Placid Surface

‘The best of a country’s history is written on its rivers.’ H.E. Bates

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After the brutal fire season here in the Pacific Northwest, we have been trying to spend more time than usual in our beloved Columbia River Gorge. Not all of the trails and viewpoints are open yet–many will takes years to recover from the fires–but there is a reassuring amount of untouched beauty still to be had.

As is often the case, when I think of rivers, and their strangely mesmerizing power, I call to mind the words of H.E. Bates, in his work Down the River.  Bates is primarily beloved as a novelist, and perhaps even more praiseworthy in the short story category, but I do treasure his nature essays. He has that same wonderful sense of recall as poet Laurie Lee, and the simple pleasures of the natural world–the streams, rivers, fields and trees around them–nurtured the artist in both men.

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woodcut illustrations in my edition of Down the River by Agnes Miller Parker

Bates makes this interesting observation about the lure of water, and one I thought paired well with the idea of ‘serene‘:

‘Water shares with woods some power of tranquilizing the spirit, of quietening it almost to a point of dissolving it away; so that nearly all the best enjoyment of a piece of water comes from the mere act of sitting near it and doing nothing at all. It must surely be this power which attracts human beings in thousands to narrow strips of sand and shingle all over the world, which lures them to sit there… and gaze for hours at the expanses of sea and sky….’

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For more on H.E. Bates:IMG_9452

The Drowsy Heart of Autumn

Winter Intermezzo

 

 

 

 

 

Book and publishing notes: this cover is borrowed from the web, as it shows the British publisher page (Victor Gollancz, ltd, 1937) and my 1937 edition is identical except it is the American edition by Henry Holt and Co.

Paper Skies

“I … wondered irrelevantly if I was to be caught with a teapot in my hand on every dramatic occasion.” Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

Leave it to the insightful wit of Barbara Pym to describe, in a quirky way, how it feels to live, at times, in this chaotic world. For the following poem, I put down the teapot, as it were, and went for a long walk in a favorite place.

Thinking of a friend today, beginning chemo, mastectomy, and a long, long road.

unquiet leaves
fall from paper skies
infinite confetti , shredded
she seeks to match
the restless day
breathe’d mist
her sole outcry

parchment paths
through forest gloom
softly walking, with no trace
of where one has been
some dry whisper
rends the air, to lie
amongst the lovely dead
unquiet leaves

Cultivation

‘I found quite quickly that nothing bored people so immediately and completely as botany.’ — Nan Fairbrother, An English Year

 

 

 

At the risk of being boring… botany and macro-photography of the plant world is something I enjoy. I am just a keen amateur, of course, but when the photography suggestion for the week was ‘Order‘… I immediately thought of seed pods. These are some recent pictures I took of my faded peony. The flowers were stunning–and I did get many pictures of those–but, to me, the seed pods are even more fascinating. (They suggest to me fuzzy slippers, strewn with the limp confetti of spent petals and popped balloon detritus, and a warm and cozy morning after a really good party the night before, which can now be endlessly discussed at leisure and over several cups of coffee while we ponder Who Came and What Was Said.)

But what, I wondered, was inside? So I sliced one in half to peek into the busy command central of future flower production.

Within these tiny packets is an irony. There are few things more DIS-orderly than an untended garden. Yet seed production in the world of plants is an example of order in the most breathtaking sense of the word.

Where the seeds go, and how they are tended is where the hand of man comes in.

‘Each family of flowers—rose, daisy, buttercup—is like a theme of music, and the different species are variations on it.’ — Nan Fairbrother

FairbrotherEnglishYearI am currently re-reading excerpts from Nan Fairbrother’s An English Year.  I return to this book often, actually, as it’s the sort of book not easily absorbed in just one sitting.

When it comes to plants, we connect quite sympathetically:

‘It was on these days that I came to know and love the country. I travelled for miles around, for an active child can go a long way on a bicycle in eight hours. I became so familiar with the trees and flowers that they were nearer and far dearer than any people. I saved up and bought Johns’s Flowers of the Field… I learnt to run down in a flora the flowers I did not know. I struggled with botany books on osmotic pressure and the history of flowering plants and the difference in structure between monocotyledons and dicotyledons.’

And perhaps, if she were alive today, she might also be slicing seed pods, arranging them in the best light, (perhaps while balancing them on her knees) and holding a little phone camera as steadily as possible to best capture an interior world and glimpses of a colorful future.

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Nan Fairbrother

One Frond, Unfurling

One frond, unfurling
Bright fern, quiet uncurling
Winter undoing

The world outside is nudging us awake. The nearby woods, the wetlands, the ferns…the daffodils….those sweetly voiced robins…they are getting on with business, and what a delightful business it is!

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I have a particular interest in the unfurling of ferns. There is, perhaps, nothing else that better speaks to an awakening after winter than this welcome sight in the woods.  The first glimpse of that lovely, buoyant green appearing above the tops of decay is a burst of fresh happiness.

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My own winter sleep went a bit longer than I’d planned, and was, dare we say…unscheduled. A well-stocked library is always a good place for hibernating, especially when one is immersed in the 12th century. Or Jane Austen’s footwear. Or the 18th dynasty of Somewhere Grand. Or pondering the mystery of one’s own great grandmother. Or toying with the idea of becoming conversant in glottal stops and fricatives just for fun, only to realize it’s not that fun.

Remember Frances Theodora Parsons? I’m enjoying her book a great deal for its quaint tone as much for its vigorous encomiums of the lowly fern, and before I know it I’m thoroughly immersed in her world of silvery spleen-worts, adder’s tongues, bulblet bladders and fruiting fronds. She was a champion, you could say, of this often overlooked species.

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She quotes a great deal from Thoreau–being terribly fond of him–and I enjoyed these words, as I always enjoy a bit of ‘thither-ness’ with my morning coffee:

‘It is no use to direct our steps to the woods if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in  spirit.’ — Thoreau

 

Be not alarmed–these pictures of ferns and ‘moss-worts’ are from my own backyard, where I was quite present in the moment. We are a little behind in the unfurling stage, it is true, but I hope to bring you more pictures in a few days of the ‘big, woolly croziers‘, as Frances Theodora Parsons calls them with such affection.

Stay tuned, as we awaken and unfurl. The young lady responsible for many of the meticulous drawings in Parson’s books––as well as the riveting “descriptions of the Woodwardias“––Marion Satterlee; is a fascinating young lady in her own right. I’ll be sharing a bit more of her writing and art in coming posts.

Welcome back.

The Hairy Stairs

These days my walks around town are less bustling boulevard and more field and hedgerow.

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We love rambling around our new neighborhood, which we have dubbed ‘the Shire’, because it has so many winding, narrow lanes, charming old cottage style homes, and not a sidewalk to be seen. And, as all the neighbors resolutely attest, there will likely be no sidewalks. It might involve tree removal, or nesting sites disrupted, or a wet land deflected.

The Discover challenge appealed to me, not only because it introduced a new word into my vocabulary–flaneur–but because exploring our environs is something we enjoy. Of course, there are different shades of flaneur, no doubt…most having to do with actual people. People-watching at the airport, for example (oh the stories one can weave) or power-eavesdropping at a coffee shop, are both different in tone than listening for elusive bird calls coming from a nearby thicket.

All, however, exercise the power of curiosity and have an enlivening effect on the mind.

Oregonians love their scenic wonderland, and Portlanders get their dose of all that plus the fascination of a beautiful city. We’re less than five minutes from downtown Portland by car, but our ‘hairy staircase’ gets us to the Village in about the same time, on foot.

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What is the hairy staircase? It’s what a little neighbor girl calls the mossy and wooded path, tucked between some obliging neighbors, that gives the other neighbors a shortcut down the hill into the village. It’s somewhat secret but not, because everyone knows about it. It makes a trip into ‘the village’ only about five minutes on foot, even with a stroller.

If you’re a bit arthritic and slow, not to worry, we have a solution for you, so come along. Strollers can navigate the path, too.

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There’s even a book depot on the way. In case you run out of provisions on your journey and desperately need a book to read. (it happens) Take one, leave one. Loosely maintained by a kind neighbor who adds a sprinkling of cyclamen and daffodil bulbs on occasion.

Once in the village, oh my. There’s good coffee, a local brewpub, outdoor cafes, my favorite wool shop, a funky bead emporium, a historic tavern that has an interesting rooftop way of sending off its loyal patrons that kick the bucket…and the list of attractions goes on.

architecture, old buildings PDX, street photography, bar, dining out, tableside

Oregon is known for its friendly watering holes, and our feisty brewers.

(we take our refreshment very seriously here)

We also have the natural variety of watering hole, in this case my birdfeeder, patronized by very feisty patrons that are assuredly not birds. For now the squirrels have worked out an arrangement, but I sense the tension building.

There will be wars, and fur flying in a moment.

There’s the downtown boulevard at dusk, in beautiful colors….

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and here is one of my favorite ‘boulevards’ in the neighborhood. It cuts through a park and leads to the Hairy Stairs.

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Here we are;  be prepared to book shop on the way, in case you didn’t get to Powell’s bookstore for your fix… the ground is so springy underfoot, from years of moss drippings and wood shavings.

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Be careful; it gets a bit steep in places and you’re probably going to want to gaze at all the beautiful fall color on your way. Not that I have ever slipped, or anything, while eagerly ogling a flash of red twig against a spray of yellow…that would be so flaneur, right?

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The other distraction are these lovely blooms; quite fragrant and sweet. They would seem to herald spring, but the chill in the air tells me otherwise, and that our footsteps must hasten on to that coffee shop in the village.

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Thanks to the neighborhood app, we’ve just been alerted to the fact that One Particular Hen who shall remain nameless has escaped again. Known as ‘not actually lost but trying to find herself’ this little Russian Orloff has ambitions.

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But she’s not here, at this field. Only tiny finches in the underbrush, and the rustlings of field mice. The finches stop twittering as soon as I stray too close–which makes me feel quite left out. I wish I could get them used to my presence so they would continue to chatter on as freely as the college girls hanging out at the Powell’s coffee shop at midnight. But perhaps that sounds a little too…flaneur?

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The rain outwitted us and hit with a mighty splash before we’re home, but we’re used to it.

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One eventually dries out. And we have a warm welcome awaiting us.

Discover

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