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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The Willows Converse Among Themselves

I look across the river and catch sight of the willows, lost in their own world. They have no regard for me. They are speaking to each other in whispers so I hear nothing clearly but I see their long golden-yellow chains wavering over the water. It reflects their light.

There are presences in this world that are not human but sometimes, a human being comes across one of these presences and this is when poetry happens—when we interact with the strange divinity that moves through the world.

I caught sight of the willows and so complete were they within themselves, so beautiful to behold, that my mind stopped dead in its tracks and my heart eased. In the presence of an Other, human commotion becomes impossibly silly and pointless. The past and future converge into the present and there is only now.

I exhale the stress I’ve held this morning as I watch them. The willows, their long hair hanging over their faces, disregard me totally and completely and talk in their slow tree way, something to do with the air, water, and earth. I cannot hear much but what I do hear makes me recall there were other beings on this earth other than myself, older than myself. They exist in this time, in many times, living, dying, always reappearing. The willows hang their hair over the water as they have done for centuries, listening to the currents and moving with the breezes and eddies of the wind.

With a gratefully diminished self, I thank the universe for the ancient poetry that is the willow tree and move forward, reborn, into the bright day.

 

茶の煙柳と共にそよぐ也

the tea smoke

and the willow

together trembling

Issa

(Trans. David G. Lanoue)

Beautiful Dirty Summer

The thick green groves of cup-plants (silphium perfoliatumare) stand eight feet tall and are in their late summer glory. I look up at their bright yellow ray flowers and shield my eyes, the bright flowers sway so high and run so close to the sun. When I squint, the flowers darken into forms without color like the outline of the sun beating through closed eyelids.

I take a step nearer and peer into the leaves. Tiny pools of still water collect where the thick cup leaves meet the stems. It has not rained in the last few weeks and I’m surprised there is any water here at all. For leaves that are not broken or rotted, thimblefuls of water weigh without movement, rimmed with the detritus of summer: a fly’s wing, a wad of spider web, bits of dead grass and portions of pollen.

These tiny pools are water for goldfinches, tiny birds that flash by like rays of light. It hasn’t rained for weeks and this is left, tiny pools of water full of dirty summer. I consider drinking it. With one quick gulp, I’d drink the essence of a passing summer, imbibe what August means, and taste the bitter part of the growing season. This is living but rotting part that underlines all our lives but that no one likes to see, much less taste.

I shift my weight from foot to foot. The sun beats heavily down. The yellow flowers tumble in overhead breezes and the goldfinches live nearby, finding water where they can as the dry weeks pass. My hands drop to my sides and I pass back through the grass, ready for the shade. Perhaps when it rains and all the cup plants are full, I’ll take my drink along with the many others.