Monday, October 31, 2011

Does No One Else Hear This?

Does No One Else Hear This?

I heard it again last night.
In those grey gauze moments just before sleep, a distant sound. Or was it just outside my bolted window? A laugh? Or a cackle? I couldn’t be sure. Listening, listening, till the beat of my heart hurt my head. I pulled the covers up over my eyes and lay still as sleep, thinking.
Does no one else hear this?
All week long, just around midnight, strange sounds. Echoes of half forgotten conversations, snippets of laughter from those long disappeared into the mist. Rustlings. Murmurings. A whirling susurrus scratching at the garden gate. From deep in the trees, sounds of feather-soled footfalls cracking old leaves, inching closer and closer, ever nearer, to my door.
As each orange afternoon hands over the day to the night, a long finger of ice traces my spine.
I see faces in the candle flame - hear incantations in the trees.
I jump at the tea kettle’s whistle.
November will come, I tell myself. It will weave the now threadbare veil tightly and these visitors will vanish to mist. No longer will the will-o-the-wisp follow me, footstep by footstep, down the darkened hallway, its light casting unspeakable shadows upon the wall. This robed coven will fly from my rooftop, its shadow melting back to a flock of black crows.
I will open my window at midnight and all will be quiet.
No more will I catch the bleached discordant notes drifting out from the midst of the trees. No longer will I glimpse the swirl of an embroidered hem waltzing underneath the old oaks.
But for now, I wait.
With twisty hands and tapping foot, I sit.
I strain my ears for the step on the walk, for the knock on the door that I know will come.
I wait.
And I listen.
For Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Owner of Autumn

The Owner of Autumn

Down here in the south, the camellias often bloom in February. Like boutonnieres for snowmen, they fill the grey air with remembered colour, heralds of the cold-ending season at the door. In March, the perfume of confederate jasmine is as heady on the cobblestones of Savannah as the open doors of Guerlain on the Champs Elysees. The tulips appear in April, painterly swaths of yellow and pink. And there comes a perfect day in May when the whole of creation declares that the bluebird south surely owns the season of Spring.

But if your soul looks for Autumn - the autumn of legend - full of orange pumpkins and white ghosts, Pendleton blanketed hillsides of colour, red red apples and cold-nosed dogs, chowders, spiced cider and pie, the crash of the sea against a cold rocky coast - then you must set your course for the northeast, for that’s where it certainly lives.

On the way to Maine, I stopped off in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to find twenty foot tall jack-o-lantern men surrounding the town square. They grinned malevolently down at the top of my head, their long black fingers reaching out for my coat as I passed. I sat in a cafe window and watched as one crimson maple leaf caught the hem of a breeze, floating down the orange street in search of the harbour.

In Camden, Maine, after a waterfront cup of clam chowder, I wandered gold leafed streets that glistened like jewelry in a fine mist of rain. I met the smile of a wet Bernese Mountain Dog. As tall as my waist, with velvet ears. I brought back a sack of local apples and made an apple pie that afternoon, rolling out pie crust whilst gazing out at a lake whose face was encircled by the maple leaf scarf of fall.

Just as one day was ending, I drove out to the tip of a fir green peninsula to find Castine just as I’d left her, glowing pink in the last rays of the sun. Grand weathered houses still stand on the headland. Their windows, like the eyes of the sea captains who built them, stare out past the wind-whipped waves to the horizon beyond. As the sun dips under the rose coloured sea, little white lights begin to glow in the windows of the charcoal grey houses and the October wind whistles past my ear like a tea kettle. It isn’t difficult to imagine Hawthorne’s poor Hepzibah Pyncheon drawing a curtain in her seven-gabled house. Or to hear the faraway hoofbeats of the headless horseman as he rides closer and closer to where I stand.
I began to think of home.

I have brought back as much of that fabled autumnal spirit as I could carry.
The Songwriter is now fashioning twenty foot tall pumpkin men for our garden, and I am baking pies.
But I know if I want the genuine article, it does exist.
At the top eastern tip of this country.
In Maine.

Painting above: Village Square, Castine Maine by Tom Nicholas
Find more of his work HERE

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An October Engagement

An October Engagement

He likes to give magic at Christmas. Antique bronze kaleidoscopes, first edition fairy tales, hand painted lockets.
Like most writers, he sees the world uniquely, finding the greatest meaning sitting unnoticed between the lines.
He sees humour in the the prosaic, beauty in the commonplace.
He makes me laugh.
He checks the locks and slays the bugs.
And I feel safe when I’m with him.
He loves The Beatles and Saint-Saens Organ Symphony #3.
He reels me in whenever I drift too far out to sea and cuts me loose when I need to fly.
I once caught him singing to Apple as he brushed her black coat.
If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco

You're gonna meet some gentle people there
Apple hates being brushed. She wiggles and squirms, rolls on her back and bats the brush with her paws. But that afternoon, she lay as still and calm as sleep. I’ll never hear that old song in the same way again.

As teenagers, we were best friends. And then when we were older, on a gold October day, we went on a picnic to a mountain lake. He asked me to marry him. For years I had planned, as every girl does, how I would react to this question if it were ever put to me. I intended to respond as I imagined Grace Kelly would ... softly saying, “Let me think about it overnight”. Instead, I grinned like Christmas and said, “Of course”.
That was many years ago, and every year since, on the same day in October, we pack a picnic lunch and head back to the same mountain lake. We've never missed a year.
And I still say “Of Course”.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Car

The Car

I learned to drive in a car longer than a big city block. A Pontiac Star Chief - an automobile of such preposterous size that it enabled the driver to appear both ridiculous and courageous simultaneously. My father was my driving instructor and I can still see him, crouched like a wet cat in the passenger seat, wide-eyed and unblinking, ready to spring into action at the first indication that I might slam on the accelerator and head straight for the nearest cliff. Of course, there were no cliffs around the shopping center parking lot where he held our Sunday afternoon lessons. Just asphalt as far as the eye could see, this being in the day when shops closed on Sundays, you see. (Where DO kids learn to drive these days?) I can’t really blame him for approaching this rolling schoolroom with trepidation, as I would imagine the sight of one’s child behind the wheel for the first time would have to chill the blood a bit. He was stalwart, however, and from him I learned to yield to the right at stop signs, to turn into a skid should I ever be unfortunate enough to be in the middle of one, and to never.... and I mean never... pick up a hitchhiker.

But even with Daddy’s devoted teaching, I still failed my first driving test. Oh, I did fine on the driving part. It was in the area of parking where I ran into a spot of trouble. Well, you just try and parallel park the QE2 and see how well you do. Personally, I consider it not a feat, but a miracle, that I managed to pass second time out. But pass I did, receiving a plasticine driver’s license emblazoned with my photograph, wide-eyed and unblinking, in the upper left hand corner.
Along with that long-coveted driving license came the good news that the old Pontiac Star Chief, leaf green and long as the Nile, was now to belong to me and, in an instant, my dream of zipping along city streets with the cool grace of a Charlie’s Angel was rudely replaced with a now more realistic mental picture of Angela Lansbury attempting to steer that big four-poster in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. But the prospect of vehicular independence trumped any vanity I might have possessed at sixteen, so I held my head high, grabbed hold of that hula-hoop sized steering wheel, rolled down those plate glass windows, and hit the road.
No doubt as a result of that first over-elongated auto, I have driven tiny cars ever since. Zippy and close to the road, these are the cars I most love to drive. I am not at home in a SUV. I consider the Hummer to be manufactured chiefly for those wishing to compensate for unhappy childhoods or unsatisfactory appendages. Peugeots, Renaults, Bristol Blenheims. These are the cars that I try to rent whenever I’m across the pond, but it is difficult to find their like back here in the states.
Recently my tiny car, old but beloved, was put in the hospital for a faulty transmission, necessitating a visit to the rental car counter. Just as the salesmen was about to hand over the keys to a rather humdrum Chevrolet, he suddenly cocked his head and fixed me with a questioning stare.
You know”, he said,
I think I’ve got something that would suit your personality a bit better.
Come with me.
He grabbed up another set of keys and we proceeded to the parking lot where I soon found myself standing in front of the car of my dreams - just in, with only 64 miles on the odometer. Tiny and zippy, to be sure, but oh, it was so much more. I could see in an instant, this was not mere transportation.
This was a ticket to another time - a passport to an age of Hermes scarves and white sunglasses.
Canfora sandals, limoncellos, and Nat King Cole.
This was the brand-new Fiat 500.
I kept that rental car for a couple of weeks, the longest test drive ever. I drove it at night and in the rain. On the fast expressway and twisty rural roads. It was comfortable for two furry dogs as well as for a six foot one Songwriter and his two acoustic guitars. I hated to turn it back in when my car was all well.
Reader, I bought one.
Life is short and I could not resist.
Parallel parking is now a breeze!
And I think my driving instructor would love it.
Edward certainly does.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Will

"Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we're together
Love you when we're apart.

And when at last I find you
Your song will fill the air
Sing it loud so I can hear you
Make it easy to be near you
For the things you do endear you to me
Oh, you know, I will
I will."

So happy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Carousel of Time

The Carousel of Time

The Songwriter belongs to a unique club, one whose membership seems to dwindle with each passing year. You see, he is one of the few people who actually still resides in the neighbourhood into which he was born. On our daily walks with Edward and Apple, he is traversing the same streets he ran down as a boy. He passes by his family home nearly every day. Even the trees are old friends. To the now elderly neighbours who knew him as a youngster, he will always remain precisely that. He will never age a moment from that afternoon in the sixties when he and his best friend blasted Beatle songs from the rooftop of his house for all the world to hear.

To be sure, there are pros and cons for this deeply rooted existence. Sometimes the changes, inevitable though they may be, can be painful. A couple of years ago, Mrs. Pennington’s house was torn down. Hidden for years within an tangled thicket of trees and brush, no doubt few of our neighbours even knew it was there. Mrs. Pennington herself, nudged by her age, had moved out some time ago. But she’d lived there as long as The Songwriter could remember and we hated to see her go. A highly respected artist and historian, Mrs. Pennington could be counted upon to pass by our cottage at sunset each day on her arm-swinging constitutional - braless, and sporting a well-loved Che Guevara t’shirt. An arresting sight I can tell you, and one that I miss even today. It’s sad to see these old characters depart and no doubt we feel it more sharply the longer we’ve known them.

But if Joni Mitchell is correct, and who am I to question Joni, we are all on a carousel ride through time - able to occasionally look back, but never return. And happily, we keep picking up new riders all the time. So, on balance, I would have to recommend a life with such deep connections. They can, after all, provide a sweet comfort.
When it’s Springtime, we know to head over to The Melton’s azalea garden for the Easter Egg Hunt. At Christmas, Wayne and Brian’s house will be the most charming, with the vintage Santa smiling down from the eaves. We look to Cecil for sunflowers in summer and we smile every afternoon at one-year old Walter who sits with his nanny, waving at passersby from atop his newly built garden wall.

And on a cool evening late last week, I baked a cake, tied it up with a lavish pink bow and The Songwriter and I carried it up the familiar driveway of his childhood home, climbing the front stairs, knocking on the familiar white door. For several years now, there has been a new couple living here. The Songwriter stopped by to welcome them on the afternoon they moved in. Warm, charming, and oh-so-young, they have just had their first child - Emily Cait, the very first baby in this house since The Songwriter himself.
Was yours the bedroom on the back of the house?”, the new mother asked.
Yes. It was”, came the reply.
Oh, good! That’s Emily Cait’s!”, she said, grinning wide.

The four of us looked down at the tiny creature, dressed all in pink.
The carousel’s spinning.
And we smile.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It Is October..... A List

It Is October

It is a gift foretold by a whistle of wind.
Arriving on my doorstep, wrapped up in the velvet of moss.
I loosen its ribbon of sunlight and like Pandora before me, slowly and carefully I open the box. On a wave of woodland laughter, it flies past me like desire - all its apple-scented orangeness, full moon mystery, azure blue - sailing up to the treetops and in through my windows like the breath of new life. And it changes everything. The food that I cook, the clothes that I wear, my music, my outlook, my plans - all now are painted with its technicolour brush.
It is an occurrence as dependable as dawn, and yet, every year, I am always surprised.
It is the answer to all the questions I had not yet asked.
It is October.
A list for this most luscious of months......

1. Country House Weekends
I have always loved descriptions in literature of the English Country House Weekend. You know what I mean.... friends gather at a sublimely situated house in the bucolic countryside, usually in the autumn, bringing along elegantly weathered suitcases full of tweedy garments, riding boots, and lilac-coloured cashmere shawls. There are always glasses of sherry and appropriately atmospheric books sitting beside the four-poster beds, and oak fires roar under mantels of stone. Dinners are long and lavish, lunch is served in the old stone folly somewhere on the grounds and Jack Russells and Spaniels abound. Of course, in books, someone usually ends up dead in the library, knocked into eternity by a candlestick wielded by the most unlikely suspect. But no matter. In a couple of weeks, The Songwriter and I are heading off to join friends at their sublimely situated house in Maine, and I cannot wait, especially as a murder isn’t expected to be on the menu. I’m thinking these are the perfect accoutrements for such an excursion....
The perfect country weekend bag....

Find it HERE

The perfect country weekend coat....

Find it HERE

The perfect bedside book....

I just re-read this for my classics book club. What a treat!
Check it out HERE


2. Knitting
Like most knitters, my needles are flashing all year long. Christmas presents are often being knitted in June. But also like most knitters, I really get going when the weather cools. Chilly, windy October nights are simply made for a knitter. A cup of something hot in the perfect mug, and a challenging pattern to keep your interest... heaven.

The Perfect Mug for a Knitter....

Find it
and The Perfect Hat Pattern....
(which just happens to have been written by my very own knitting teacher!)

Find it
And the perfect place to keep those needles....
Aren’t these charming?

You can make a set of your own from the pattern


3. Gourds
Several days ago I ventured into my local farmer’s market to buy some late season peaches and early season apples. I was happily filling my cart when I turned to the left and saw them. Gourds! Like fruit from an alien planet, strange and curious in both shape and colour, they were piled up on tables and boxes, tumbling over one another in a tantalizing display. Potbellied turbans the colour of fire. Ten Commandment gourds, twisted and overgrown, like the beckoning finger of an October witch. I was enchanted. As I began to fill up my basket with as many as it would hold, I became aware of someone standing quite close to my shoulder. Turning around, I spied an immaculately coiffed older lady watching my every move with interest.
“Might I ask”, she ventured, “what exactly are you planning to do with these?
As I began to tell her that I make a sort of witch’s garden every autumn... wrinkly purple cabbages and orange pansies, gazing balls and pumpkins... her eyes grew wider and wider. “Walkers, runners, and especially children love to pass by it every day”, I said.
She stood there a moment, staring at the gourds in my basket and sighed,Ah, you’re one of those creative types, aren’t you?
I hurriedly went on... “But you could also decorate for a dinner party with these. Just imagine them all lined up down the center of the table!”
The penny dropped. You could see it in her eyes, and I left her there loading up a cart of her own with these fabulous autumnal treasures, no doubt planning a dinner party in her head as she did so. Look for these wonders in your farmer’s market now. They really are so much fun.


4. Woodland Gardens
For years my back garden has wanted to return to the forest it was before we moved in. The old trees do not want a lawn, they will not accept roses, and they make certain we never attempt such affronts by blanketing all they survey with the shadows of shade. They will, however, tolerate hydrangeas, animals and whimsy.
So at the end of a pathway under the trees sits a frog. Not just any frog, mind you. This chap is made of copper, is as tall as a man and he’s sitting on a stone toadstool, reading a book. He’s a magical sight in any season of the year, but especially when the leaves on those old trees begin to change all around him. For some reason, he looks especially contented just then.
I realize gardens are generally expected to be best appreciated in summer when blooms are at their most riotous. But I dearly love woodland gardens in autumn. Truly enchanted places. Is it any wonder forests and woodlands are so ubiquitous in fairy stories?
I’d love to create something just like this in mine.

You can visit this glorious lady yourself, HERE.


5. Chilly Mornings
Better than any meteorologist, Edward can always be relied upon to let us know the very first morning the weather changes. Bounding, jumping, his fur puffed out like a fat, white chrysanthemum - you’ve never seen a happier dog. I share his love of these colder mornings when the air is clear as a goblet of crystal and I have to reach for a warm dressing gown when I climb out of my bed. Coffee smells like perfume on mornings like this. I love to linger over a beautifully set breakfast table, reading papers, writing letters......
I’d love to stumble to the breakfast table in this exquisite dressing gown.
And it even has a hood!
Be still my heart.

Find it HERE.
Aren’t these plates amazing?....
I can just see them on my October breakfast table,
maybe with some of those gourds here and there,
and bouquets of orange mums at every place setting?

Find them HERE.
And, I’d pour my tea from this charming autumnal teapot...

Find it HERE
Yes, I do still write letters by hand.
And I have a childish fascination with stamps.
A little bit of art on an envelope of white.
I’d so love to be in Britain just now to get my hands on these wonderful William Morris stamps!
Aren't they gorgeous?

See more HERE


So many more things to list here....
would anyone mind if I perhaps added more favourites mid-month?