Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Eliza Calvert Hall

I found her. Sitting complacenty on a shabby shelf between two other old books, "Aunt Jane of Kentucky" I don't know why I picked up the book. Both Jeff and I were loaded down with books just checked out at the library circulation desk. We had to take one peek at the "used books for sale" bookcase. At least one look. And I grabbed "Aunt Jane" and flipped through the illustrated frontspiece and the date of the book. Hmmm..printed initially in 1898 with subsequant printings up till this one in 1907. The dates were right: it's one of my favorite eras and the old granny sitting in her rocking chair with a basket at her feet looked promising. So between granny being domestic, the book printed during the right time and the promise of Kentucky (where lots of my father's crazed and fueding relatives lived, a few generations out of Scotland), I was sold. Oh and it was a dollar.

 

I started reading it and laughed myself silly. It was awesome! The narration follows an old Aunt Jane telling a younger woman about her memories and the vibrant personalities she's known. The first account is about Sally Ann who, during a sermon where people go up and gives "testamonies", stands up and speaks out against the deacons and pastor being abusive, mean and tightfisted to their wives. It was a breathless, hilarious scene and I was in love.

I researched into the author and found out (drum roll) that she was a local colour writer. !!! If there's one thing I adore, it's local color authors. Hands down, every single one of them, I eat up. Sarah Orne Jewett is the best known one but they're all jewels and I always wish I knew more of them. They faded out as their era passed though they were generally very popular during their time. Eliza Calvert Hall was a suffragette and pushed for women's rights. Teddy Roosevelt endorsed her book saying, "…and I cordially recommend the first chapter of "Aunt Jane of Kentucky" for use as a tract in all families where the men folks tend to selfish or thoughtless or overbearing disregard of the rights of their womankind." Sadly, Eliza's children took most of her energy and "Aunt Jane" never turned into more books like she thought they might. Those children. But I am glad she wrote anything at all and I am so very glad to have this book. It's one worth reading.

 

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Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.

Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.