Inspired by Dana’s beautiful nature mandalas, I set out to make my own. I have little experience in mandalas except reading about the sand mandalas the Tibetan monks make. They create complex circular designs out of sand and then ritualistically destroyed their creation, ceremonies and prayers lifted up during the end.
I set out in the morning with a bag and a husband and we skirted along the hems of native plants growing in profusion along a creek. I always hesitate to pick flowers. It feels cruel tearing the flower asunder from the mother plant and as much as I love bouquets of fresh flowers, I rarely indulge. Today however, I sniffed the breeze and began to pluck tiny purple Michaelmas daisies, dropping them into a pouch as I went along. After dodging assorted bumblebees and harvesting a few flowers, I marveled at how many flowers were left. It’s as if I never touched them, so many still tilted purple under the sun. I prayed a quiet “Thank You” for the bounty of the flowers and sent a few lavender buds into the breeze in an attempt to return what I had taken. We moved onto a sumac bush.
What I did not expect was while I gathered, I felt my heart threading its way through the rising vegetation and then along the water of the cool creek glinting below. For the first time in my life, I did not want to leave my current home. The thought of leaving this small piece of restored land, profuse with flowers, bugs and animals, suddenly wrenched my heart out. I come from a long line of wanderers (as I think most Americans do) and I have always wondered where we would wander next after this home. This time, however, I did not want to wander. My hands were joined to the land as I nimbly picked leaves and flowers and now my heart was as well.
Leaves, flowers, and crabapples in hand, we wandered back and I began to build my mandala, spinning out a circle that radiated from three glowing daisies in the center. I built the art knowing that it would come swiftly apart and be sent back into the world. A certain joy caught up with me then- the joy of freedom. It’s a very gentle feeling, very small but it grew as I added leaf after leaf and flowers after flower to the circles. It continued on even as I ripped the mandala apart, sending the bounty back to the outdoors. As I cleaned up the litter and tiny bugs fallen from the petals, I reflected on how the mandala wasn’t to make money, to further my career or anything like that. It was a celebration of play. It was the gathering, the creation of beauty and then the destruction that is so necessary to our lives. The materials I loosened from the plants and trees were now settling into the earth for the next growth cycle. My internal load was lightened as well during this simple ritual. Making a mandala clears the mind and sweetly teaches the lesson of letting go. As we head into winter, I look forward to making more mandalas out of what the season offers. Even in the depths of dark cold, there will be a few twigs and berries to lend themselves to creation.
Far away, up and over the hills, there was a woman who made magic come to life. She sunk her hands into the ground and life came up. She took paint and brush to paper and images came to life, sweet children, gamboling dogs and heady masses of flowers. The flowers followed her wherever she went. Tasha Tudor was committed to her own way of life and she was determined to live it with all the will she could muster out of her body and mind.
She turned back the clock and lived in the era she wanted to live in. She wove blankets, knitted socks, hauled water, cooked in a wood burning stove, made candles to light her winters, milked her goats, dyed her yarn, only wore dresses and threw lavish celebrations. And while this was going on, she painted pictures and sold them. Some were put into books and told children’s stories.
I came to know her at the start of my teenage years. I too longed to dress from an older times. I longed to live on a farm and feed my chickens, be followed by a flock of dogs. I longed to sit in front of a fire, reading books or making clothes, listening to the fire spurt and rustle. I longed to walk into my barn and bring down the hay for my horses, stepping through the sweet smelling straw while it snowed outside, cats curled into tiny bundles in the hayloft. Tasha came to me just as I was beginning to put these desires into words. A life I felt was lost to another time was being lived and it was happening now. “The Private World of Tasha Tudor,” with Richard Brown’s gorgeous photos, awakened possibility and brought glimmers of hope.
Like a fairy godmother, she popped up at difficult moments in my life. At one particularly difficult part of my life where I had lost all my bearings, where I had no idea who I was or what I should be doing and there was no one telling me what to do, she sprang up. She arrived in DVD form, “Take Joy!,” and I watched that DVD day after day for a few months. I can’t tell you exactly why I watched it so many times in a row but I watched very keenly, soaking up something that only the subconscious fully understood.
I’m not entirely sure why I watched the video so many times. The most sense I’m able to make out of it now is that I was watching a woman who created her own life, her own standards and lived this life despite what anyone else had said or done to her. She was in the twilight of her life in the video, coming to the end of a long journey and relishing it all. Her way was so different, so obvious, so blatant, so unapologetic that like a hungry tired plant, I sucked it all in. I never knew Tasha the woman but I did know her as the artist and as a role model.
The title of my blog, Sparrow Post, is a tribute to the wonderful post office she fashioned for her own children, constructed out of cardboard and paint. The postmaster was a sparrow and he had a room in the back, where he could sort mail uninterrupted. Dolls and stuffed animals posted their letters and parcels at the office and I can only imagine the play must have been intense. It fired my imagination in a brilliant storm the moment I read about it and while I have yet to make my own post office, complete with sparrow postmaster, I wanted to invoke the same whimsy, the same delight in the small things in life, in the play and the imagination that comes when we feel free.
This is the space I’m creating in this blog and I want to thank you for reading and joining me. Please read about Tasha Tudor, she really was incredible and if you feel stirred to create a story, a picture or whatever your medium is after reading this or reading about her, please share. I would love to see, honor and know your creation.
The apples scattered from Persephone’s hands and rolled like burning rubies, tell-tale signs, through the greening grasses. This is what Demeter found and launched her into the frantic hunt for her lost daughter- or so I’d like to imagine.
I found the signs in the grass. In a tiny parcel of wild land, bound by a dentist’s parking lot on one side and a jeep car sales’ lot on the other, I found the signs of Persephone’s passing, sweet tiny apples tucked in the grass. Flies and hornets feasted, the hornets’ stingers vibrating in ecstasy over the sweetness. I picked a few apples that weren’t burst or bruised and tucked them into my pockets, taking the time to gaze up in the boughs. There weren’t any apples there; already the season is passing by, already we are beginning to count the days till spring.
I found pears too and delighted over their luscious shapes, hot women ready to be bitten into, chewed and swallowed. The trees are so out of place in this tarmac oasis but it was clear they were planted out of love long ago; after all you “plant pears for your heirs.”
The autumn solstice marks our descent into the winter- or the descent into hell if you’re a girl caught up by the god of the dead. The descent is slow and curving, marked by tremendous abundance where food litters the ground and trees shed their colors in a glorious shower. Everywhere, the wealth swirls by and catches our eyes and ears and hearts. It’s a tremendous pageant before winter’s austere coloring and as I click a few pictures of apples, I can’t help wonder at the beautiful story of a mother’s fierce love for her child. She tosses her love to us even now and we eat it up, apple by apple and pear by pear.
I had the great good fortune to be in Chicago on Wednesday. I was there to attend an art lecture over at the Art Institute but beforehand, I zigzagged through intersections and people, picking up a picture of this dazzling beauty before heading over.
As a child, I regarded this Picasso sculpture with a mixture of revulsion and fear. I could get behind the glorious animatronic Christmas scenes in the Marshall Field’s windows and I could gaze at mummies over at the Field Museum, enraptured and silent, brooding over the ancient mysteries of the afterlife but this sculpture got to me. It bugged me.
Now as an adult, striding the streets of Chicago all alone, I looked up at the sculpture and smiled. No fear this time, no nightmare feelings and confusion. No, all I felt was love. This weird dim creature, part bug, part sea creature could easily be Chicago. She is a metal woman, her ribs showing and her wings folded behind, regarding us with an impassive face, silently watching the city bursting around her base. Surely there are uncanny secrets hidden behind such a visage, hidden secretly in the ribcage which we cannot see.
She dwells in a square where many people come and meet, hang out and visit. She dwells with music singing at her knees and with the produce of the Midwest too, as yet another farmer market spreads out on the asphalt below. I’m not sure how I cracked the case of fear but I see her differently now. More as a guardian, a strange sign of knowing than as a dream gone completely wrong.
It’s hard to know how to take the loss of winter. Most people are happy and congratulate each other on it. They smile on twitter and face book, crowing over the warmth and the lack of snow. And I, twisted this way and that, sorrow in my heart. I miss the bright red of the cardinals in the snowy bushes or the dear plump grey caped juncos hopping in and out of the tracks my husband and I leave in the snow after we fill the feeders. I miss the intense cold of winter, when it’s so cold that no one is out and when I go to the river, each sound is crystal clear. The downy woodpeckers sound off as do the chickadees and I listen to breaks of ice in the river as it hardens and forms and floats. Winter is cold and it’s bitter but it has a blue beauty of all it’s own and I miss it.
Due to winter not being here, I can take walks everyday in my jeans and my tennis shoes. It’s a little cold but not bad as long as I take a quick pace. Everything is brown and olive. The trees are. The goldfinches are. The big windmill overlooking the park is. People bike furiously past me every day. They’re mostly men and mostly frown. Biking seems hard work even without snow.
The days pass and they are easy on all of us. The temperature hangs around forty and it makes so much easier for grocery shopping, visiting with friends, eating out. It is a world held in suspension. I haven’t been able to smell the snow yet. I haven’t shoveled and I haven’t marveled at the sculptures snow and ice make. Life is easier but it’s loss is the toothy edge that Nature always brings. I hope this easy winter makes life lighter for the birds and squirrels and other wild things but I worry about the turtles and frogs coming up too soon believing it is spring and then losing them to the deep winter that may come still.
I haven’t had to fight in this winter, where I grow cold constantly, where I just want to sleep forever. Missing winter is like missing a great cold god. Sure, they’re mean, sure they try to kill you but hey, they’re mysterious and beautiful and as it happens, you aren’t starving and you can get through the experience of this god with relative ease as long as you drive safe on the roads.
This crownless god crawls in at night however. Every night, the temperature plummets to the teens and when I rise in the morning, everything is sheeted in the handiwork of the winter kingdom. The car’s windows are scrolled in feathers and diamonds and the grass snaps white in the bright sun. I gaze from without and gaze and gaze. Maybe there’s hope the god will come back. Maybe we’ll get to see the dazzling change we see every year and complain about. I want to complain about it. I need to complain about the cold and then have it take my breath away with it’s sharp hard beauty.
The sun is setting now in shades of orange and apricot, setting where I can’t see it, I only see the afterglow. One more day to go and then the weatherman says, the Artic cold will come in and all this warmth and dryness will pass away. So when that happens, I’ll head out with a shovel and salute the glorious day. Winter is coming after all. We get to see it at least for this year, I dearly hope.
Ever since Masterpiece put out “Bleak House” 2009, I’ve watched it seasonally. My husband, Jeff, can’t help but get involved too. We get rattled, angry, Jeff swears off the series but comes back and in the end, it all works out because that is Dickens. Now there isn’t much Dickens I care for. It’s pretty much just the tv version of Bleak House and Miss Havisham that does it for me. I’ve read plenty of Dickens and have always felt sorrowful that I, unlike Jo March, just cannot get into Pickwick Papers.
And then life happens and we get older and I got older too and after all these years, I finally picked up Dickens again. I picked up Bleak House, naturally. Knowing the plot doesn’t bother me any and I was looking forward to what Davies couldn’t possibly pack in. And well, I get it now. I get why people love Dickens. I love him too. Loving him doesn’t mean he isn’t perfectly maddening at times with too many words. Loving him doesn’t mean that his psychology isn’t off at times. It’s just loving him. I love him because when I picked Bleak House and read just a few lines, I realized he loved writing.
“London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes–gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.”
London. Now. Back Then. So yes, I see the Dickens allure. There’s also two characters that have caught my eye. One is Mrs. Jellyby. She has innumerable children but due to a heavy correspondence about forming and raising money for a colony in Africa, she neglects her household to a shocking state. Her children run ragged and dirty. The food on her table is served nearly raw. Her husband pines in a dark corner. Her oldest daughter is sort of a goodwill slave, always at her mother side, taking down her memorandums and letters. I’m certain this daughter will break free (okay so I know the plot but still! I’m intrigued at what she’ll do) though I doubt it for the poor depressed husband.
Counter to this is a Mrs. Pardiggle. She keeps her five young boys, age 12 to 5, in constant movement with her. She visits the poor and by visits, I mean comes to their house unwelcome and lectures them on what to do. Immediate assistance, she cannot give. Practical assistance, she cannot render neither. She is however, full of energy and strength. So she visits, commands and leaves, never tiring, never faultering. Her boys trail after her, pinching people’s arms for money when she isn’t looking and being as nasty as they can be whenever Mrs. Pardiggle is up to her ears in some other matter.
Neglect on one hand, control on the next. I’ve been mulling over those characters and wondered what Dickens’ wife thought of these women. What is the safe way through motherhood? How to not ignore one’s children for sanity or control them for some order? Mrs. Dickens had tons of children. I wonder what she thought of his ladies. And as much as I love these two ladies for their caricatures, I do want to see a lady of his creation who is both controlling AND neglectful. It seems to me that the two have a tendency to go hand in hand.
Also…Esther Summerson. So of course, I love her because she’s a sweetie but whot? Seriously? You must be joking. To quote Wharton:
“How this miracle of fire and ice was to be created, and to sustain itself in a harsh world, he had never taken the time to think out; but he was content to hold his view without analysing it…”
That’s Newland Archer but it might as well be Dickens. How Esther is supposed to be so sweet and dear and good when she was raised by a neglectful, demeaning aunt and servant is beyond me. The girl had no outside contact till her aunt died. And yet here she is, the dearest, sweetest of women, sprung fully formed out of a void. Not only is she such a blushing rose but she grows stern and severe when the pathetic Guppy proposes to her. So she’s harsh when she needs to be but a dear all the other times. There are no break downs. Self-hatred is sort of holy halo on Esther. To be perfect in action but demean yourself internally…the pinnacle perhaps of Victorian womanhood and womanhood even now, I would say.
What struck me at once about Jane Eyre was her incredible refusal to throw her self on the altar of anyone’s desire or command. She cannot do it for Mrs. Reed, she decides not to for Mr. Rochester despite the terrible pain it gives her and she manages to resist St. John Rivers though he is terribly persistent and believes God is on his side- the scariest of all people, I find. At each turn, she remains distinctly herself and at the end of book, she respects all her decisions and is ashamed of none, though others still might think ill of her for those choices.
I can’t imagine there were any heroines like this on the book scene at that time. Charlotte Bronte lived off in her own world, not in the literary scene but in a wonderful and vivid fantasy world built by her and her siblings. She did eventually shrug off this dazzling world of huge, intense sagas but she came up with things like “Jane Eyre” instead and “Villette,” which weren’t very far in their internal, psychological worlds of her earlier writing.
So “Jane Eyre” came seemingly out of nowhere, bursting onto the public world and being rather scandalous as a result. It’s only 20 years later that “The American Woman’s Home” got written by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. This a book full of the pleas and then commands women to live the life of self denial and self sacrifice. Someone must perform self sacrifice so the rest of the family can lead a good life! Throw yourself on the altar of this good and consuming act! Christ will reward you! It’s all very bone-chilling.
One of my favorite authors L.M Montgomery took tremendous refuge in reading “Jane Eyre”- which she did over and over and it’s not surprising. In one of her series, Emily of New Moon, there’s many links of spirit and description between Emily and Jane. And one wonders if not for Jane Eyre, would there have been an Anne as well?
And so while Jane Eyre threw the reader forward to a strong female protagonist full of her own resolve and will, Mrs. Rochester propels the reader back. This is not humane treatment of an insane person. And of course, the insane person does deserve that treatment. Hmmm…where have I heard that before? “She made me do it!” Tsk, tsk, Mr. Rochester.
Anyway, this is such an awesome read and I want to read it all over again now that I’m done. It’s a world that’s dark, gloomy, awesome and gothic. It wrestles with views on God and how to lead a good life where the self is not sacrificed. Nothing else I can ask for!
I read this poem this morning and can’t shake it. It’s following me around right now… It reminds me of Yeats and Walter de la Mare and is its own all wrapped into one. A very Celtic feel. Read it slow. It’s so worth it.
A Valley of White Poppies
Between the grey pastures and the dark wood
A valley of white poppies is lit by the low moon:
It is the grave of dreams, a holy rood.
It is quiet there: no wind doth ever fall.
Long, long ago a wind sang once a heart-sweet rune.
Now the white poppies grow, silent and tall.
A white bird floats there like a drifting leaf:
It feeds upon faint sweet hopes and perishing dreams
And the still breath of unremembering grief.
And as a silent leaf the white bird passes,
Winnowing the dusk by dim forgetful streams.
I am alone now among the silent grasses.
The idea is to pick a bunch of Bronte books, written by them or about them and then naturally, write a review. Or you can watch some movies and write a review about that.
So here’s my list:
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. I haven’t written this since I was thirteen or so! for shame.
“Agnes Grey” by Anne Bronte. I wrote a paper awhile ago on Anne’s pleasure and escape from a difficult life in writing religious poetry and I remember really enjoying this particular novel (which I believe has some of that poetry) though I can’t remember a thing about the plot or characters. Again, for shame!
“Tales of Angria” by Charlotte Bronte. Which I have somewhere…
“The Life of Charlotte Bronte” by Elizabeth Gaskell. Long been on my list of things to read!
“The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte” by Daphne DuMaurier. The title says it all, I believe.
“The Brontes Went to Woolsworth” by Rachel Ferguson. Kinda cheating since I read this last year but it’s oh so imaginative and believable. A rare combo in my book. I also want to puzzle over more what exactly happened near the end…
I think I’ll pull up here. More may happen, maybe less but this is the Bronte bedrock.
How can a book about dull people be so fascinating? I don’t know the exact secret (and I may have to reread to ferret that one out) but all I know is that Frances Hodgson Burnett has done it with “The Making of the Marchioness”! It’s also a page-turning read into the bargain. I read “The Shuttle” by her this summer and oh, how I reveled in it. Hodgson Burnett writes so clearly- which is unusual for a Victorian writer and why she’s such an excellent children’s writer as well. In “The Shuttle”, I sailed through on her clear writing and it’s always interesting on how uncluttered writing presents melodrama. Because, of course, “The Shuttle” and “The Making of the Marchioness” have delightful melodrama (these aren’t children’s books by the way, they’re for adults). I suppose her good use of characterization prevents melodrama in it’s truest sense but oh! There are parts of “bad people doing thrillingly bad things” where I hugged myself in glee instead of thinking flatly, “well, that’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of.”
The girl has got the goods. Hodgson Burnett may not be considered the 3l33t of the lit world but she knew her craft and she knew how to write a great story.