Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The End of an Age and Feeling my Own

 The end of an age comes to everything on earth, and seven months ago in August, the end came for our three-hundred-year old red oak tree. 

This mighty tree had reached about 80 feet in height and had, several centuries ago, divided into two distinct areas sharing a trunk that measured sixteen feet in circumference about twenty years ago. 

We had noticed over the last ten years that the strain of those two divisions had created a vertical crack in the sixteen-foot trunk. This was particularly visible when the tree was heavy with sap and leaves. My husband had done some cutting to ease the strain so that if the tree did split and fall, it would not likely hit the house. We knew that probably one day it would have to come down.

Early one foggy and drizzly Saturday morning in August, after my husband had left for work but before I had gotten up, I heard something. The windows were closed, yet I knew I had heard -almost felt- something. As I scurried around looking for the something, I finally saw outside one of the upstairs bedroom windows an unusual placement of limbs with leaves. Then I knew what that something was; I had heard a deep thud and felt that momentary result of collapse. 

 Being able to see the inside of that fallen trunk told us that some serious rot had been hidden until then. And the other still-standing side which was so lush with leaves and seemingly healthy was only being held upright by a thin portion of the still-standing trunk. Now that one half was down, the remaining half was unstable and could fall in any direction. Fortunately, Asplundh had been just here the day before cutting under power lines. The foreman cut trees on the side, so he was able to come and take the remaining half down within the week.

When the weather cooperated, my husband chainsawed the tops and trimmed the limbs. It would be October before we could actually get the pieces small enough to split the wood. And so we added a sizable wood splitter to our equipment inventory. It is such that I can actually run it myself, particularly splitting already split pieces into smaller, more manageable ones. 

Throughout the winter, whenever there was a stretch of nicer days, we cut and split on my husband's day off. The wood has been surprisingly dry enough to burn this winter, and we are grateful to have it. 

With the advent of spring and mowing to commence in the next few weeks, we've thrown ourselves into getting as much cut and split as possible to get it up before the grass gets ahead of us and overtakes our work areas. Thankfully, because with the extra hour of daylight added to already lengthening days, we were able to work outside in the evenings last week. 

And it was, by far, our hardest week. Rather, I should say, my hardest week. My body takes much longer to recover from the strain of bending, picking up, moving, and throwing wood pieces. And to top it off, I got a hefty dose of poison ivy on my arms that doesn't appear to be calming down any time soon. Physically, I'm weary. Very weary. This tree adventure has really made me feel my age. Recovery will occur, I'm sure, but I don't bounce back quickly, if I ever did. But at least the yard is cleaned up of most debris now. 

We still have several large piles of split wood that will be moved under cover, but that involves another chore of building covering onto an existing outbuilding to house the wood. When that task is done, we will haul the piles there and stack the wood which will certainly be easier than what we've had to do so far.   

"Opportunities" like this cause me to realize my own mortality as I enter the end of the fifties decade this year. I have finally realized that, one, our physical activity in our yard has, and is, a great opportunity without the need of a gym, and, two, afternoon siestas are welcome for quick rejuvenation. I often smile when I remember how Father Tim in Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good lovingly describes his wife Cynthia being in bed at 8:30 pm. My Tim could describe me the same way.

1996 - All four kids barely could ring their arms around the trunk.

2014 - The first half to fall. That kiddo standing on the fallen trunk is the same one on the right in the above pic.

2014 - The remaining top to be felled.
2014 - The end of a age.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thoughts as I climb the precipice of Gone with the Wind

With my rather slow start of Gone with the Wind, I'm positive, that although I "read" this in late high school, I didn't know squat about what I was reading. For one, I didn't have sufficient historical background knowledge to picture this tremendous novel on a landscape. (Some of you have heard me rant about the insufficiency of my grammar and high school education. It's all true.) For another, I cannot imagine that I had a spot of homage for Margaret Mitchell's gift of syntax and description. So for all intents and purposes, I believe this reading of Gone with the Wind should be considered my first. 

Sometimes when I read, a skim over short sections of prose to get the idea being described. In Gone with the Wind, I cannot skim. The prose is too rich and thick. Even if I wanted to skim, I don't want to miss Mitchell's one shot at word beauty in her only known book.

Being from Virginia, I did enjoy this:
"Ashley Wilkes said they [Europeans] had an awful lot of scenery and music. Ashley liked Europe. He's always talking about it."
"Well--you know how the Wilkes are. They are kind of queer about music and books, and scenery. Mother says it's because their grandfather came from Virginia. She says Virginians set quite a store by such things." 
One new word for me - folderol - which means foolishness or absurdity. I did write this one down and hope it makes it into my vocabulary book. 

The last book I read was my first Maeve Binchy, A Week in Winter. I'd never heard of Maeve Binchy and guess I crossed her path with one of those "if you like this, you'll like this" recommendations that are frequent on book sites. I really came to enjoy that book and look forward to some of her others. Curious, especially because I found out that Binchy died just days after finishing A Week in Winter, I googled her and found several interviews with her on YouTube. In one rather extensive and interesting, she mentioned how she had read Gone with the Wind as a teenager and was carried away with it. I love these unexpected harmonic convergences.

Sometimes when I begin a new book, particularly one more than 500 pages, getting started with much headway is difficult for some reason. I liken it to merging from a sparsely driven road onto a five lane major beltway. There's a lot of apprehension in the merge. Entering that beltway is daunting, yet you cannot falter; you must pick up your speed and go with the flow. Because I've recognized that, I know that often it's best for me to take a few days to submerge as much as I can in the book, really getting into it and making headway. That's my task these first few days. And so far, I'm really liking it. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Intentional Reading

For a number of years now, I've embraced the word intentional. Until I realized the word was what drove me in my activities, I just did my daily tasks with intention and never thought anything about it. 

After homeschooling for twenty years and moving into a traditional classroom as a middle/upper school teacher, I recognized the need to embrace that word intentional with my job in the classroom. The word drove me. I was intentional, or aimed to be, about every single thought and action as I approached my job. I used that word while leading the few professional development meeting we had. In my opinion, intentional is the key to doing a job well, whatever that job may be. (I nod now when I hear that the head of school where I last worked uses the word intentional frequently. I don't know whether that came from me or elsewhere, but doing a job with intention should be encouraged.) 

So, if you are not intentional about cleaning a toilet, it will likely not be cleaned that well. If you are intentional about a student learning the countries of Europe, you as a teacher will figure out ways to help the student learn them. Likewise, if you are intentional about reading, you will plan ways to make room for reading, either planning time to read, or planning what to read, or both. 

Intention and planning go hand in hand. If I were not intentional about what I read, I would walk to my stuffed shelves and just pull out any book to read. But, I've never been like that. I like to plan. I like to make lists. And I daresay that those of you who are listmakers are ones who get much done throughout the day because you work with intention. Have you ever thought about reading with intention though? (A helpful list of things can be found here.)

Intentional reading can take several directions. Maybe you intend to read every book in a particular series such as the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games series, or O'Brian's Aubrey and Maurin British naval books. Or maybe you intend to read every book written by a particular author like Pat Conroy, Alexander McCall Smith, or Gladys Taber. Another aim at intention could be to read all the Pulitzer prize or Newbery award books. Or maybe you have another take on intention like I do. 

Reading books from my own bookshelves is my overall goal of intentional reading. If I live twenty more years with enough eyesight and health to read consistently, I might come close to reading through my bookshelves. That's a stretch of the word might, too. Specifically, my intentional reading involves regularly reading different genres. Since I'm an avid listmaker, I've shelved my books according to topic. I have shelves for history, science, particular authors, particular countries, fluff fiction / beach reading, biography, Christianity, classic fiction, and books about books. Plus, I have a list of audiobooks I download from the library. It is from those "lists" or shelves that I rotate my reading. 

I also challenge myself in the cyber-presence of others through seasonal reading challenges. To choose books for that, I go through the shelves and pull a few books from some of the shelves so that my reading is varied for that challenge. I know myself well enough that I fear I could easily let myself fall into a pit of reading only fluff fiction just like one can fall into the pit of eating fast food for (unlikely and unhealthy) sustenance. I have a particular shelf that books accumulate for the next challenge. The shelf for the Spring Reading Challenge is pictured here, minus the book Gilead. The different genres range from juvenile historical fiction [Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons (Rinaldi)], history and biography [Unbroken (Hillenbrand), The Revolutionary Swamp Fox (Bodie), the Lewis & Clark books (Hamilton)]; fluff fiction [A Week in Winter (Binchy)]; notable fiction [Gone With the Wind (Mitchell), Crossing to Safety (Stegner)]; and reading through the works of a particular author [My Losing Season (Conroy)]. I have a number of audiobooks that are loaded on my iPod to listen while tasking and walking. When I finish a book, I add it to or mark it "read" on my Goodreads page after I finish it. 

If you would like to read with more intention, think about joining us for the Spring Reading Challenge through May. Just three months. If you are just starting out, don't over-think your intentions and get discouraged; pick only three to six books. When finished, pick another until the end of the challenge. If you do join us and also have a Facebook account, there is a private Facebook group you can be part of to share quotes and encouragement,  or ask questions. It's also a quick place to list your finished book. Many of us use Goodreads to keep track of our books to read and those read. Goodreads allows for you to virtually shelve your books anyway that's helpful to you. If you haven't already and would like to participate in the Spring Reading Challenge, please post that in a comment, and I will follow up with you.

Press on with intentional reading!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Good sentences, beautiful images

I do love a well-constructed sentence that leads to a beautiful image in my mind. Thus I spoke aloud as I indulged in James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small for re-read after twenty-some years. 

Back in the 1980s, I read all of the books and have watched all of the television episodes produced by the BBC. I rarely will re-read or re-watch anything, but Herriot's books are different for me. I enjoy all over again a quietude of spirit, no matter what might be wrong with the world and me. 

Who cannot relish just these two quotes, of which, no doubt, I will add more?
Darrowby didn't get much space in the guide books but when it was mentioned it was described as a grey little town on the river Darrow with a cobbled market place and little of interest except its two ancient bridges. But when you looked at it, its setting was beautiful on the pebbly river where the houses clustered thickly and straggled unevenly along the lower slopes of Herne Fell. Everywhere in Darrowby, in the streets, through the windows of the houses you could see the Fell rearing its calm, green bulk more than two thousand feet above the huddled roofs
Many of the bottles were beautifully shaped, with heavy glass stoppers and their Latin names cut deeply into their sides; names familiar to physicians for centuries, gathering fables through the years.
Yes, James Herriot, pen name of James Alfred Wight, not only was a successful Yorkshire country vet for many years, he was able to chronicle details of his world into well-crafted stories that continue to be a joy to read.