Monday, May 4

Sunday, April 19

The great salmon speaks: The secret is that nothing knows, the secret is that all life flows, the secret is that thoughts and heart are different beings, split apart, and though we change in skin and bone each being has its truth alone, while dreams and wandering take you far, accept yourself for what you are, there comes the time when close to home, your self must please itself alone, then sing beneath the lovely sky, the earth asks simply that you try

Can't get it spaced correctly, like a poem, because I don't want to learn to fiddle with the html, but if you read it aloud, you'll naturally hear the separate lines.

The poem is spoken by the salmon who is trying to leap up the water to his home in David Clement-Davies' brilliant novel Fell, the sequel to The Sight, which I haven't read. I won't spoil the plot, but if you love believable fantasy novels in which human - wild animal communication happens, you should try this gem. If you love wolves and their domesticated cousins, the German Shepherds, and know how the dog lies down with its nose on its paws in a posture of resigned patience underlaid with suppressed impatience, then try it. Girl heroine, destined for greatness, finds boy counterpart; much danger and death, many surprises, lots of wolves, and a cold Romanian landscape. Lovely writing. Clement-Davies has a nice website too, where you can see this and his other novels.

Virgin Woolite

The title's a condensed triple pun. Never mind. This is too good not to share with toto el mundo, and of course they're all tuned in here!

Pretty shiny, eh?

Thursday, April 16

Eloise Wilkin, Resistance is Futile!

I think I posted a bit of this some time back, but good things, the REALLY good things, need to be brought out into the light every now and then.  Much as I love the finest of the early Little Golden Books' illustrators, there were a few that were not so admirable.  If you don't know about My Little Golden Book about Zogg, inspired by Jane Werner Watson and Eloise Wilkin, then don't wait -- take a look here, now.  Here's a sample.

Wednesday, March 25

Gardener Writers

When you're not digging in the garden, it's a joy to read writings by other gardeners. here are a couple of excerpts from books I've been enjoying on rainy days and dark evenings.

"How agitated I am when I am in the garden, and how happy I am to be so agitated. How vexed I often am when I am in the garden, and how happy I am to be so vexed. What to do? Nothing works just the way I thought it would, nothing looks just the way I had imagined it, and when sometimes it does look like what I had imagined (and this, thank God, is rare) I am startled that my imagination is so ordinary. Why are those wonderful weeping wisterias (or so they looked in a catalog: wonderful, inviting, even perfect) not fitting in the way I had imagined them, on opposite sides of a stone terrace made up of a patchwork of native Vermont stone? I had not yet understood and also had not yet been able to afford incorporating the element of water in my garden. I could not afford a pond. I could not understand exactly where a pond ought to go in the general arrangement of things. I do not even like a pond, really. When I was a child and living in another part of the world, the opposite of the part of the world in which I now live (and have made a garden), I knew ponds, small, really small bodies of water that had formed naturally (I knew of no human hand that had forced them to be that way), and they were not benign in their beauty: they held flowers, pond lilies, and the pond lilies bore a fruit that when roasted was very sweet, and to harvest the fruit of the lilies in the first place was very dangerous, for almost nobody who loved the taste of them (children) could swim, and so attempts to collect the fruit of pond lilies were dangerous; I believe I can remember people who died (children) trying to reach these pond lilies, but perhaps no such thing happened, perhaps I was only afraid that such a thing would happen, perhaps I only thought if I tried to reap the fruit of pond lilies I would die. I have eaten the fruit of pond lilies, they were delicious, but I can't remember what they tasted like, only that they were delicious and that they were delicious, and that no matter that I couldn't remember exactly what they tasted like, they were delicious again.
In my garden there ought to be a pond. All gardens, all gardens with serious intentions (but what could that mean) ought to have water as a feature. My garden has no serious intention, my garden has only series of doubts upon series of doubts."
Jamaica Kincaid, My Garden (Book):

"How much I long sometimes for a courtyard flagged with huge grey paving stones. I dream of it at night, and I think of it in the daytime, and I make pictures in my mind, and I know with the reasonable part of myself that never in this life shall I achieve such a thing, but I still continue to envy the fortunate people who live in a stone country, such as the Cotswolds, or in the northern counties of Yorkshire, Westmorland, and Cumberland....
"Amongst these essential and fundamental coverings I should plant small treasures. shall we say as an axiom that a very small garden should have very small things in it? The picture should fit the frame. I should have lots of little bulbs, all the spring-flowering bulbs; then for the later months I should let the pale-blue Camassias grow up, and some linarias, both pink and purple, such easy things, sowing themselves in every crevice. Every garden maker should be an artist along his own lines. That is the only possible way to create a garden, irrespective of size or wealth. The tiniest garden is often the loveliest. Look at our cottage gardens, if you need to be convinced."
Vita Sackville-West's Garden Book (edited by Phillipa Nicholson)

Sunday, March 15

Atlantic Sunrise

At night, the sound of the ocean is lonely. The sound of it, heard from the campsite, makes me think of vastness and infinite spaces and loneliness. At sunrise, the human scale returns. I shared the beach with this strange creature, which the ranger told me was a tunicate and is actually a whole colony of small creatures living together. It's called sea pork. When the waves roll over it, it shrink to the size and shape of a small avocado. Such a sight!

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Sunday, February 22

Noro madness

If you don't know it, there's a color-changing yarn around that has lots of people under its spell. A clever fellow in Brooklyn designed a 1X1 ribbed striped scarf that is so addictive that people all over the country are making them. I even know a woman who is working on TWO. You can find hundred of pictures of these on Flickr. Here's my first one in progress, made with Noro Silk Garden, a blend of silk, wool, and mohair. It's going to Caleb, who will be instructed to keep it on the outside of his coat, not next to his skin -- or he can hang it in his bedroom as a banner. The colors are really richer than shown here. The wonderful thing about working with this yarn, is that you never know which colors are going to turn up and what the juxtapositions will look like. I started with two colors, one quite bright and one quite dark, but in places they become almost the same. Time to buy some more. (Warning: it's not cheap. But it's worth it.)

Winter is edging over for spring, if you just look around

I finally raked up all the oak leaves in the yard, because the warm spell made us all think it was nearly spring, and the daffodil shoots were getting blanched. Spring bulbs are hardy, so I thought exposure would be good for everyone. here are some treasures discovered lately. The one at the top is the beginning of the lovely pale yellow grape hyacinth that sursprised my last spring.

Wednesday, January 28

Laura Miller, Part 2

Reading Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: a Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia was a pleasure on many fronts. We usually enjoy reading about books and writers we like and more often read these after the event, just as we read a movie review after seeing the movie, partly to see what another person thought of it and partly to relive the pleasure of watching it. So all through Miller's book we have a great romp through Narnia. But at the same time, Miller writes about the act of reading and how reading develops in children, and about her own life as well. Here's a passage that speaks to me:

"Like many great readers, Lewis regarded his time alone as his real life. By the age of nine -- the same time as which I was thinking that my hunger for Narnia might kill me -- he too was 'living almost entirely in [the] imagination....' Like Lewis's, my material life often seemed to me nothing more than the drab and shadowy interludes between the hours when I could read and retreat to an interior realm.... I sometimes wonder if this kind of inward-turning, inward-dwelling, probably unhealthy temperament is acquired or inherited....did I perhaps get my dreaming ways from my father, who liked nothing better than to escape the rumpus of family life and work alone in the garden?."

I too sometimes wonder where my predominant traits come from. My parents liked to read but not to garden, and I can see now that they were in some ways people who enjoyed quiet and solitude. For the gardening gene I have to reach back to my maternal great-grandfather, who kept pencilled notes and page references on the endpapers of books and who grew nasturtiums and a vegetable garden in Middletown, Rhode Island.

Continuing the garden theme, Miller writes, "Gardens speak to people of this solitary temperament. Even those of us who don't tend the real ones find the idea of gardens, especially walled ones, evocative.... Garden are man-made concentrations of the natural world, places where nature is trained to seem more itself than it is when left to its own devices. In a way, the artificiality of gardens is like the artificiality of stories, which take the components of life and arrange them into forms that intensify and order them, saturating them with meaning."

Luckily, where I live you can practically garden all year round. Winter is the dormant season, but it's also mild and the ground is rarely frozen. And the long winter nights make lots of time for reading.

Sunday, January 25

I was a reading child.  I got books from our village library, our town library, and the city library.  Books from Providence would come home with my father, who would go there and get three at a time for me, recommended by the children's librarian.  (No -- I never visited a school library, though I'm now a school librarian.) I lived in these books.  Besides playing outdoors, in the small woods and on the shore, and riding my bike all over the neighborhood, reading is where I lived. When my father would come home with three new books, I'd wait till after supper or bedtime, get into my pajamas, then get into bed and examine each one in the stack -- smell it, look at it, savor its promise, then decide which one to read first.  One day when I was about nine, he brought home what would become one of my favorite, most magical books.  It was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Once I went into that wardrobe, my life changed forever.  My bedroom had a large closet under the eaves, and I'd lie in bed at night, KNOWING that if I just believed hard enough I could go into my closet and reach back and enter Narnia. I never got out of bed and actually tried -- so maybe some part of me also knew that it wouldn't happen.  Such is the duality of childhood thinking and desire.  You KNOW that it's true, that the only thing lacking is your lack of faith.  And you're not willing to risk being wrong.  So you go on thinking about your closet and what might happen if you really try.  (Just as, a few years later in junior high school, when I went on a science fiction reading jag, thanks to the tastes of a boy I had a crush on, I KNEW that if I believed and tried hard enough, then ESP would work, and I could silently transmit my thoughts to David Sanderson across the room.)

Narnia was where I wanted to go, and I read the magical book more than once and lived inside it.  But -- and this baffles me -- I never found out till much later that there were other books in the series. I guess I always had enough to read, and I didn't talk about my reading with anyone, and the wonderful and anonymous librarian who sent these treasures home didn't think to send me more Narnia books, so I never knew that there were more.
Then some years later, in college, my friend Jennifer and I discovered Tolkien and also made friends with a graduate student at the Episcopal Theological School and his wife, who was a children's librarian.  And this wonderful woman, Carol Hole, fed Jennifer and me with wonderful new children's books that we'd missed and ones that were new, and we discovered the remaining six Narnia books.  And were not too old or sophisticated to enjoy them with the same intensity as our child selves.  And we also discovered that Blackwells Bookshop in Oxford,England, would send us books on faith that we'd pay.  So we acquired lovely hardcover versions of Narnia, and Lord of the Rings, and Charles Williams, and other writers.  I still have these books, but I doubt that Blackwells is now so free about sending to unknown Americans. 
And now, today, because my job kept me imprisoned for several hours of low-key supervision of teenage boys, I read all of Laura Miller's book about Narnia ("the Chronicles," as she calls them).  Since I'm a huge fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books, I've read his virulent opposition to Lewis's fiction and been ambivalent about my own love of the Narnia books.  But the brilliant and articulate Laura Miller has redeemed them for me, putting such criticisms in their place.  I'm not writing here a review of Miller's very fluent and personal book but a suggestion that anyone who has been enchanted by Narnia might like to read what Miller has to say in The Magician's Book.

Saturday, January 24

Out of Print, No Doubt, But Still Great

There are some books that go out of print and stay that way because of changing sensibilities and changing ideas (usually for the better, but we need to think hard before condemning something) about what's good for readers, especially young ones. I have one such at home, and I try not to share it with the children, but I look at it a lot -- in fact, daily, because it's my lap desk, being just the right size. The illustrations are by the wonderful Fyodor Rojankovsky, one of the European immigrant illustrators who came to the U.S. around the time of WWII and found work with the Disney studios and the Golden Book company. His colors are gorgeous, his animals very lively, and his people a bit strange but very engaging. He illustrated lots of Little Golden books and some of the big ones, like this collection, which I remember from my childhood and found a year or so ago in a second-hand store. You can find copies easily on abebooks and other sites, an they're not expensive. There are stories composed mainly of pictures, poems, and regular stories. But the reason it's not currently sold is that some of its images wouldn't be considered appropriate for children nowadays.

While hunting is popular in the part of the country where I live, many modern parents just would not offer to their children a picture like this, with the rifle hanging on the wall behind the contented couple. (Not to mention the crucifix.) There are other pictures, too, which wouldn't be acceptable, like those of the tank and warplane. It's too bad, because it's such a fine book otherwise. Great stories and great illustrations. But it just won't fly.

So, if you're an adult, and you appreciate fine picture book illustration, find a copy of this gem. But you probably shouldn't share it with your youngest friends.

Coming soon: the Babar Question