Beautiful Things

Jackson Lake 3 cropped 2Recently, I subscribed to an internet program that is supposed to help with relaxation and meditation, using images of nature accompanied by peaceful music. Lots of flutes. I like to listen while I work; it cuts the silences of working from home.

I was reading one day, listening, glancing up occasionally to see what beautiful thing was on. Suddenly I felt sad, but I wasn’t sure why.  After a while, I realized that I was sad because I would never actually see the beautiful things that were on the screen. Except on a screen. I may never visit a beach in Thailand at sunset, or the Alps at sunrise. Because of time. Because of distance. Because of money. Because of age or health. It is world of beautiful things but our time here is short and for most of us our resources are limited.

And then I thought, yet here I am now seeing these things on television at least. That is seeing of a kind. Some of them I might have guessed at their existence. But many I would likely never have known about, except for this seeing. And if the images in this program are beautiful, there are many more beautiful images, stunning and extraordinary and strange, shown on TV and the Internet these days, on channels dedicated to them.

And not just natural beauty. Art is more accessible than ever before. Major museums are putting images of masterpieces within the reach of everyone at a click or two. And music also. Sites stream Bach and Mozart, Schubert and Prokofiev (my personal favorite), and so many more, many I have never heard of. Fifty years ago― no make that one hundred years ago, I forget how old I am―you would have had to attend a concert in Oslo or Vienna or New York to hear them.

This is a miraculous age of beautiful things, offered to us wherever we turn. I’m sure that they are more beautiful to experience in person. I would rather see them from a concert in Oslo, an evening at the Met in New York, or flying over the Alps at sunrise (okay, I might have to close my eyes at that one).

But even in seeing them in this removed way, they are still beautiful. And I can see more of them this way than I could possibly see in a lifetime. That’s a gift, and something to be grateful for.

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The Language of Trees

 
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The trees were winking at me this morning.
 
Or maybe it was morse code.
 
Tiny brights lights kept going on and off, as if someone was hitting a switch.
 
But irregular, like a cipher.
 
I finally figured it out. 
 
It was the light of the sun refracting through raindrops as the leaves moved in the breeze.
 
Nature speaks to us.
 
I hope we are listening.
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Florence

 

 

This is the moment she lets down her hair, newly washed at the Belfast sink, and offers it to a beneficent sun. The coiled braids, set free, ripple in a fanciful breeze and glisten with silver.

She is standing on a grassy incline, next to the hawthorn hedge, where no one will see her in this state of disarray. No one except the small girl who is bemused by the transfiguration. An elfin shadow falls aslant behind her.

For Florence, it echoes of another little presence, far away and gone. She knows about grief. After going into service, she gave birth to a son fathered by her master. The child was torn from her life, as though he had never lived, and the long conspiracy of silence only stresses her the more. He would be a young man by now, perhaps with a wife and family of his own. Sometimes, she is sure of it: her psyche is populated with shadows that live and move and have their being within the wings of everyday reality.

Young men did not come courting after that, but how could they when they lay lifeless in some corner of a foreign field? She bears her shame with meek fortitude, holding her head high among those who do not see her.

 

 

“Least said, soonest mended,” is what she tells her sister, Bella, who bicycles over the hills in her hat and coat on visits. Bella is inclined to pretend Daisy isn’t there. The sisters whisper overhead, while Bella glances down her nose and chides Florence for being put upon.

Daisy catches a phrase or two, though she is more interested in the magpie browsing the apple tree. “Lonely child, lonely woman,” says Bella.

“She mixes well enough. I don’t mind,” Florence tells her. And adds, somewhat cryptically, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

Florence keeps house for her engineer brother, a saturnine fellow who likes a lot of mustard on his food and finds children tiresome.

'Your wife, your dog, and your walnut tree, the more you beat them, the better they be,' he jokes.

"Give over," Florence scolds.

It is whispered that he has taken up with a woman two villages away and plans to marry. Daisy is fascinated when Florence gets on her knees with Lol’s boiler suit spread over a wavy brick floor, lathering the tough denim with Sunlight soap and scraping the slurry off with a blunt knife before it goes into the copper to be boiled in suds created with soap and a cheese-grater. Men have fought for their country in trench, jungle and desert. They are the breadwinners, the prime holders of mortgage agreements, the payers of rent. Way must be made for them and their interests served.



 

She is a country woman to the core and delights in her garden, the digging and planting and picking, the rogation days and harvest home. The child capers back and forth with a toy watering-can imprinted with mermaids, dipping it into the rainwater butt and dragging it to the thirsty plants. Daisy loves her floral ‘choir’ that stands tall at the edge of the potato crop. The ink-blue of delphinium spires, the chuckling sunflowers, the hollyhocks and ox-eye daisies, the canterbury bells, and snapdragons whose jaws are gently prized by furry bees prospecting for gold. Her favourites of all are the marigolds. Her wheaten locks, parted and tied in bunches, bob up and down behind her ear lobes as she darts to and fro.

Startled, her little forefinger guards her mouth and she is motionless, sure that she can hear singing from some far distance place.

Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green...

Florence is seized by a moment of undiluted joy.

“See the piggies?” suggests Daisy, off on another tack.

“I’m all behind like the cow’s tail today,” says Florence. “There’s Lol’s shirts to iron and...”

Daisy is crestfallen, because Lol’s shirts are definitely not top of her agenda.

“Well, you’d best go and put your bonnet on, then, while I take my pinny off and make myself fit.”

Daisy squeals with delight and does her happy dance.

In the afternoon, they call at Farmer Knight’s where Daisy clambers on to the pigpen gate for a lofty view of a litter of inquisitive snouts. Fortified by flapjacks and squash, the pair stroll home through field, wood and churchyard, sucking barley sugars, the luminous air filled with the hum of summer, while silken butterflies alight on flowers and dragonflies hint rainbows.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a beloved ritual through the seasons, the naming of flowers. Snowdrops, aconites, anemones, Star of Bethlehem and wood sorrel. Violets, bluebells, lady’s smocks and dog roses. Speedwell, ragged robins and Queen Anne’s lace. Cornflowers, campion and tansy. Autumn crocus, Jack-in-the-Pulpit… Daisy can reel off this litany to her heart’s content.

A mosaic of tiny yellow petals, tinted with crimson, half-hidden in the grass, catches her eye. Delightedly, she pounces on it, losing hold of Florence’s hand. “Egg and bacon!”

“That’s right,” says Florence. “But you couldn’t eat that for your tea, now could you?”

She thinks of the apple cake resting on the pantry shelf and a gratifying brew of pekoe tips to round off the adventure with her small charge.

“What’s that?” asks Daisy, pointing. “Baby pansy?”

“Why, that’s heartsease,” says Florence.

But Daisy has no time for sighs. She is telling the time with a dandelion clock. The flossy seeds float upwards and away, to take root in some other pasture.

Florence will hug this day of mystical balm to herself for ever. And she will never know the treasure she has bequeathed.

The lady is aptly named.

 

 

These images reveal the glorious exuberance of nature in a churchyard during lockdown.

 

 

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Fishing in the Sky

As part of my stay-at-home regimen, I have been rereading Walden. I have consulted it often, but not read it through for many years. When I first read it, I was as enthralled as any child of the Sixties could be, and thought it the American finest prose of the Nineteenth century. I was curious what my reaction would be now so many years later, and having been thoroughly influenced by Thoreau’s mentor Emerson.

The first chapter, Economy, I have to admit, was disappointing. The tone seemed to me preachy and self-satisfied, like someone shouting on a street corner, with only occasional bouts of elegance and depth. Also the math seems suspect , but since that’s not my strongpoint either I’ll pass over it.

The second chapter, Where I Lived an What I lived For, is all the Thoreau I remember. Let me share one passage:

 

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry,—determined to make a day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like. Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore-paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine.

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Latest Comments

Rosy Cole My historical fiction: The faraway land of the house and two cows
22 October 2021
What an achievement, Moni, to have created something vibrant out of the lives of a tucked away commu...
Monika Schott PhD My historical fiction: The faraway land of the house and two cows
19 October 2021
Thanks Stephen. I'm quite happy with it. ?
Stephen Evans Thinking Small
11 October 2021
Always glad to hear that!
Rosy Cole Thinking Small
11 October 2021
It did make me chuckle, though :-)))