When I went to Portland earlier this month, I told myself I was not going to buy fabric or yarn. I bought both. You saw the green knit when I posted it, shortly following my trip, but truthfully there was more. I had packages shipped home from two stores, a few items that I believed would not have fit in my tiny roll-aboard suitcase, but in fact they probably would have fit, and I could have saved myself the shipping expense. I would have had to check the bags, as it would have been unlikely I could lift them, but since I checked the bag coming home anyway, would not have been a problem.
But of course, then I would have not experienced the joy of opening the packages. I failed to anticipate that sense of excitement, the thrill of opening, even knowing the contents. I had simply put both packages aside, apparently patiently awaiting just the right moment. I opened the smaller package yesterday, a package from Knit Purl containing some lovely Habu yarns, and even knowing all this, my pleasure in the unwrapping was palpable: the promise, the anticipation. Would I still love the yarn? Would the getting actually be as exciting as the anticipation had been? Yes, and Yes. Even more so, in fact because of the promise of creation that lies ahead.
The four cones at the bottom contain yarn for a simple summer top, probably something that is fairly open, knit on big needles, and meant for layering. There is an image in my mind, but the details have not yet been confirmed. The two yarns at the top left will be for a lightweight scarf or shawl.
Neither project will be started right away. I have two projects on the needles, the zebra mitts, and a second project, a shawl using some Jaeger Sienna in a pale pale lilac which I have decided I shall never wear. The mitts will be finished first, the shawl is too small even to photograph well, only 5 repeats, out of 75 for the main pattern, have been completed.
"But the trouble is, maps are always last year's. England is always remaking herself, her cliffs eroding, her sandbanks drifting, springs bubbling up in dead ground. They regroup themselves while we sleep, the landscapes through which we move, and even the histories that trail us; the faces of the dead fade into other faces as a spine of hills into the mist."
Reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall has been a singular pleasure this past month, a pleasure savored slowly as if this book and I were having an extended conversation that would ebb and flow, but which always remained engaging and often thought provoking.
I only began the novel in early April, after it languished on my reading list for some years. What kept me from beginning? Surely had I known how thoroughly engaging I have found the book, I would have started sooner. Or perhaps not. Perhaps this was the right time. It was Masterpiece that prompted me to pick up the book; I watched the first episode of the mini-series and realized the entire production was too dark for me to watch while knitting. I watched, and although I enjoyed that first episode, I also recognized that I was far more likely to enjoy time spent raptly enthralled by a book than by any film or television production. No judgment intended; it is simply the way my brain is wired.
And it was a good read. It did not go slowly because it was a difficult read, indeed it was not, but because I have been of a mind to read to slowly, to engage, and this engagement suited both myself and the multi-layered and multi-faceted nuances of this novel which is rich with detail, rich with the both the subtlety and complexity that makes its characters all so human.
Of course those characterizations also mark these characters, this Tudor England, as simultaneously far too close to home and far to distant from the way we prefer to imagine it. I finished the book early in May, and I have had time to read the reviews of readers on Amazon, on Goodreads, etc. They have not really changed my perceptions at all other than to point out how invested we are in our own shifting sands of perception, the shifting sands of our view of history and our view of our place in the world.
Mantel's novel is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a man who is not the golden boy in popular perceptions of the period. But perhaps this is at least in part because he is so hard to pin down, and we like our heroes to be heroic and our villains to be villainous. Thomas More took a stand, has become a saint. We expect our saints to be saintly, it is easier that way, if the saints are all good and the villains are not, preferably are not good at all. But who is a saint and who is a villain, and is it within human comprehension to parse out the differences? Or is it possible, God forbid, that each of us has the potential to be one or the other? Or both? Or neither? That is not so neat either.
I enjoyed this book simply because it was not simple, because it captures the complexities of history, of human nature, and the way we react, or fail to react, to the circumstances in which we live. I like the book because it does all this and tells a story and tells a story well. I like the book because there is so much more there, if you allow yourself to have that conversation, the conversation the author wants to have with the reader.
"He knows different now. It's the living that turn and chase the dead. The long bones and skulls are tumbled from their shrouds, and words like stones thrust into their rattling mouths: we edit their writings, we rewrite their lives. Thomas More had spread the rumor that Little Bilney, chained to the stake, had recanted as the fire was set. It wasn't enough for him to take Bilney's life away; he had to take his death too."
Both of these quotes are from the very end of the book. I read it on my Kindle and I do not have the page numbers. But there are others that I wish I could share, other things I could say about this book, other things I might say on a different day. I finished this book over 10 days ago, and my perceptions have shifted with time. I wrote some notes in my journal, notes that are currently spread out upon my desk, virtually illegible, the victims of an accident involving a dog, a cat, and an upturned vase of Mother's Day flowers. Such are the risks incurred with the use of a fountain pen, and paper, and anything, in fact, which is impermanent in life. Would I have written the same post 9 days ago? Probably not. Would this be the review I would write, were I writing it tomorrow instead of today? Probably not. The next time I read this book, will my perceptions remain the same? Undoubtedly not.
We constantly rewrite our history, our stories, ourselves. We might tell ourselves that we do not, or that our revisions are only in the name of "truth", but history, given the chance, might prove us wrong. As for my lost words, now existing as but a blur on rippled paper scattered across my desk, do they matter, except as a reminder of the shifting sands of my own engagement with the world? Probably not.
I suspect Thomas Cromwell would approve. Or at least Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell would approve.
Routine. Such a loaded word. Some chafe at routine, seeking a life free and unfettered, seemingly like birds on the wing. But even birds are constrained by biology, by nature, by routine. Some dig themselves deeply into routine, arming themselves against uncertainty, in hopes that if they can only organize the world enough, chaos can be kept at bay. But chaos always lurks around the corners, and there is a danger of being so thoroughly bound by routine that one cannot free oneself from the tangled thicket, even when freedom looms on the horizon.
There is of course, some middle ground as well, or at least so we hope, some level of routine that allows us to function in society, in the world we have in fact created, while still allowing us some freedom to play and perhaps to discover the world as it is. This is probably the path most of us seek, one aspect of the human struggle in fact: how we reconcile the world of our inner, free, nature, with the our outer, animal existence; how we create a world in which we feel like we are, at least in part, the shepherds and not merely the sheep.
Once I managed to maintain a consistent routine, one that could be interrupted, yes, but which was also well enough ingrained that I could return to it, a routine that allowed a modicum of background structure as threw myself into whatever fancy or project overtook my mind on any given day. And lately the opposite seems to have been true. I get a lot done, but there is no real consistency. I start a routine, some new variable is thrown in, I fall back, flounder, and start over. Perhaps this is merely part of the process, part of the transition from where I was to where I am going, wherever that may be. I'd like to hope so anyway.
There is no hope but to jump in and try again. And so I am, trying again that is, embarking on some new routine, and not really new at that, hoping to grab what works and let go of what doesn't in tiny baby steps. I'd like to find a way of starting and ending each day while letting the middles be whatever they may be, like bookends of a sort. I did it once before, although I do not presume that the present or the future will echo the past. But baby steps are good. As I watch the world sprout and bloom and fledge around me, perhaps it is time for a little blooming, sprouting, and fledging of my own.
I slept in this morning, meaning I slept until 7, unusually late for me. I suspect yesterday's labors, and a couple of late nights over the weekend took their toll on this lark.
I didn't have time to finish the post I had started yesterday, not enough time to write and take Tikka for a walk, and be home in case the sprinkler system people show up early, so I thought I would entertain you with a few photos instead. The photos were all taken yesterday, and there is nothing particularly special here, just a few little bits that bring me joy.
I did get all the pollen off all the furniture etc. on the screened porch and the patio outside, washed the grill (yuck) and so forth and so on. The upholstery covers are holding up well after three summers, but the pillows inside are just beginning to show signs of disintegration and this may be their last season. Not bad for the cheapest set at Lowe's, and they remain incredibly comfortable.
I still need to fill a few pots with flowers. And the two small plants in front of the screen, a bay leaf that survived the winter with a few scars and a brugmansia, need to be potted. But these are small tasks. The two white Panton chairs and the small greenish-blue table will move, possibly to the lawn. They were too crowded on the small patio, where there is a table that only really needs two chairs. The lawn is a possibility, but I will need a place to move them on mowing day. These were more decisions that I was up for handling last night and I was happy to procrastinate.
Actually my happiest moment yesterday came when I noticed that the lilies are finally coming up. I planted them a month ago, and had about given up hope. You probably only see the one green tip, but there are actually three or four more little brown sprouts poking up, and I am sure they will be green in a day or two. Such a simple thing, putting a seed or a bulb in the soil -- but the joy in watching new growth seems to know no bounds.
Nearly four years ago, when we decided to move to Knoxville, I said I wanted a place where I didn't have to maintain a yard. I may have said, in fact, something along the lines of "I'll never garden again.". I am prone to making grand and obviously false statements about myself like that, statements that I fully believe at the time. Oh well.
That was obviously not true even though I did manage to successfully ignore my yard for the first two summers we lived here. I did have a few pots here and there; I thought that would be enough. Even though the yard plagued me, it was the ugliest yard in the neighborhood, and that is not an exaggeration, I wondered if I would really enjoy maintaining a small but simple garden, or if it was just wishful thinking.
Work is still being done. And the watering system is not complete. But I am enjoying being out in the garden in the mornings. I still have my planters. And this year I am using fewer flowers in the planters and more plants with interesting or colorful leaves. We will see how that works out, but the early stages look promising.
But then I have flower beds to play with, and I have indeed been playing. I've never had sunny flower beds before, and although there are plenty of perennials, there are also spots for annuals, spots to fill in until the perennials grow, and places that were intentionally left blank, for future experiments and discoveries.
So my forays into planting annuals have been somewhat scattered and the result is something more like one of those Victorian crazy quilts, than an orderly systematically planned flower bed. But I hope the effect is pleasing. It looks promising, but the plants are really too small yet to see if they will achieve the desired effect. At least the yard looks pretty and happy, and I love driving up to my house now, and I love spending mornings in the garden.
The pansies are still blooming and they make me incredibly happy, even though I know I will have to find something to replace them. However, I am also learning that is good not to plan sometimes, to allow for the magpie approach to flower shopping, you know the old "oh, that's pretty, let's buy that" methodology. After all, we all need time to play.
I used to think my routine morning walk, through my routine suburban neighborhood, was boring. And I suppose that it can be, but it doesn't have to be. I've shared pictures from my walks before, and there is always more to see if one is simply mindful.
From the plethora of blackberries blooming along the edges of wooded areas
To the glories found in individual gardens.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better then they stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
- John Donne
George passed away two years ago today.
Many assume that this is a difficult time, and many have asked me if I am bearing up well, and I assure them that I am. I am not sad. It has been a week of reflection, a week of introspection, and yet also a week filled with peace. Grief is forever, but although we always hold those we have loved and lost in our hearts, the time of mourning fades. Today is a day of honor and memory but the pain of loss has been blunted by time.
But then, in many ways I was lucky. I lost my friend, my companion, my lover, my soul-mate. I lost him gradually, over a long period of time. And death was both the final blow and the release. For in death George was released from his long slow decline, was released from the indignity of living with a body which he could no longer control, a body which could no longer control itself. In death George was released from pain.
I was lucky in the very slowness of that loss even though I did not necessarily always see it as luck at the time. In fact, I wasted far too much time in angry self-pity, wasted too much time railing against fate and God, wasted too much time wanting my old life back and resenting what had been taken from me. I see now that all that anger and grief was necessary. I see now that I was given a very special gift: I was allowed to both grieve and celebrate the life of my husband simultaneously. I believed that letting go of my anger and myself I was helping George, but by letting go, I was also allowing him to help me, allowing myself to begin to heal.
I knew I would marry George the second or third time I met him. Apparently he too felt that same pull, that same knowledge, that this was meant to be. That doesn't mean that it was always easy. Does not mean that we were always happy, but it does mean that we both knew that there was some something worth fighting for, something worth hanging on to through thick and thin, loss and yes, even death. You see, although I didn't want to lose George, and George certainly didn't want to lose me, didn't want to die, we both knew that death was inevitable. Life is filled with death, with horror and tragedy, but through it all life also offers opportunities for love. And love transforms us and transcends death. Losing George, fighting that battle with him, being there for him, loving him, taught me about the spiritual side of life through death, or is it the spiritual nature of death through life? Through losing George I allowed myself to see what I always knew was there, to experience in my heart and my soul what I had previously known only in my head, not in that completely accepting, open, and pure way that one can only find through suffering, through loss, through death.
When George was dying I was accused of wanting him to die, told he was only dying because I wanted to be rid of him, be free. It was not true that I wanted to be free; it was not true that I wanted him to die, wanted to lose him. But I did know that it was time for him to die. All things die, all of us must die, and George was ready, finally ready. It was his time. His body was failing, was incapable of the most simple and necessary functions to maintain life. His body was failing and worst of all, despite his dementia, he knew it, knew it with a peace and clarity that stuns me to this day. George taught me how to die.
That doesn't mean I was ready to live without him. Life as a couple takes it own form. One is oneself, but at the same time one is both less than and more than merely oneself. For a long time I didn't know quite know who I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to live. To all outward purposes I was the same person I had always been, but each day a decision had to be made, a decision to accept being myself, only myself. Hilary Mantel captures a sense of that sense of lost self well in this passage from Wolf Hall:
There were days, not too long past, days since Lizzie died, when he'd woken in the morning and had to decide, before he could speak to anybody, who he was and why. There were days when he'd woken from dreams of the dead and searching for them. When his waking self trembled, at the threshold of deliverance from his dreams.
Eventually I found myself again. More exactly I rediscovered the path of finding myself. We are always finding ourselves; if we stop looking, stop searching, stop growing, we begin to die. But those we have loved are also always a part of us. They are present in our hearts, in who we are, in the ways we have become the people we have become. I believe George is present wherever he is now, and somehow, at times, his shadow touches mine. Death is merely an interruption, a short trip to a distant land where we will at some point be reunited, will be reunited with all who loved us, all who we loved.
Without death there is no life. Now is a time for life. And yet, "Death, thou shalt die".
When I left Knoxville to spend a weekend in Portland it was cool and damp. When I returned it was hot and dry. Although I had only been gone 4 days, it seemed as if I could have been gone an eternity, as if I had missed some massive shift in the seasons.
I had planned on having the sprinkler system up before I left, but there had been a leak, and the new installation date is scheduled for next week. So I seem to spend a lot of time out watering the flower beds, or moving a sprinkler, or both, although admittedly my landscape angels have messed with the sprinkler more than I have, except to unhook it. Tikka is my garden companion, watching over me as I weed and water and plant.
Sometimes we just sit together in the grass for a bit of a rest. Here I am admiring my new shoes, ported home from Portland, shoes I really had no intention of buying. I really wasn't looking, just enjoying time with friends on Sunday, and sat down while Liana and Jan perused Ross Dress for Less. I'd been standing far more than I am used to over the weekend, and my back was sore and tired; standing is far harder than walking you know. Alas I sat next to these cute little slip on sneakers with a bit of shimmer, and so they came home with me. Although I didn't really need anything, they look to be a useful addition to my summer wardrobe.
But what else came home in my suitcase? Shams and Margy mentioned a necklace, indeed you can see it on the counter just before I purchased it in one of Margy's photographs. It is a necklace that includes all of my perfect blues and went with everything I brought to wear over the course of the weekend, often to better effect than the jewelry I had brought with me.
My new necklace is shown above on a piece of green lightweight rayon knit, that also came home in my suitcase. I was not looking for fabric. In fact I was happily trailing Liana around Mill End fabrics, facilitating her choices, when I ran smack-dab into this green knit. It is a perfect shade of summer green for me. Doesn't it remind you of the greens in the top garden photograph? It will work well with things in my closet; in fact it goes beautifully with a cardigan I wore the very next day. I bought what was left on the bolt, 2 1/2 yards, and I have a couple of ideas, further impetus for actually getting a sewing machine set up and running and sorting out my various notions and tools.
And I swore I wouldn't buy fabric. Never say Never (more about that later).
The 5-hour flight from Atlanta to Portland offered a prime knitting opportunity, and the first fingerless mitt was (mostly) finished. I had forgotten how much I enjoy two-color stranded knitting.
Apparently not enough however to start the second mitt on the flight home. Starting somehow always seems a bit more fiddly and so it seemed prudent to wait until I got home.