Book Review//England for All Seasons by Susan Allen Toth

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I love the United Kingdom. It is my favorite place to travel to on vacation. I frequently get asked why we are returning there yet again when there is so much of the world yet to be explored. It is hard to explain. Some places just fit. Susan Allen Toth understands that.

I read her book My Love Affair With England earlier in the year and enjoyed it. England for All Seasons was just as enjoyable. Toth loves every bit of England (with a few excursions into Scotland and Wales) and her love comes through unabashedly. Her brief essays about everything from The Imperial War Museum to the sweet trolley to gardens she has visited are informative and affectionate. The facts about opening times and contact information at the end of the chapters are sometimes outdated now but that is only to be expected of a book written in 1997. Gardens are a great love of Toth's and there are quite a few chapters about different ones she has visited. I am not much a gardener but I still enjoyed these chapters and immediately dreamed of planning a tour around the countryside.

Toth is also a great book lover and I could relate to the following quote.

Because of books, I grew up believing that England was a magical country, inhabited by such fascinating characters as Dick Whittington's cat, Toad of Toad Hall, Sara Crewe, King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, and Maggie Tulliver. For years I didn't bother to sort out its real geography.  Instead, on a vague mental map, I brushed in patchy fields with wandering hedgerows, windswept moors, rocky pastures on misty hills, lonely miles of jagged seacoast, and a labyrinth of gas-lit London streets. Starting with nursery-rhyme places, I soon added Ratty's great River, Chrisopher Robin's Forest, Bilbo's peaceful Shire, Doctor Doolittle's Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, and the mysterious London park where Mary Poppins once descended from the sky with an open umbrella. 

Well, exactly. Toth understands that not only is England a beautiful country in its own right but it is also a place of dreams and literary references that leave a person with the constant feeling of having walked into a storybook. Anyone who can head a chapter with these sentences is a person I understand.

Forget cashmere sweaters, skirt lengths of Harris tweed, Wedgewood teacups, and satiny black umbrellas. A book lover carries home souvenirs that look plainer, weigh more, but last a lot longer. 

I have always said that books are the ultimate souvenir. My daughter and I leave for Scotland tomorrow and I will be thinking of the above quote as I browse a few bookshops. I will leave you with one more quote from England for All Seasons. 

Sometimes I can shut my eyes and open them in memory on Regent Street or Birdcage Walk or the Victoria Embankment. I get flashes of red double-decker buses jammed together in traffic along Knightsbridge, pigeons fluttering in Trafalgar Square, emerald lawns in Regent's Park, crackling-new books--not available yet, if ever, in the U.S.--stacked near the cashier's desk at Hatchard's. At such moments, London seems very close, and I think I can almost imagine that wonderful, rainy, acrid smell...Cities are like people; who can ever satisfactorily explain why he or she loves one and not another? Venice, not Rome? Amsterdam, not Brussels? San Francisco, not New York? Above all, London, not someplace else? Crowded, chilly, increasingly expensive, grimy, touristy, demoralized London? Yes, above all London!

Interestingly, over three years ago before I ever read Toth's books, I wrote a post with the same title as one of her books. You can read my version of My Love Affair With England here. It is still one of my favorite posts I have ever written.

A Poem for a Thursday #42

Photo by Jamie Morrison on Unsplash
John Masefield was a British poet and the poet laureate of the U.K. from 1930-1967. He also wrote some novels of adventure, autobiographical works, and novels for children. As a young man, he was apprenticed on a sailing ship and one of his best-known poems brings that to mind.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheels kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Sea Fever
John Masefield

Here is Reese's selection at Typings.

Itchy Feet and Unlikely Dreams

I have recently been researching the feasibility of moving to Canada. Or Iceland. Or anywhere with a long and frigid winter. I think I have mentioned before that I am not a summer person. It has been very summery around here and I am not happy about it. Over the weekend, it was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the heat index was much higher. I don't know what that is in Celsius but let's just say that you needed gills to breathe and I probably could have cooked an egg on the sidewalk if I had been so inclined. I was not so inclined because that would have involved leaving the comfort of my air conditioning and I had no intention of doing that.

I am not moving to Canada because it is ridiculously complicated--yes, I did really look into it--but the unacceptably hot weather has made me realize I have itchy feet. We have tended to move around a lot over the years but we have now lived in the same place for ten years. That is the longest we have lived anywhere and I am feeling the pull to totally upend our lives and go on an adventure. We probably won't because we have one kid still in school and that complicates things but it does sound fun.

I know that, in actuality, it is stressful because of housing and jobs and various other practicalities but oh the joy of leaving the old life behind and starting over. Not that my old life is all bad. I would take my husband and children with me. But you do things a certain way and people expect certain behavior out of you and somehow you are stuck in a rut. Moving is a chance to reinvent yourself a little and that is appealing.

I have thought for a long time that ideally, I would like to live in a more urban area than our current small town. I have wanted to have conveniences at my fingertips, to be able to go to museums and bookstores. I have wanted to be able to walk to a coffee shop or the grocery store instead of driving everywhere. I have wanted to live around a more diverse group of people with more wide-ranging interests. That still sounds nice in many ways but I don't think it is what I would pick right now.

Right now, I am researching houses in the country with acres of land around them. I want peace and quiet and no neighbors. I want to walk out my door and go for a hike (once it isn't 100 degrees anymore) and I want pretty views while I do it. It is quite a change and I don't know why I am feeling this way because I have never been pulled to the countryside for anything except a vacation. But I want to run away from everything and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist.

I probably won't go anywhere. Ten years from now I will most likely still be living in the same house in the same small town but right now I am looking at a lovely little farmhouse on ten acres in rural New York State. It has a front porch and a pond and stables. Oh dear, Celia would want a horse. We both can dream.

Do you dream of running away and starting over? Where would you go?

A Poem for a Thursday #41

Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash

Jane Hirshfield is an American poet, essayist, and translator. Poet Kay Ryan described her as "that rare thing in contemporary American life, a true person of letters--an eloquent and exacting poet, first, but in addition the author of enduring essays and influential translations and anthologies."

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down--
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest-

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a 
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

For What Binds Us
Jane Hirshfield

As always, Reese at Typings has shared a poem. Go read it and enjoy.

A Day Out//Mont Mégantic National Park

I had never been to Canada. I know, that is a bit ridiculous. Canada is not that far away from Connecticut, maybe seven or eight hours, but somehow we have never made it. So, when we were in New Hampshire a few weeks ago we decided to take a day trip into Quebec. It was only a few miles up the road so it would have been silly not to. We went to Mont Mégantic National Park and it was absolutely gorgeous.

Mont Mégantic has lots of beautiful trails and we walked quite a bit. We weren't prepared for intensive hiking so we did some of the shorter trails but the views were still breathtaking. It is worth noting that once you are in the park there are very few bathrooms and there isn't really anywhere to get food or drinks. We walked for a few hours but eventually I got thirsty, hungry, and a bit grumpy so we had to leave to find somewhere to eat. Of course, the park is big and maybe other areas have places to buy things but we didn't see any. If I was going again I would bring a backpack of supplies.

Mont Mégantic is known for its observatories and in 2007 the area was recognized as a dark sky preserve. It would be fascinating to visit again, especially at night when we could go to the public observatory. Unfortunately, we had to get back to our vacation rental in New Hampshire that evening so we could head home the next day.

We were only able to get a tiny taste of the Quebec region but we will return. It was beautiful and there is so much more to explore. We would love to visit Montreal. Maybe some day soon.

A Poem for a Thursday #40

Photo by Logan Fisher on Unsplash
I have featured Robert Frost's poetry before because I love so much of it. His poetry frequently brings to mind typical New England scenes and has a quietly contemplative tone.

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that.  Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain.  They click upon themselves 
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to seep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break;  though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer.  He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground.  He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping 
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth a while
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return.  Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Robert Frost

Here is the poem Reese chose this week.

Book Review//Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

It is impossible for me to be unbiased about Jane Austen. Let's get that out of the way immediately. Everything she wrote was amazing and all her books are my favorite books. I have read them all over and over since I first discovered her when I was about ten years old. However, if I had to criticize a character in one of her novels it would be Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. I just want to shake her which, I know, means she is a well-drawn, believable character. But, oh my, the overwrought, teenage angst is a bit much for me. I have a lot more sympathy for Elinor and did even when I was a teenager myself. I can relate to the reserved, private character much more than the overly emotional one.

That being said, Marianne is great fun even in the midst of her emotional upheaval. She is such a teenager. Here is her reaction to Colonel Brandon's appreciation of her music.

Marianne's performance was highly applauded. Sir John was loud in his admiration at the end of every song, and as loud in his conversation with the others while every song lasted. Lady Middleton frequently called him to order, wondered how anyone's atention could be diverted from music for a moment, and asked Marianne to sing a particular song which Marianne had just finished. Colonel Brandon alone, of all the party, heard her without being in raptures.  He paid her only the compliment of attention; and she felt a respect for him on the occasion, which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste.  His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that extatic delight which alone could sympathize with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others; and she was reasonable enough to allow that a man of five and thirty might well have outlived acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment. She was perfectly disposed to make every allowance for the colonel's advanced state of life which humanity required. 

That is why I read Jane Austen over and over. What an absolutely perfect picture of several characters in only a few sentences.

Here is another passage where Marianne is very sentimental and emotional and it makes me laugh every time.

"And how does dear, dear Norland look?" cried Marianne.
"Dear, dear Norland," said Elinor, "probably looks much as it always does at this time of year.  The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves."
"Oh!" cried Marianne, "with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How I have delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind!  What feelings have they, the season, the air inspired!  Now there is no one to regard them.   They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."
"It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves." 

Really, Marianne drives me crazy but I love her at the same time. She is so self-centered and ridiculous and yet, so sincere. She is frequently unkind and inconsiderate but she learns a hard lesson and grows up a bit.

Elinor, well, I think Elinor and I could be friends. We would talk when we felt like it and not say everything we were thinking. We would be dampingly practical when emotions get too high and we would try to pretend our own emotions don't exist. It sounds perfectly reasonable, perfectly sensible.

I can't be the only person who wishes that Elinor ended up marrying Colonel Brandon. Edward Ferrars is a bit of a nonentity. Marianne doesn't deserve Colonel Brandon. Elinor and he would be such a good match. Mrs. Jennings would have been so pleased.

I labeled this post as a book review but it is really just me rambling on about a Jane Austen novel because I can't review her novels sensibly. All I can do is love them but that is more than enough.

A Poem for a Thursday #39

I spent last week hiking through woods and enjoying the peace and calmness of nature. This poem, by David Wagoner, seemed fitting.

Stand still.  The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost.  Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes.  Listen.  It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost.  Stand still.  The forest knows
Where you are.  You must let it find you.

David Wagoner 

As usual, Reese, at Typings, is sharing a poem too.

New Hampshire

We are home from our week in New Hampshire and, unfortunately, back to everyday life. Gone are the days of leisurely hikes, lots of reading, and no responsibilities and we are back to work, work, and more work. However, our kids were surprisingly happy to see us so that was good.

We were in far northern New Hampshire, right on the Canadian border. It is such a pretty part of the country. There are lots of lakes, tons of trees, and not too many people. Plus, every food you can imagine is flavored with maple syrup which made my husband very happy. He ate maple ice cream, maple pie, a maple donut, maple mustard on a sandwich, the list goes on and on.

The first couple of days were a bit grey and gloomy but after that it is was beautiful weather. My uncle is originally from the area so he gave us a few tips about places to visit. One suggestion was Beaver Brook Falls. It was very pretty. It was bigger than it looks in the photos. There is a trail you can hike up the side of the falls but it is very steep and we were not in the mood for that much effort. We walked an easier path by the river instead.

I would be happy to go back. The week was a nice escape from everyday life and a very welcome break. Besides, it is so much more photogenic than my normal life.

We did go into Canada for one day but that is a post for another time.