descriptions of commonplace things

“October” by Willard Metcalf

Back in March, when I was sorting through the boxes of family stuff, I found the following undated, typewritten account of a lovely October day Tim’s great-grandparents spent together many years ago. Charles Amos Hamilton (1866-1943) wrote it for his wife, Gertrude Mabel Hubbard (1874-1965). They lived in Batavia, New York.

AN OCTOBER DAY

Written for the delectation of my good wife, Gertrude, who delights in reading descriptions of commonplace things, written in rather grandiloquent language.


The poet wrote,
“What is so rare as a day in June,
Then, if ever, come perfect days.”

Without questioning the judgment or belittling the taste of the writer of this couplet, I make the assertion that, with equal or even greater veracity, it might have been written with the substitution of “October” for “June.” For, in old October, Nature gives us examples of a brilliance of coloring, and a tang of ozone, which June, for meteorological reasons, cannot duplicate.

I arise on a bright October morning and raise the shades of my bedroom window. What a riot of all the hues of the rainbow meet my eyes. From the pale green of maple leaves not yet touched by autumn’s frosty fingers, up through the entire gamut of the spectrum, to the vivid scarlet of maples of a different species. As the leaves rustle in the light breeze, they seem to be whispering “Goodbye” to their companions of the departed summer. The dark green limbs of the evergreens nearer the house, stand out like sentinels, bravely daring the blasts of the coming winter. The sunlight lies in little pools in the verdancy of the lawn, dotted here and there by vagrant leaves which have thus early abandoned the protection of their parent branch. The clump of spireas, which last June resembled a snow-bank, now has the appearance of a cluster of shrubs, which in the serene consciousness of a duty well done, are now nestling quietly and unobtrusively together. A belated hollyhock, and a few sturdy petunias, render an additional dash of color. Glancing from the the rear window, I behold the majestic line of cedars, bowing gently before the breeze, but standing with all the dignity of a line of knights in full armor. The row of sweet alyssum shows the same white purity it has maintained for several months. Two scarlet rose-buds, with youthful optimism, raise their heads fearlessly to the autumnal skies, disregarding the improbability of their ever being able to attain maturity.

Later in the day, we take a drive in our Buick, through the farm lands of the vicinity. The same magnificent coloring marks the foliage everywhere, outdoing the most artistic efforts of the painter’s brush. Huge stacks of golden straw stand beside the farmer’s barns, testifying to the repleteness of the barns with fodder for the stock. We know without inspection, that the cellars are well filled with fruits and vegetables, destined to adorn many a well-filled table, and to furnish apples and pop-corn for groups of merry young people. In the fields, the sheep are quietly nibbling, already comfortably clad in their winter woolens. The cows are lying placidly chewing the rumen of contentment. Everything denotes peace, harmony and plenty. Occasionally, a vagrant leaf flutters down momentarily upon the hood of the car, then, as if disdaining its warmth, flutters away to joining its companions by the roadside.

In the evening, fortified by an excellent dinner, maybe washed down by a flagon of “Old October ale,” we sit by the bright flame of our fireplace, and as we listen to the occasional snap of the apple-tree wood, and watch the sparks seek freedom via the chimney, we feel that “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.” Yes, what is so rare as a day in October?

autumn arrives

9.22.19 ~ oak leaves and acorns ~ Mystic, Connecticut

The morns are meeker than they were —
The nuts are getting brown —
The berry’s cheek is plumper —
The Rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf —
The field a scarlet gown —
Lest I sh’d be old fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #32)

the world as a tree

"Lane of Poplars on the Banks of the Loing" by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) French Impressionist Landscape Painter
“Lane of Poplars on the Banks of the Loing” by Alfred Sisley

With the passage of days in this godly isolation [desert], my heart grew calm. It seemed to fill with answers. I did not ask questions any more; I was certain. Everything – where we came from, where we are going, what our purpose is on earth – struck me as extremely sure and simple in this God-trodden isolation. Little by little my blood took on the godly rhythm. Matins, Divine Liturgy, vespers, psalmodies, the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, the constellations suspended like chandeliers each night over the monastery: all came and went, came and went in obedience to eternal laws, and drew the blood of man into the same placid rhythm. I saw the world as a tree, a gigantic poplar, and myself as a green leaf clinging to a branch with my slender stalk. When God’s wind blew, I hopped and danced, together with the entire tree.
~ Nikos Kazantzakis
(The Wonders of Solitude)

Thompson Cemetery

7.5.19 ~ the first map used to try to locate the Thompson Cemetery

What a day! I was doing some research early in the morning and found the address to a cemetery in North Stonington where one of my 5th-great-grandfathers is buried. Tim suggested we go find it and so we set out. The address was incorrect. We couldn’t find it. But we found the town hall and a very helpful clerk there who solved the puzzle for us, using a variety of maps. We were on our way once again.

7.5.19 ~ found at last!

It’s a very small family cemetery on private property. The gate was locked so we somehow managed with our old aching bodies to climb over that stone wall. That’s determination for you. We landed in poison ivy and other greenery, full of ticks, for sure. But we found what we were looking for, tucked in the back, close to the stone wall.

In
Memory of
JAMES
THOMSON
who died
Jan. 30, 1808
Aged 92 years

In
Memory of
MARY,
wife of
James Thomson
who died
April 10, 1803
Aged 73 years

7.5.19 ~ the back of Mary’s headstone, nestled between a lovely tree, the stone wall, and her husband’s headstone

I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, to not discover Mary’s maiden name. I went to the cemetery believing she had given birth to 15 children and wondered what her life must have been like. Something about the data I had at home didn’t quite seem to add up.

When we got home we first took showers to wash away any possible poison ivy oil.

And then I was back online for hours trying to see if I could find anything else about Mary. Well, it turns out that there were two Marys! James’ first wife was Mary Dixon, the mother of 5 of his children, and his second wife was Mary Denison, the mother of 10 of his children. The Mary in the cemetery is the second wife, and my 5th-great-grandmother. It’s no wonder there is so much confusion but I think I’ve finally got it sorted out.

I descend from Mary Denison’s youngest son, Elias Thompson. He was born here in 1773 but moved to Kendall, New York and died there in 1848. His daughter, Lucy Anne, married Austin White and stayed here. I’m learning how deeply connected to southeastern Connecticut my roots are and why I feel so at home living here.

James Thompson (1724-1808) & Mary Denison (1728-1803)
Elias Thompson (1773-1848)
Lucy Anne Thompson (1808-1852)
William Martin White (1836-1925)
Samuel Minor White (1873-1949)
John Everett White (1905-2001) ~ my grandfather

After getting bleary-eyed online we finally went to the beach for supper. While waiting for our order and looking out over the water I suddenly saw my gull friend sitting on one of his posts! “My friend!” I exclaimed and rushed down the stairs and over the grass to say hello. He acknowledged me and took off, flying in a great circle and then came back and landed on a rock, safely away from some gull-chasing children. We gazed at each other for a long time and then he reached down into the water and brought up a large crab. He flew his catch to a rock closer to me and proceeded to break it up and eat it. I was mesmerized. It was so wonderful to see him again.

Of course I hadn’t brought the camera or my cell phone. But Tim got this picture of him. It’s kind of amazing, I first met this gull in 2011, 8 years ago. Most gulls can survive from 10-15 years in the wild. Perhaps we’ll be friends for a few more years to come.

Our first meeting: in the offing. It was a perfect ending to a great day. (And let’s hope we don’t wake up with poison ivy tomorrow…)

to dew her orbs upon the green

6.26.19 ~ heavy with dew

And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green:
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

~ William Shakespeare
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

6.26.19 ~ cedar waxwing enjoying a mulberry
6.26.19 ~ dragonfly landing on dewy grass

We had a very wet spring and so far it’s looking to be a wet summer, too. Tuesday we got two inches of rain! It rained all day and I enjoyed many hours of family history research. But Wednesday we emerged from our den and took a walk in the very wet woods. And we saw several cedar waxwings, a new bird for us!

6.26.19 ~ cedar waxwing
6.26.19 ~ serenity
6.26.19 ~ ferns covering a bubbling brook
6.26.19
6.26.19 ~ cedar waxwing

As I approached this tree I was trying to figure out if it might be a shagbark hickory. (Still not sure…) And then a new experience for me: orbs appeared in the viewfinder when I went to take a picture! In the past, orbs have been an occasional surprise when they show up in pictures downloaded from the camera. But these were there before I even took the picture.

6.26.19
6.26.19 ~ looking up the tree with orbs
6.26.19 ~ more magic, sunlight highlighting a stone covered in lichen

In the span of centuries the rock became glazed with a gray-green crust of lichen almost indistinguishable from the rock itself, a bare coating of life.
~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)

6.26.19 ~ juniper berries?
6.26.19

These trees and stones are audible to me,
These idle flowers, that tremble in the wind,
I understand their faery syllables,
And all their sad significance.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Collected Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1823-1911)

the force of happiness

5.17.19 ~ bark of dwarf river birch, my garden

Such is the Force of Happiness —
The Least — can lift a ton
Assisted by it’s stimulus —

Who Misery — sustain —
No Sinew can afford —
The Cargo of Themselves —
Too infinite for Consciousness’
Slow capabilities —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #889)

5.17.19 ~ new leaves of our dwarf river birch

We planted this tree in our garden in the spring of 2014 and it has brought me so much happiness. Especially in this season, when the leaves come in and start competing with the bark curls for visual interest. When I open my kitchen shades each morning and see more and more green ~ pure joy. In summer it protects the kitchen windows from the harshest afternoon sun.

Yes, happiness is uplifting, and misery weighs us down, too heavy, impossible to carry alone. Grieving a loss is often a slow process, and might last a lifetime.

I count having the company of this tree as one of my many blessings.

a secret garden

“A secret garden. Made by Barbara Lyn (sic) Chomiak. Seven year old.”

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun — which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes.
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett
(The Secret Garden)

I’m still poking around through my childhood papers and drawings. My mother was the true bookworm in our family. So many images coming back to me now, like my parents in the evening, my mother with her nose in the newspaper and my father watching television.

At bedtime, my mother read to us, even after we were old enough to read for ourselves. One of my favorite books was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Apparently I loved it so much I illustrated my own version of a secret garden.) And often my father would start playing the piano, gentle Bach lullabies sending us off to sleep.

Spring is in the air! Time to pick up the pace and plow through some more boxes. Onward!

winter in the marsh

2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ marsh observation area

Yesterday Janet and I explored Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington, the “largest primitive coastal area left unspoiled in Connecticut.” It was a cloudy, chilly winter afternoon, with snow flurries starting up just as we were leaving.

2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ Red-breasted Merganser
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ moss and ice on stone
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ trees with fluffy moss?
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ tidal creek
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ solitary evergreen
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ one tree with shelf mushrooms
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ feather
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ ice falling into ebbing tide
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ juvenile common loon
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ juvenile common loon
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ ice falling into ebbing tide
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ spotted wintergreen
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ great blue heron
2.20.19 ~ Barn Island ~ great blue heron

solstice memories

Katherine still loves her penguins

Trying to get used to this new editing page with its blocks and new steps I am having a difficult time… 🙁 But I must adapt to changes no matter how challenging this one is for me. It took me hours to create my last post but I will give it another go.

Today was a very emotional day for me. I took all the decorations off of the solstice tree, the best tree we’ve ever had. It was a Fraser fir. It smelled amazing! Its branches were strong enough to hold the glass bead garland my sister made for me years ago. I had such a good time decorating it with Tim, using all my white, silver and clear glass ornaments. A white skirt resembling snow. A white owl on top and a white fox curled up in the snow underneath it.

Katherine with the snow orb tree behind her

And while I was at it, I sorted through all the decorations I’ve been hoarding over the years and donated at least half of them. It’s funny when I think I’ve made so much progress simplifying my life and I still find object collections that have yet to be minimized. Now I have kept only the ones that truly “spark joy,” as Japanese decluttering author Marie Kondo teaches.

This holiday season was extra special for us. Nate & Shea haven’t been home to celebrate since they moved to Georgia in 2011, and Larisa & Dima were last here for the holidays in 2014. It was interesting how it worked out because we usually have our niece and her teenagers and my sister and her husband here for Christmas day but this year all of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. We missed them!

It was wonderful having a house full of children again. I will especially remember the brisk winter walks we took. Also the first time Finn smiled at me, his whole face lighting up when he heard my voice, and holding my sleeping snuggle bug for hours… Getting two temporary PJ Masks tatoos from Katherine ~ Owlette is her favorite character from that show. She also introduced me to Puffin Rock, which has to be the most adorable children’s show ever. (It’s Irish but it can be seen on Netflix.) Katherine and I had some special moments together as she talks well enough to tell me about her life. I love listening to her observations. One time she darted down the stairs and exclaimed, “Grammy’s the best!” Talk about melting my heart…

Nate & Shea brought their nephews Julius and Dominic and they were sometimes here, too, when they weren’t visiting other Connecticut relatives, of which they have many! Julius, in his teens now, loved my meatloaf, which forever endeared me to him, and Dominic is so curious and active, he’s 10 after all, and interested in how families are related, cousins and all that. His main objective for this trip was to see snow for the first time. His chance came at 3 o’clock in the morning one day, and he was awakened to see flurries, but not the blizzard we were hoping for.

Dominic and Finn ~ Shea is Dominic’s aunt and Nate is Finn’s uncle. That makes them cousins, sort of, right?

Dominic and Katherine hit it off ~ it was fun to watch them interact and listen to their conversations. Nate, Shea and I took them to a holiday light fantasia which they both enjoyed very much.

One night Shea cooked us a lovely pork dinner, and another night Larisa cooked a chicken pie. Dima saved the day on Christmas when I suddenly realized I hadn’t even thought about dessert! All the stores were closed. He scrounged around in my pantry and was able to make some gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies, using a chocolate bar for the chips. It was great having Dima’s parents join us for that day, too. We all enjoyed the crazy gift basket tradition we have. Instead of exchanging presents we fill baskets with little items and take turns pawing through them to fish out whatever we’d like to take home with us. Some gag gifts, some treasures ~ it’s always fun.

And Nate helped Tim with his honey-do list. My pantry door stays closed now, the bathroom door no longer squeaks, the hole in the kitchen ceiling is patched and the dartboard is hung securely.

It was a wonderful two weeks!