A fine read

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The Story of a Garden by Mabel Osgood Wright (1859-1934)

There is a garden that is not like the other gardens round about. In many of these gardens the flowers are only prisoners, forced to weave carpets on the changeless turf, and when the eye is sated and the impression palls, they become to their owners, who have no part in them, merely purchased episodes.

This garden that I know has a bit of green, a space of flowers, and a stretch of wildness, as Bacon says a garden should always have. At its birth the twelve months each gave to it a gift, that it might always yield an offering to the year, and presently it grew so lovable that there came to it a soul.

The song-sparrow knows that this is so; the mottled owl that lives in the hollow sassafras has told it to the night-hawk. Catbirds and robins, routed from other gardens by fusillades, still their quick-throbbing hearts, feeling its protection. The coward crow alone knows its exclusion, for he was unhoused from the tall pines and banished for fratricide. The purling bluebird, claiming the pole-top house as an ancestral bequest, repeats the story every springtime. The oriole and swallow whisper of it in their southward course, and, returning, bring with them willing colonists.

The rock polypody creeps along in confidence, with no ruthless hand to strip it off, and the first hepatica opens its eyes in safety, for tongues of flame or the grub-axe have not crippled it during the winter. Once the petted garden beauties looked askance, from their smooth beds in the tilled corner, and drew their skirts away from the wildwood company, but now, each receiving according to its need, they live in perfect concord.

The wild rose in the chinky wall peeps shyly at her glowing sisters, and the goldenrod bows over it to gossip with the pentstemon. And this is how it came to be, for the garden was no haphazard accident. Nature began it, and, following her master-touch, the hand and brain of a man, impelled by a reverent purpose, evolved its shaping.

This man, even when a little boy, had felt the potency of Nature’s touch to soothe the heartache. One day, led by an older mate, he trudged a weary way to see a robber hanged. The child, not realizing the scene he was to witness, was shocked to nervous frenzy, and a pitying bystander, thinking to divert his mind, gave him a shilling. Spying a bird pedlar in the crowd, he bought a goldfinch and a pint of seeds, and the horror of the hanging was quite forgotten and effaced by the little bird, his first possession. To it he gave his confidence and told all his small griefs and joys, and through the bird Nature laid her warm hand on his heart and gently drew it toward their mutual Master, and never after did he forget her consolation.

All this was more than seventy years ago. When the boy grew to manhood; following the student life, the spirit of the bird that had blotted out the scene of civil murder was still with him. Its song kept his thoughts single and led him toward green fields, that their breath might leaven lifeless things, strengthening the heart that felt a world-weariness, as all must feel at times when facing human limitations.

Love came, and home; then, following hand in hand, honour and disappointment; and again, with double purpose, he turned Natureward. Not to the goatish Pan, but to Nature’s motherhood, to find a shrine upon her breast where he might keep his holiest thoughts, and watch them grow. A place apart, where the complete man might be at rest, and walking in the cool of day feel the peace of God.

At first the garden was a formless bit of waste, but Nature tangles things with a motive, and it was in the making that it came to win a soul, for the man’s spirit grew so calm and strong that it gave its overplus to what it wrought.

The garden’s growth was nowhere warped or stunted by tradition; there was no touch of custom’s bondage to urge this or that. No rudeness had despoiled its primal wildness, and lovers, who had trodden paths under the trees, were its sole discoverers. It was rock-fenced and briar-guarded; the sharp shadows of the cedars dialled the hours, and the ground-pine felt its darkened way beneath them with groping fingers.

This happened before I was, but hearing of it often, sound has imparted its sense to sight, and it all seems visual. With my first consciousness, the days were fined with planting and with growth; the pines already hid the walls, and cattle tracks were widened into paths and wound among young maples, elms, and beeches. Then there grew in me a love that made the four garden walls seem like the boundaries of the world.

Nothing was troubled but to free it from the oppression of some other thing. The sparrow kept his bush, and between him and the hawkheadsman a hand was raised. The wood thrush, finding his haunts untouched, but that his enemies, the black snakes, might no longer boldly engulf his nestlings, raised his dear voice and sang “O Jubilate Deo!” The gardener who planted no longer watches the bird’s flight, but the garden still tells its story. Will you come in? The gate is never dosed except to violence.

Eight acres of rolling ground, and in the centre a plainly cheerful house decides the point of view. The location of a house much affects the inmates; here sunshine penetrates every room and a free current of air sweeps all about, and there is a well of sparkling water close at hand. This well is rock-drilled, deep and cold, and the patron divinity of all good wells, the north star, watches over it, and nightly Ursa Major’s dipper circles above, as if offering a cooling draught to all the constellations.

For a space about the house the grass is cropped, and some plump beds of geraniums, Fuchsias, heliotropes, serve to grade the eye from indoor precision, to rest the vision before the trees and moving birds compel it to investigation. However much natural wildness may soothe and satisfy, the home is wholly a thing of man’s making, and he may gather about it the growing things that need his constant ministry. The sight of such an open space gives the birds more confidence, and the worm enemies that always follow cultivation offer them a change of food.

The old queen-apple tree that casts its petals every May against the window-panes, like snow blushing at its own boldness, held many nests last spring. A bluebird spied a knot-hole where decay had left him an easy task; a pair of yellow warblers, with cinnamon-streaked breasts, fastened their tiny cup between a forked branch above the range of sight. For several days I watched these birds, fluttering about the window corners where cobwebs cling and spiders weave, and thought they searched for food, until, following the yellow flash they made among the leaves, I saw that they were building; and when I secured the empty nest in August, it proved to be a dainty thing woven of dry grass, the down of dandelions, cocoons, and cobwebs.

A robin raised two broods, building a new nest for the second, as the first one was too near the path to suit his partner’s nerves. He spent his days in prying earth-worms from the lawn, singing at dawn and twilight so deliciously that he furnished one more proof that bird voices, even of the same species, have individual powers of expression, like those of men.

The fourth bird to build, a red-eyed vireo, was quite shy at first, yet hung the nest over the path, so that when I passed to and fro her ruby eyes were on a level with me. After the eggs were laid, she allowed me to bend down the branch, and a few days later, to smooth her head gently with my finger. A chipping sparrow added his wee nest to the collection, watching the horses as they passed, timidly craving a hair from each, and finally securing a tuft from an old mattress, with which he lined his home to his complete content.

If you would keep the wild birds in your garden, you must exclude from it four things: English sparrows, the usual gardeners, cats, and firearms. These sparrows, even if not belligerent, are antagonistic to song birds, and brawl too much; a cat of course, being a cat, carries its own condemnation; a gun aimed even at a target brings terror into bird-land; and a gardener, of the type that mostly bear the name, is a sort of bogyman, as much to Nature-lovers as to the birds. The gardener wishes this, orders that, is rigid in point of rights and etiquette, and looks with scarcely veiled contempt at all wild things, flowers, birds, trees; would scrape away the soft pine needles from the footpaths and scatter stone dust in their place, or else rough, glaring pebbles. He would drive away the songsters with small shot, his one idea of a proper garden bird being a china peacock.

It is, of course, sadly true, that cherries, strawberries, grapes, and hungry birds cannot meet with safety to the fruit, but we should not therefore emulate the men of Killingworth. We may buy from a neighbouring farmer, for a little money, all the fruit we lack, but who for untold gold can fill the hedge with friendly birds, if once we grieve or frighten them away?

You may grow, however, tender peas in plenty, and all the vegetables that must go direct from earth to table to preserve their flavour; only remember when you plant the lettuce out, to dedicate every fourth head to the wild rabbits, who, even while you plant, are twitching their tawny ears under the bushes, and then you will suffer no disappointment. Once in a time a gardener-naturalist may drift to you, and your garden will then entertain a kindred spirit. Such a man came to this garden, a young Dane, full of northern legend and sentiment, recognizing through rough and varied work the motive of the place, –like drawing like; and with him, a blonde-haired, laughing wife, and a wee daughter called Zinnia, for the gay flowers, and he found time to steal among the trees in the June dawns to share in the bird’s raptures, making his life in living.

It is a drowsy August afternoon; the birds are quiet, and the locusts express the heat by their intonation. The Japan lilies, in the border back of the house, are densely sweet, the geraniums mockingly red, and the lemon-verbena bushes are drooping. The smooth grass and trim edges stop before an arch that spans the path, and about it shrubs straggle, grouping around a tall ash. This ash, a veritable lodestone to the birds, is on the borderland of the wild and cultivated, and they regard it as the Mussulman does his minaret, repairing there to do homage. Before the leaves appear the wood thrush takes the topmost branch to sing his matins, as if, by doing so, he might, before his neighbours, give the sun greeting.

The robins light on it, en route, when they fear that their thefts in other gardens will find them out, and the polite cedar-birds, smoothing each other’s feathers, sun themselves in it daily before the flocks break into pairs. Upon the other side, a hospitable dogwood spreads itself, a goodly thing from spring till frost, and from it spireas, Deutzias, weigelas, lilacs, the flowering quince, and strawberry shrub, follow the path that winds under the arch, past mats of ferns and laurel, to a tilled corner, a little inner garden, where plants are nursed and petted, and no shading tree or greedy root robs them of sun or nourishment.

Along the path between the pines, the black leaf mould of the woods has been strewn freely. The fern tribe is prolific in this neighbourhood, and a five-mile circuit encloses some twenty species, most of which may be transplanted, if you keep in mind their special needs. This spot is cool and shady, but the soil is dry from careful drainage. The aspidiums flourish well; A. acrostichoides, of two varieties, better known as the Christmas fern, with heavy varnished fronds, A. marginàle, with pinnate, dull-green fronds, A. cristatum, almost doubly pinnate and with them the fragrant Dicksonia punctilobula, whose straw-coloured lace carpets the autumn woods with sunlight, and the black-stemmed maidenhair grows larger every year, rearing its curving fronds two feet or more.

What endless possibilities creep into the garden with every barrow of wood earth! How many surprises cling about the roots of the plant you hope to transfer uninjured from its home! Bring a tuft of ferns, lo! There springs up a dozen unseen things – a pad of partridge vine, an umber of ginseng, a wind flower; in another year the round leaves of the pyrola may appear and promenade in pairs and trios quite at their ease, until the fern bed becomes a constant mystery. For many years some slow awaking seeds will germinate, the rarer violets, perhaps an orchid.

I brought a mat of club moss, with a good lump of earth, as was my habit, from the distant woods. Several years after, happening to stop to clear away some dead branches, I started in surprise, for enthroned in the centre of the moss, a very queen, was a dark pink cypripedium, the Indian moccasin. It is an orchid very shy of transposition, seldom living over the second season after its removal, seeming to grieve for its native home with the fatal Heimweh, so that the seed must have come with the moss and done its growing in the fern nook.

“TheStory of a Garden” first appeared in The Friendship of Nature: A New England Chronicle of Birds and Flowers, by Mabel Osgood Wright (Macmillan, 1894).

Sunday is for snuggling!

What do you do with your Sundays? There used to be a time, when I worked at a job and weekends was the only time to get out and DO things, when Saturdays and Sundays was reserved for shopping, family outings, or for adventure – going hiking at Uitsig or riding the cable car at Hartebeespoort Dam or taking a hot air balloon trip not far from us over the Cradle of Humankind or the Magaliesberg.

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(The above Duvet cover is available on RedBubble)

Nowadays, Sundays is for snuggling! There is nothing more wonderful than being cosy under a snugly duvet, especially in Winter, snuggling up with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate and every now and then checking in with my iPad on blogs I follow. And not moving out of the bedroom unless it’s for a snack. Absolute bliss!

Now here’s the thing – this snuggling only started happening after I retired. When I was younger I never even took a nap during the day, never mind spending a whole day in bed. But it’s not an old-age thing (well, maybe a bit), it’s because hubby and I have more time on our hands. Shopping can be done during the week, so can hiking and zoo visits, when everything is more quiet than on a weekend. No rush at the shops, no long queues at the botanical gardens and a quiet table at the restaurants.

But I do know many youngsters that have snuggle-Sundays. My daughter is one of them. And I believe being able to relax like that amidst all the rush and chaos in our lives is something to be treasured.

What will you be reading this weekend?

It doesn’t matter what the weather will be this weekend – You could mow your lawn, take a walk in the veld, repair those gutters that have been waiting for so long, or you could cuddle up with a book, the snack of your choice, and a hot, perhaps boozy, beverage.

Many years ago I read White Fang and the love, pain and sorrow it invoked in me is still fresh in my memory.  I got SO angry at humanity, I cried over the pain White Fang suffered and my heart swelled with love for him.

The story is about White Fang – half-dog, half-wolf, born in the wilds of the freezing cold Yukon, the only animal in the litter to survive. He soon learns the harsh laws of nature, animals, and worst of all, humans. Yet buried deep inside him are the distant memories of affection and love. Will this fiercely independent creature of the wild learn to trust man again? I won’t give away the ending, but be assured that this is fascinating reading and you won’t be able to put the book down until you have finished it.

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This weekend I’m planning on reading another Jack London masterpiece, first published in 1903, ‘Call of the Wild’ – Based on London’s experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle of dogs fighting for survival in the frigid Alaskan Wilderness, “The Call of the Wild” is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike. 
I ordered this book on-line a couple of weeks ago and it finally arrived this week. The reviews I’ve read are emotional and dramatic, all the things a good book should make you feel, so I’m hoping to have a wonderful reading experience this weekend. Wishing the same for you!

My pet peeve – a dog ear

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One of my pet peeves is the dog-earing of books! And yes, underlining and highlighting passages, scribbling in the margins and crumpling dust-covers! When I get a new book, I spend several minutes caressing it, gazing lovingly upon it, and eventually hugging it to my chest in unabashed glee and just the thought that someone could desecrate it by folding pages or scribbling in it has driven me crazy for years.

Why would one want to dog-ear a book? I know it’s meant to mark a section or phrase in a book that one finds to be important or of personal meaning, but why harm the page? There are so many innovative ideas of marking a place or keeping your place when you stop reading for a while. This shops are full of beautiful book markers. Anything from metal markers with beautiful dangling silver charms to fabric corner bookmarks that you slip over the corner to plasticized card stock with magnets.

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Narrow sheet of paper with inspirational words and laminated for durability

And the sky’s the limit if you use your imagination for making your own bookmarks. There’s so much you can do, from tearing a piece of notepaper to place at the page (and you can scribble on it!), crochet something, cut out magazine pictures or creating something something unique like inspirational words on a long narrow piece of paper and laminating it. I’m always making some like the one above and below, not only is it sturdy but it also gives me a daily dose of some really inspirational thoughts.

I think books are sacred. Well, you know, not really sacred – The intrinsic worth of a book belongs to its content. Most books aren’t sacred in and of themselves. A book is only sacred for what you get out of it. And then, of course, there is the beautiful printing. Anything in printed form can highly excite me, from a magazine to a lady’s journal to beautiful greeting cards and, of course, books. Hard cover books, with or without a dust jacket – they feel so firm and heavy in your hands…

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But now, here’s the thing. I also have trouble throwing away books. Even ‘rubbish’ ones like cheap soft covers or promotional or advertising booklets. However, those I have found a use for! Those destined for the dustbin, I now keep on a special shelf and often use them for sketching and painting in, like the image above – the words behind the painting lends a certain charm and these little books can become artwork in themselves.

However, whether you dog-ear or not, love your books. Allow them to look loved by adorning them with beautiful silver charms and always cherish them, not for what they are, but for what they say.

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Image credit

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Do what you love – curl up with a good book!

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Nothing is of more importance than our mental and physical health – if you’re not well, you are of no use to those around you. In fact, you might be a burden.

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A corner in the lounge where I curl up with one of my favourite books

Another favourite is my reading nook (actually, I can read anywhere!), but nothing beats a comfy sofa or daybed for curling up with your favourite book, a cup of steaming tea and maybe a snack or two.

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My reading corner in the lounge before I got the comfy yellow sofa

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A daybed in my bedroom where, in winter, I often snuggle up under a throw to enjoy a good book. Originally built as a spare bed in my bedroom for when my 3-year old grand-daughter came to visit (she was scared to sleep in her own room), it is now used as a daybed to read.

Doing what you love is one of the most important steps to mental and physical health. It has been proven scientifically that people that feel passionate about, and enjoy, what they’re doing, live a longer, happier and healthier life than someone who struggles to get up in the morning because they hate their job, or what they’re doing.

Put a spring in your walk, get your skin glowing and exude vibrancy – by doing what you love! And if you want to make a difference in the world, the single most important thing you can do is consciously and deliberately choose to do work that you are passionate about.

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Isn’t this just the most inspiring reading nook with a view?! Image from http://ebookfriendly.com/beautiful-reading-nooks/

When you follow your bliss, it seems like the rest of the world orchestrates things so that your life is easy. It becomes effortless. 

 

 

 

 

 

A niche to dream in

“Plain shelves filled with good editions in good bindings are more truly decorative than ornate bookcases lined with tawdry books.”
– Edith Wharton, 1902
Adults love inviting nooks just as children do; such spaces seem protective, made for the imagination. A place apart, where you can gather notes, thoughts and plans. It’s simply the idea of a silence in one’s self that allows one to think or to feel. Creating a corner where that silence can happen – even in the busiest of households – calls for beauty like the shelf above.

Setting up a reading nook or dreaming niche for yourself is as exciting as building a new house! Lovingly storing your favourite books and stationery in one place where you can relax with a cup of coffee, snuggling under a warm throw, is one of life’s blissful pleasures.

Reading is one of the great pleasures of life and an important part of nurturing our soul, gaining knowledge and finding pleasure in fiction. As such, we must make special time for ourselves to pursue our pleasures and make it high on our list of priorities.

Whether you are lucky enough to have a library filled with books and comfortable couches or choose to use a bay window area, filled with light, or a special corner in your bedroom, your reading nook will be YOUR private hide-out where no-one is allowed in except by invitation.

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Your first consideration should be a comfortable chair or chaise lounge embellished with all the luxuries like cushions and throws. A coffee or side table will come in handy for a reading lamp, tea pot, some fresh flowers, reading glasses and some extra books.

Incorporating some shelves or a bookshelf for storage of your books and favourite collections is next on the list. Be creative and innovative with your bookshelf – fill blank spaces on the shelves with candles (in case the electricity goes off!) and some of your favourite photo frames. Fill a vintage jug with some pens and pencils for making notes and have a dictionary at hand for reference.

Some extras like a footstool and magazine rack always come in handy and a soft rug underfoot adds a luxurious touch. Also give some attention to the wall colour – find a soothing theme and hang some of your favourite paintings and artwork as a finishing touch.

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A corner in a living room used as a reading nook
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A bookshelf and a comfortable chair on one side of the diningroom denotes this as someone’s dream corner
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Storage for some favourite books
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A perfect reading nook – image from decor8

So settle in with a creamy cup of coffee, your favourite book or your daily journal and enjoy the simple pleasures of life – don’t get to the end of your life and find that you have just lived the length of it. You want to have lived the width of it as well.

The pleasures of life!

A cup of coffee and one of my Nature Journals – two of the great pleasures of life! I’ve been journaling since child-hood, when I wrote about and sketched little things I found in the garden, about my pets, and important dates like friends’ birthdays and little poems I would add to birthday cards I made for them. When I became a teenager, my journals were my solace for broken hearts, my miseries and joys and ‘important’ happenings in my life, always accompanied by sketches, collages and leaves and grasses I found in nature.

In later life my Nature Journal recorded dates and sketches of my animals, the plants and insects in my garden and any interesting info I learnt along the way. I found the coffee to be important during ‘thinking’ spells, always reaching out for the cup when I paused in thought. And oh! how many times don’t I put my paint brush in my coffee in stead of the water bowl, adding a bit of interest to the sketches!

Are paper books a thing of the past?

So now they say that the book is threatened, to be replaced by e-readers and morphed into multi-media presentations. So, what am I to do? Am I a dinosaur? Am I crippled by nostalgia? Does my wish that the book remain intact and strong take me down the road to irrelevancy? Should I adapt and become more media savvy? Should I blog and create miniature films for Youtube? Should I give up the life I have led, making a living and making sense of my life by books?

One problem I have with e-books is that they are not books. They only look like books. Dictionaries say that the word “book” goes back to the word “beech,” the wood first used for writing down ancient runes. A traditionalist like me would say that you need paper or another wood product to have a book.

In our modern way of thinking, we believe we can separate the contents of a book from the material it’s written on and bound with. We think of a book as information. But anyone who loves books knows that the book is what you hold in your hand and put on a shelf. A library honours a book and easily turns into a sacred place, somewhere where you can pick and choose a book, be entranced by its leather-bound cover and feel the weight in your hands.

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I hope libraries don’t become museums for the old technologies of the book. I don’t think they have to be. I hope we keep producing books. I think they can co-exist with e-readers because they are not just about information. They’re like pianos and antiques and oil paintings – revered, collectable – superseded in some ways by new technologies, but not obliterated. I hope that bookstores will discover how to honour books and continue to sell them. Maybe our pragmatic use of the e-reader, easier to travel with and fun to play with for its media potential, will shift, and soon we’ll realize what is so precious about a book. Maybe a book is easier to ensoul than a piece of electronic technology.