Thursday, February 28, 2013

When the moon is blue, pull up a chair

The other night after the blizzard, I had a flashback. Looking out the back window, I noticed soft rabbit curves silhouetted by moonlight against mounds of newly fallen snow. I stood mesmerized by a sweet memory of when Charlie was alive. He had padded over to his water bowl in the middle of the night only to be confronted by a similar sight. His agitated barking woke me, and I padded over to quiet my bucking, barking dog. It did cross my mind that if Charlie’s enemy invader rabbit had been chomping tips of my blueberry bush branches, it would have become my enemy, too, and this scene might have played out differently. As it was, however, said rabbit nesting unfazed, calm in indigo moonlight so quieted me, I pulled a chair over to the window and nestled Charlie in my lap to watch. There we sat in dark, tranquil silence, wide awake.

What had civilized us—the chair? Yes, partly. It would be hard to attack anything but a tough steak from a seated position. Sympatico? Probably not. Though no longer barking his head off, Charlie’s animal instincts were on high alert; every flattening of the rabbit’s ear, every twitch of the rabbit’s nose was met with a twitch of Charlie’s ear. He never took his big brown eyes off his prey. I, on the other hand, simply basked unblinking in sparkling-diamond snow glow, in the moon’s sapphire illumination of an utterly still world.

So what besides the chair had deflected our chase? The spell of the moon? No. I think it was a sense of a privileged connection. Indulge me a dog-mom’s intuition as I surmise that Charlie knew if he wanted to stay up past his bedtime to watch the rabbit, he needed to be quiet. My contentment was giving this little silken creature I loved so much the privilege of prolonging a fleeting pleasure, and in so doing, receiving the privilege of bathing in blue moonlight with a bunny.

Moments like these cannot be repeated. They are not like the wonder of catching a snowflake on your tongue or watching a snowflake’s lacy edges melt into your mitten. Any snowfall makes this possible, at least for northerners. Southerners, I suppose, might be awed by a rare snow’s sensations. Besides my moonlit vigil with Charlie, my other privileged thrills—witnessing a loggerhead turtle laying her eggs, riding high in a tractor cab to plow a fertile farm field for soybeans, and floating in a hot air balloon above running deer, to name a few—would be ordinary events for a naturalist, farmer, or balloon pilot. But for me, those were rare gifts that quieted my soul.

So if timing and circumstance allow you to commune with nature; or if a beloved child rests his totally trusting head on your shoulder; when a spouse whispers “I love you” just before falling asleep with a smile on his face; when a parent puts her hand on your forearm and blesses you with “I’m proud of you;” if a friend hugs you, really hugs you; or when a pet curls up in your lap to watch a rabbit in blue moonlight—let the warmth wash over you. You can give these moments of pure pleasure in a loved one or a moment, but you can only treasure receiving them as rare gifts. Celebrate these gifts, but not by popping a champagne cork; that makes too much noise. No, pull up a chair. Sit still. Don’t blink. Breathe.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cold Comfort Farm

Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm    
“What a hoot!” crowed Jane, knowing full well that no proper lady would use such crass language, especially in London, but she was on an insufferably indelicate farm in Sussex, and one sometimes has to throw down one’s lace gloves and simply declare that a story is a downright hoot.

Such is my opinion of Stella Gibbons’ hilarious tale of young, urbane Flora Poste’s foray into the sorry business and cursed characters of Cold Comfort Farm. What adventures she has as she meddles and sways and decides what’s best for distant dysfunctional relatives at the farm. Their dysfunction is extreme and reform is challenging, but unflappable Flora cleverly prevails.

In Cold Comfort Farm, Gibbons seems to be poking fun at idyllic pastoral novels and perhaps even literary romances of manners and morals. Lynne Truss’ introduction to the edition I read details specific literary references and parodies. Without knowing all Gibbons intended, I recognized her intelligent humor. I smiled throughout this book and even laughed out loud at some points. The names alone are funny, for example the cows Feckless, Graceless, Pointless, and Aimless and the bull, Big Business. The self-pitying family matriarch, whose thumb the family members were under, was named Aunt Ada Doom. Last name: Starkadder.

Here’s a scene in a small-town restaurant that shows the book’s droll tone:

By now Flora was really cross. Surely she had endured enough for one evening without having to listen to intelligent conversation? Here was an occasion, she thought, for indulging in that deliberate rudeness which only persons with habitually good manners have the right to commit; she sat down at a table with her back to the supposed Mr. Mybug, picked up a menu which had gnomes painted on it, and hoped for the best …

She was just beginning on her fourth biscuit when she became conscious of a presence approaching her from behind, and before she could collect her faculties the voice of Mr. Mybug said: “Hello, Flora Poste. Do you believe women have souls?” And there he was, standing above her and looking down at her with a bold yet whimsical smile.

Flora was not surprised at being asked this question. She knew that intellectuals, like Mr. Kipling’s Bi-coloured Python-Rock-Snake, always talked like this. So she replied pleasantly, but from her heart: “I am afraid I’m not very interested.”

The story is fast-paced and for the most part, lighthearted. Cold Comfort Farm is delightful.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tribute to Provence

Front Cover

Reading Peter Mayle’s A Good Year is a little like ambling through your Provençal village’s marché. You marvel at the booths’ bright colors, pungent aromas, and artistic arrangements. Over the weeks, you get to know olives, chèvre, pain de compagne, and légumes vendors’ personalities and stories. Occasionally, when you witness a bit of drama, you learn to discern friend from foe among villagers. Like other Peter Mayle novels, A Good Year is unabashed paean to life in Provence. I savored every minute of this book, and although the story has a satisfying ending, I didn’t want it to end because I wanted to continue vicariously tasting this charmed life.

Part humor, part romance, part intrigue, A Good Year tells of Londoner Max Skinner’s adapting to a new life in his recently deceased uncle’s modest chateau in Saint-Pons. The main mystery involves the vineyard Max inherited with the house: Why is some of its wine undrinkable and some among the finest anywhere? As Max and his uncle’s long-time vigneron unravel this mystery, subplots abound.

I had bought and read this novel when it first came out in 2004. Since then, I’ve seen the movie by the same name three times. My most recent viewing prompted me to reread the book. Book and movie are significantly different, but with similar lighthearted tone.

Monday, February 11, 2013



Walking Florida neighborhoods, I notice sky-high Norfolk Island Pines and huge hedges of Schefflera and blooming Hibiscus, and it occurs to me these are houseplants in northern Illinois. We buy them in the grocery store in 4-inch pots, plunk them on a windowsill, and hope they reach 3 feet tall at most. By domesticating and removing them to unnatural environments, we limit their ability to flourish. The upside is that even with snow, ice, and sleet outside, we get to enjoy these beautiful tropical plants inside.

I cannot help but wonder in what milieu a person thrives best. Doing what I do every day, will I shoot sky-high or brighten my world with blossoms—or will I sit on a windowsill straining for enough sun to survive? I don’t have an answer, but I can think of a few related questions:

  • In what areas of my life (work, relationships, hobbies, service) do I feel I’m exuberantly growing?
  • In what areas do I feel like a houseplant?
  • Does the adage “Bloom where you are planted” apply here?
  • Do I need to reassess priorities?
  • Have I asked God what He wants in each new day?
  • Am I really living the truth that my time, talents, and treasures are His?
Can you think of other questions to ask?