We spent a week at Downtown Abbey in mid-January, a week of snowstorms, skiing for the young family – and much reading. Lady Baby told me when we arrived that she and her dad had begun to read “The Mountain of Adventure.”
I was excited, because from the fourth to the ninth grade I lived mostly in a cabin in the frigid interior of British Colombia, a long way from any place. Reading saved me. And I best remember English author Enid Blyton’s “Adventure” series about four children who, in the way of most memorable children’s books, have little parental interference and many exploits.
The children in the books stair step in age: the oldest, Philip, has a magic touch with animals, Dinah is clever, Jack loves birds, and Lucy Ann is littlest (but also brave). Whether you read or are read to, always there is a child to identify with. And Jack’s parrot, Kiki, looms large.
Long before I’d seen either seacoast or mountain valley, I had traveled them in this series. Even now, when in the mountains with our sons, we acknowledge a certain geography – a cave, a waterfall, tents pitched in the saddle of a mountain – as an “Adventure” book moment.
In this book the children are in Wales on their “hols,” and a planned trip with parents on donkeys into the mountains to the Vale of Butterflies, becomes a trip with just a Welsh guide and the children – a recipe for adventure.
Walking in mountain valleys is familiar to an Alaska child – Lady Baby and I talked about last summer, when we hiked together and dipped our feet in that “cold, cold creek.” She loves animals of all kinds and picnics and camping – tents and sleeping bags. She can easily imagine unfamiliar food like peaches in tins and “tongue sandwiches” eaten outdoors in all weather.
Her parents were rightly concerned about reading books where children encounter danger. As we kept reading, I told her that the kids are always safe at the end (she’s been known to reassure me about endings in picture books). And she said she’d looked already at the illustrations (a sprinkling of old-fashioned line drawings I love), and said, “Maybe the children get kidnapped. Let’s read.”
I admit to being as caught up as Lady Baby, a great escape from reality always. “Let’s read that book we are really into,” she’d say. And dear Baby Brother – perfect, chubby, smiling bundle, so good-natured – sat with us often to read.
When you are a smart five and read these books, Kiki is the greatest delight, using a human voice to make fun of various authority figures, screeching like a train or a lawn mower at just the right moment, and delivering giggle worthy commands, “wipe your feet” or “shut the door.” (And Kiki always plays a part in the children’s escape from danger.)
We had a good time with Englishisms like “high tea” and “jumper,” and vocabulary – did she know what a “sheer wall” is? “Like the climbing wall where I go with my dad.” But she really is a narrative absorber, just lets the words flow, getting the gist.
This isn’t exactly an “oh you must read this book” post. Even when we read them with our boys, the books (published in the 1940s and 50s) required editing. For Blyton’s sometimes troublesome identifying characteristics of antagonists, we substituted plain old “bad guys.”
This time I wondered if the girls would seem wimpy, but no. Dinah isn’t fond of the snakes or mice that often peek out from Phillips’s pockets, but she’s very resourceful. The other three all protect Lucy Ann – but because of her youth not because she’s a girl. And, anyway, I don’t think you could convince Lady Baby that girls can’t star in an adventure as well as boys.
The morning we left, Lady Baby told her mom the highlights, describing the inside of the mountain where the children find themselves, the baby goat who attaches itself to Phillip and comes along, and about Kiki.
What a joy to share walking and mountains and reading with this little person. So lucky.
The bizarre and cruel turn of events this weekend make this week’s intended image poignant. My mother’s parents came here from Ireland, and I always read “The Irish Home” wondering about the homes they left and what they hoped for. We are all immigrants.
When the Bainbridge ferry docked in Seattle the day of the worldwide women’s marches, Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, declared over the loudspeaker that pink would be Washington’s official color this day. Presenting every pink hue in hats, coats, and handmade signs, a flood of foot passengers unloaded off the car deck and the passenger ramp, and headed up Seattle hills toward Judkins Park to the start of the march.
People shoulder-to-shoulder, stretching three miles long and building to building wide – a polite and cheerful tide of rosy-capped humanity waving or wearing clever signs – some sassy, some serious, all heartfelt. After weeks of the new regime’s peculiar relationship with words, “alternative facts,” I guess they call falsehoods now, I loved being surrounded by words of caring and truth – often expressed with great humor.
The only unSeattle-like thing was the weather, skies cleared and real sunshine warmed us as we headed down Jackson toward the city center – such a treat after the drizzle and gloom of Inauguration Day. Along the route above us on an apartment balcony, a couple cheered and blasted Bob Marley’s “Stand Up!”
But mostly the walkers were as quiet as thousands of humans – women, grandpas and young guys, babies in strollers and people in wheelchairs – can be. Only occasionally, a powerful wave roar of voices would come from behind, catch us up, and then move beyond. Downtown, soapbox orators spelled out possibilities for action going forward into these four years.
Signs reflected the litany of protesters’ concerns including the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, NATO, climate change, the rule of law. And although marchers showed up for all kinds of reasons, I kept thinking that the unifying energy demanded push back against this newly sworn in president – his bleak view, his lies, his disrespect for earth and people. Threats surround us, press freedom, immigration, the dismaying cabinet choices.
Many young women’s signs advised Trump to keep his tiny hands off their bodies, and one suggested “Grab Trump By His Putin.” My young friend made me a sign with Hillary’s words, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” a phrase repeated over and over.
The bobbing, moving flush of pink caps thrilled me – a brilliant idea manifested in a multitude of creative ways – knitted and crocheted, made of fleece or wool, pink wigs and pink hair, families or friends united by their matching headgear. A man had fashioned a pink party bag into the pointy ears of a pussyhat. A red ball cap startled me, I could only see the first words “make America…” but my friend could see the rest: “…gay again!”
I don’t know what I expected, maybe that the event would be somber and negative. But no, it was joyous and affirming to be with good friends and part of that historic crowd – more than 120,000 by all estimates – the largest civic demonstration ever in Seattle.
All those shades of hats and skin (one poster showed the only unacceptable skin color to be orange) coalesced into a moving statement of hope, lessening the despair of the previous day and acknowledging the work ahead.
So I have been drawing house moments, chairs and a “settle” and a kitchen dresser, trying to shut out what’s happening, but emotion builds. In part because of the possibilities lost with the loss of the election, and the stark contrast we now face. No grace, no thoughtfulness, no kindness. I don’t even like the present and the future office holders in the same paragraph.
I’m grateful for years of that beautiful smile and sense of humor, for the best example of parenting I could imagine, for being a genuine consoler-in-chief when needed over and awfully over. You can’t delegate compassion and goodness and empathy, you sing “Amazing Grace” at the Charleston church because it’s who you are.
I appreciated not ever doubting that the best interests of the country’s people came first, and that there would be dignity always. President Obama was a grown up (is, it’s only Tuesday), making decisions by listening to the smart, knowledgeable people around him, and then figuring it out with his own set of values, his own formidable intelligence.
A huge part of my gratitude is that because of Barack Obama, we got to know Michelle Obama, that shining star of how to behave in tough, nasty situations and rock a stylish wardrobe, and the only redemption in crying my way through the farewell speech came in realizing he isn’t going away. We won’t have him in charge any more, making White House decisions with calm and reason – but we have him with us politically, to be a citizen as he said, to figure out how to go forward.
Have you seen these photos and captions by the White House photographer Pete Souza? http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/11/the-obama-years-through-the-lens-of-white-house-photographer-pete-souza/508052/
Thank you, thank you President Obama from the bottom of my heart.
It’s January and cold – in Washington these days the thermometer rarely tops 32° and sinks to 22° – making me long for our usual winter 42° and appreciate house and heat.
This month I try to turn my attention to the house, clearing Christmas, which stops looking jolly and becomes clutter (except the tree, those lights are still so welcome). And January also invites more organizing, seeking comfort and cheer from order.
But in numerous ways I avoid those tasks. Although this year, I happily reboxed Christmas on January 6, energized after reading about the Irish tradition of “Women’s Little Christmas,” the old, but still observed celebration of the women (and surely now men), who worked so hard to make the holidays for their families.
A more typical stalling maneuver is to look at books about houses, including a Christmas present, Ben Pentreath’s “English Houses,” a beautiful book full of photos of loved houses that creak with tilted floors and worn Turkey rugs. Pentreath introduced a room new to me, the “snug,” a tiny room with books and fireplace looking just like the word. (I discovered while writing this that Pentreath writes a blog about his life in Dorset: http://www.pentreath-hall.com/inspiration/).
And this January I miss “Red House West” – may it return soon! I did see a Pin from the blog’s proprietors of an imaginative under-the-stairs bed, cozily curtained off. And I began thinking about how certain house elements, sunny French windows, odd but comfy chairs, deep window sills, long pine tables make me stare at a photo and want to be there.
Leanne Shapton, an illustrator I admire, said she processes life by employing series and repetition in her work. Maira Kalman does that too. And an artist, Debbie George, I discovered while painting teacups last November, paints antique teacups and flowers one lovely image after another.
January lets such thoughts string together into a project. So, I’m going to look for little moments in rooms that make a difference – quirks, rumples, using houses I know or photos from books or the Internet. Done up doesn’t always do it, but personal often does.
And I can start with this little poem that William Morris had embroidered around the top of his four-poster bed:
The wind’s on the wold
And the night is a-cold
And Thames runs chill
Twixt mead and hill,
But kind and dear
Is the old house here,
And my heart is warm
Midst winter’s harm…
That’s the idea!
Last Friday, on a morning walk in Fort Worden with Sweet Baby and her family, I dawdled while they climbed the steep “up/downs” on the outside of a bunker, and, wondering idly if I could see inside, stretched up to peer in a window. To my surprise, I spotted a tiny pottery bird on the window ledge, sitting on an equally small piece of paper with the typed message:
“If you find me, you may keep me. from, Phoebe Cantelow.”
I wanted to keep it. I recognized its making, and knew I would put it on the windowsill in my workroom with two of its kind already there (they are owls, each slightly different in the way of handmade things).
I felt such gratitude for the happy surprise, reminding me of art making and generosity – a hopeful totem for a new and worrisome year. (I looked up Phoebe Canetlow, and love what she says about starting her working day by making a little bird as a way of centering herself for a day of sculpting.)
Having Sweet Baby and her family here for the Christmas bustle, and for the quiet days afterwards, made me so glad. Sweet Baby is always on the go with language to match. She converses sometimes in expressive and endearing but unintelligible paragraphs. Other times she’s clear: she comes into our house from the Buffalo and declares loudly: “Kay-tee! Poppa Jim! Hi!” She took to mimicking my reply, greeting me with “Hi Sweetie!”
Her parents often say, “gentle” to quiet over-zealous movement, and Sweet Baby smushes the consonants into “gshentil” to admonish us. When the car engine shuts off, she declares: “O KAAY!,” and her “Bye-bye soon” is perfect shorthand for farewells. She is rightly wary of our cranky Frances, and when we go upstairs she repeats with finger to lips, “Ssh, meow sleeping.” With a three-word sentence she warns us “Meow eating food.”
She loved our meals by the fireplace when we all sit at her level at the low down spool table, and eat pumpkin pie (another one). She likes real things best, “helping” to put things away, pushing a tiny grocery cart at the Co-op with flag waving, or caring for her baby girl – putting her to sleep for naps, carrying her in a doll-sized Ergo, and cuddling her in a re-purposed tea cozy.
We spent a day on Bainbridge Island, and while Sweet Baby napped in the pack, we took a long and looping walk in the Bloedel Reserve – winter quiet and winter green. Sweet Baby was overjoyed to see our niece, “M-Ah!,” sitting with her to eat a gooey PB&J at the bakery and holding her hand to walk to the Kiddie Museum.
The family is back to California now, and the new year really begins. But before they left, I tucked one of the tiny owls in the Sweet Bride’s coat pocket (she’s fond of owls).
Thank you for reading “Her spirits rose…,” and all your thoughtful and appreciated comments – this will be the seventh year!
May 2017 bring many happy surprises to you and yours!