In the Mountains

Alexey_Savrasov_1862

…painting by Aleksey Savrasov, 1862

Elizabeth Von Arnim’s In the Mountains is a story about grief and the long, slow, uphill recovery from the terrible losses that war brings. In this book, the losses suffered by the main character are never explained. We only know that she was mired in darkness and despair for 5 years before we meet her in her Swiss mountain home. She has returned to her mountains to find a way to move beyond the unspeakable losses in her life, and, with courage, to find a way to “cure” herself and begin to live again.

The only thing to do with one’s old sorrows is to tuck them up neatly in their shroud and turn one’s face away from their grave towards what is coming next.

Her journey back to Life is an interesting and honest one. At first, the only thing she could do was to lie in the grass looking at the sky…for days at a time. Then, daily tasks become important. One day she organizes her books and says:

But it is impossible, I find, to tidy books without ending by sitting on the floor in the middle of a great untidiness and reading.”

She starts to keep a journal, writing for the old lady she will become, and records her thoughts and changing feelings.

I wonder why I write about these things. As if I didn’t know them! Why do I tell myself in writing what I already so well know? Don’t I know about the mountain, and the brimming cup of blue light? It is because, I suppose, it’s lonely to stay inside oneself. One has to come out and talk. And if there is no one to talk to one imagines someone, as though one were writing a letter to somebody who loves one, and who will want to know, with the sweet eagerness and solicitude of love, what one does and what the place one is in looks like. It makes one feel less lonely to think like this,–to write it down, as if to one’s friend who cares. For I’m afraid of loneliness; shiveringly, terribly afraid. I don’t mean the ordinary physical loneliness, for here I am, deliberately travelled away from London to get to it, to its spaciousness and healing. I mean that awful loneliness of spirit that is the ultimate tragedy of life. When you’ve got to that, really reached it, without hope, without escape, you die. You just can’t bear it, and you die.”

Her walks and time spent in the beauty of her mountains also help her recovery:

The whole of the walk to the larches, and the whole of the way back and all the time I was sitting there, what I felt was simply gratitude, gratitude for the beautiful past times I have had. I found I couldn’t help it. It was as natural as breathing. I wasn’t lonely. Everybody I have loved and shall never see again was with me. And all day, the whole of the wonderful day of beauty, I was able in that bright companionship to forget the immediate grief, the aching wretchedness, that brought me up here to my mountains as a last hope.

The story changes midway through the book when she meets two English sisters who were walking up her mountain to escape the heat of the city. She invites them to stay at her home, first to recover from their strenuous hike, but then to give them a safe place to stay instead of sending them back to the heat and poverty of the city below. She is forced, by having company, to leave her solitude, come out of herself and become social again. She realizes that she needs to be with people. It’s an interesting progression in her return to the land of the living, and not an easy one. The personalities of the two women are trying, and the relationship with them complicated, but she becomes very attached to both of them. And through those relationships, happiness returns to her life.

I came up my mountain three months ago, alone and so miserable, no vision was vouchsafed me that I would go down it again one of four people, each of whom would leave the little house full of renewed life, of restored hope, of wholesome looking-forward, clarified, set on their feet, made useful once more to themselves and the world.

Elizabeth Von Arnim is a writer with a huge heart, and her writing is truthful and timeless. She really has become one of my favorite authors, and I so look forward to reading more of her work.

elizabeth von arnim

A Life-Enhancer

Virginia-Woolf-007

I’ve long been fascinated by Virginia Woolf. I have a number of books on my “special books” shelf — three volumes of her Diary, and two volumes of her Letters. All were read years ago, and as I read them, I wrote down quotes that particularly impressed me at the time.

It is her birthday today. She was born 132 years ago, and I realized that she was born just two years before my grandmother. Somehow, that makes her feel much closer and not so long ago.

So to celebrate her today, I’ll share with you one of my favorite quotes about her.  It’s a quote from Nigel Nicholson, included in a book that introduced me to her, called Recollections of Virginia Woolf by her contemporaries, edited by Joan Russell Noble.

…Virginia had this way of magnifying one’s simple words and experiences. One would hand her a bit of information as dull as a lump of lead. She would hand it back glittering like diamonds. I always felt on leaving her that I had drunk two glasses of an excellent champagne. She was a life-enhancer. That was one of her own favorite phrases. She always said that the world was divided into two categories: those who enhanced life and those who diminished it.

virginiawoolfwritingdesk

Leo Lionni

We’ve had a month of dark foggy days, and this week our gray rainy days will return. It’s early-January winter! I am reminded of a favorite book, read aloud many times in my classroom[s] over the years, and it brightened this gray winter morning to pull it off my shelf and re-read it.

Frederick

Frederick, by Leo Lionni, is about a group of mice gathering food for the winter. All are busy except for Frederick, who seems to be sitting on a rock in the sunshine doing nothing. But he IS doing something…he is collecting sun rays and colors and words. Later, in the middle of the dark, cold winter, when the food is scarce and the spirits are low, Frederick begins to tell the mice his stories. He weaves his memories of sunshine and colors into beautiful words which warm the hearts and lifts the spirits of his fellow mice. He is a storyteller and a poet!

Frederick2

The Changing Light of a Room

changing_light

“I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.
~May Sarton

It’s been a quiet New Year’s Day. I kept thinking I should be doing something more than just enjoying the quiet of this “empty day.” But after the rush and noise of December, I will take May Sarton’s words of wisdom to heart and just enjoy the last of the light on this first day of 2014.

Messenger of Truth

jacqueline-winspear

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series has become a favorite of mine. I’ve been listening to them in audiobook format, read by a wonderful narrator, Orlagh Cassidy, and have just finished the fourth volume, Messenger of Truth.  As I read through the series, I’m becoming more and more fascinated with the history of the time period after World War I and into the 1930s. And according to Jacqueline Winspear, that fascination is exactly what she hoped would happen with her readers.

“If, IF, they take something in that book and it makes them think and wonder and consider what has gone before–maybe a curiosity about a certain part of history–maybe just wondering about something that’s going on today and looking at it in a different way… If that happens, well, that’s a job well done as far as  I’m concerned.”

My respect for this author is growing deeper with each book in this series. Definitely a job well done!

messenger-of-truth-225

A Tomie Christmas

Virtual_Advent

Tomie dePaola is one of my favorite author/illustrators. His books ArtistToArtistSelfPortraithave brought great happiness to my family and my students over the years. For me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without revisiting some of his special holiday books each year, and checking to see what new ones he has added to his prolific body of work. Celebrate with me a Christmas with Tomie dePaola, as part Marg & Kelly’s Virtual Advent Tour 2013.

It’s no secret that Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It has been ever since I remember.” This sentence Christmas_Rememeredbegins Tomie’s lovely book, Christmas Remembered, and is a simple explanation of why he has produced so many beautiful holiday books over the years.  Although many of those holiday books are family favorites — including a few featuring our beloved Strega Nona — this one is my personal favorite. It is full of beautifully written stories with lovely illustrations about his own Christmas memories, and it touches my heart.

There are books and stories for all ages among the collection of holiday books by Tomie dePaola. They are a celebration of family and friends, and of the true meaning of Christmas. If you already know and love Tomie’s work, revisit some of his Christmas stories. If you have never read anything by Tomie dePaola, give yourself a special gift this year and read some of his books. His stories are filled with love and compassion, and celebrate the child in each of us.

Some of Tomie’s holiday books on my own shelf:

Finally, please visit the other bloggers who are part of this year’s Virtual Advent Tour! Thank you, Kelly and Marg, for hosting this special celebration again this year!

From the Archives: Christmas Day in the Morning

A post this morning from the archives of my blog. I’ve just finished rereading one of my favorite Christmas books. This post, shared with you a number of years ago, tells the story of my discovery of this lovely book and how I used it each year in my classroom. Now that I’m retired, I miss sharing it with children. It became a wonderful part of my yearly holiday tradition. Perhaps you will carry on my little tradition of introducing the idea of a “gift of love” to the young people in your lives by sharing this lovely book with them. Happy Holidays to you all!

Originally posted December 16, 2009

I don’t remember how I discovered this beautiful little book, but when I saw that it was written by Pearl S. Buck, I knew I had to have it.  Christmas Day in the Morning is a treasure. It’s one of the most beautiful holiday books I’ve ever read — both the story and the illustrations (by Mark Buehner).  The true meaning of the holidays is shared in beautiful language and a very simple story.

The story is a memory of a Christmas long ago. The older man who tells the story remembers the Christmas 50 years ago, when he was 14, and how he overheard his parents talking on Christmas Eve and realized for the first time in his life that his father loved him.  He was so thrilled and wanted to give his father an extra special gift, but it was too late and there was no money left anyway.  So he decided to get up extra early and milk the cows before his father awoke.  It was a beautiful gesture, and a true gift of love, and his father was deeply touched by it.

I read this book to my 2nd graders this morning and they immediately wanted to do something for their families .  Each one of them wants to give a “gift of love,” so we worked on making holiday cards with a “gift of love” coupon inside.  One of the boys came to me and said, “I know what I can give my parents–I make a really good breakfast.”  I’m excited to see what other gifts of love my students decide to give their parents.

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors, and this book is her own gift of love to us.  It’s a book every family should share at this time of year.

Sense and Sensibility

The Sisters, by Rembrandt Peale

The Sisters, by Rembrandt Peale

The summer my son was two years old, a dear friend gave me a Modern Library volume of all of Jane Austen’s works. I spent that summer, during Danny’s nap times, reading each book. It was a wonderful summer.

For me, re-reading Jane Austen at different stages of my life has, each time, been a delightful re-discovery of a favorite author. But it has also given me new views and understandings of myself as I relate to the books in ways quite different from my earlier readings. I would hope to be re-reading Jane Austen well into my 90s, and still learning about myself from her!

Her Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorites, and I greatly enjoyed this re-reading. Elinor and Marianne, so different from each other in temperment, and yet so alike in those differences, have once again fascinated me. They are very young women, ages 19 and 16 respectively. Elinor is the practical, sensible older sister, and Marianne is the romantic, passionate, emotive younger sister. They are a family with great integrity and their emotions are honest and sincere, whether expressed openly or held more private. Both fall in love, both suffer heartbreak, and both change and grow as they meet and come to terms with the adversities and realities of their lives as women in a culture that defines them in very restrictive ways.

Which sister are you? is a favorite question in the blogging world. In my previous readings of this book, I have always identified with Elinor because I’m a quiet, introspective, private person by nature. Marianne’s effusiveness embarrassed me a little. However, at this age and stage, I realize how much of Marianne’s nature is in me, also. I am passionate about things, and react to things with deep emotion. Oh brilliant, Jane Austen, to construct at age 19, such a lovely world, with such lovely characters, and with such a deep understanding of human nature and the culture of the time! What a pleasure to read this book…again… and become for a short while, one of the Dashwood sisters!

Jane_Austen_by_Cassandra

Long-Awaited Reads Month

Long-Awaited Reads

Although I don’t sign up for many book challenges anymore (because I don’t seem to finish many of them!), I am going to participate in a fun January challenge hosted by my friends, Ana [Things Mean A Lot] and Iris [Iris on Books]. They call it the “Long-Awaited Reads Month,” and all you have to do is read a book or books that you have been intending to read for a long time. There is one book on my shelf that has been patiently awaiting “the right moment” for probably 35 years! (My list of excuses for not reading it before now is a history in itself!) I’m going to dust it off and read it for this challenge in January! The book? …Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude! Am I the last person on the planet to read it?

Favorite author, Gabriel García Márquez

Favorite author, Gabriel García Márquez

Dandelion Wine

DandelionWine_Tomislav Tikulin

Cover art by Tomislav Tikulin

Ray Bradbury captured my heart with this novel, Dandelion Wine. It is the story of a young boy and his brother during the summer of 1928, and Mr. Bradbury infused it with magic and wisdom, gifting us a journey through life and death and family and community, all through the eyes of a young boy just becoming aware of it all. It is beautifully written, almost poetry in some parts, and full of warmth and love.

I thought of my Dad throughout the entire book. Born the same year as Ray Bradbury, he was eight years old in 1928. He was named Ray, too, and was a wonderful storyteller and writer himself. The stories in this book reminded me of many of his boyhood stories that we now treasure, so I was already familiar with the “time machine” experience of family stories that span generations, and loved that Mr. Bradbury could put that warm and embracing feeling of family into such beautiful words.

And I also thought of our Grandboy throughout the entire book. Looking at his experiences and our relationship with him through Mr. Bradbury’s lens makes each shared activity seem extra special. Memories of my own grandparents came flooding back, and it is simply incredible that I am now the Grandma. What special memories will the Grandboy have of us in years to come? It gives a poignancy to every moment we spend with him. Ray Bradbury reminds us that we carry those loved ones within us, within our family stories. “No person ever died that had a family.” 

Young Douglas in this book becomes poignantly aware during that summer of 1928 of just what it means to be alive. That first awareness is a universal experience, captured and distilled into a wonderful ‘wine’ of words by Mr. Bradbury, to be savored again and again.

Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.

This book is now one of my very favorites. It’s an honored position.

Ray_Bradbury