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The Eclipse — A World Still Full of Wonder

Crowds are gathering across the United States to watch tomorrow’s total solar eclipse. For months, excitement has been building. Small towns along its path have swollen in population, tents have been pitched in the path of the umbra, and eclipse chasers are poised to witness this celestial event.

“Totality begins in Oregon at 10:16 a.m. PT. It ends in Charleston at 2:48 p.m. ET. That’s only about 90 minutes for the eclipse to cross the entire county….The path of totality follows just a tiny sliver 67 miles wide as it runs from coast to coast.” – www.usatoday.com

map of Aug. 2017 eclipse

“The last time that a total solar eclipse crossed over the entire continental United States was in 1918” (www.newsweek.com), and it will be another seven years before it happens again. “According to NASA, on April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will stretch diagonally across the U.S. from Texas through the Northeast.” www.Time.com

Though we view the eclipse with excitement, throughout history the sudden darkness instilled terror and dread. It portended disaster, great calamity, and even the end of the world.

Medieval day darkening

“Many ancient cultures worshipped the sun and the moon [and] a violent and sudden darkening of the sun was a cause for alarm and foreboding. Several East Asian cultures believed the eclipse was caused by a giant frog eating the sun, and in China, myths tell of a dragon doing the devouring, [while] in Norse mythology, the eclipse was the result of two sky wolves chasing and finally eating the sun.” – www.newsweek.com

Later, centers of learning used science to explain the mysterious event.

Fascinating facts about solar eclipses and our place in the universe:

  1. “Our position in the universe is incredibly unique. Our moon is the only moon in the entire solar system that eclipses the sun perfectly.” – history.com
  2. “By cosmic chance, the sun is 400 times wider than the moon, and 400 times farther away.” And so from Earth, the sun and moon appear to be the same size. – nationalgeographic.com
  3. “There is a solar eclipse somewhere on earth every year or two.” – nationalgeographic.com

 

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about an eclipse is that we still stand in awe of it. It forces us away from our phones and jobs, our tight schedules and day-to-day concerns, and reminds us of our tiny place in the magnificent universe.

An eclipse gives us a moment like the one in the illustration of the Medieval scholar poking his head outside of Earth’s realm: and we gasp and throw out our arms in stunned amazement as we catch a glimpse of a much wider world.

colored illustration

 

 

 

The Shakespeare Garden in Central Park

SG fence and flowers

Central Park is full of many beautiful places, but for tranquility and loveliness, the Shakespeare Garden is the place to go. It’s located near the Delacorte Theatre where the Shakespeare in the Park series is held every summer. Much of the interest in the sloping four-acre garden comes from the winding stone paths and rustic wooden benches and fences than run through the garden. At the foot of the hill is the Swedish Marionette Theatre, and at the top, the Belvedere Castle. Nestled between is the intimate Shakespeare Garden.

Shakesphere_Gardens_-_Central_Park_NYC_-_panoramio

“What had formerly been known as the Garden of the Heart was, in 1916, renamed the Shakespeare Garden to mark the 300th anniversary of the William Shakespeare’s death.” (centralpark.org)

Plaque SG

The garden is beautiful at all times of year. In the spring, brightly colored bulb flowers line the fences, and surround the Swedish Marionette Theatre.

The fall and winter have their own seasonal beauty. I used the Shakespeare Garden for a scene in Christmastime 1942, where Edith and her Shakespearean actor, Desmond Burke, stroll through the snowy garden.

But the garden is at its most glorious in summer, when it matures into full bloom. In mid-August the lush green of the garden is crowded with purple and white phlox, pink roses, yellow daisies, white lilies, and purple cone flowers.

Thistles, ivy, vines, and herbs also bloom, and there are several trees that cast their shade over the benches and paths. The heat releases the garden’s scents, both sweet and pungent, and the air is alive with bees and butterflies in search of summer sweetness.

Away from the sounds of traffic, and with its sundial and bronze plaques with quotes from Shakespeare, it’s easy to imagine stepping out of time, and into a much older garden. The perfect place to read a book, or have a quiet conversation with a friend, or just to enjoy the beauty of a summer day.

lilies

Spoken by Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”

Summer Reading

picnic basket and book

Part of the allure of summer comes from the assumption that we will make more time for reading. Whether at the beach, on a park bench, at an outdoor cafe, or in the shade of a leafy tree, a good book can further enrich the long days of summer.

Below are a few quotes that encourage us to get lost in a good rummer read:

“An hour spent reading is one stolen from paradise.” – Thomas Wharton

books and clock on grass

“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.” — Neil Gaiman

“There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away.” — Emily Dickinson

beach book

“A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket.” — Chinese Proverb

May the rest of your summer be full of dreams and frigates and gardens.

books and grass

Summer — in The Christmastime Series

5 Kate's farm summer trees fence.jpg!d - Copy

Summer. A languid time of year that seems to move more slowly than the other seasons. Perhaps because the days are longer, or perhaps because many people are on vacation and the children are out of school, or perhaps because more time is spent outside, it is a rich time of year that creates indelible memories.

 

Memories of summer occasionally surface for some of the characters in my WWII Christmastime series, where most of the action is set in the cold and snow of December.

 

Though the stories take place on the home front, mostly in New York City, the events of the war shape the characters’ lives, making them fearful, anxious, and dreading the unknown. Adding to the tension are the attacks that take place in December — Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the surprise German counter-offensive in December 1944 that began the Battle of the Bulge.

For these characters, summer memories of a gentler and safer time soften the harsh realities of  war-time living. They remember bike rides along country roads, gathering garden flowers to place on the kitchen table and in bedrooms, afternoon picnics, a moonlit swim.

 

One memory in particular evokes the beauty and longing of late summer. In Christmastime 1941, Charles takes Lillian and her two sons to visit his sister Kate, who lives on a farm in Illinois. Lillian and Kate sit on the farmhouse porch in the late afternoon.

Lillian helped Kate finish the laundry, and then sat with her on the front porch, shucking corn for dinner.

 

A beautiful August day surrounded them in all its fullness and simple charm. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves high in the pin oaks, and fluttered the laundry on the clothes line, causing the white billowing sheets to snap softly now and then. The wide porch surrounded them with views of the corn and soybean fields stretching to the horizon. To the east stood a cluster of tall trees, their leaves a dark, dusty, late-summer green, with some leaves already edged in brown. And before them, Kate’s flowers along the lane – a tall tangle of orange, yellow, white, and blues – tiger lilies and daisies, cornflowers and asters.

 

Lillian lifted her face to catch the afternoon breeze, and caught the scent of honeysuckle that covered the fence along the lane. 

 

The wind alternately muffled and then sharpened the sounds of Tommy and Gabriel playing horseshoes with Kate’s sons: dull thuds as the horseshoes fell on the earth, clinks of metal as they hit their mark or landed on each other, mixed with clapping, laughing, good-natured disputing. Lillian had felt suffused with a sense of well-being, surrounded by an earthy loveliness.

2 clover in sunlight

Afternoon picnics, gardens in bloom, ripe fruits and vegetables, lush trees and fields — summer is the time of year when some of our strongest memories are born.

Beautiful Evening / Beau Soir

 

stream blog header

Sometimes the words of a phrase or sentence jars your center and subtly slips into your core, lodging there. It may be years later, or even decades, that you realize they have become a part of you. Many years ago, I came across a poem that had such an effect on me — “Beau Soir” by Paul Bourget, that Claude Debussy set to music.

Beau Soir

Lorsque au soleil couchant les rivières sont roses,
Et qu’un tiède frisson court sur les champs de blé,
Un conseil d’être heureux semble sortir des choses
Et monter vers le coeur troublé.
Un conseil de goûter le charme d’être au monde
Cependant qu’on est jeune et que le soir est beau
Car nous nous en allons,
Comme s’en va cette onde:
Elle à la mer,
Nous au tombeau.

wheat field sunset

Beautiful Evening

When streams turn pink in the setting sun,

And a slight shudder rushes through the fields of wheat,

A plea for happiness seems to rise from all things

And it climbs up towards the troubled heart.

A plea to relish the charm of life

While there is youth and the evening is fair,

For we pass away as the wave passes: 

The wave to the sea, and we to the grave.

The tender intimacy of the poem, simple yet profound, stirred something deep inside and I sought out such end-of-day streams and fields, and later, ocean sunsets. The poem gave birth to a never-ending desire to seek out and become part of such moments of tranquil beauty.

pink purple ocean

It created a sort of urgency to embrace the loveliness of life — “while there is youth and the evening is fair.”

 

Oregon

 

soft sunset Vista House

Every time I visit Oregon I’m left with the impression of the past and present mixing and shifting in a layering of influences. Though this is true of most places, it seems more pronounced in Oregon. My sister and her family live in Oregon and I’m lucky enough to visit there once a year, each time seeing someplace new.

My visit this time began with a wedding at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, in Hood River. Mount Hood, majestic and always covered in snow, forms a backdrop to the hotel when viewed from the Washington side of the river.

The historic mission-styled hotel was built in the 1920s and retains the glamour that once attracted the likes of Rudolph Valentino and Clara Bow.

Old postcard Columbia River Gorge Hotel

“These were the days of steamers navigating the waters of the Columbia River from the Cascades to The Dalles. To alert the hotel, the captains would sound the whistle once for each guest he had on board. Maids would then quickly make up the appropriate number of beds….Simon Benson [owner] had just helped complete what many of the era claimed to be the world’s most beautiful road, the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. Benson’s dream was to create an opulent hotel for travelers at the end of this road.”

Source: ColumbiaGorgeHotel.com website, 2015

A picturesque stream, crossed by small stone bridges, runs through the grounds and ends in a rushing 90-foot waterfall that plunges into the Columbia River.

The river itself is steeped in the older history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, which began in St. Louis and ended where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific.

In fact, the very waterfall on the hotel grounds (the Wah Gwin Gwin Falls) is mentioned in their journals: “a butifull cascade falling over a rock of about 100 feet …” [Clark, October 29, 1805]. Their journals also describe the “Indian houses” along this section of the river and the sand bars “where the Indians caught fish.”

The Oregon landscape is imbued with Indian names that point to a deeper past, rich with the histories and legends of different tribes. Not far from the Columbia River is the stunning Multnomah Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world, and bound with the Wasco legend of a noble Indian maiden who sacrificed herself for her people.

Multnomah Falls free

The rest of my trip was spent a few hours south, near Roseburg. The Umpqua River dominates this area. Wide, rocky, and breathtakingly beautiful, the river cascades down from the mountains and flows to the Pacific. Where the river widens and slows, the South Umpqua, people “float” the river on rafts, inner tubes, and canoes.

The area is noted for its waterfalls, and hiking to them you can’t help but imagine a more distant time and feel the presence of the various tribes who walked the forest paths, hearing the same deafening roar of the waterfalls and feeling the same cooling mists.

A more recent layer of history woven into the landscape is that of the early settlers. There are places, such as Canyonville, where the ruts from the covered wagons can still be seen, evidence of the people who passed through the Applegate River and along the Rogue River. Some of the names of towns are reminders of the pioneers, and perhaps their impressions of places: Looking Glass, Steamboat, Riddle, Remote.

The valleys are still full of farms and ranches and orchards that were started by the pioneers. Century farms, “continuously owned by a single family for 100 years or more,” (Wikipedia) are plentiful. Some of the farms are beautifully preserved and give a glimpse into a harmonious way of living that was intricately bound with the seasons and the land.

Centruy farm

Other barns and farm structures, seen from the road, sag with the weight of time, or have collapsed completely.

More recent in the agricultural landscape are the vineyards, that are increasingly being planted. Though “settlers to the Oregon Territory planted grapes as early as the 1840s…the production of wine has only been a significant industry in Oregon since the 1960s” (Wikipedia). The Willamette Valley alone has over 500 wineries. Some are perched on hilltops that overlook rows of vines and give the countryside a European feel. Others, set along rushing rivers, are distinctly Oregonian in feel.

vineyard

Oregon is also famous for its flowers, and on this visit taken at the end of June and early July, we sought out some fields of lavender. Though they were not quite in full bloom, their fragrance was strong — fresh, clean, and uplifting — and I bought some vials of lavender oil to take with me back to New York. So much of the landscape inspires a sense of beauty and well-being and the lavender oil seems to capture that.

lavender field

On my last evening in Oregon, we took a walk along a country road that overlooked the valley below. The coastal clouds, like a slow-moving wave, gently blanketed the rolling hills, and the setting sun cast the farmland below in a soft golden light. Magical.

sunset end

 

 

 

 

 

Venice

venice sunset

An early, hushed Sunday morning in New York City. Cool air wafts through the open window. I sit at my kitchen table with a cup of tea from the set I bought in a little town outside of Portland over twenty years ago. My “cottage set” I’ve always called it – a round tea pot and heavy mugs, deep blue with garlands of flowers on them, the handles like twisted branches. They always bring to mind the Cotswolds and thatched cottages with gardens – though I’m far from any kind of cottage existence.

A dense fog last night leaves the flowers in my window boxes dewy and fresh. In the distance I hear a lone train whistle from the Sunnyside train yard, the early chirping of birds, the muted peal of faraway church bells, the low passing rumble of a car or two a few blocks over.

My mind is focused on the writing at hand – when in the morning quiet, I hear the click click of a woman’s heels on the sidewalk below – and immediately I’m back in Venice.

Venice beautiful bridge

Exhausted upon our arrival, we rested in the early evening, almost asleep. And through the open window, we heard for the first time the sound that would forever remind us of Venice: the clicking of women’s heels in otherwise silence, ever so slightly echoing in the narrow calli below – mysterious, intriguing, beguiling. Who is she? Why is she alone? Where is she going?

I take a sip of tea, glance out the window, and decide that I must go back there – to the city of soft summer evenings, canals and bridges, and breathtaking beauty.

venice end of day

 

 

 

The Dreams of Youth

Longfellow sunset

The line above from Longfellow’s poem, My Lost Youth, in large part, inspired the writing of The Dreams of Youth. It’s a collection of six very short pieces that together tell the story of Maggie. Spanning over eighty-five years, the stories follow her from her youth in Depression-era Illinois to the time when she ventures forth to 1940’s Hollywood and coastal California, and her return to the rural Midwest

I used lines from the poem to head the sections, amazed each time that the words so closely conveyed the main idea of the piece.

The first section is called “A Girl’s Will.” Though Longfellow’s poem is about a boy, the line worked beautifully to capture Maggie’s spirit.

“A [girl’s] will is the wind’s will.” – Longfellow

(excerpts)

When her brothers and sisters staged a circus in the back yard for the entertainment of the neighborhood, it was eight-year-old Maggie who flew through the air on the handmade trapeze, her sense of adventure overriding any fear she might have had.

“One penny to see the Flying Wonder – Maggie!” they cried, drawing a sizable crowd.

Maggie loved the feeling of flying through the air and landing on the old mattress – the freedom, the thrill! It was the same feeling she had when she jumped from the hayloft onto the hay below, the same feeling she had when she rode her brother’s bike and coasted with her arms outstretched.

Maggie was four when her mother Eileen died after giving birth to twins, the last of ten children.rural cemetary

Summers at home were magical. The rest of the year was spent in the orphanage, along with the twins and her sisters. Maggie came to love the nuns. They taught her how to sew and read, and told wondrous stories about the lives of the saints.

All the same, she was happy when she finally reached high school and moved back home.

Madonna Alton orphanage

(Madonna of the orphanage)

Maggie has always loved the idea of airplanes and flying, and she decides to become an airline stewardess in order to finally see the ocean and far away places.

She took her savings and journeyed by bus to Kansas City for an interview with TWA. Her dreams were finally going to come true; she could feel them tingling at her fingertips.

From the bus window, she imagined the miles and miles of corn as the wideness of the ocean, curving into the horizon. The golden wheat became the golden sand where she would soon stand and let the waves lap over her bare feet. When she closed her eyes, she could almost feel the salt spray on her face!

As she waited in a long line with other hopefuls, eager for the interview, she heard the whispers.

“They don’t hire girls with glasses. You must have perfect vision.”  Maggie took off her glasses and slipped them into her pocket.

Back home, Maggie found a job working in the veteran’s hospital.

*

Maggie had not given up on her dreams of seeing the world. While she was working at the VA hospital, she learned that her vision was good enough to enlist in the Air Force Nurse Corps. She would become a military flight nurse.

nurse poster

When Maggie’s best friend from nursing school offered her the chance to go to California, the land of dreams, Maggie knew that the door to her future had opened at last.

ocean sunset

dreamsofyouth_kindle_hihttp://amzn.to/2rDiqfB

Memorial Day — Thank You

My WWII Christmastime series takes place on the home front, mostly in New York City, with a secondary plot occurring on a farm in Illinois, and a bit of action on an orchard in upstate New York. Though the focus is on family and love and Lillian’s journey as an artist, the impact of the war is felt on every page. The veterans who make an appearance are either recovering in hospital, or are home on leave. Some are getting ready to ship out for the first time.

My father was a WWII vet. He enlisted when he was barely eighteen, joining the Army Air Force as a tail gunner. My siblings and I grew up with war stories that took place decades earlier. Mostly humorous stories about the other young men (boys, really) in his crew. He flew twenty-five missions in 1945 and said he was given the last rites before every mission, and a shot of whiskey on his return. He said when he came home at war’s end, his mother broke into tears — of happiness to be sure, but also because of the wear and tear on his face. He said that ice always clung to his face at the high altitudes, and pulled on the skin below his eyes, giving him the look of a much older man.

But he came back, whole, happy to be alive, eager to begin his life.

Yank

I continue to do research for the last two books in the series, Christmastime 1944 and Christmastime 1945. And though I have my dad’s Yank magazines, a few letters, and his medals, I wish he were still here. There are so many questions I haven’t found answers to in my research, so many questions I still want to ask him. I wish I could get out a pen and paper to take notes as I listen to his stories — and to tell him: Thank you.

Nimitz quote

 

 

Our veterans are our gold, full of courage, sacrifice, and experience. To all who have given so much — thank you.

vets stars blue

 

 

A Sense of Sky

I’ve lived in New York City for almost thirty years and love it as much now as I did when I first moved here. But one of the things I miss, something from my girlhood, is the sense of sky — the wide-open vistas of the Midwest.

Image (483)

It’s a feeling of proportion you become aware of, driving along the Illinois fields, where the sky seems to take up a good two-thirds of the world. Here in New York I catch glimpses of sunsets or storm clouds between tall buildings, or over the rooftops. Beautiful, but without the sense that the sky dominates.

farmhouse Canva

I grew up with the drama of stormy skies over far-reaching fields, and the endless blue skies of summer with high, puffy white clouds, subtly changing, holding form just long enough for you to find an image before shape shifting again. To stand under such skies is humbling, and at the same time, makes you feel a part of something grand.

Image (477)

That sense of sky has found its way into some of my stories. In Christmastime 1943: A Love Story (Book Four of Six), a secondary plot takes place on a farm in Illinois. At different times throughout the story, Ed, the old farmhand, Kate, the owner of the farm, Ursula, her beautiful daughter, and Friedrich, the German POW, all look to the winter sky and find solace and beauty, or a reflection of their internal state.

“[Ed] gazed out over the fields of corn stubble at the magnificent sunset. Bold streaks of orange and purple spanned the sky….Beautiful and strong – just like the women inside the farmhouse, he thought with a shake of his head.”sunset fields 1943.png

“[Ursula] stood at her window and gazed out over the late afternoon fields. The stubble of the corn fields shone a rosy gold in the setting sun. The sky filled with sweeping bands of deep blue and gray – at the horizon a shimmer of pink pulled at her heart. The sad beauty of the day filled her with longing.”

So I find that though I’ve moved away from Midwestern skies, they are still with me here, in New York City.

1943