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.

Clematis Bower

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‘A rural portico was seen,
Aloft on native pillars borne,
Of mountain fir with bark unshorn
Where Ellen’s hand had taught to twine
The ivy and Idaean vine,
The clematis, the favored flower
Which boasts the name of virgin-bower,
And every hardy plant could bear
Loch Katrine’s keen and searching air.
An instant in this porch she stayed,
And gayly to the stranger said:
‘On heaven and on thy lady call,
And enter the enchanted hall!”

— excerpted from The Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott

Of bloom and blossom, blur and bliss… finding a bit of all of the above in my clematis bower on this beautiful Saturday. Of the blur effect, for the photography suggestion of ‘focus‘ this week, I was trying out my new portrait feature on the iPhone, as there are power lines just beyond that cross the background, disrupting my lovely Lady of the Lake ambience. The blur effect, in turn, created the illusion that a clematis bloom had catapulted itself away from the pack and was on its way to some wild adventure.

(go little clematis, go!)

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Shimmer

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Old books
of subtle shimmer
and modest embossment
your quaint ideas
where light has glanced
sheen of sweetness
your homely wisdom
honeyed truth
such glowing gems
can put the shine
back on the
tawdry day

From this blog you might expect a photo of an old book…! More of Frances Theodora Parsons and her talented friend and artist Marian Satterlee coming soon…

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Quicksilver Droplets

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My reading for the last week or so–continually interrupted, like a picnic upstaged by intermittent splashes of rainfall–has been The Last September, by Elizabeth Bowen. As I live in the Pacific Northwest, where rain can feel like an ever-present inundation, there is a familiar fascination in Bowen’s well-crafted, liberally moistened atmosphere. I find in her use of the rain and all its manifestations, scene to scene, almost a tone poem, both dreamy and dreary, that underpins this Anglo-Irish novel. 

The WP photo challenge for the week was to capture H2O in various interpretations. I love to take photos of water droplets, poised and quivering….to capture that one moment of translucent shimmer.

Elizabeth Bowen, in masterful prose, creates some ethereal moments throughout the novel by the use of water in shaping atmosphere. Rain is used as a character, a mood setter, a scene stealer, and often, in the dappled, shifting light when sun changes to racing clouds, a subtle harbinger of coming despair.

‘Down the walk, brightening air slipped like gauze round the beech trunks; great pewter limbs went turning, straining up with the sheen of muscles. Drops, infrequent and startling, loudly fell on his hat-brim, icily on her shoulders through the mesh of her dress. The path’s perspective was a tunnel of glass…’

In a scene that is, perhaps, more about climate than climactic, we have the eager soldier, vigorous in love, bestowing his first display of affection on a young, confused Lois. And in this scene, of course…there is rain.

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‘He stepped…to the drawing room door. The five tall windows stood open on rain and the sound of leaves, rain stuttered along the sills, the grey of the mirrors shivered. Polished tables were cold little lakes of light.’

Then he stepped forward, and kissed her, his hands on her wet shoulders.
“Oh, but look here—“ cried Lois.
She was his lovely woman: kissed. He shone at her, she helpless. She looked out at the hopeless rain.
“I love—“
“Oh but look here—“
“But I love—“
“What are you doing in the drawing room?”
“I’ve come to lunch.”

She walked away from him, around the room…So that was being kissed; just an impact, with inside blankness….’

Did I mention this was a coming of age novel? More of this enigmatic story, and spurts of abbreviated dialogue… coming soon.

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Fleeting

Nostalgia…as this blog is nothing if not nostalgic, this should have been easy. Old books, right? My first memory of walking into a true blue antiquarian bookshop when I was nineteen? A snatch of Robert Burns’ poetry that my grandfather loved to quote, all forever connected in my mind with his tobacco stained plaid shirts and the scrape scrape of his blackened toast…? Crunchy leaf-strewn walks in the country, with my mom’s copy of Walden in hand…? Done.

Yet, I kept thinking about this plucky clematis on my patio that bloomed vivid and carefree all summer long…a curtained backdrop to our outdoor laughter and sunlit afternoons with friends. Then it began the un-wished for departure…much too soon…with a casual strewing of petals. Like a good-bye that has to be rushed, for fear of tears. A presence much too fleeting. I miss it already.

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Fleeting

what is nostalgia
but my own private
Greek chorus
chanting softly
collective in shadow
on an ancient stage
suggesting
murmuring
insistent
“You will feel this way”
my one act
falters
my soliloquy
fades
distant disquiet, unseemly
persists
as though one
falling petal
(mere cellulose tissue)
should convey
so much more
when, simply it is
surely it is

one more petal

that has fallen

softly