Monday, June 19, 2017

A Treasured Book

      He gave me the Bible for Christmas the year before we were married. A plain, brown cowhide cover back in the day when leather meant something good. We were newly engaged and in our last year of college. I read that Bible cover to cover five or six times before it began to fall apart forty years later, going all loose at the seams with pages beginning to slip and bits of the leather tearing off at the corners from wear. Like the Velveteen Rabbit. Like me. Well-loved and well-worn.

     So he bought me another one with a black calfskin cover like he had always wanted to give me. Leather so soft it feels as if it might melt between my fingers. I find myself caressing it just for the pleasure it gives my palms, feeling the hint of grain beneath the softness. The pages are tissue thin like the skin of an old woman, but smooth as silk. The volume opens as gracefully as a dancer and lies flat on the dining table. The real beauty of the book, of course, is contained inside the cover. “In the beginning…” I read aloud the ancient words of poetry. Moses’ words. God’s words reaching down the ages through men to men…to me as well. Words that have, many times, lifted me out of a deep pit or carried me through a dark night. Words that have translated and transformed me.

     It is undeniably the most incredible piece of literature ever written. Dozens of authors telling a seamless story through multiple genres over hundreds and hundreds of years. A love story. And, yes, the most incredible story ever told.

     It comes with a lifetime guarantee, both the story and the new calfskin cover. Both are gifts I cherish.

To see the binding process:

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Passenger's Photo Album - Japan

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings,
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (Who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

                                                         ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~

Friday, May 19, 2017

Celebrity Mom

     I stepped onto the train on a bright, May morning with my hair looking like a birch broom in a fit. The frivolous winds had played tricks on me as I waited on the platform for the train to arrive. I was traveling into the city for a visit with Whistler’s Mother. Anna Whistler does not seem to be the sort of matron who would look kindly on a woman appearing in public all frowsy and blown. I combed my fingers through my hair and fluffed my artistically arranged scarf, even though I would have it to do all over again after walking from the train station to the Art Institute where Mrs. Whistler was staying.

     Nevertheless, it was a lovely spring morning with wooly white clouds grazing in blue meadows overhead and gray, feather-footed shadows skipping over the ground. The trees along the track tossed their green heads at me as I passed. I envy them. Trees never look frowsy with windblown tresses.

     I had a new book to read. My anticipation was palpable. Eleven stops later, I had only finished one chapter. The words in that chapter were like a May morning: bright and fresh above with shadows running along beneath. I had paused repeatedly to look at the beguiling, bittersweet words in the same way that I look out the window at each stop on the line to watch passengers board the train. Boisterous Cubs fans on their way to a game; college students freed from the constraint of study; a few old ladies like myself, alone and silent or in chatty pairs; a noticeable absence of commuters.

     Lunch came first because Anna Whistler is a genteel but frugal woman and would not be serving tea. I sat at a tiny marble-top bistro table in my favorite Belgian café eating tartine: thin, chewy brown bread; wholesome turkey; slices of avocado, cucumber and radish; a sprinkling of rocket; a drizzle of dressing and a triple cornichon garnish. Oh, so yummy without a gram of guilt. I paused between portions to read a paragraph or two from my book. No matter how tempting, one cannot hold a paperback and eat fully loaded slices of tartine at the same time.

     We met after lunch, Whistler’s Mother and I. She lives in France but American Gothic went on holiday to the Musée d’Orsay and Mrs. Whistler came to Chicago. I had done some pertinent reading before my visit, so I knew the painting was much larger than I had always imagined it to be. I am already fond of straight lines, order and neutral tones, but studying the piece has built in me an even greater appreciation for it. Whistler disliked the Victorian sentimentality portrayed in the art of his day and never meant for the painting to be viewed as a portrait. It is more an arrangement of items, perhaps as one would view them in a still life painting. He did, in fact, title the painting: Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. intending to reference the musical concept of arrangement.

     Whistler may have painted his sixty-seven-year-old mother without that sentimentality for either her age or widowhood that would make her seem other than she was, yet I cannot help but notice that the only colors in the painting are the warm flesh tones of her hands and face. And he gave her something to rest her feet on. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the painting has become an icon for motherhood and will always be remembered to the world as Whistler’s Mother.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Meanwhile... goes on for the robins nesting in a yew in the back garden.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mourning Dove

     A few days later, my Noble Dove was back on the nest, preparing to raise another family. My husband saw her lay the first egg.

     When I checked the next morning she was gone. Well, most of her was gone. A neighbor told us they had seen a hawk lurking around their birdbath. 

     The male stood at the peak of the neighbor's rooftop calling and calling for his mate. It was heartbreaking; we could hear his mourning from inside our house. He never returned to the nest.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Family Portraits

     I made several attempts to catch a glimpse of either the eggs or the hatchlings of my Noble Doves. Just once, I was present for the changing of the guard, and I thought my curiosity would be rewarded; but the instant I was seen by the mama and papa they froze. I tried to wait them out, but they are more patient than I am. I wasn't able to greet the squabs until they were too big for concealment.

     And then they flew the nest...

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Passenger's Photo Album - Australia

     On his way home from Papua New Guinea, the Passenger paused for a few days in Sydney. The iconic, shell-shaped roofs of the Opera House are meant to evoke the sails in Sydney harbor. They certainly do, but when I look at them I also see a cluster of upended fishing dinghies, or the thresh of wind in the waves.

     What do you see?