Madeline Miller & Dinosaurs
Lauren McGregor, Michigan, USA
Maggie gave me 12 pages before waking this morning. Twelve metaphor laden, stick to your soul pages by Madeline Miller. Three more than yesterday, and the same number of days in her new life. I couldn't help but grin and coo as I scooped her from the basket. Thank you, sweet girl. With a morning reading, my mind was an airier, more spacious thing. Annoyances had more room to rumble. My patience bloated.
During our morning feed, I heard the unmistakable sound of a child's holler. Like a biological response, my mind turned first to our three-year-old, Graham. I imagined him calling me to retrieve him from his room. With the second holler, I realized the sound came from the window and the voice not a familiar one.
I hurried my bundle of a newborn to the sill and peered down at a woman and two girls, just three ponytails bobbing away. My stomach sank, as if I'd just missed friends. Ten days deep into social distancing, two weeks postpartum, and I was already marveling at passersby the way I remarked on a cardinal or a blue jay.
I wondered if the child hollered at the large pink heart taped in our front window. Our city had invited all residents to hang specific drawings in their windows as a community scavenger hunt. Since walking was the only recommended outdoor activity, they created a game of it.
How many hearts in windows can you find through March 22?
Ah, March 22! That morning the heart was to be swapped for a dinosaur. I wondered if the children were aware of the scavenger hunt. If they were looking for a dinosaur and were disappointed by our old heart. I wallowed in a moment of dramatic remorse. Whether from coronavirus anxiety or postpartum hormones, I didn't know.
Within the hour, a dinosaur was drawn, colored, and taped to the window. I waited with childlike anticipation for someone to walk by, to remark on my exquisite dinosaur. No takers. Still. By 10 a.m. I had managed to read a few pages and color a dinosaur. I declared it a wildly successful day.
Black on white. Letters whirling across a blank page.
Leaning, heaving forward or sloping backwards. Vertical and stem like, spaced and counter - balanced by grammar. The writing pressed deep into the page, smudged and curled. Sometimes pointed and architectural in nature. Running fast or dotted and broken. The pressure of hand moving across paper, enacting a physical grounding. We feel the hand in what we see as we read.
Our lines of communication are usually speedy and linear.
Travelling from mind, to key and away. In this pandemic we are quickly entering slow - time. Remote-time. Lack of touch-time. In my isolation I realised acutely that I would miss the physical contact of friendship. The walk-talk close rhythm of conversation and the touching of hands or bodies associated with these everyday encounters.
I pulled out my box of headed writing paper which I reserve for brief words communicating cost of a sculpture or a receipt for commissions completed. Then I photographed the paper and my box of postcards and asked,
‘who would like to receive a letter?’
All answering ‘yes please’ were a group of followers whom I had never physically met, let alone kissed hello to or walked beside.
As I wrote I sat comfortable with myself, unusual for me as I am anxious and work continually in order to bring calm and a quietening of mind .Especially now.
The physicality and rhythm of writing by hand was a chance to think of the connection these words would make. There was hope here. In the act of writing , joy. I walked outside briefly too in order to post the letters. The letting go of letter to its unknown destination offered excitement.
Then the letters began to be answered.
Here are a selection of the words I sent out and received. No email or text would have bought these to my door.
To hold them and keep them, a gift in dark times.
‘Your letter lies on my desk as I write. It feels like the reaching out of hands.’
‘How odd to be letter -writing to an individual, person with whom I have no shared body of words or experience. Somehow it seems perfectly normal, right even to do so in these increasingly extraordinary times.’
‘Your words about what you are going through are sad but it is clear that you have decided to live your ‘one precious life’ and I admire you for it enormously’.
‘I too often dream of rivers, not just the river of my hometown , but of every ones. I do not know if they even exist.’
‘I for one will be longing for your words which I will treasure all the more for them having ‘grounded’ themselves on paper.’
Early morning walk this morning on Westwood, with just a handful of dog walkers in the far distance. The sky wasn’t blue (as it is this afternoon), but the larks were singing – very uplifting. In these nightmare times we felt so very privileged to live in a quiet, friendly street almost in sight of 600 acres of common land yet only yards from the centre of an historic town.
Snippets from Somerset!
Daisy & Caroline
Mother and Daughter - Snippets from Somerset!
For nearly three weeks while this horrible situation has been unfolding we have had the luxury of being in our own little bubble at out Somerset home lambing our small flock of ewes. We don’t go anywhere during this time as you never know when you will need to be on hand to give the ewe some assistance during the birth. (Often it seems help is needed and almost always in the middle of the night! 😴)
For instance the early hours of Saturday morning I couldn’t figure out what legs belonged to what lamb while helping a ewe who has given up lambing on her own, she seemed to know she couldn’t do it with out some help and had completely gone off the boil! Eventually two little lambies entered the world and were being vigorously licked dry by the ewe, while she softly spoke to them and they in turn bleated back to her. They wobbled up on to their feet and in less than 10 minutes they were suckling away having discovered the milk bar drinking!
Once we had enjoyed this miracle (no matter how many times we watch a lamb be born it is always magical!) we gave the ewe some hay and water and made sure everything was okay. We then went inside for a nice hot coffee, a whiskey Mac and a much enjoyed square of flapjack (my daughter keeps the tin topped up with homemade goodies) I kept hearing a rustling sound in the corner of the kitchen, it turns out that our rather naughty and fat black and white cat called Bertie has bought a live present into the house. He often does this, loses the mouse behind a cupboard and gives up however this was no little mouse this was in fact a RAT!!! They are simply not my favourite!!!!
After unsuccessfully trying to catch it and get it out the kitchen door, the time is now 4:30am we decided to go to bed leaving the door open in hope it would leave on its own accord (with three cats looking very uninterested, just sat cosy by the aga - I think I saw one of them yawn and tut to the other two!)
Back up at 6am to bottle feed some orphan lambs, still not knowing where said rat was and hoping it had left on its own accord. We came back inside for a cuppa and saw it looking at us from underneath a chest of drawers. Using a broom stick and an old polo stick which was hanging up on the wall we managed to get it out the door but unfortunately not before my husband had tried using his foot to shoo it out and caught it on the stairs: he is now sporting a very angry looking purple toe!
We have had many laughs during this time, I’m not sure if lack of sleep helps make simple, ordinary things so much funnier but I do know that I am ever so grateful to have lambing as a welcome distraction from the horror of the outside world!
I am not sure how I would cope. I dabble in it, read about it, watch programmes on it, collect it and surround myself with it. All kinds - no holds barred- and although I don’t really have a problem self isolating , neither of us do, without art as my best friend I would be lost. I am worried about my nearest and dearest and others that are very vulnerable, and cross at the selfish who believe they are invincible and show little concern for others. I also would like to thank all the creative folk out there who play a huge part in making this world together with Mother Nature such a beautiful place. I shall spend the next weeks immersed in both and share my loves so others with mental health issues may experience some joy all be it from a distance.
The locksmith came to fix the front door this morning. It took ten ticking minutes. I sat in the dining room as he whistled over a chilly wind that seeped in around my ankles. When it was done he stood on the other side of the threshold and with a long outstretched arm he handed me three bright new keys. I went straight to the kitchen sink and drenched them in boiling water. I watched, as there they lay, washed and sharp and silver. The door was closed but the cold was still in the house.
We are in France. I had a hip replacement nearly four weeks ago. In preparation we bought some cupboard and freezer stores to make things easier for my partner who doesn't drive. A guest took him shopping to replenish them just before the start of the lockdown. They have lasted two weeks so far and we plan meals carefully. My partner is walking to the shops in a few days to buy some fresh goods, he is not allowed to ride his bike now. The lockdown entails filling in an attestation with your ID, address and reason for being out of the house. It has to be dated and signed. Neighbours from different addresses can't travel together. The rules are strict and people are generally sticking to them. If you don't there are fines of 135 euros. There is no panic buying. When the dog needs walking or I need to exercise on crutches we have to go out separately. Extra gendarmes have been deployed and they control key junctions and patrol smaller communities. It's for everyone's good. M. Macron spoke to the people sternly, decisively and authoritatively. Mostly his words are being heeded. People are worried but compliant. There is no panic despite the mounting death toll in the regional hospitals.
A card Passed to Mum on the doorstep - so strange!
I spent the afternoon book binding, briefly interrupted by my teacher son and a grandchild both out of school, bringing garden clippings for our compost heap on this strangest of strange days. I always find myself reflecting on the history of the book that I am working on - previous owners who leave their dust, detritus, hair and pressed leaves in the gutter margins, and the understandings of the authors and readers at the time that the book was printed. More so with manuscript works, as in this case.
I am completely rebinding a journal, kept by a young officer cadet in the 1850’s who was training at Woolwich. He writes down lecture notes about gunnery, and illustrates his notes with pen drawings. What would he have made of 2020 in normal times? He would be shocked I think at the changes in military technology, astounded by jet planes roaring overhead and the cars rushing by. But he would be more sanguine about the spread of a virus I believe. He would have lived with Cholera, Typhus, Smallpox, Syphillis and Tuberculosis. He would be expecting children to die young, and for mothers to die in childbirth.
The boards are on, I am glueing the spine of the book with rabbit glue and layering on brown paper to make a smooth firm surface to take new leather. I have robbed a broken binding on another contemporary book of its cloth covering to re - use it. The author lives on through his journal.