Friday, July 31, 2009

By The Sea, By The Sea, By The Beautiful Sea

The coast is a mere twenty miles away from Rebel Rose country. So close you think, but ah, it is twenty miles of switchbacks on narrow mountain roads in RR's rattletrap! The OC stoically sat in the passenger seat while I sat in the back, white knuckles fully deployed. RR took the turns serenely in stride since she knows them like the back of her hand, unaware that her mother was whispering silent prayers in the back seat while her life flashed before her eyes. It wouldn't be my first choice of route for a relaxing drive, but it was so.o..o worth it. What a difference from the tame gulf coast where we live. The Pacific is like a wild and dangerous animal, alive and roaring, crashing over and over and over on the black rocks, occasionally biting great chunks out of the cliffs, where people nevertheless build holiday homes perilously close to the crumbling edge.....

We came upon a colony of seals piled companionably all over each other on some rocks off shore.

We crept as close as we could and settled down to watch them.

What fascinating creatures they are! They looked back at us with only the mildest of interest, while we were totally besotted by them. We sat there for ages and I ran my battery down taking photo after photo after photo.....and almost fell into the water in my zeal.........The seals had a good snicker over that I'd say...

"Clumsy humans! Running all over the rocks, gawking at us [didn't their mothers ever tell them it was rude to stare? And to point?]"

Sorry seals! We only did it 'cause we love you! And admire your sleek grace in the water, and love those soulful eyes and funny whiskers, and how you snuggle up to one another, and get along, and don't bicker. Forgive us, we're only human after all!

Next up: The Redwoods, if I can keep the momentum going.....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Post Brought To You By The OC's Wild Hair.....

Weekends around here are pretty humdrum......usually.

Last weekend was different.

The OC had to go to California for a meeting, and got an unaccustomed wild hair and asked if I'd like to go with........

"Yes! Yes," emphatically, before he had a chance to change his mind!

We had our coffee here at home on Wednesday morning. In the afternoon we snacked on a pretzel in Las Vegas, and had dinner that evening with the company high mucky-mucks in the mountains outside Sacramento. Next morning, while he went off to his meeting, I snoozed and had a luxurious read, and when he returned we set off driving north, to Redwood Country and the Rebel Rose.

When my children were little, I could not have begun to imagine not seeing them for a month, let alone a year, or longer. My mind could not wrap itself around that concept and never thought it would have to. But time sped onwards, I blinked, and youngest daughter, our Rebel Rose, is living on the opposite coast, and between horses and dogs and the convolutions of daily life, work, and animal husbandry, she cannot break away to come to our side of the country. So here we are coming to her side of it, and looking in wonder at the gorgeous creature who wraps her arms around us in the hotel parking lot. Some fast blinking is needed to avoid a spillover.

She has dressed up, since we're headed out to dinner. No jeans, no chaps, no cowboy boots, but instead a very pretty sundress. When did I last see her in a dress? And heels?? Was it her big sister's wedding? No, surely more recently than that! Was she always so slender? And so tall? Maybe she looks taller because there's less meat on her bones! Only the best hay and oats for the horses, and the finest kibble for the dogs, but what about her? Does she eat enough? I suspect she does not. Her features are leaner, so that the similarities to her siblings are more pronounced than before. The girl looks like she could use a little fattening up. We only have three days. We'd better get started!

We've lived in California before, but not where she lives. Her California is like the alps with sunstroke. Beautiful mountains,

hair raising switchbacks, stunning vistas of sweeping valleys,

golden mountain meadows,

dark spreading oak trees,

lazy eagles drifting on invisible currents

--- no wonder she stubbornly stays, though it's not the easiest place to make a living.

It's a place to make you believe in God.

More tomorrow. I promised Rise!

Friday, July 17, 2009

This Heat Could Kill You!

You've got to get out early here in summer if you want to tip around in the garden. Otherwise they'll never find the body, just a mysterious melted puddle of something over by the azaleas.

"Well, at least she died trying!" they'll say at the funeral, where there is no casket and nothing to view. Instead they'll have a picture of neatly trimmed azaleas and a grimacing eight by ten of the face that was yours. Your soul hovers over the mourners, tut-tutting "You'd think they could've found a better picture than that?" No glory, not even in death!

Who are these people anyway?

Neighbours hardly known. Everyone here has their own little acre, like islands in a stream, and no boats about. They've seen you puttering in the garden, peering at you from behind their hibiscus. They've seen you heading off to run your errands, seen you come back. They know who comes and who goes from your house, what time they arrive, how late they stay, but they keep to themselves. After all, they left the life and the people who matter to them up north. They're only here for the sunshine and the absence of snow. They honk and wave if you're out with your secateurs as they drive by on errands of their own. Using your shirt to mop the salty sweat that's dripping into your eyes and stinging, you straighten your aching back and wave at you know not whom.....And now it dawns on them---"You know, we saw her outside that day, over by the azaleas...."

Here's a little cluster of young adults, little people swirling about their ankles. Two lovely young ladies, so different, so opposite; three handsome young men, two bearded, one getting there, grave expression, glint in the eye, and Little Guy, now tallest of them all, looking on, thinking---"It took this to get them home?"

Could it be, is it possible, they were my babies once, in the land of Long Ago? They needed me. When I think about it, no one had ever needed me that much before, or since. I learned more from them than from anything else in life..... It must be so boring for the little ones, this somber talk, these gloomy faces. No wonder they are fidgety and swirling. Why doesn't someone play the ABC song to liven things up? This music they're playing in the background could kill you. If you weren't already dead.

You think if you can just manage to keep them alive until they're toilet trained, until they finish primary school, until they find new friends at the new place, until they finish junior high, until they find a summer job, until they finish high school, until they apply to college, until they get accepted---by a college, by their peers, by the world---you'll breathe easier......

And then they learn to drive. Oh my! You're so excited for them. They're really growing up! But as they vanish down the road you start to feel queasy. And later, around midnight, you begin to wonder what they slipped into your tea....Excited? Have you lost your mind? Excited? For them to be out in the dark, behind the wheel of a lethal weapon?? You thought you were sleep deprived when they were in the cradle.....and now they have drivers licenses and they're out in the Ford or the Honda and you're getting less sleep than ever.......They may be out of diapers but we're not out of the woods yet.

But maybe they'll meet a nice girl, or boy, and settle down, and at last you'll be able to relax. But what if the nice girl decides, one day, to toss aside your darling son of the grave expression, like last season's tattered jeans, and you don't know how to console him and he doesn't call and you fret and worry and lose more sleep? And what if your dear, stubborn daughter is so far away, you cannot vet her suitors and you worry she'll be too trusting, and make bad choices.....More sleep up in smoke. Shouldn't you be trusting them at this stage to run their own lives? They only look like grownups, but really they're just children, your precious children. And the world is too cruel a place ....where dreams can get splintered on the harsh rocks of reality.....

The littlest one, the "big" sister moves imperceptibly closer, protectively, to her siblings. From my perch, up near the chandelier, I see why. A tall, feeble, but still upright old man is shuffling their way. They brace themselves for the onslaught. He always thought I was too big for my britches. And now, and now, I've had the temerity to die before him! I never did know my place!

My soul flutters above them, agitated that he's there! He often told me that he didn't want to come to our wedding, because I'd insisted on being married over there. Little upstart that I was. So why is he at my funeral? Probably wants to make sure I'm gone!

I'm looking, I'm looking. Where is he? Ah there he is....over there, see? Looking at the eight by ten and the nicely trimmed azaleas. Dark hair thinning, with just a hint of gray, brooding, lost in thought. I'd sell my soul to the devil to read those thoughts, but I'm already booked into heaven......

It's been hot here! The OC has been out of town. We've had lots of rain, between bouts of scorching sunshine. Everything is growing and needs trimming, not least the weeds. The sweat is drip,drip,dripping, the bones ache,the mind wanders.....lost in Lala Land. The moral of the story---Go call your mother! She's probably out there under the trees, la la la-ing, dehydrating, getting spider webs in her hair and mumbling to herself. Be quick about it....... unless you want them to find a mysterious puddle over by the azaleas.

I need to get out more, obviously. And not just to trim the azaleas.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Quilt-In-A-Day Ha Ha Ha Ho ho ho

I was just over at Thimbleanna's reading about her first quilt, and I started to write a comment and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Then my hand started to hurt from all the strenuous hunting and pecking so I stopped. And when I stopped some pistons started [I have no idea how pistons work or what they are even, but it sounds good and it makes me sound like I know about engines and such, so I'm leaving it in here and it's my blog anyway....] Where was I? Oh yes! Pistons. Firing in my head. Pennies dropping. And God knows, that happens slowly enough around here......

Wait a minute, I said to myself. There's a whole post in this. Why am I writing it here, then wringing my hands over there, without a clue in my head what to write? So I copied and pasted and took it home and told her to come and get it. Cruel, I know, but sometimes a person has to hoard her words. Her quilt, by the way, was beautiful--all complicated baskets with tiny triangular pieces and the accompanying bias edges that strike terror into the hearts of experienced and novice quilters alike. And completely hand quilted! Also faded, but just enough to give it a charming antique look.

That's your first quilt? Go on! You should see mine.

It still lives on the back of the couch in the TV room only because the menfolk have trained El Pussygato to attack the moving hand that stalks him from under the quilt while he snoozes, or tries to, on top of it. I'm not about to put a nice new quilt there so they can rip my loving stitches to shreds with tooth and claw and feline insanity! Meanwhile, it makes me cringe, it's so old and faded, and not in a good way, like Thimbleanna's baskets. Nothing charming or antique about it. Old and ratty, maybe..... If we had a dog I'd give it to him. The way it looks, you'd almost expect it to have a smell of damp dog about it [but it's clean, except for the ever present cat hair!]

Here's a picture of a leftover piece that's been hiding all these years deep in the scrap bag, safe from the ravages of cats and sun.

The pattern is Trip Around the World and it was [excuse me while I writhe on the floor in helpless laughter] a Quilt-In-A-Day! [What a canny business woman she was, even if she does make me crazy tossing things over her shoulder!] My children still chortle about that...........I think it took me three years, all told. We lived in the Peace Garden state at the time. I [hangs head in shame] sent it away to be quilted somewhere in the vast midwest. [In my defense, I didn't know any better in those early years--you mean I have to stitch all over it, by hand? Do I look like a woman who has no children? If I do that, it might be ready to use as a shroud for my withered bones when I die...a very shaky might. So I sent it away.] And was so impressed when it came back, looking like---a quilt----did I make that?? Aren't I the clever girl!

And so the die was cast, the hook baited.

The sun was very bright up there and I wanted something to cover the back of my nice new couch, which sat in front of the big picture window in the living room. The plan worked. The couch survived North Dakota unfaded, but the quilt took it in the shorts.

One of these mornings I'll walk into my sewing room, close the door, pretend my name is Thimbleanna, and not come out 'til I've made a gorgeous new throw for the back of the couch. Then I won't have to be ashamed of the ratty old couch because everyone will be too dazzled by the beautiful quilt thrown, oh so casually, over the back.

That, of course, will be after El Pussygato has a claw job. And the menfolk have their lobotomies.....

Monday, July 06, 2009

Needed: Bigger Buckets.......

My recent visit to England was just long enough for me to realize I'd have liked to stay longer, much longer! The southwestern part of the country has a magical quality. I felt as though I'd stepped back in time to a slower-paced, more contented era, to a rural landscape of farms that have been worked continuously for hundreds of years, to rolling green fields, and wild flowers, and cozy cottages with lovely gardens and blue smoke curling up dreamily from their chimneys.

And what is more timeless than a brand new baby, with the eggshell still on his head, as Isabelle so aptly put it! But almost gone in this recent update......

Too soon, it was time to leave, but consolation came from an unexpected source. From a woman named Mary Webb. It would have been a real pleasure to have met her in person, but since she's been resting under the Shropshire soil since 1927, my new friend and fellow grandma, G, did the next best thing. She gave me a copy of "Precious Bane," one of Mary Webb's best known books.

Mary Webb lived most of her life in Shropshire, several years of it in a house next door but one to where G lives now. I was delighted to have such a memento of my few days there, and thought that, some day, I might even read it.

Home, unpacking, and moping because it all flew by so fast, I picked up "Precious Bane", and as I thumbed through it, Mary Webb cast a spell on me and lured me into the world of Prue Sarn.

"Shropshire is a country where the dignity and beauty of ancient things lingers on," writes Webb in the foreword, "and I have been being born and brought up in its magical atmosphere....."

I feel that way about the place where I grew up.........

As I read, it occurred to me that, even though the world and our daily routines have changed drastically since those days, the things that are really important and give meaning to our lives have hardly changed at all. Something to believe in: Prue has her faith in God. Something to do: She has plenty to do, helping her brother, Gideon, with all the work on their farm. Someone to love: Aha! Very few people can see beyond the birth defect Prue was born with, so they write her off as someone not deserving of love. Even Gideon, her brother says

"Being as how things are, you'll never marry, Prue." At which Prue's heart

"beat soft and sad. It seemed such a terrible thing never to marry. All girls got married..........even Miller's Polly, that always had a rash or a hoost or the ringworm or summat, would get married. And when girls got married, they had a cottage, and a lamp, maybe, to light when their man came home, or if it was only candles it was all one, for they could put them in the window, and he'd think "There's my missus now, lit the candles!" And then one day they'd make a cot of rushes, "and one day there'd be a babe in it, grand and solemn, and bidding letters sent round for the christening, and the neighbours coming round the babe's mother like bees round the queen."

Mary Webb,[and through her, Prue Sarn,] is so in tune with human nature, and the natural world around her, that she draws you into that world of Shropshire a hundred years ago, to Prue's life and her thoughts, to all the subtle signs of the changing seasons, to her everyday worries and occasional joys, to her strength and how she deals with the cruel handicap life has dealt her, and to the cozy little attic where she writes it all down.

"For you canna write a word, even, but you show yourself - in the word you choose, and the shape of the letters, and whether you write tall or short, plain or flourished....."

You hardly realize she's doing it, but while she captivates you with the twists and turns of the story, she takes you there, to the cornfields and cottages and lane ways of rural Shropshire, to the air humming with the "murmuration" of bees and birdsong, so that when winter creeps over the fields around Sarn Mere, you shiver in your armchair and draw your imaginary shawl closer around you against the cold, damp fog rising off the water. As I read, and the landscape came alive in my mind, I couldn't help thinking again and again of Constable's beautiful paintings of the English countryside......

......and thinking in the Shropshire dialect between bouts of reading! It too has a comfortable, cozy "murmuration" to it!

Reflecting on the characters' vain attempts to quench a blazing fire, by passing buckets and pails of water, one to another, Prue writes

"And I've thought since then that when folk grumble about this and that and be not happy, it is not the fault of creation that is like a vast mere [sea] full of good, but it is the fault of their buckets' smallness."

I liked Prue, her way of thinking and her way of writing. Or was it Mary Webb, and her thinking and her writing that I liked so much? To what extent can you separate the writer from the characters she creates? Can you invent such a beautiful character and mind without being so, and having such yourself? To me the mind of Prue Sarn and the mind of Mary Webb are one and the same.

And now I'm "afeerd" you'll all think I've lost my marbles. I'm not advocating that we go back to the way things were in that time, milking our own cows, spinning our own yarn, sending our daughters off to neighbouring villages to be apprentice milkmaids....... But it was somehow comforting to feel such a connection with Prue. Almost like reading something my great grandmother might have written, like getting a glimpse into how her everyday life might have been, and into the things that might have occupied her thoughts and made her world go around. And finding that, despite the intervening years, we are still more alike than different.

Go read a "tuthree" pages of "Precious Bane", if you can find it, and let me know what you think.