A Terrible Beauty (Autumn Giveaway)

A Terrible Beauty (Autumn Giveaway)

Elsa Spring at Maplehurst, two autumns ago

 

 

It’s like the difference between the blue of a puddle and the blue of the ocean, this difference between the autumn of memory and autumn itself.

All year long, I say with ease, “Autumn is my favorite season.” I say it for the color of the leaves and the apple-crispness of the air. I say it for planting bulbs and going for long drives on country roads in search of our favorite old sugar maple trees. I say it for back to school and the holidays nearing, but every year I forget that vast expanse between the idea of autumn and the encounter with it.

To borrow words from W. B. Yeats, I forget that every year, on or about the end of September, a terrible beauty is born.

I begin to remember when the yellow leaves of the walnut tree rattle down on the metal roof of the old red barn, and my delight is mingled with dread. The dread is bewildering. Isn’t this my favorite season?

Why do I feel both glad and afraid?

 

I live in the pastoral paradise of southeastern Pennsylvania. Bridges are still covered and sized for horse-drawn buggies. Fieldstone walls meander in rhythm with the song of brooks and streams. Old stone farmhouses with leaded windows sit snug against hillsides, protected from winter winds for hundreds of years.

The beauty of this place is sweet and easy. It is a beauty resonant of home and safety, shelter and cultivation – at least, until the trees wake up and begin to blaze.

We say we want pumpkins on the porch and a gold shimmer on the trees, but we forget that this beauty won’t only warm us, it will burn us, as encounters with the deepest, truest things always do.

Every year, autumn beauty – that unbearable fire and glory – breaks my heart a little more completely.

Another Irish writer, Edmund Burke, gave us his treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful in 1756, just when colonists in these parts were busy building the “brave brick houses” spoken of by William Penn. According to Burke, beauty originated in love while the sublime had its roots in fear. It is the difference between a green pasture dotted with sheep and a snow-covered peak, terrible and tall.

It is the difference between my home in late summer and my home in fall.

 

I think I am afraid because in no other season does time seem so swift and so cruel.

No sooner have I spied the first color in the treetops and shuffled the first golden feathers beneath my feet, than the limbs are bare. The landscape bleak. As Robert Frost once wrote, “… leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay.”

Spring’s color may be just as lovely, but it goes easy on our hearts, tapering out slowly into summer greenness until one hot day we realize that the circle of the year has shifted, and we are somewhere new.

 

Autumn is simply one season of four, but it isn’t a safe season. Autumn reminds me of Aslan of Narnia, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

We can avert our eyes, shield our hearts, and try to keep this beauty from breaking our hearts, but winter will come whether we do that or not.

Floodwaters will rise.

Hurricane winds will blow.

The earth will tremble, and we will suffer. If anything is certain in life it is that we will suffer. The only question is whether we will suffer well?

There will be terror and there will be beauty, and some days, the line between the two will blur completely, and all our certainties seem up for grabs.

It helps, I think, to enter the barren season with eyes still full of glory.

 

The poet T. S. Eliot famously wrote of “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

What will I shore up against the coming ruin of winter?

So many fall delights.

The beauty of this coming season may be terrible, but fortified by small beauties, perhaps we can bear it with more ease. Delights like apple crisp flavored with chai spices, a melancholy old novel, a bouquet of dahlias on the table, and, yes, a pumpkin on the porch.

 

 

Just in time for this new season: an Autumn Giveaway!

 

 

When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.

Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.

But the idea of offering more – seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations – has never gone away.

This summer we celebrated five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red brick farmhouse.

I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four autumn-themed pages from that book of my dreams.

They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.

One comes from my kitchen, two from the garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.

I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to print their own.

Simply click the subscribe box below, enter your email address, and a confirmation email will be sent straight to you. Confirm your address, and you’ll be taken to the link in order to claim your download.

If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.

 

Here are two things to remember:

One: Autumn is fleeting, and so is this gift. TWO WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Winter follows fast on autumn’s heels, and my winter pages should appear some time in December.

The Longest Days

The Longest Days

 

Summer days are here: fast, bright, and hot.

We wake early but find that the sun has already beat us to it. These are the longest days, and they start without us. I sip my morning coffee and make my list. How is it possible to feel so behind at 6:30 in the morning?

Summer to-do lists are like none other:

Pick the snap peas while they’re still tender. Cut the sweet peas before they wilt. Visit the u-pick berry farm. Make freezer jam. Write that magazine story due tomorrow. Carve a dent, at least, in the email inbox. Write that check and mail it. Help the boys catch fireflies.

Summer priorities are topsy-turvy. Ripening strawberries and fat peas are things of urgency, but I’ve forgotten where I left my laptop. Was it two days ago, I last used it? There’s an important professional conversation I need to have, but I’ve missed the phone call twice. The first time, I was at the creek with the kids. The second, I was picking cherries.

An afternoon storm rolls in, the kind of summer storm that is all sound, little fury, and I think Lord, I love summer.

The boys start fighting (again), and I pray, Lord, let me survive the summer.

*

Summer days are so long, we have more than one second chance.

Here is one, and here is another. We explode in anger. We apologize. I make them hug. One shrugs. One runs away. We laugh. And we do it all again, three or four times. I maybe cry once, and then I tell my kids how I used to fight so terribly with my sisters I made my own mother cry.

Summer is crying mothers, and fighting kids; summer is fat, sweet strawberries, and lightning crashing like a cymbal on your head.

Summer is more, and more, and more.

Summer is magic.

*

Summer days run fast and hard until evening. Then the summer sun slows, almost stops, and you can hardly tell it’s sinking. Summer evenings taste like forever. I could finish that to-do list if I wanted, but urgency fades in the evening. Why didn’t I realize sooner? These are the longest days, and there is time enough.

Swift, swift times flies, but still there is enough for what matters: porch rockers, bubble wands, watermelon, one last visit to the new trees with a watering can.

The kids watch a movie and stay up too late. You and I walk in the meadow we made when you decided to stop mowing the grass.

There is time enough.

Stop running.

Summer is here. Why don’t we sit a while?

 

 

A Summer Gift For You

A Summer Gift For You

 

When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.

Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.

But the idea of offering more – seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations – has never gone away.

This summer we will celebrate five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red-brick farmhouse.

I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.

 

First, summer.

 

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four summer-themed pages from that book of my dreams. They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.

One comes from my kitchen, one from my flower garden, one from my vegetable garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.

I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to print their own.

Simply input your email address to the subscribe box below, and an email with a link for the download will be sent straight to you. If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.

Here are two things to remember:

 

One: Summer is fleeting, and so is this gift. Two weeks from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Autumn follows fast on summer’s heels, and my fall pages should appear some time in September.

 

 

P.S. Because I couldn’t decide which I loved best – full color or black-and-white – I’m giving you both. I am also giving you the recipe page in two color options. Feel free to choose one or print all. Enjoy!

Gardenbound: A Maplehurst Tour

Gardenbound: A Maplehurst Tour

 

A garden, unlike a house, is never still. It is not an object but a moment. To observe a garden, one must catch it like a butterfly in a net (but please do let it go again. Beauty cannot be preserved or it ceases to be itself).

 

 

When I give someone a tour of the gardens here at Maplehurst, I catch myself crying, “Oh, if only you had seen the daffodils that bloomed last week.” I am like a mother pouring over baby photos while the child who was that baby tugs at my hand, begging me to play another round of Candyland.

My heart inclines towards nostalgia, and I am easily tangled in the past, but today’s garden is only for today. I must pay attention or I’ll miss it, and there are no encores, no second chances.

Why keep a garden? Why grow flowers? The arguments against it are persuasive. A garden will keep you tethered because to plant something is to make a promise: I will clear the weeds from around you, I will bring you water when the sky turns dry. I will not walk away.

But there are worse things than being kept at home because someone there needs us. The word “homebound” alludes to difficult and heartbreaking realities, but it also speaks of the way home can hold us and keep us steady. And to live as one “bound for home” is to live as a pilgrim sure of the welcome that waits for us.

 

 

Right now this garden flows as swiftly as a swollen river. By mid-summer, its movement will have slowed to a trickle, though it never does stop.

The gift of a garden is that it brings movement and change to the still point that is our home.

In spring, I lift my eyes from washing dishes, feeding children, folding laundry, and all those tasks that keep me tied, through love and obligation, to this place. I lift them toward the open window, and I say,

Look! The world is new again.

 

 

Elizabeth and I are homebound. She, a writer of poetry and prose, is bound to Mersea, a 1904 white Victorian nestled in the historic district of a South Carolina shrimping village. I am bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

Elizabeth and I exchanged a few “homebound” letters over Lent. The nature of a letter is to communicate over a distance, but the season of Lent introduced other distances – there was the space between winter and spring, the break between longing and fulfillment, and the chasm, so like a tomb, between death and new life. But what is Lent, after all, but a kind of long homecoming? It is a practice of return and a way of erasing distance.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them (Psalm 126:6).

For Elizabeth and I, Easter has meant trading the distance of letter writing for the intimacy of a visit, first with a home tour and today with a tour of the garden. 

Here is our invitation to Elizabeth’s garden at Mersea.

 

 

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 21)

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 21)

Elizabeth and I are homebound. She, a writer of poetry and prose, is bound to Mersea, a 1904 white Victorian nestled in the historic district of a South Carolina shrimping village. I am bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us. This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Elizabeth and I are writing letters, she beneath the pines and pecans, I beneath the hemlocks and maples. We will reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them. Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss, and restoration.

Read Elizabeth’s letter of March 9 here. My response is below.

March 21, 2017

from my armchair near the window, with its view of soggy earth and snow

 

Dear Elizabeth,

I, too, have been traveling, though I have not left this place.

My feet were firmly planted in spring. The early daffodils were up and nodding their heads, and the giant magnolia tree was a haze of pink. The two forsythia shrubs in our front lawn were beginning to pop, like yellow corn kernels tossed in a hot pan. But last Tuesday the wind picked up and hurled snow, then ice, at our window glass. It’s so loud, the kids said. And just like that I found myself in a winter world. And not winter’s last gasp, either, but winter as dark and ice-locked as any day in January.

Today, the calendar says spring, but the snow is retreating slowly, and the growing tips of the daffodils look bruised. They remind me of that proverb once bitten, twice shy. They look as hesitant as I feel. A few new projects beckon, and I have felt some old dreams stirring, as if their time draws near, but can I trust the weather?

You write of seeds. You say they are worth the wait. Yet even the seeds I planted in those warmer February days now trouble me. I have a long row of sweetpea seedlings on my kitchen windowsill. They are overgrown. White roots are beginning to worm their way out of the bottoms of the tall peat pots. Yet I cannot plant them out while snow is on the ground. I worry they will end up feeding the compost heap rather than scrambling up the lattice prepared for them in the garden.

Because it is Lent, I have been pausing throughout each day with a prayer book. Recently, my prayer  book reminded me that March 25 will mark nine months before Christmas. On this day, the church celebrates the message the angel Gabriel brought to Mary. We remember how she said yes though she did not understand how such an impossible thing could come to be. How right it seems to recall, in these dark and muddy days of earliest spring, the seed that was planted within one young woman. The refrain for this week’s prayers is this: “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

I can remember a spring morning five years ago. I woke with those same words already dancing through my head: “This is the day … let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The words startled me. I was living then in a wilderness place, desperate for hope, desperate for newness, and praying for a home, yet it seemed, if the words in my head could be trusted, that something had shifted.

The following day, Jonathan returned from a business trip. He told me he had been offered a job in Pennsylvania. We could move as soon as we found a home, and the home we found not long after was Maplehurst.

First, there is the seed, planted in darkness. Only later, new life, miraculous, impossible.

Sorrow and joy do co-exist, as you wrote to me, and that is never more true than while we walk this sharp edge between winter and spring.

When I began this letter, the sky was low and gray. Now it is striped with blue, and I can see the shadows of the maple trees. Perhaps hope is not such a foolhardy thing. The sun seems to say, This. This is the day.

with grace, peace, and, yes, hope,

Christie

Maplehurst

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 6)

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 6)

Elizabeth and I are homebound. She, a writer of poetry and prose, is bound to Mersea, a 1904 white Victorian nestled in the historic district of a South Carolina shrimping village. I am bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us. This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Elizabeth and I are writing letters, she beneath the pines and pecans, I beneath the hemlocks and maples. We will reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them. Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss, and restoration.

Read Elizabeth’s letter of March 3 here. My response is below.

March 6, 2017

In my third-floor office, tucked up in an armchair near the window

 

Dear Elizabeth,

You write of pansies and roses and blooming cherry trees, and I imagine a scented floral carpet working its way across our country, south to north. I know a new season is on its way, but it is difficult to believe in spring while this bitter wind whips across my attic window. The temperature here at Maplehurst is predicted to fall to thirteen tonight. I am afraid that the swollen buds on my peach and apricot trees will not survive to bloom. Seasons do collide, as you say, and there are casualties. I am grieving the fruit we likely will not pick this July.

To invest in a garden is to have your heart broken on a regular basis. The more you pour in, the more you receive, but the more you also have to lose. In the past year or two, I have focused my gardening efforts on “extending the season of interest,” as it says in one of my gardening books. This means planting the earliest blooming snowdrops and daffodils and the latest flowering dahlias and windflowers. This week has shown me that in addition to the great joy of more flowers I now also have an extended season for potential heartbreak. My early “February Gold” daffodils were a lovely winter surprise, but now they look, from my window, like a child’s toys left out to be ruined in the weather. I should have gathered them all up, but I couldn’t bear to erase every last bit of golden yellow from beneath the hawthorn trees.

I had forgotten how slow the shift from winter to spring can be (two steps forward, one step back). Home restoration is the same. I sometimes think that every project we complete merely highlights the decay that remains in new ways. If I paint a wall, the ceiling suddenly looks dingy. If I paint one radiator, the peeling paint on the others stands out more than ever. I recently painted the trim down our back stairs, but now the cracks in the plaster wall are all I can see (two steps forward, one step back). If I struggle to know where to begin, I also struggle to decide when, and where, to stop.

You write that the slow process of transformation shapes you, that it is formative. I agree, and yet I resent the slowness. If I could, I would snap my fingers – ta da! – and Maplehurst would be fixed, repaired, spruced up. This place, and everyone in it, would be healed. Made whole. But if I lost the process, what else would I lose? I know I would lose a great deal, though I am loathe to admit it.

Lent is indeed a sacred time. It is a season for active waiting. It is the season when I try to turn, deliberately, toward the source, like a daffodil turning its face toward the sun.

I set this letter aside when it came time to make dinner. Now a night and a day have passed. The cold did come. The daffodils no longer look like toys, but like debris that has been trampled underfoot. They are utterly wilted.

The bitter cold arrived with the first Sunday of Lent. In the morning, I read the Sunday paper and shook my head. I could not finish a single story because every one was breaking my heart. At church, we began our service, as we do every year during Lent, with a recitation of the ten commandments and a prayer of confession.

Now I recall what it is I hear when you say the name of your home Mersea.

Mercy. I hear mercy.

It is both prayer (Lord, have mercy) and statement (Lord, you are merciful indeed).

with love,

Christie

Maplehurst

 

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