Okay. Whew. It’s March. I’m a few days away from finishing my last Brave Writer Dart of the year (this one on Nim’s Island, that utter delight of a book), and I’ve scaled back on other freelance work in order to—dare I say it?—give myself a little break. It is a long. long time since I’ve had a real break. I want to work on my new novel, finish some stitching projects, and read a lot of books.
I’ve been feeling pretty wrung out, I must admit. I just answered a lot of messages on FB and IG (and comments here) and was horrified to see some of them have been sitting for months. I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just buried.
And now, like the daffodils exploding all over my neighborhood, I’m ready to emerge. I mean, sort of. Emerge and be sociable online again, and write posts and answer comments. But in another sense, I’m thinking the nice, quiet, soaking-up-the-good-nutrients life of a flower bulb sounds like heaven. I guess I’d better scrap the metaphors and, while I’m at it, the plans. The planning!
LOL LOL LOL I just realized that what I’m saying is I’m ready for low tide!
Which is funny, because the kids and I are definitely in high tide right now. We’re reading Beowulf, Wilding, and Moominpappa’s Memoirs. Lots of good rabbit trails. Lots of geometry.
How’s this for a quote? From Seamus Heaney’s brilliant translation of Beowulf:
“He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped with it.”
Oh we lingered long over those delicious verbs. Hirpling!
And they’re the right verbs for this moment in time: the whole world, it seems, is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain. And no epic warrior coming to set things right—it’s going to take small actions from all of us, small ripples building up into great waves.
I wish you could see the sky outside my window right now. The light—it’s like it’s shining behind and through things, a luminous wash of gold, like something from an Elizabeth Goudge novel. Oh, I know what I’m thinking of: the “tide of gold” in The Scent of Water, the light moving across rooms in Mary Lindsay’s house, rooms that had once been part of a monastery infirmary. I reread that book (again) last month and have been on a Goudge kick ever since: the light, the woods, the skylark, the shipwrecked grain coming up near the water’s edge every year. And the small thoughtful or loving actions of individuals rippling out to change others’ lives. That’s what I love most about her work: the way one nearly invisible choice, one kind word, one hand held out to another human, can set in motion a cascade of events that makes life better for a community.
When I read the Moomins books aloud, I have to remember which voices I used for each character in our first reading many years ago. For some, that’s a piece of cake (I never have to wonder what Snufkin sounds like; Snufkin is immutably Snufkin), but sometimes a secondary character will pop up and I’ll have to ask, wait, what did the Muskrat sound like? And sometimes I’ll run through a few possibilities and the kids will say, There, that’s the one.
The Hemulen sounds like Eeyore, only British. I think of Moominmamma’s voice as low and soft, but I think it sounds lower inside my head than outside, because Scott says it sounds like Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins. Votes for women!
Moomintroll is easy—he’s had the same enthusiastic timbre for a decade—but it was only this year that I suddenly realized what voice I’m doing for him. It’s my Hayley Mills voice—or more precisely, my version of the Hayley Mills impression Julia Sweeney does in one of her one-woman shows. “Girls,” she breathes, “I’ve got a scathingly brilliant idea!” That’s my Moomintroll. Excited, eager, delighted, always rallying his companions to adventure.
I was therefore mightily amused when, in a recent chapter, Moomintroll actually does say “I’ve got a brilliant idea!”
I’m a little vexed with myself over the Moomins, though. After a many-years stroll through the series, Huck and Rilla and I took up the final book, Moominvalley in November, last November (fittingly and deliberately). I hadn’t read that one before and it became one of my favorites, though it is markedly different from the rest of the series in tone and cast of characters. There were so many passages I wanted to share here. But a readaloud is the one time I can’t stop and make a note! I mean, I do occasionally, interrupting the narrative to ask Scott to Slack me a phrase—but I lose track of those messages and never seem to follow through on copying out the quote or noting a connection.
After November, it was decided by unanimous vote that I should start all over again at the beginning of the series. Comet in Moominland was a deep delight—containing as it does Moomintroll and Sniff’s first encounter with Snufkin. Not to mention the Snork Maiden, her brother the Snork, and the Hemulen. It also contains the scene Rilla and I agree is the funniest in all the series: the visit to the small shop run by a kindly old lady. Snufkin tries on a pair of new trousers but decides to stick with his old ones (this is extremely Snufkin of him). The others’ purchases are tallied up—”That will be 20 3/4 pence altogether”—and that’s when they remember none of them is carrying a single penny.
Nobody said anything. The Snork Maiden picked up the looking-glass and laid it on the counter with a sigh. Moomintroll started unpinning his medal, the Snork wondered if exercise books cost more or less after you had written in them, and Sniff just thought about his lemonade, which was mostly on the floor anyway.
The old lady gave a little cough.
“Well, now, my children,” she said. “There are the trousers that Snufkin didn’t want; they are worth exactly 20 pence, so you see one cancels out the other, and you don’t really owe me anything at all.”
“Is that really so?” asked Moomintroll doubtfully.
“It’s as clear as day, little Moomintroll,” said the old lady. “I’ll keep the trousers.”
The Snork tried to count it up in his head, but he couldn’t, so he wrote it in the exercise book like this:
Exercise book 1 3/4
Medal 5 Looking-glass (with rubies) 11
Total 20 3/4 Trousers 20
20=20 3/4 left over.
“It’s quite right,” he said in surprise.
“But there’s 3/4 pence left over,” said Sniff. “Don’t we get that?”
“Don’t be mean,” said Snufkin. “We’ll call it even.”
Rilla and I agree we like this kind of shopping math.
I did remember I’d made note of page 120 in Comet, but not what was on it. Today I finally refreshed my memory and found this, which made me laugh because it reminds me of blogging:
“My pappa has built a wonderful bridge,” said Moomintroll, for about the third time, “but mostly he writes in a book called ‘Memoirs.’ It’s all about what he has done in his life, and as soon as he does something else he writes that down, too.”
“Then surely he hasn’t got time to do very much?” said the Snork Maiden.
“Oh, well,” said Moomintroll. “He makes sure of doing things now and again, even if it’s only to give himself something to write about.”
We finished TheWhisper of Glocken last week and I’m in mourning—no more Carol Kendall books to read aloud. We did The Firelings, The Gammage Cup, and Whisper all in a row, and that’s it. Kendall did write four more books (as far as I can tell)—three for kids and an adult mystery‚ but I’ve never been able to track them down anywhere. ONE DAY. She’s got to be in my top five authors. A magical way with words, characters with flaws and foibles, and utterly unique worldbuilding and plotlines. And funny!
The only antidote for my Carol Kendall withdrawal: Moomins, of course. And here we are sliding toward the end of October, the perfect time to begin Moominvalley in November. I wouldn’t say I usually identify with the Fillyjonk, but today I was really feeling her:
“She began to feel cold because of the rain, and because she had tumbled all the way through her life in a single second, and she decided to make herself a cup of coffee. but she when opened the cupboard in the kitchen, she saw for the first time that she had far too much china. Such an awful lot of coffee cups. Far too many serving dishes and roasting dishes, and stacks of plates, hundreds of things to eat from and eat on, and only one Fillyjonk. And who would have them all when she died?”
Substitute books and pens for the dishes, and that’s my house. Hundreds of things to read and write, and only one me. ::heavy autumnal sigh::
Snufkin is my favorite, of course. He set off for the wilds in early fall, and now, a few weeks in, he’s feeling like he wants to write songs. He’s listening and waiting, knowing the melody is somewhere in Moominvalley waiting for him to find it.
“There are millions of tunes that are easy to find and there will always be new ones. But Snufkin let them alone, they were summer songs which would do for just anybody. He crept into his tent and into his sleeping bag and pulled it over his head. The faint whisper of rain and running water was still there and it had the same tender note of solitude and perfection. But what did rain mean to him as long as he couldn’t write a song about it?”
The view out my studio window this morning. If you’re wondering whether I got any writing done, there’s your answer. I called Huck, my early bird, to see the spectacle and we stood at the kitchen door and just stared and stared. This undoctored iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice. All of Portland was agog—the Portland subred is one breathtaking pic after another today. Ditto the #portlandsunrise hashtag on Instagram.
Rilla’s a cloud spotter (The Cloud Collector’s Handbook is a favorite tome) but a late sleeper—oh the dilemma for a doting mom! I let her sleep. She said (considerably later in the morning) it was the right call. I’m counting on her to educate me about this type of cloud formation, though! We’d have jumped on it already, but I got wrapped up in an Instant Pot burn-error situation and morning ran away from me. (Aloo gobi, one of my favorite dishes. Three burn errors. But eventually an entirely scrumptious lunch, and plenty for later.)
We’re nearing the end of Moominland Midwinter and I’m going to miss it! We all laugh and laugh and laugh. At Little My, especially. Spring is coming back to Moominvalley, and it feels like that here, too, only we bypassed the months of snow and ice. So far. Ice could still happen. Hear that, all you trees bursting into premature bloom? You worry me! (As much as I love you.)
“Tell me some more about your valley,” she said to Moomintroll.
“It’s the most wonderful valley in the world,” he answered. “There are blue-trees with pears growing on them, and chatterfinches sing from morning till night, and there are plenty of silver poplars, which are wonderful for climbing—I thought of building a house for myself in one of them. Then, at night, the moon is reflected in the river, which tinkles over the rocks with a sound like broken glass, and pappa has built a bridge that is wide enough for a wheelbarrow.”
“Must you be so poetic?” said Sniff. “When we were in the valley you only talked about how wonderful other places were.”
“That was different,” said Moomintroll.
“But it’s true,” said Snufkin. “We’re all like that. You must go on a long journey before you can really find out how wonderful home is.”
The antlion bit was especially fun. On Tuesday, as I was finishing our Moomintrolls chapter, I noticed that the next chapter was the one with the antlion in it, and I wasn’t sure either Huck or Rilla knew what that was. So without telling them why, I grabbed our Handbook of Nature Study and we read a bit about them. And then of course we needed to see one. We watched a short National Geographic video and then followed the suggested link to this delightful video made by a homesteading dad, accompanied by his four young children. At least, I think I counted four.
The video is embedded below, along with one for The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy—our folk song this week.