A Little Backyard Drama

I am priveleged to occasionally witness these little domestic dramas as they play out in my backyard. This is my local Scaled Quail family.  Body language tells a lot of what is going on....

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Him: Well, looks like your chicks are in the bushes again.
Her: My chicks? What do you mean my chicks?? I distinctly remember you had a part in that.

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Him: Well, you laid them.    -- Hey! Hey you kids -- get out of the bushes! ---- Don't make her come down there.

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Her: Me?? (Gives him that look that all husbands will recognize)  --- So you've got a broken wing or something?

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Him:  Nah...I'm busy. I'm on lookout duty....
Her:  Oh yeah?  I'll give you something to look out for...

(Eventually, with a little prodding, they both went after the chicks.)

     *     *     *

The Home Place -- 2017

 

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Scriptorium

Some people have studies.  Others dens.  Or offices.  I have a Scriptorium.

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In our previous home, H. worked in the spare room, and I at the dining table in the living room.  After a while, however, I found it hard to do any of my own writing in a space that was, ultimately, communal, especially outside working hours.  So, after the usual period of grumpiness and seething dissatisfaction, I came up with a solution. I bought myself a small, folding, wooden exam desk – complete with pen-carrying groove – and a small, folding chair.  I placed them in a corner of our bedroom, between the window and the chest of drawers.  There was enough space for a few white fairy lights to give this corner an air of celebration, a candle for inspiration, and, of course, enough room to write.  Because, at the time, I was translating an Italian novel set in 11th century Venice, complete with copyist monks and illuminated manuscripts, I began jokingly referring to my little corner of freedom and creativity as my Scriptorium.  The term soon became shorthand for "do not disturb".  So if H. asked what my plans were for that afternoon or evening and I replied, "I'll be in the Scriptorium," he knew I would be off limits. Consequently, when I grew exhausted, irritable and/or discontented, he would gently suggest "spending a few hours in [your] Scriptorium".

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When we moved to this house, at the end of April, he kindly offered the spare room to me.  "Think about it," he said, "you can have a whole room for your Scriptorium and not just a corner."

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It had been a while since I'd had a space I could arrange to please myself and myself alone.  As I stood in the room, surrounded by towers of unopened boxes, I tried to picture it the way I wanted it, constantly reminding myself that it was going to be my room, my space.  I could have it look and feel the way I wanted it.  I didn't have to compromise, to ask anyone else if they minded this print or this plant or the furniture arranged this or that way.

Oh, bliss.

A print of Raphael's Triumph of Galatea had been stored in a box since I'd bought it from the Villa Farnesina gift shop a few years ago.  H. doesn't care for it.  It was the first print I unrolled, smoothed, and hung on the wall, almost as a declaration of freedom.  Naturally, my beloved Tobias and the Angel, by Verrocchio, took prime position, above a small sofa bed.  A small futon that turns into a chaise-longue, covered in a red and black Abruzzo-style woollen throw from my school days.   Not really suitable for overnight guests, but perfect for reclining on for an afternoon nap, getting absorbed in a good book, or simply lounging and looking at all the familiar, friendly objects in the room.  

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A bookcase devoted exclusively to books on medicine and healing, one with a row of dictionaries, a shelf for religion and philosophy, and at the bottom, a collection of world folk fairy tales and mythology.  Books in Russian, French, Italian and Spanish.  And then a shelf for my guilty pleasure: the crime novels of Donna Leon.   

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My elemental friends, of course, live with me in this room.  Among them, the lemon plant I've grown from a pip, the pink busy-lizzy on my desk to cheer my working hours, and my oldest companion, the weeping ficus plant.  A Bahamian friend gave it to me in Cambridge, over twenty years ago, before she went back to the Bahamas.  At Christmas, I thread white fairy lights through its branches.  

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Fairy lights, of course.  An odd wine glass with white ones.  A jar with coloured ones.  

Postcards with Mediaeval and Renaissance paintings of learned, inspiring women.  Christine de Pisan.  Veronica Franco.  Photos of favourite trees.  A Cedar of Lebanon in Norwich, Maritime Pines in Rome.

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Beautiful words.  Saint Francis's Canticle of the Creatures, the faith of Julian of Norwich.  The term "Joy" cut out from bright yellow paper, pinned to the noticeboard above my desk.   

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Favourite objects.  A toy spinning wheel, a piece of flint with a quartz inclusion picked up on Hunstanton beach.  Candles.  Things treasured because they were given to me by friends. 

A white swan and a black and shimmering blue-green magpie feather.  A Schornsteinfeger from a New Year's Eve in Hamburg. A cartoon from the New Yorker.  Christian Dior fashion pictures from the 1950s.  Drawings of Commedia dell'arte characters.

On my desk, the books I'm currently translating on the wooden stand, an Oxford Concise Dictionary, a small wooden box with "Fulham SW6" printed on it, found in a bric-à-brac shop – a reminder of my London life – for pens, scissors, markers, calculator, candle snuffer, and other bits and pieces.  

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Etc.

And, of course, something on which to play music.

Friends who come in look around, not knowing what to make of the room at first.  Then they comment on how "peaceful" it feels.   

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As I write this, H. has come to sit here too, to read yesterday's Guardian, while listening to William Byrd.

"What do you think of my Scriptorium?" I ask.

"It's comfortable," he replies. "Secure.  Snug." 

Scribe Doll

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Needle's Eye

 

 

The Still Point

 
I went through hoops for you
We went through hoops together
You went through hoops for me
oblivious of the tether

You wore your silver chain
that sang of slavish irons
I wore my golden crucifix
the mark of freedom’s scions

You primped an argent ring
forged by a Hebrew smith
I wore an antic wedding band
that bonded fact to myth

We glimpsed a starry sphere
astray in twilit woods
We shunned the need for paper trails
that led us back to shoulds

We danced upon the platform
You laughed, I laughed, so gone
into a world where tunnelled trains
were not announced too soon

You said come live with me
our story’s end’s not tragic
I caught below the rose-twined arch
a poet’s flighty magic

You said let’s flee to Scotland
it’s where musicians thrive
I sounded chords no words could mute
for you would sooner grieve

We sought in vain the rainbow
horizons pitched and rolled
We never found the needle’s eye
that ushered realms of gold

And so one Patrick’s Eve
our freighted hearts were parted
We did not guess the eyelet’s thread
would straggle where it started

I went through hoops for you
We went through hoops together
You went through hoops for me
oblivious of the tether

 

 

 

 

from Mysteries of Light (forthcoming collection)

 

 

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Time Is Flying and Changes Increasing!

When I look out our kitchen window each morning, I feel as if the neighbor's corn plot just on the other side of Gerald's neat garden has grown a foot over night! Next Gerald's garden takes my eye and absorbs my mind. I drink in the beauty there. Such a variety of plants of various heights with nary a weed in their midst is truly as beautiful and fascinating as a painting. 

Gerald is starting to bring in a handful of blackberries each day and laying them on our kitchen table. A short row of staked berry plants defines the south end of his garden for the first time. Loaded with red berries, this new crop will soon need to be put in cobblers or the freezer. 

We have almost used up the excess okra put in the freezer in 2014, so Gerald planted a row of that vegetable this year. I will be happy to restock the one vegetable that I know our grand-kids all like. They even like the way I frequently burn it a bit when I fry it and the cornmeal crust gets crunchy and brown. 
Watermelon and cantaloupe vines hug the ground like patches of lacy green, and further behind are staked tomatoes with ripening fruit I am eagerly anticipating. At my urging, Gerald is trying to cut down the size of his garden although he has always enjoying giving away its bounty. We have needed to admit our age and cut back on many things. There is not longer time to do all the things we used to enjoy and also keep all the dental, eye, hearing, and other doctor appointments now required. 

I always bragged about the weeds back in the day when I gardened. Gerald never complained, but I knew he was offended. They definitely were not pretty; but despite them, I raised plentiful crops and the weeds represented hours I did not spend hoeing and weeding. I did everything with a hoe as I was not one to learn to use riding equipment in a garden, although Gerald probably would have liked the excuse to provide it if I had wanted it. He has never met anything on four wheels that he does not enjoy. That is why our lawn just keeps getting larger every year.

Gerald got back his tractor this week—with all new parts wherever the fire did damage before he valiantly ran up our lane to get a bucket to put out the fire. We were certainly grateful for insurance that covered the thousands and thousands beyond the first thousand deductible. He always carried a fire extinguisher in a combine, but he had never had a bird nest start a fire on a tractor before. Now he is carrying a fire extinguisher on the tractor too. He enjoyed using the larger tractor the insurance provided for him while ours was being repaired, but he admits he does not need that size any more. That is a difficult admission for any farmer to make.

I have always heard folks say that life seems to speed up as one ages, and that feels true. I have trouble admitting all the advanced ages of our grandchildren and that great grandchildren are now bringing memories the previous generation used to make. However, I have just finished Thomas L. Friedman 's latest book Thanks for Being Late. I heard him promoting it and asked Gerald to give it to me for Christmas. It has taken me this long to finish it 461 pages, and I must admit that it was only the last part of the book that talks about things I understand. Remember: I liked to garden with a hoe. And though I really love computers, changing the ribbon on a typewriter is what I understood. Computers are way above my pay scale, so Friedman is absolutely correct that life has accelerated way beyond my comfort zone. Nevertheless, he is an optimist and gives me hope that this acceleration will bring answers to many worrisome problems that maybe we do not need to be worrying about since fortunately there are great educated minds out there working on those problems right now!

The last part of his book was more understandable to me, and I found it very important. He reviewed the values he grew up with in Minnesota. I have spent little time in Minnesota, but I recognized the values that Friedman valued as the same ones I knew in small town and rural Southern Illinois. I suspect many Americans recognize these human values he grew up with. 

We need to see people and help one another feel that we are all part of the human group or as he worded it, “people embedded in a community.” People need to be “protected, respected, and connected.” We must listen to one another, include one another, and eventually learn to trust one another. In other words, follow the Golden Rule and recognize that we are all God's children. 

Friedman praised the emphasis on good schools in his childhood community that outgrew its previous prejudice against Jewish families such as his family and then provided outstanding teachers that have produced many present-day successes now serving society. We need to embrace one another to reap the benefits of other groups than our own. If we really value education, we must be willing to embrace life-long learning, so I am now beginning to re-read the first part of his book that was difficult for me. Now I am beginning to understand the consequences of the word “exponential” and I know what Joe Biden was talking about recently when he mentioned Moore's Law. Yes, everything is accelerating and time is flying and things are changing. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, and we can embrace the speed and changes. 

For example, before I finished this column, I went up to the kitchen and found not a handful of blackberries but a bucket with enough for a cobbler. That is definitely a good thing!


 

 

 

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Latest Comments

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Thanks, Di.
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Pure poetry - very evocative - you are a painter with words..Di
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