After I finished reading Emma Donoghue’s new novel Haven(August 23, 2022) I made the mistake of reading reviews of the book. That helped me know that I should recommend it to my readers with all due diligence. No it does not have a riveting plot. Yes it is about three monks in the 7th century, not a very elaborately costumed time for the men. No it is not simply an indictment of the Catholic Church, nor can it be reduced so tidily to any set meaning. No it is not a primer on “getting back to nature.”
Haven is a meditation on vision, authority, discernment, obedience, and community. I am still thinking about it some days later. Three men set out to establish a monastery on an empty rock off the coast of Ireland. The rock is the setting. The monks are the characters. Any contemplation is the reader’s job. I take to contemplation easily, so the book found in me an ideal reader. Most reviewers didn’t take to it.
You know yourself best. Let me know if you do read it and what you think about it. Thanks.
It has been a difficult month and I am enormously grateful for the outpouring of support I received from so many of my readers after our dog Emmy was killed. We have never been without a dog or in anticipation of a dog during our long marriage. I have always had a dog. We are amazed at how much structure a dog provides our life, from feeding to exercising to bringing in at night to getting up in the morning. We intend to get another dog, but not until next spring.
August also commemorates the death of my beloved sister Patsy. I quietly thought of her this time instead of writing a post. Then a week ago my husband contracted Covid. He has been ultra careful, always masked, vaxed and double boosted. It has knocked him out though it was tempered some what by the anti-viral available to people our age. We have to be apart for a total of 10 days, him in now finished five days of isolation followed by forthcoming five days of masking at home. Our doctor says he remains contagious for these days and we are hopeful of preventing me getting the virus too. Since no one is keeping track any more of cases, I can only go on personal experience. In the last 10 days eight careful people I know have gotten Covid. Astonishingly contagious variant.
Most of August has found me reading a great deal. In future writing I will share some of what I have learned from it.
Peace as fall comes to New England this September.
We lost our beloved 11 month old puppy Emmy to a tragic accident this week. It was nobody’s fault and there is no one to blame.(I don’t know why I think that would ease the pain since it wouldn’t.) I will be away for a time to absorb the deep loss with my family.
While my image is of a more recent version, the “slide numbers into order” puzzle was one of my favorite toys. The aim is to scramble the tiles all around and then manipulate them into the numerical array shown above. It actually turns out to be a lot harder than it seems it would be.
Working this puzzle taught me something new that has been useful in life. It didn’t pay to overthink the actions. Since I have an advanced degree in overthinking according to those who know and love me, this was a challenge. When I really focused on the movements the sequence got worse. When I relaxed and just casually slid them hither and yon I was able to solve the game. (Speaking of hither and yon, I once had an art student who made crocheted objects spaced some distance apart in the room and called them “hither and yon.” Now you have another clue to why I loved working at the college.)
Paying less attention to things and letting them fall into place will probably never be my strong suit. But I clearly remember the joy I experienced each time I picked up the puzzle, scrambled the numbers and moved them back where they belonged. Without trying.
As one of four children, I spent a lot of time in the pediatrician’s waiting room. One or another of us was always catching something or needing a shot or breaking something or needing stitches. Those of us unscathed waited with nothing but a large fish aquarium and many issues of Highlights Magazine. Here I encountered two of my favorite early puzzles, “Hidden Pictures” and “Spot the DIfferences.”
I expect that both puzzles ended up preparing me for adult life. Certainly as a mother I was constantly trying to find “hidden” objects ranging from the other shoe to permission slips to the “I must have my blue shirt for chorus.” As a college English professor I spent too many hours pointing out the differences between its and it’s, commas and semi-colons, active and passive voice, and fragments and complete sentences.
I seem to have confused some of my readers in my last post. I won’t usually put up actual puzzles to solve. Rather, I am going to meander through my life’s experiences with puzzles. Where possible I will try to include links to pages of similar puzzles.
I just finished reading the The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs. (His previous book was The Know-It-All, a phrase more than occasionally applied to me, much to my dismay.) In it Jacobs explores a variety of puzzles and games, giving examples of each. As he meanders along he also relays his personal experiences with the challenge. Because I realized I had spent most of my life trying to solve all kinds of puzzles I have decided to use Jacobs’ format for the next series of posts . I am going to ignore any deep metaphorical reason for this and am just going with the claim that they are all a lot of fun.(That and they allow me to continue to deserve my aforementioned sobriquet.) The first post appears tomorrow.
I have often used the phrase “hit like a bolt of lightning,” but it was real, not metaphoric, several nights ago. We had a very intense thunder storm in the middle of the night and we were awakened by a large boom. I went to see what had happened just as a bolt of lightning hit. It was so close I knew it had grounded very near us. Since my daughter lives next door, I quickly went to see it it had hit her trees.
She and we had avoided the direct strike, but it had hit in the next yard down, felling a giant limb from a very old tree. Taking the neighbor’s car window out, landing on the wires, and dislodging the support beams of the wires, the tree had done serious damage without injuring any people. We were grateful that it had happened in the middle of the night.
The storm was so isolated that of the roughly 1000 customers without power that morning, 450 of them were on our street. This meant that three electric company crews, one tree company and one police officer(to block off the street) promptly set up camp outside our house. The tree crew was fairly inept and we ended up waiting about three hours while they removed the limb. During that time we got to know the electric crews and the police officer. My daughter brought coffee and doughnuts for all.
I don’t want to leave the impression that not much ever goes on in our neck of the woods. I will admit, however, that the neighbors down the street, the man across the street, the man two houses down from us and a man well known to me all pulled out lawn chairs and supervised the goings on. They must have done the job because the power was finally restored, just in time for lunch.
I have written previously(August 2 and 3rd, 2021) about the Merlin app for the phone put out for free by Cornell University. It is invaluable to identify both birds and bird sounds. Late yesterday afternoon there was a long loud cacophony of bird sounds in the back yard. For a time I thought it might be a battle between crows and a red tailed hawk, a common spat here. But it sounded different somehow.
I opened Merlin and sat on the deck to discern what was happening. It turned out that a great conversation was raging between fish crows and American crows. Never having identified fish crows, I turned to my reference book. As you can see from the photos, it is hard to distinguish them. Only their sounds seem different enough to notice. Not only were these two supposedly(according to the reference book)compatible birds arguing, but they were being joined by a blue jay, a northern cardinal, a sparrow and a chimney swift.
Charlie’s blueberry crop flourishes and he left off the netting this summer since we still have so many berries in the freezer from last year’s bumper yield. Perhaps they were sharing the good news. Perhaps they were arguing about a fair distribution scheme. Sadly Merlin doesn’t allow me to translate “bird” into English. Maybe such an app is currently being developed by Google!
I have been on an extended break from my blog as I reconnect with what matters to me and what doesn’t. I love connecting with others around the world through this forum. I love learning about people, places, gardens, families, pets, books and ideas. However the United States is a hard place to live in for me right now. Too much of the internet, including social media, is full of hyperbole, terror, dissension and fear. Much of it is appropriate in small doses. But it takes its toll, no matter how little I let myself be exposed to it. Abortion, guns, sedition, lying, graft, grift and more fill the air right now. It reminds me of the 1960’s and 1970’s, years I already lived through. I was younger then with more stamina and more hope.
So acknowledging all that, I return to this place to express my thoughts. I am fully conscious of all the turmoil. However, I plan to continue to write about more ordinary things. There is much good to share. Think of my writing, as I do, as a balm for the weary.
From my religious tradition the words are “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Whatever your world view, I wish you the same.
In 1969, the last semester of my senior year at college, I took a course from Erik Erikson on the stages of life. For each stage Erikson proposed a central question to be confronted. I was 21(intimacy vs isolation.) Ingmar Bergman, the film director, was 51(generativity vs stagnation.) Erikson was 67(ego integrity vs despair.)
Professor Erikson screened a recent Bergman film for us, “Wild Strawberries,” to illustrate the last challenge in life. The retired teacher in the film faces the same challenge Erikson confronted as he showed it. Looking back I realize he had gone to great trouble to obtain the film, a projectionist and a room to screen it in. No tapes, DVD’s or computer sources for in-class movies in those days.
The film baffled me. A very old man, a trio of young people, scenes from the past, strawberries, and an award ceremony all fitted into 91 interminable(to me) minutes. Having already been confused by every Bergman film I had seen up to then, I promptly catalogued this one as incomprehensible and never thought about it again. Until last week.
Now at 75, much closer to Erikson’s age in my college class, I screened it again on my computer. I found it deeply moving, the symbols quite clear, the switching back and forth in time completely familiar to my current experience of life and deep compassion for the old professor(the focus of the film.) Of course I also reflected on how meaningful it must have been for Professor Erikson who had gone to all the trouble to share it with us.
A very belated thank you Professor Erikson. I was too young to have a clue!