up to take his normal place atop the downy bed and laid his big white head on her feet as she opened another of those books of which she is so fond. He sighed again. He had to admit, the sound of the rain was pleasing. His large almond eyes felt so heavy, so he closed them. His lady patted his head and told him that the rain would be over before he awoke in the morning - that it would be a much colder, sunnier day tomorrow, and that he would love it, and they would go for a long afternoon walk and .... but he never heard her. He was asleep.

Edward sets off for his walk on the sunnier tomorrow

Painting above: The Thunderstorm by Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Thing With Feathers

Whilst perusing the online news sites on the first morning of this new year, an opinion poll happened to catch my eye. There it sat, on the right hand side of the home page of CNN, sandwiched between the grimmest sort of headlines, one simple question: How do you feel about the coming year? Only two answers were available: Hopeful? , or Hopeless? After clicking my choice, I was curious to see the results of everyone else’s answers, and smiled in amazement at what I saw. Overwhelmingly, and in spite of the surrounding sirens of tangible woe, almost everyone had cast their vote for Hope. I nodded at the resiliency of the human race; at our never ending belief that we can achieve a better day - that we are nobler, kinder, smarter than our present circumstances might suggest. We remain ever hopeful that we can, and shall, rise above and even, dare we say, soar. And truly, what greatness has ever been achieved without that thing called Hope?

I have thought a great deal over the past year about the man Martin Luther King. What would he be feeling in this first month of the year 2009, as America stands proudly poised to inaugurate her first African-American president? He who had been insulted, jailed, jeered, then murdered, for daring to hope in the better natures of the American people. He who had dared to dream. It brings tears to the eyes and indeed, shame to the soul for the one who chooses to set down the precious burden of hope when the weight becomes too heavy.

For some of us, hope is a lyrical embroidery that flows through the tapestry of our very natures. We are sewn together with its shimmering threads. For others, Hope is much more of a conscious choice, and sometimes a difficult one. As we all set off through this year late in the first decade of a new century, our journey is not unlike any adventurous expedition of old. Like explorers before us, we never know what might lie just around the bend. But, where there is an end, may we all see a beginning, may we turn our challenges into opportunities, make the choice to replace doubt with faith, and when there is death, may the Hope of new life be made real.

Emily Dickinson so eloquently described Hope as “a thing with feathers”. As I write this, fat little birds are watching me just outside my window, fluffy and cheerful. Despite the remarkably cold afternoon, there they sit, tiny and serene on my windowsill, occasionally lifting up a tune; not the least bit bothered or fretful. I can easily see the basis for Dickinson’s poetic description. For in the midst of the world’s current gales, this perennial presence of hope is a most sweetly feathered thing indeed.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

by Emily Dickinson

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blessed With Books at Christmas

I count myself fortunate, for people seem to like to give me books, especially at Christmas. A fine thing, and much appreciated, for it is difficult for me to fathom a better gift to receive than a book chosen specifically with me in mind. I am spending a delicious amount of time this week getting acquainted with some of these new bound treasures and as I do, I know I am sharing the experience with countless readers all over the world; readers who, like me, were blessed with books at Christmas.
Perhaps your favourite aunt, the one who suffers cruelly with wanderlust, received a Bruce Chatwin or Evelyn Waugh, a Michael Palin or Gerald Durrell, and is currently curled in her favorite armchair, with her tea going cold, snow falling quietly out in her garden, while she travels the dusty streets of Cairo or roams the hillsides of Corfu. Your ten year old niece, the one with all the fetching freckles, who practically lives in jodhpurs and hacking jackets? It is after midnight and she is under the blankets reading her very first copy of Black Beauty by the dim glow of a pink flashlight. At this very moment, in town and country, there are cooks devouring all the latest recipes from the inspired kitchens of Ina Garten or Nigella Lawson - gardeners carefully underlining passages of Elizabeth Lawrence or Gertrude Jekyll - oh, so lucky novice readers embarking on maiden voyages inside the world of Harry Potter - mystery lovers unravelling the just released P.D. James or the classic Wilkie Collins - babies with their imaginations aglow from the magical illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg or Beatrix Potter, or from the unique artistry of Robert Sabuda.
Count me in with these voracious page turners, for this first week of January commences my month of serious hibernation.... reading, planning, sketching out the year ahead..... but mostly, reading. For while lounging beachside with a book nestled on one’s lap in July is certainly sublime, there is not much better than a cold January afternoon spent fireside, snug in a fat nest of a chair, cracking open a brand new book for the very first time.

Here are a few newly added to my library:

John Fowler: Prince of Decorators by Martin Wood
Michael S. Smith Houses by Michael Smith and Christine Pittel
Charlotte Moss: A Flair for Living by Charlotte Moss and Pieter Estersohn
The Drawings of Gustave Dore by George Davidson
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
Shaggy Muses by Maureen Adams

I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson.... a fabulous hardback copy of this
vintage classic in its fabulous zebra cover

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling...I was unbelievably fortunate to receive this one in the hardback, collector’s edition!!!