In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion

 

snow 2

March came in like a lion, roaring and pouncing upon us with several snowstorms. After yesterday’s March Nor’easter #4, the world this morning appeared soft and white, with the fences and tree branches outlined in snow.

snow 5

 

Some of the trees looked like cotton bushes — fluffy white, and light as air. As if you could pluck a bunch of snow, stretch it thin, and spin it into cloth.

 

 

And yet — once spring has officially arrived, and April is close at hand, no one wants to hear about how beautiful the snow is. They’re ready for color and a bit of warmth, for signs of growth in the garden, and the first touch of green on the trees.

snow crocuses

I’ve found a hint of spring in my garden in the small cluster of crocuses and a few green spears of hyacinth leaves — a welcome sight. All it takes is a bit of color to assure us of the promise of spring.

snow blossoms 2

 

Saint Patrick’s Day thoughts

inner 2May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.

 

woods
If there is a way into the wood, there is also a way out.

 

Ireland church

May God look down and bless you.
May you look up and give thanks.

 

moonlit walk crop

“Yes. I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” – Oscar Wilde

 

green door

‘Tis afterwards that everything is understood.

 

Irish landscape

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” – Oliver Goldsmith

 

rainbow crop

Be happy with what you have and you will have plenty to be happy about.

 

shamrocks

The Night Sky

NYC aerial night

Flying over Manhattan at night is beautiful to behold. Below lays a glittering, golden metropolis — silent, twinkling, sprawling. An utter transformation from its gray and gritty daytime self. At night, the city enters the realm of the magical, the fairytale, the mystical.

In a way, it’s an odd reversal of star-gazing, as if we have created a facsimile of the stars here on earth, to be viewed from above.

stars 3

I have read that there are tours for stargazing that take you to far away places where the night sky still reigns.  It must feel like taking a step back in time, where we can see the sky as we saw it for hundreds of thousands of years — an upper land that played before our eyes, the shapes and patterns of stars and planets shifting and traveling with the seasons. The firmament must have been held as a mix of prayer, ritual, entertainment, wonder, and peace. An infusion of beauty that the human night soul absorbed in quiet, simple, cosmic connection.

stars 2

I had a taste of that connection growing up in small-town Illinois. The night sky was a source of beauty, anytime you wanted to step outside and look up. Which we often did, inspired by the curiosity of our mom. From the prosaic location of the driveway or the sidewalk out back, she would stand beneath the glittering stars and marvel in wonder. We would crane our necks this way and that trying to locate the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt, and question if some of the brightest stars were actually planets — Venus or Mars.

And years later, visiting my sister’s house out in the country in Oregon, we have stretched out in the deck chairs and gazed at the firmament — growing excited at the shooting stars, feeling that instant connection to a distant past, and to something far far beyond earth worries. It seems almost too wondrous to believe that all you have to do is gaze upwards at night to dip into another world full of mystery and beauty,  inconceivably distant and enormous — yet ever-present, just there for the taking.

blue stars night

 

 

Valentine’s Day

Valentine blowup

“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“Each time you happen to me all over again.” – Edith Wharton

V piano roses

“In case you ever foolishly forget, I am never not thinking of you.” – Virginia Woolf

“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.”  – Leo Tolstoy

“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” – Victor Hugo

V Amour petals

 “I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” – Charles Dickens

The Garden House — in winter (images from Pinterest)

gardenhouse_kindle_hiThough the story of The Garden House opens in late spring and closes in the fall, I made a Pinterest board called “The Garden House – winter.” The main character, Miranda, lives in Seattle and has a beautiful garden that’s an integral part of her life. I imagine her loving her garden in all seasons, including the rain and occasional snow of winter.

In The Garden House, Miranda’s garden becomes a  metaphor for life, with themes of family, change, memories, home, and the search for meaning. When all else goes wrong, Miranda retreats to her garden, with a cup of tea in hand, and finds solace.

Surrounded by the beauty of her garden, she allows herself to be captivated and inspired by the mysteries of life.

I imagine Miranda enjoying her garden in January, curled up in her window seat and watching the falling snow cover the birdhouses, birdbaths, and terra cotta pots.

I see her strolling through her garden, delighting in the vestiges of summer and fall — frost-covered roses, hydrangeas, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

In every season, Miranda fills her home with cuttings from her garden. I imagine her gathering branches of winter berries and greenery to make bouquets for her dining table and to set among the plants of the greenhouse window in her kitchen.

Perhaps she even brushes off the snow from a deck chair, and sipping a cup of hot chocolate, enjoys the tranquility and quiet of her winter garden.

table deck snow

 

 

The Christmastime stories — rural and small-town Midwest

The Christmastime books, stories of love and family on the home front during the World War II years, portray an America with one foot firmly in the past and the other poised on the threshold of change. The setting for these stories, for the most part, is New York City. However, a few storylines are set in the rural Midwest.

I was born and raised in small-town Illinois and the beauty of the landscape there — old farm houses set among fields and pastures, trains running to and from the small towns, the  woods and orchards that change with the time of year — has always had a strong pull on me. The seasons are rich and distinctive, and the snowy winter setting perfect for the Christmastime stories.

In the first book of the series, Christmastime 1940, we find that Charles Drooms’ past is deeply rooted in rural Illinois, and there are a few flashbacks to his boyhood and life on the farm that explain many of his decisions later in life.

In a later book, there’s a scene where Lillian works on a series of illustrations depicting the role of women on the farm. With so many men enlisted, women had to step into the workforce and fill jobs that had recently been held by men. Lillian draws on her memories of visiting Kate’s farm in the summer of 1941.

postere farm woman

Beginning in Christmastime 1943, a key storyline takes place on Kate’s farm involving her daughters, Ursula and Jessica, and the German POWs who work on the farm while Kate’s sons are away at war. The scenes depict the connection of living close to the land with the rhythms of the seasons, and the rigor and back-breaking work required by farm life.

The farm scenes help to portray a period when time moved more slowly, and a place where most foods were locally grown and cooking was done from scratch.

A time when the home arts played an important role in day-to-day living,

and small-town life offered simple charm and the opportunity for visiting and shopping.

The tension between the beauty and bleakness of the Midwestern winter landscape also serves to reflect the complexities in Ursula, a young woman often driven by opposing impulses.

And on a larger scale, the small town and farm scenes offer a counterpoint to the New York City scenes. The tranquility and wholesomeness of the countryside serve as a reminder of how much was at stake in the war.

The rural setting also represents the tens of thousands of young men, such as Kate’s four sons, who left their small towns and farms to fight in Europe and the Pacific. For many of them, it was the first time ever leaving home. For them, the very idea of “home,” and everything it symbolized, became a deeply cherished and protected ideal.

pie and chair

(For more images evocative of the world of Christmastime, please visit my Pinterest boards at http://www.pinterest.com/lindamahkovec/)

Travel – Bangladesh

winter-morning-rice field

In the mornings, I stood on the bedroom balcony, and closed my eyes as I listened to the sounds of Bangladesh: bells from the bicycle rickshaws, short beeps from the motorbikes, the alluring call of the muezzin from the nearby mosque. Small birds chirped from trees that rose up past the balcony, and geese squawked and flapped their wings in the neighboring yard.

rickshaw

One day,  as I was writing, I heard music coming from the street, and I ran downstairs to the front veranda to see what it was. I was delighted to find an enchanting procession passing by on the dirt road outside the house. But then I was told that it was a Hindu funeral and they were on their way to the cremation. Carried on the shoulders of six men was a wicker bier on which the body was laid, its head rocking back and forth with the movement of their walking. The men held burning sticks of incense, and the group that followed made rhythmic sounds from bells and tiny brass instruments. It was a day-to-day event, and the other people on the street took little notice.

A group of giggling schoolgirls in uniforms of pale blue and white passed by, their black hair neatly arranged in buns or in braids. Vendors passed the procession, bent only on selling their wares: a stick-thin man with a bamboo pole across his shoulders with baskets of vegetables on either end, the bangle lady enticing the women in the houses with her cries of “churi, churi!” and a man carrying a colorful stack of cloth on his head. Life and death were in easy company on the busy, dusty street.

Folk_Art_Museum_Sonargaon

 

 

 

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.”

 

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

 

 

 

The Wake

swan heading crop

The Wake

A little death entered us when you went ahead.

So great was the love that tethered us to you,

we would have gladly followed;

Like little cygnets straining to keep up,

their eyes fixed on the beautiful white swan ahead.

The rippling wake, the path to you.

*

But you, nurturing mother,

Said no – the wake is the path you created for us;

The wondrous wake is life itself.

Your wish – for us to embrace it, as you did,

 with love and laughter and joy.

*

You, beautiful swan,

turned your head to us, as if gently saying,

this was not our time, but yours;

For us, now, to delight in the beauty around us,

to splash in the waters of life!

Time enough for the later journey.

*

Your gift to us, your legacy:

To live first fully in the wake.

 

swan sunset 2