The Blustrous Day

It was too wet to go out, it was too wet to play...
It rained and it rained and it rained.  Piglet told himself that never in all his life, and he was goodness knows how old – three, was it, or four? – never had he seen so much rain.  Days and days and days….                              Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne
                Oh, all right.  It hasn’t been days and days and days. But it feels like it.  At least every other day.  Monday I woke up to pouring rain and high winds.  The world was drenched.  What was the point of getting up?  What was the point of getting dressed?  It was certainly far too wet to garden.  Humph!
                I did eventually get up.  I had tea, and a long drawn out breakfast (Lent is over!  I can have a pecan roll!).  I read, and puttered.  I did not let myself go back to bed and pull the covers over my head, which was very tempting.    I listened to the rain drum on the roof and skylights and the wind roaring in the trees and whistling around the downspouts. The daffodils did their William Wordsworth thing, only in the rain not the sun.  I watched the trees swaying and thrashing, and the birds clinging to the wildly swinging feeder.  Somehow they managed to hang on and eat.  I was glad I’d remembered to refill it the night before.  The wind and the rain caused waves in the birdbaths.  Surf’s up!
                It was a restless day.  I wanted to go somewhere.  I have not gone anywhere for a couple of weeks.  I have not even left my yard.  (So much for walking every day.) I usually don’t go much of anywhere other than to work, or the grocery store, or to church.  Now work and church are closed.  I have a small grocery list, but - are those items really necessary?  On the whole, yes.  But I’ve put them off, feeling vaguely guilty at the idea of going to the store.  What can I say?  I was brought up to follow the rules and have a conscience.  It’s a nuisance sometimes.
                Thinking wistfully of visiting bookstores, I managed to get my act together and accomplish a few things.  I scrubbed the shower.  I washed sheets.  I cut my toenails and rubbed lotion into my feet, gave myself a foot massage and a foot workout.  Feet need TLC too, and we do take them for granted.  And it takes so little to make them happy.  I washed the throws on the bed which the cats sleep on.  They’ll be covered in cat hairs within 48 hours, but I can admire their cleanness until then.  I went through and discarded more magazines.  I decided there weren’t enough dishes yet to bother washing.  I drank more tea and read some Winnie-the-Pooh, because it was that kind of day.
                All three of us were restless, which only exacerbated the feeling.  At least my husband gets to go to the post office six days a week, and to his office for a few hours most mornings.  And his home office is upstairs in the loft.  Otherwise it’s rather hard to escape from each other in our small house.  Of course, if I got my work table in Zee’s old room cleared off I could escape there and write something, or make something.  At the moment it’s piled with books and papers and miscellaneous items I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of, or find a place for.  So I postpone making those decisions.  I’ve always been an expert at putting off till tomorrow what I should be doing today.  That way I’ll never run out of things to do, right?  Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?
                Whew!  It was actually a relief to go to bed and read myself to sleep.  And, Hallelujah! it had stopped raining!

                The wind was against them now, and Piglet’s ears streamed behind him like banners as he fought his way along, and it seemed like hours before he got them into the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood and they stood up straight again, to listen, a little nervously, to the roaring of the gale among the tree-tops.
            “Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
            “Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this, and in a little while they were knocking and ringing very cheerfully at Owl’s door….
“Correct me if I am wrong, [Owl] said, “but am I right in supposing that it is a very Blusterous day outside?”                                                       The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne

What I've Been Reading Recently - April 11, 2020

One positive thing about being a non-essential worker and so told to stay at home is that I’ve gotten to do a lot of reading and gardening, two of my favorite activities.  I may find it hard to go back to work!
Here are some of the books I’ve been reading recently.  I have been on a Ronald Blythe binge recently, haven’t I?  I decided to consider it my Lenten reading.

River Diary by Ronald Blythe:
This is the fifth volume of Ronald Blythe's collected columns, Word from Wormingford, written weekly for the Church Times for over 20 years. In them we follow him through the year, participating in his many activities, listening to his thoughts, seeing what he sees, meeting the people he knows. He is writer, walker, gardener, book reviewer and critic, lay canon and reader, preacher and historian. lover of books, music and cats. He lives by himself, with his white cat, in an ancient farmhouse in the Stour Valley, only a few miles from where he was born and grew up. His reading and thinking range as widely as his walks. He is a noticer and a rememberer, and seems to have a gift for friendship. He is a great companion for this journey through the year.
"Most writers' memories," he says, "are jackdaws' nests of infant as well as grown-up facts which are unlikely to separate themselves when they are grown up." Later he says, "But the caring for and hoarding of small and precious memories is really a duty in each one of us, for it is these which re-shape art and philosophy." 

Under a Broad Sky by Ronald Blythe:
Another volume of Blythe's columns from the Church Times. I so enjoy these essays, full of gentle wisdom and musings, memories of friends alive and dead, gardening, walking, local history and Anglican services, and, of course, his white cat. He makes everyone come alive, from St. Paul and St. Timothy, to the poet-priest George Herbert, and the artist John Nash whose house he inherited, as well as his neighbors and friends from all over.
"Always doubt 'progress.' It is sometimes progressive to return to what was, to what was long-tested and found best. Yet, at the same time, we have to be visionary. Remember Lot's wife?" 

Outsiders: A Book of Gardening Friends by Ronald Blythe:
A book of essays, long and short, revolving around gardens and gardening. Blythe muses on the seasons, on his own garden at Bottengoms Farm, on gardens he has known and visited, on changes in farming in Britain, of gardens long gone and seen only through the eyes of their creators. Many friends wander through these pages, friends known personally, as well as friends met only through their books. The book is wonderfully illustrated with line drawings, paintings and photographs by his friends, particularly those by John Nash and Sir Cedric Morris. Blythe's writing is superb at evoking the atmosphere of places he has been and the details of what he has seen. The people he writes about are viewed sympathetically and generously, but with clear sight.

The Circling Year: Perspectives from a Country Parish by Ronald Blythe:
Blythe is known as Ronnie to his friends, an unpretentious and even humble nickname that seems to personify the man himself. I first encountered him almost two decades ago when I was in seminary and found his book Word from Wormingford in the college bookstore. I felt instantly befriended. W from W was a compilation of his articles from the final page Church Times of England. I've been collecting his books ever since. The Circling Year is a volume of his "talks" - he doesn't call them sermons - at the three churches where he serves as Reader. As the local writer it was decided by the combined parish that he should contribute his talents by providing the equivalent of sermons for the three churches. His talks are intimate, friendly, and wise. I have found them valuable in understanding some of the more puzzling aspects of the scriptures and the significances that are easy to miss given the time and cultural differences between now and then. He shares his friends with us, from his contemporaries back to Francis Kilvert, John Clare, George Herbert, and that "sad young man" Jeremiah. He is knowledgeable but never lectures, humorous but but never hurtful.

The New World Order

Chionodoxa under melting snow crystals

Almost three weeks into the New World Order.  The Covid-19 New World Order.  How are you faring?  My family and I are all healthy.  My friends, to the best of my knowledge, are all healthy.  I’m very grateful. 
                I have plans to do things in the next month that I’m not working.  Rake the lawn.  Clear the garden and get it ready for spring.  De-clutter my house.  Write.  Walk every day.  Stay off the internet.  Eat right and take my vitamins.  Do a project.  Make art.  Read.  Whittle down my To Be Read piles.  (Yes, piles plural, I’m afraid.)  Go to bed and get up at set times.  Get enough sleep.  Stay sane.  And wash my hands, of course.  These are all things that I’ve been advised are good things to do during this staying at home period.
                And, for the most part, I’ve been doing them.  And doing them happily.  I’ve made great progress with the raking and garden clearing. I have half a dozen piles of leaves and debris to go on my permanent decomposing piles along the borders of my property.   There are snowdrops, crocuses, chionodoxa, and cowslips blooming in various parts of the garden.  Daffodils and hellebores have flower buds.  Green tulip and Lady’s Mantle leaves are opening, and the red points of peonies are poking through the soil. 
I always read a lot, but I’ve been reading a lot more these few weeks.  In addition to what my husband likes to call my Plant Porn (plant and seed catalogs), I’ve finished five books and am almost finished with a sixth.  I’ve even gone through some old gardening magazines, pulling out things I want to keep and discarding the rest.  That also qualifies as de-cluttering, right?
I walked Monday and Tuesday, but not yesterday and today.  I haven’t done as well as I’d planned with staying off the internet either.  I’m on too many mailing lists.  One rabbit hole always leads to another.
 And this morning I just could not drag myself out of bed.  In my defense, it was yet another grey and gloomy day, cold and raw.  Yesterday, which was also gloomy, raw and cold, I spent all afternoon in the garden, finally coming inside when I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes and my right shoulder and neck were painful from reaching for and cutting down dead plants.  Even after I’d thawed out I couldn’t get warm and comfortable, in spite of woolly socks and a blanket.  Finally I gave up and went to bed, with an extra blanket, the heating pad, and some Stress Away essential oil to rub on my sore neck and shoulder.  This morning I was finally warm and comfortable, and not at all inclined to get out of bed.
I did of course.  Pippin insisted.  She always does.  I’m amazed she let me sleep as late as I did.  Today, I let my plans slide.  Sometimes one needs to do that.  I washed dishes, but mostly it was a day for drinking tea, reading (book and plant porn), and watching the birds at the feeder by the living room window.  Juncos, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, lots of goldfinches, the males blotchy yellow, and bright Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, he scarlet and she with her brilliant orange beak.
Tomorrow, as Scarlett O’Hara was fond of saying, is another day.

Spring is an uncertain time, it must be conceded, and very treacherous for the gardener who is often tempted to put out tender plants too early.  It is traditionally the time of greatest growth and tremendous optimism.  Promissory notes are out from the Bank of Hope, but…the weather can undermine confidence and even threaten foreclosure.                                                       Ursula Buchan

Dungeons and Dragons

The dining table set up for January's game.
“O frabjous day!  Callooh!  Callay!”
she chortled in her joy.
I get to play Dungeons again today!
In January I got to play Dungeons and Dragons again after a dry spell of almost eight months.  I have missed it horribly.  The last campaign I was in came to a screeching halt in May, when my work hours changed from mornings and afternoons to afternoons and evenings.  We met on Tuesday nights for years, then, suddenly, I couldn’t.  The other members of our group, bless them, didn’t want to play without me, so we tried Friday nights instead.  That didn’t work out, and our group just disintegrated.  This was a shock as we’d played together, in various member configurations, for years.
 At the end of last year Frank, my oldest, taking pity on me, decided to try to run a few one-shots periodically on Saturdays, inviting other friends who play.  He also has been making models to use as terrain in other gaming things he does and wanted a chance to use them.  And show them off, I suspect, but who can blame him?  He made all the parts of the village in the picture above except for the graveyard and ruin, and the two non-pine trees.  I’ve seen him making these things over the past few months, but seeing them all together in a village took my breath away.  His attention to detail is amazing.
Our first one-shot was January 18th.  What is a one-shot? you ask, at least those of you not familiar with the rpg  (roll playing game) world.  It is a single game, played start to finish in one afternoon or evening, or over the course of a single day.  Campaigns are played in a series of episodes extending over the course of weeks, months, and even years, with the players playing a single character in an ongoing, developing story. You have time to develop your character, gain experience, strength and knowledge, and loot.  Unless your character is killed; at which point you need to roll up a new character to keep playing.  Think of it as the difference between a short story and a novel, accompanied by die rolls.
As I said, our first short story happened in January.  Frank was our Dungeon Master, or Game Master, if you’d rather, since not all games take place in dungeons.  The GM creates the outline of the story, including the locale, non-player characters (NPC’s), villains, monsters, perils and encounters, adjudicates the rules, and rolls the dice to let the characters know how they are faring.  There were five of us players – yours truly, a Half-Elf Sorcerer named Astrid; Zee, my youngest, a frightened and tatterdemalion Elf Rogue named Eryn; Martin, an Aasimar Sorcerer named Gwen; Josh, a Human Cleric named Orvin; and Whitney, a Half Orc Barbarian named, appropriately, Aargh.  Martin and I, playing Sorcerers, also had familiars – Gwen’s a white owl, Astrid’s a weasel named Crowley.
(Crowley, quite frankly, I stole directly from Angela D’Onofrio’s Aviaro books, without permission, though I suspect she would find it amusing.  If you haven’t read her books, you should.)
None of us PC’s (player characters) knew each other, a cliche in D&D, before we shared a ferry ride across the River to the village of Riverfield.  There we ended up sharing rooms at the village’s one inn, since there were only three rooms to be had.  In the morning we found a mystery to solve.  Sometime in the dark of the night a strange boulder appeared in the middle of Riverfield.  No one heard anything and no one saw it appear.  Ominously strange, we thought, and set about trying to figure out what it was and why it was there, and if it was dangerous.
In the course of our explorations and inquiries we explored the forest, inhabited by hordes of squirrels, explored a mine, met a lizard man who lived in the River and supplied the inn with fish, and his elderly human gambling pal.    When we got back to town after exploring the mine, we found a cult had already developed, worshipping the rock. And – remember the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian when Brian’s followers split into two factions? - it didn’t take this cult long to split into two factions either, though not as harmless as the Shoe and the Gourd.  One called for blood sacrifices to the rock.  And then a fight broke out, which turned into a brawl, followed by a riot.  The few members of the local constabulary were a bit overwhelmed, so, of course we had to intervene.  There were plenty of targets for all of us, and most of the cultists were slain.  The bloodbath didn’t seem to trouble the remaining villagers overmuch.  “We’re better off without them” was the local consensus.
After that Orvin decided to blast the rock to pieces so it wouldn’t be the source of any more problems.  This was, of course, easier said than done, but was finally accomplished by Orvin’s holy blast spells.  Of course that wasn’t the end of it.  We had only a moment to try to catch our collective breaths and then the shards of rock began to reassemble, not back into a rock, but into – oh, no! – a huge, evil monster.  Aargh and Greg saved the day this time. Even though she was badly wounded she kept Greg swinging at the monster until it was finally, really, dead.  Astrid’s Flaming Sphere spell was very useful, too.  Rather like the Energizer Bunny it just kept on going and going and going…..
After a round of healing spells, followed by several rounds of drinks, and a hearty supper, we all prepared to leave on the morrow after a good, and hopefully undisturbed, night’s sleep. 
Aargh had inadvertently contracted herself to the very small circus that appeared in Riverfield the day after our arrival.  It consisted of one wagon and half a dozen men with strange accents who were trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and something called a gulag.  Whatever it was they were terribly afraid of it, but they thought that Aargh would be a wonderful Strong Man, or Strong Woman, for their circus, and very useful if they had to fight the enemies looking for them. 
The rest of us left later in the day on the first caravan out of the village.  We had never heard of the small city it was traveling to, but thought it was bound to be more peaceful than the village we were leaving.
A bit of advice from Astrid: Do not eat at the Inn in Riverfield unless you have a strong stomach.  The beginning of meal preparation is always heralded by a loud thunk, like an axe driven into wood, followed immediately by a blood-curdling scream.  This happens even if you’ve only ordered porridge.  Actually the food is good, and their finest wine is quite palatable.

Pendulum Winter

Bee balm heads after snow
Pendulum Winter

            The weather this month has been like a pendulum, swinging back and forth from Almost Spring to Deep Winter.  Two weeks ago Wednesday the temps were in the low 40’s and I was outside in a sweatshirt, tidying my almost snowless garden.  The next day we got 5-6” of snow.  The day after that we had sleet and freezing rain and all was icy.  Most schools around the state were closed for two days in a row. 
Lilac twig coated in ice
             Last Tuesday, New Hampshire Primary Day, was grey, raw and cold, and only a couple of hardy souls were willing to stand outside the polls with signs.  Wednesday it was sunny and warm, but everyone was convinced that the snowstorm predicted for Thursday would close the schools again.  It wasn’t much of a snowstorm, an inch or two at the most of heavy, wet snow that was already melting.  But packed down it was very slippery, and I slithered and slid around the cars in the driveway while cleaning them off.  Thursday night the wind came up and temperatures dropped precipitously.  When I got home from work around 9:00pm it was already below 10° Fahrenheit.  Friday morning, when I went out to let Frank out of the driveway so he could go to work, it was only 7°.    The outside steps creaked and cracked under my feet.  Coming home that night I trod on one step that sounded like a gunshot underfoot.  6° Fahrenheit.

Goldfinches in the snow at the front yard feeder.
            Saturday was a beautiful day.  The sun was out, and the sky was a clear deep blue, that high noon blue that catches at your heart.  If there is a Heaven, that is what its daytime skies must look like.

            Tuesday it warmed up enough to snow, another 3 or 4 inches, but thankfully it stayed mostly snow.  We didn’t have as much of the sleet and freezing rain that was predicted to end the storm.  The wind came up in the afternoon and continued into the night, causing white-out conditions on the roads that weren’t buffered by trees.  The temperature dropped again yesterday, back down to 5° when I got home, and only 7° this morning. 

            When the weather swings back and forth like this it’s hard to know what to wear.  How can one predict in the morning what the temperature will be in the afternoon, or in the evening?  So I dress in layers, a turtleneck and a sweater.  I used to wear wool pullover sweaters, but those are harder to un-layer, and fill my hair with electricity, so I opt for cardigans nowadays.  My few remaining wool pullovers are ancient and cherished, and full of moth holes, but I refuse to give up on them.  It’s hard to find actual sheep’s wool sweaters these days I’ve discovered.  Why is that?  They all seem to be cotton, or cashmere, or synthetic.  Wool is best for New Hampshire winters.

Book Review - Underland by Robert Macfarlane

After climbing the world's tallest mountains, exploring ancient roads and finding remaining wild places in Britain, Robert Macfarlane became obsessed with life under the surface of the earth.  In this, his latest book, he travels underground, finding ancient burials, modern mines that extend for miles under the ocean, sites miles underground where nuclear waste has been buried, rivers that plunge under mountains, the miles of tunnels under the city of Paris, all dark places where sunlight never reaches.  In the Balkans, tracing an underground river, he finds that the past is never far away, and is still very much alive in peoples' hearts and memories. Deep clefts in the mountains hold the bodies of victims of mass murders committed during and between the two world wars, and there new neo-Nazi shrines have been created.  Macfarlane feels a palpable, lingering evil at these sites, where horrendous atrocities have been committed and hatred remains.  In the arctic the melting of polar ice reveals abandoned cold war bases and endangers the supposed "secure" and "safe" burials of nuclear waste.
None of his explorations are without their life-threatening dangers, and he is frank about them.  When he was squeezing through the tunnels underneath Paris, hoping not to get stuck or start a cave-in, I found myself thinking gratefully that I was not his wife, waiting in England for his safe return.  What must it be like, knowing that every trip he goes on could result in his death or serious injury?  Woman's lot from time immemorial.
This is not a comfortable book, and it raises many questions about human conduct and our treatment of the earth and each other, about our greed and blindness and destructiveness.  Our complacency.  But the questions are important and need to be raised, need to be thought about.
Or, you could just read the book for Rob Macfarlane's movingly beautiful writing, which just goes on getting better and better with each book he writes.

Accidental Pot-Pourri

Yesterday I made potpourri.  I didn't plan to.  It just happened.  All I intended to do was water my houseplants and then go on to another Need-To-Do on my internal list.  But I decided to clip the dead and dying bits of my herb plants before watering them. These are the annual herbs that I managed to keep alive over the summer and brought in this fall to over-winter.  They had been erratically watered - poor things - what with one thing and another - it's called life, I suppose - so most of them had lots of dried out leaves on them.  I wanted to cut all that off then water everything thoroughly.  It was a highly scented procedure as only a feather-light touch on most herbs brings out their scent.  The rosemary in particular smelled so strongly still that it seemed a waste to discard the dried out needles, so I decided to put them in a bowl instead of tossing them out.  I could at least enjoy its pungent scent even if the dried out leaves were probably not of cooking quality.
There was a lot of rosemary that needed to be removed.  My poor plant is now looking rather skeletal, but I think it's salvageable.  There are still healthy green needles on it, and I watered it well.  It's on the south-facing living room windowsill – no, it’s actually on the bookshelf in front of the windowsill, the windowsill itself isn’t wide enough - where the hot sunlight blazes in through the big windows onto the plants, after the lilacs outside have lost their leaves.  And they have.  That combined with the heaters under the windows causes them to dry out quickly, and they need to be watered every four days now.  I had been letting it stretch to seven or eight days, which was obviously too long between waterings.
Pippin Cat and some of the indoor garden.  Yes, those are a couple of my to-be-read piles on the right.

After salvaging the rosemary, I went on to the orange mint, the strawberry mint, marjoram, lemon basil, sweet basil, and lemon-scented geranium.  Except for the sweet basil, the other plants' leaves are tiny little things, and cutting off the dried and dead bits was a long, finicking process, which left the kitchen island a mess of leaves and twigs.  After watering all my plants (trying to count them in my head now, I think there are currently 29 or 30 inside.  Yikes!)  it was time to go on to the next part of the process, stripping the leaves and needles off their stems and putting them into the bowl, mixing as I went.  Did I mention how itty-bitty most of the leaves were?  And the tiny needles of rosemary had to be picked up between my fingernails.  That seemed to take forever, and I had to stop and walk away a few times because the scent of the rosemary and basil, the two strongest scents, became overpowering.  My eyes and nose watered, and my head felt odd.  The small of my back ached because I kept forgetting to stand up straight.
But, in the end, it was worth it.  The bowl of kitchen herb pot-pourri is sitting beside me on the octagonal Burmese table as I write, and it smells heavenly.  The herbs I thought I'd wasted through my own carelessness were used, not dumped on the compost heap.  I actually used the herbs I’ve been growing, inside and out, over the last however-many years, but have never used on any consistent basis.  And I got to be creative and make something, instead of just thinking about it and deciding I’m not crafty.
Now I need to put the lavender I’ve been drying into sachet bags.
Sad looking lemon basil, exuberant new French lavender.

June 29, 2019: On the Road to Independence

The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet started in the early hours of June 29. The privateer Nancy, commissioned by the Continental Congress, and loaded with supplies, was prevented from landing them in Philadelphia by the British blockade of Delaware Bay.  The supplies included 386 barrels of gunpwder desperately need by George Washington's Army in New York City.   She also carried 101 hogsheads of rum, which the soldiers probably felt were just as badly needed.  Nancy was expected and three ships of the brand new Continental Navy -  LexingtonWasp, and Reprisal - were on their way to escort her to a safe port.  Unfortunately, before they could reach her two war ships from the British blockade, Orpheus and Kingfisher, spotted Nancy and gave chase.  They were faster, and much bigger, and mounted a lot of guns.  Desperate measures were called for, and Nancy's captain sailed her into Turtle Gut Inlet off the eastern tip of Cape May, New Jersey which was both too narrow and too shallow for the British ships.  It almost worked, but there was a heavy fog and Nancy ran aground.  Longboats from the Continental ships were on their way, but as the fog dispersed she became visible to the British ships which moved in closer and started shelling her.  The longboats arrived and while the Lexington, Wasp, and Reprisal fired on the British ships, the sailors from the longboats and Nancy's crew attempted to salvage the cargo.  It was loaded into the longboats and taken ashore, where local residents helped hide the barrels behind the dunes, out of harm's way.    Between 265 and  285 barrels of gunpowder were thus saved by late morning, before it became evident that Nancy was so badly damaged she would have to be abandoned.  Captain John Barry of the Lexington ordered 50 punds of gunpowder to be wrapped in the mainsail and laid from the hold, where about 100 barrels of gunpowder remained, across the deck and over the side, creating a long fuse. A sailor climbed the mast to retrieve Nancy's American flag, and the last man off the ship lit the fuse.  The British, seeing Nancy's flag come down, thought she had surrendered, and quickly sent a boarding party.  By the time they arrived the fuse had reached the hold, and there was a tremendous, and no doubt very satisfying, explosion that was felt for miles around, as Nancy blew up, taking the boarding party with her.

At 9:00am a lookout on Staten Island spotted the first sails of the British fleet approaching New York City.  By sunset that day over 100 ships were anchored off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, just below the narrows at the entrance to New York Harbor.  It looked like all of London was there, one obseerver said.

In Williamsbirg, Virginia, the Virginia Convention adopted a new state Constitution, and seeing no need to waste time, went on the same day to elect Patrick Henry as their first Governor.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress dealt with a myriad of petitions, preparing the way for beginning discussion on the Virginia Resolution for independence when they meet on Monday, July 1st.

"...Gentlemen may cry Peace; peace! but there is no peace.  The war has actually begun!  The next gale that blows from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!Our brethren are already in the field!  Why stand we here idle?...Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God.  I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"                                          Patrick Henry, Speech to the Virginia Convention

June 28, 1776: The Road to Independence

On the Road to Independence: June 28, 1776
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Committee of Five (John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut), who had been appointed by the Second Continental Congress to create a declaration of independence from Great Britain, presented their draft of the document to Congress, where it was read aloud to the delegates present.  The Declaration was first composed by Thomas Jefferson then edited by Adams and Franklin before going to the entire Committee of Five for more editing.  It was the Committee’s finished document that was presented to the Congress.  Congress hadn’t decided that they wanted independence yet, but thought it best to be prepared.   (Who got to read it aloud, I wonder?  Jefferson was a notoriously bad public speaker.) 

On the same day, in New York City, currently occupied by the Continental Army, though the British fleet was expected to arrive any moment, Thomas Hickey, a member of General Washington’s Life Guard, was hanged before the assembled army and many civilians, on charges of treason, mutiny and sedition.  The Life Guard had been created several months earlier to protect General George Washington and his staff, any documents they generated, as well as the money to pay the troops.  Hickey was originally arrested, with another member of the Life Guard, for passing counterfeit money.  Unfortunately for Hickey, he and his fellow-conspirator couldn’t refrain from talking about a larger plot that involved deserting to the British and bribing their fellow soldiers to join them, as well as destroying Colonial arms, and perhaps even kidnapping and/or killing Washington and his staff when the British fleet arrived in New York.  Loose lips sink conspiracies as well as ships, as Hickey discovered to his rue.

Further south, outside the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, a small fleet of British ships, under the command of Admiral Sir Peter Parker (an ancestor of Spiderman) attempted to invade that city by way of two islands lying outside the harbor - Long Island and Sullivan’s Island.  A land force commanded by General Henry Clinton was dropped off on Long Island to wade across the narrow channel to Sullivan’s Island to assault its incomplete fort, while the fleet under Admiral Parker would bombard the fort from the sea.  Sadly, the landing party found the channel was a bit too deep for wading and had to be retrieved.  Then the British fleet discovered it was ever so slightly out of range of the fort, and the shots that did connect were simply absorbed by the soft palmetto wood of its construction.  The guns of Fort Sullivan, however, proved distressingly accurate, and after a day of withering fire the British fleet decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and withdrew to join the main fleet bearing down on New York City.  Fort Sullivan was later renamed Fort Moultrie after its heroic commanding officer, and 85 years later would play a major part in another American war.  But that’s another story.

Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.              
                  from George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

Easter in the Garden

Happy Easter!  Or, if you are not a believer, Happy Spring!  They seem to have arrived simultaneously. 
 As my children have grown up and become adults some of the old Easter traditions have been laid to rest.  Or, it may just be because Zee, to whom holiday traditions seem to have meant the most, no longer lives at home.  It's easier to get excited about decorating for, and celebrating, holidays when someone else in the house enjoys it, too.

The Easter Bunny arrived early enough for me to see what he (or she?) brought before I went to bed.

The first thing to go was dying Easter Eggs, which we stopped doing several years ago.  It was hard to give up since we'd been doing it since Frank (older son) was a baby, but, again, it was Zee (younger son), who enjoyed the tradition the most.  And it was a waste of eggs since they were never eaten, only displayed in the Easter baskets.  I always felt guilty about that, and had aspirations of doing something both less wasteful and more ambitious in the way of decorating eggs.  Perhaps another year.....

The tiny Easter Bunny cakes look too good to eat.
This year I never got around to finding a branch to bring in for an "Easter tree" to hang the miniature bunnies and Easter baskets on.  Winter lingered.  The dresser in the dining room where this display usually resides has rather too many houseplants on it this year, as well as a bunch of dried lavender waiting to be made into sachets.  My African violet collection "somehow" doubled this winter, and the two oldest ones are huge.  I don't really have room for them all, but each one is a different color.

I redistributed some of the goodies from the bag.

The Easter Basket tradition is still going strong however.  My husband still buys chocolate bunnies from Granite State Candy Shoppe in Concord, and I still get Hersey's chocolate eggs, a few other types of candy, and books for the baskets.  The contents of Zee's basket will get mailed to him tomorrow.  This tradition will continue for a while, I think, since I have so much fun buying presents.  

Everyone gets a basket, whether they're here or not.

The rector of my church is on a mini sabbatical, which means that the 5:00 am Easter service was  cancelled.  It made perfect sense, since the sub was coming all the way from Nashua.  I understood the reasoning and had resigned myself to going to the 10:00 am service - there were going to be trumpets, after all - but yesterday afternoon I knew I was not satisfied. I love that early service that begins in the dark and silence and ends with triumpant singing and bell ringing at dawn.  There is just something so soul-satisfying about it.  Waiting silently in the dark with the faithful women who did not abandon Jesus, waiting for the daylight to wash and prepare for burial the dead body, no less beloved though its existence signals the end of all they hoped for. And then, terror and disbelief and unimaginable joy coming with the sunrise.  It's the point in the whole story where it's easiest to feel and understand the emotions of those who were there.  And I wanted that.

So, I decided I would stay home and try to recreate that experience for myself.  I would get up early in the morning while it was still dark and go outside and wait for dawn in my garden and read the story in my Bible.  Hopefully the rain would hold off, or be very light.  I did neglect to check the time for sunrise, however, so when my alarm went off at 6:00am it was already mostly light.  I made tea and went out anyway, and read the passion and Easter stories in both Matthew and Mark.  Already the details of the story are different, and they only get more so in Luke and John.  I am more inclined to trust Mark, since it is the earliest version.
The southern sky around 7:00am
It was wet, but the rain had stopped for the moment.  And it was early Sunday morning quiet, mostly birdsong - robins and titmice, and at one point a string of eight geese flew overhead.  The geese didn't make much noise, just an occasional squawk to make sure each one was where they were supposed to be.  No matter how many times I see and hear them, I never get over the thrill of it.  Who needs trumpets?

Raindrops clinging to crocuses.

Crocus, chionodoxa and the first daffodils are blooming in the garden.  And my one snowdrop.  All winter I live for this time of year.  There are little tulip and iris leaves.  And the little red spears that will become big bushy peonies are pushing through the soil.  Sprouts on the lilac bushes are becoming baby leaves.  Fuzzy poppy leaves are six inches high.  I left my tea half-finished on the cafe table and wandered around the front garden with my camera.
An unusual stripe.
It was necessary to take inventory.  Spring is also a nerve-wracking time, when one waits to see if everything has survived the winter.  Hallelujah!  The roses all have leaf buds!
The usual kind of stripe.  My favorite crocus.

Chionodoxa and thyme
Carleton Daffodils.  They've taken over this section of the garden, which is a joyful thing.  I'm hungry for daffodil yellow after the long winter.
Taking inventory turned into doing a bit of badly needed weeding here and there.  I never got the garden cleaned up last fall and dandelions have seeded themselves everywhere.  Once I get out in the garden I frequently lose track of time and keep doing "just a little more" until suddenly it's the end of the day, and I never remembered to go in for lunch.  Not this morning, however.  By 8:00 it was raining again, so I collected my Bible, camera, and mug and came inside, refreshed and exhilerated by my Easter morning in the garden.
How does your garden grow?

What I've Been Reading

The short dark days and long dark nights of late December and January were good for reading.

Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas
Compiled by Christopher L. Webber
Readings for Advent and the Christmas season chosen by Christopher Webber. They are divided into topics such as Hope, Death, Judgement, Hell, then, what a relief, Heaven, Mary....Some of the readings in Death, Judgement, and Hell were a little too lovingly detailed for my taste - descriptions of what happens to the body after death, and of the torments of hell. Why are humans so quick to pass judgement on each other? Far too many people are already living in hell in their lives on earth. But descriptions of Heaven are often not much better, always seen in human terms. I was struck by how much descriptions of heaven are like that of an ancient king and his court, his warband (King Hrothgar's court in Beowulf, for example), with God's followers being rewarded with feasts and praise, and treasure. A far cry from the life of Jesus. There were some good readings in this book, but on the whole I didn't find it particularly helpful. 

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Caroline Fraser
This was a fascinating and intensive look at the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Fraser covers the history and ecology of the places and times in which Ingalls lived, as well as the details of her life that were deliberately left out of the Little House books. Wilder did not write about some of the worst times, when the Ingalls family was actually homeless, their life in Burr Oak, Iowa, and Maple Grove, Minnesota, when she worked as a waitress and cook in hotels and restaurants, about the baby brother who died, and the actual illness that led to Mary's blindness. She had a vision she wanted to convey to her readers - of hope, family solidarity, cheerfulness, hard work and perseverence, of her parents' infallibility, that was not always present in her actual life.
The largest part of the book deals with with Wilder's adult life, her career as a writer, and her relationship with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Their mother-daughter relationship was certainly a complicated and difficult one, and Rose comes across as a prima donna, emotionally needy and unstable, an extravagant spender, of her own and other people's money, endlessly self-dramatising. I found it hard to sympathize with her, both because of the way she treated her mother, and other people, and because of her politics, which were far to the right of very conservative. I hadn't realized she was one of the founders of the Libertarian Party.
But she edited her mother's books in a way that enhanced them, and Laura trusted her judgement, even when she didn't agree with it. Fraser puts to rest the belief that Rose actually ghost-wrote the Little House books - there are enough manuscripts in Laura's writing to disprove this - but they did have an extraordinarily effective author-editor relationship. That is probably Rose's best legacy. Her own writing has apparently not stood the test of time.
I highly recommend this look into the life and times of a beloved American icon.

Diffusing my Young Living Lavender and Citrus Fresh essential oils in the living room has has been a great mood booster this winter.  And, yes, those are a couple of my To Be Read piles in the background.
A Year at Bottengoms Farm
by Ronald Blythe
Oh, what joy to discover that Ronald Blythe has written a lot more books than I realized! The mini-essays in this book are from Blythe's column "Word from Wormingford" in the "Church Times." I came away with an extensive To-Be-Read list, for which I am very grateful, the joy of meeting old friends and finding new ones, and a new understanding of Paul's Letter to Philemon. Paul is not sending Onesimus back to Philemon as his slave, but heaping coals of fire (as the saying goes) on Philemon's head. Onesimus is now my child, part of me, Paul says, treat him as you would me. In other words, if you don't free him you are no Christian. 

Divine Landscapes
by Ronald Blythe
Photographs by Edwin Smith
Ronald Blythe takes us on a tour of the landscapes that influenced some of Britain's most famous religious and most famous writers, from Saints Cedd and Aidan, Julian of Norwich, William Langland, the martyrs of the Tudor and Stewart reigns, and on through Thomas Hardy and Arnold Bennett. He visits the places where they lived and died and shows the influences of these locales on how they conducted their lives, and on what they thought and said and wrote. The book is full of the beautiful black and white photos of Edwin Smith, but it is Blythe's prose that brings these scenes and people to life. Beautifully and wonderfully written. 

Pippin likes to keep an eye on what's going on outside.
by Mary Oliver
I like to read poetry before I fall asleep at night. Felicity contains deceptively simple poems that pack a big wallop. I finished this with great sadness, having just heard that Mary Oliver died.  The blurb on the back cover describes it as a collection of love poems.  If that's true, then they are love poems to the world and nature, as well as to a human lover.  

The Dream Thieves
by Maggie Stiefvater
This is the second of the four books in Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle, about four boys from a ritzy private school in Virginia, and Blue, the local girl who becomes their friend. They are looking for Owen Glendower, the Welsh prince who led the last rebellion against the English occupiers of Wales. Legend has it that he escaped to pre-Colonial Virginia with some of his men and was buried there, and that if you find him and awaken him he will grant you a wish. This book focuses around Ronan, the most troubled of the boys, who has a head and heart full of the dark and tragic events of his recent past. Ronan doesn't sleep much, and when he does his dreams are always nightmares, nightmares that sometimes come back to the waking world with him. And now there are dangerous men in Henrietta, Virginia, looking for Something that belonged to Ronan's mysterious father. The problem is, no one knows quite what that Something is, even the men looking for it, men who don't hesitate to use violence to get what they want. I liked the story and getting to know the characters better, though the events are often dark and violent. Fortunately it is mixed with humor and sunshine, so it is not completely dark, which is a Good Thing, because I'm going to have to read the remaining two books to find out what happens to these people I've gotten so fond of. And because my younger son will insist, since he loves the books and wants to talk about them with me. Who can resist that? 

The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life
by Amy Tan
This is a wonderful collection of essays, and other non-fiction writings, from novelist Amy Tan. She talks about her life, her mother and father, and her family history, and reveals how the things that happened to her and to her family have impacted her novels. She tells us about her writing process and how she came to write her first few novels. "The Joy Luck Club" started life as a collection of short stories, since Tan began her writing career as a short story writer. One essay talks about the process of making that book into a film. (I'm going to have to find and watch that now, though I think I'll re-read the book first. It's been a while.) She reminisces, wonders, questions, unafraid to talk about difficult things. Though she sometimes considers herself "cranky," her wry, sometimes deadpan, humor shines through. Her essay about touring with The Rock-Bottom Remainders, a literary rock band (some of the other members are Dave Barry, Stephen King, and Barbara Kingsolver) is hilarious.  This book was originally published in 2003, and has recently been re-released (Hooray!  I've been wanting to read it for years.), so it doesn't cover her more recent work or life.

Part of my indoor garden: (l-r) pelargonium, basil, rosemary, marjoram, and French lavender.
Today's Quote
"Memories are our treasures and torments, as Wilder once said, and somehow it is only in books that it can all be set right in the end."
Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Today from VioletThyme

The Blustrous Day

It was too wet to go out, it was too wet to play... It rained and it rained and it rained.  Piglet told himself that never in all his l...