Another Day in the Country
Defined by your accretions
© Another Day in the Country
On a beautiful day with the temperature hovering in the 70s and no wind, I don’t even want to come indoors. It’s too enticing to be outside in the sunshine.
There’s straggly grass that needs mowing, leaves that need raking (with the mower), and spent flowers to trim and mulch. Who wants to be sitting at a computer, writing?
However, I have an idea, and I need to write it down.
I’ve been reading this book by Penelope Lively — a memoir called “Dancing Fish and Ammonites.” An idea from the book drove me into the house and to the computer.
The book was lying on a table at my friend Michaela’s house last Sunday afternoon. We’d stopped by to take her an early Christmas gift — a colorful rug that Jess had found and promptly bought four: one for herself, one for her sister, and two more for our artist friends Michaela and Phyl.
We have a group text between the four of us. It helps keep us connected even though they live in Lindsborg and we live in Ramona.
“Are you home?” Jess texted. “I want to drop something by to enliven your Christmas season.”
Back came, “Come today! I’ll put on the coffee pot.”
We all knew that when Miss M says that, it isn’t just coffee. There’s always something unusual and delightful. This time, it was fresh strawberries and raspberries in a shallow bowl with whipped cream in the center for dipping.
Her cream is whipped with brown sugar, so the cream has a caramel flavor.
There also were pretzels dipped in white chocolate. Everything on the table was color-coordinated with tones of fall — including a book at one end of the table under a hand-sized terracotta dove.
Whenever I walk into her home, it’s like unwrapping a piece of chocolate candy. The wrapping is beautiful, to be appreciated. The anticipation of what’s inside is delicious. The artistry of how everything is arranged — where something is placed and why it is there — breathtaking. One needs to pause and take it all in.
Audaciously, I moved the ceramic dove and picked up the book. The preface grabbed my attention.
“This is not quite a memoir…rather, a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise — ambushed, or so it can seem. The view from 80, for me,” wrote Penelope Lively.
Just her name is intriguing, right? I wondered why I’d not come across any of her books before.
“Didn’t I give that book to you?” Michaela asked when she saw me turning pages. “I thought I did.”
“No,” I said, “but it’s interesting.”
“Take it home and read it,” she offered.
So, I did. I have this habit of looking at the back of magazines, leafing through them before I begin at the beginning. When I got home, that’s what I did with this book. The very last chapter intrigued me. It was titled, “Six Things.”
Penelope wrote: “My house has many things…the accretions of a lifetime.” So she picked out six things that “articulate who I am.” Those are her words.
What a fun thing to do, I said to myself, wondering if I could narrow it down to just six. I wondered what my sister would pick, then I wondered about my friends, and I’m wondering now about you. What would you choose?
Meanwhile, what was I going to choose?
The first thing, I decided, is my art, which covers the walls of my house and even hangs on the porch. These paintings declare that I’m an artist even before I would admit it to myself. If I had to choose one, it would be a watercolor of a cougar that I painted more than 30 years ago. It speaks of wildness.
The second thing would be my Indian artifacts — a bust of Chief Joseph that I carved to hold the first headdress I bought. There’s the deerskin dress that I got in Wyoming for my birthday and the cornhusk dolls I made illustrating the phases of a woman’s life. Just one? It would be Warrior Woman, dancing with a dream catcher in her hand.
The third thing would be my photography — all the pictures I’ve taken, those infamous photo albums I’ve created, the boxes of slides from travels that I have such trouble purging and throwing away. I couldn’t choose just one.
Fourth would be a packet of 4 o’clock seeds. I’m a gardener. I love growing things, planting and harvesting. I save seeds.
Fifth would be books I’ve written, books I’ve read, books I’ve kept from when I was a child.
My mom was a bird watcher, and she gave me books that informed my love of nature. I learned the names of birds, for instance, when I read and reread the book, “The Bluebirds and Their Neighbors,” as an 8-year-old in Kansas, and it fueled my curiosity to learn more. And here I am, in my 80s, still watching birds, still reading books, still growing things, still writing about it, on another day in the country.