I'm really looking forward to Emily Matchar's new book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity. Check out her insightful blog.
We spent the weekend on the other side of the province. One of our stops was a tiny village on the Bay of Fundy called Harbourville, pop. 100 , where we happened upon this crooked house, which you can rent for a vacation stay. We were going to eat at the Schnitzelhaus but it was closed the evening we were there.
Harbourville is really gorgeous and it's difficult to do the place justice in photos. It's the kind of place where you have to stand and slowly turn round in a circle in order to take it all in. And then you walk a little way and stop and do the spin again.
We arrived at low ride, which is why those two boats are sitting way down there on the ground. Just six hours later they would be floating above the water mark, as the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world. We will definitely go back for to stay for a night or two, so we can explore the beaches, caves, and cliffs more fully and witness the dramatic change in the water level firsthand.
A hot-air balloonist in England recently discovered this meadow in the shape of a heart tucked away inside a stand of thousands of oak trees. Turns out it was made, secretly, by farmer Winston Howes, in memory of his wife Janet, who died of heart failure at age 50, in 1995. From The Daily Mail:
Mr Howes, 70, said yesterday: ‘I came up with the idea of creating a heart in the clearing of the field after Janet died.
‘I thought it was a great idea – it was a flash of inspiration – and I planted several thousand oak trees. Once it was completed we put a seat in the field, overlooking the hill near where she used to live.
‘I sometimes go down there, just to sit and think about things. It is a lovely and lasting tribute to her which will be here for years.’
He created the wood next to his farmhouse in the months after her death, marking out the massive heart shape with a large hedge.
The entrance to the secret heart is accessible only from a track leading up to its tip.
Mr Howes added: ‘We got people in especially to do it – there are several thousand trees.
‘We planted large oak trees around the edge of the heart then decided to put a hedge around it too. The heart points towards Wotton Hill, where Janet is from. We plant daffodils in the middle that come up in the spring – it looks great. I go out there from time to time and sit in the seat I created.’
Janet and Winston Howes.
Image from here.
Traditional Maxim: If March comes in like a lion, it'll go out like a lamb. If it comes in like a lamb, it'll go out like a lion.
Update: If March comes in like a lion, it'll suddenly turn into a lizard, then briefly into a Labrador retriever, then back again into a lizard before it goes back out again like a lion. If March comes in like a lamb, it'll be served with mint sauce.
This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone is a memoir by Melissa Coleman that got a lot of attention last year when it first came out. Coleman's parents, Eliot and Sue, were among the first back-to-the-landers of the late 60s and 70s. They moved to a plot of land in rural Maine that adjoined the farm of Helen and Scott Nearing, the couple who wrote Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, which is the book credited with inspiring the movement. Eliot and Sue built their own home, grew their own food, and Sue gave birth to two little girls while they did it. It sounds Edenic, particularly for children, and partly, it was. (This NYT review of the book does a good job of describing the basic events of This Life is In Your Hands and also the sort of see-sawing the book does between the poetry of the family's life, rooted as it was in nature, and an increasing sense of ominousness.)
It's easy for people who have never attempted to be self-sufficient through farming to romanticize the idea (witness the current resurgence of what Emily Matchar calls the New Domesticity, which admittedly doesn't seem as hard-core a movement) but the fact is that it makes for a very hard life. (I am guilty of romanticizing it myself -- in high school I gave a speech on my version of "the good life" in which I would retreat with my little family to a cabin in the woods, where I would homeschool my children and we would all survive, I guess, on nuts and berries.) Coleman, who is now a nationally recognized expert on organic gardening, actually had a thyroid disorder, largely untreated, that spurred him on to ceaseless physical labour. And if I were going to try to accomplish what he did, I think I'd want one, too. From Melissa Coleman's descriptions of her mother, Sue, it seems to me that she suffered terribly from post-partum depression and that this was horribly compounded by the relentless, back-breaking work that homesteading actually entailed, not to mention possible malnutrition.
Now here is where the spoiler comes in. Consider yourself warned. One day, busy preparing a feast for some visitors (as if she doesn't have enough to do), Sue shoos Melissa's little sister Heidi, who is around three at the time I think, out of the cabin, telling her to go float her toy boat on the pond. Heidi actually comes back once or twice, begging for attention, and Sue turns her away. You can guess what happened to Heidi down at the pond. She drowned.
Melissa Coleman doesn't blame her mother for this in the book, but she doesn't exactly absolve her, either. After reading it I was left feeling absolutely bereft for the poor woman, whom I was unable to track down via google, hoping to learn she has found some sort of peace. And I must admit I was also left feeling a bit pissed off about Eliot Coleman's (and the Nearings') subsequent success as folk heroes.
Now of course children die. They die in car accidents in suburbia and of childhood cancers and all kinds of things. But all it takes is a short stroll through a pioneer-era graveyard to see how many children died when there was no choice for anyone but a "lifestyle" of relentless physical labour in order to put food on the table. A lot of those deaths were from childhood diseases we can now vaccinate against (if we aren't against vaccinating) but many of them were from accidents that happened when parents didn't have the time and the energy to hover over their kids.
Posted by Stephany Aulenback on March 16, 2012 at 01:27 PM in Books, Childhood, Compendium of Terrible Parenting Advice, Culture, Family, Food and Drink, Gardening, Health, History, Memoirs and Biography, Nature, Nesting, Parenting, Parents in Literature | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
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I am feeling a lot like this woman today, and I especially find myself reflected in her glassy/crazed-eye expression. Thank god March Break is almost over.
Recently discovered: Emily Matchar's blog The New Domesticity, through The Hairpin. I have been loving it. Matchar, who is 29 years old and childless, is writing a book about the current "fascination with reviving 'lost' domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc." In her book, she plans to tease out the answers to questions like "Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?" (You may have read Emily's article Why I Can't Stop Reading Mormon Blogs.) Her blog is a sort of scrapbook of her research and her posts have been both thoughtful and informative. Today she linked to Is It Safe to Play Yet?, an article in the NYT that sort of poo poos the current movement to keep children safe from dangerous chemicals that may (or may not be) in all the stuff that surrounds us. I have always downplayed the danger to our kids from toxins in the environment until I recently did some research about the effects of BPA on development and freaked out a little bit and wrote the Campbell's Soup letter, and then did more research (see Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things )and freaked out a little more.
I am also fascinated by the work of food historian Rachel Laudan, to whom Emily linked. In her article In Praise of Fast Food, Rachel reminds us of the sheer work historically involved in making food from scratch -- I was shocked to learn the fact that until the 60s Mexican women had to spend FIVE HOURS A DAY grinding maize in order to make tortillas. Does anyone really want to go back to that kind of labour? (I should get to work on my business plan for a healthy fast food restaurant version of McDonald's, complete with non-toxic happy meal toys.)
Anyway, there is plenty of good stuff to read on The New Domesticity for those who enjoy embracing traditional domestic tasks and those who would hire a full-time housekeeper if they could. (Like me.)
I would write more but must go referee an ongoing battle today between Luke and Vivi. Vivi insists that today is Luke's birthday and Luke insists that it is not. You'd think this would be resolved by a two-line exchange but they have probably exchanged more than two hundred lines on the topic today, accompanied by storms of tears from both parties. And by "parties" I do not mean birthday parties.
Gorgeous image of snowflakes by Yuji Obata, found here.
"The old woman is shaking her feather bed." Grampa mentioned this one just now because enormous soft snow flakes are falling from the sky. "What old woman?" I asked him. "I have no idea," he said. "Just the one who lives in the sky," said Luke.
"The devil is beating his wife." Grampa explained that this one was said when it rains while the sun is shining. "Is the rain supposed to be the devil's wife's tears?" I asked, wondering about the poor devil's wife -- why have I never heard of her before? -- and her wretched life. "I have no idea," said Grampa.
"Freckles are caused by raindrops falling on your face." How did they get this one so very wrong? It's too much sun on your face, not rain. Unless, like me, you were simply born with them.
"If you go to someone's house and when you walk in the door, there is a broom lying on the floor in front of it, whatever you do, do not bend down and pick it up." "Why not?" I asked. "Because it will prove you are a witch. Just step over it," instructed Grampa. As a boy, Grampa himself visited the houses of people who performed this test on unsuspecting guests. "They were known to be fanatical about witches," he explained.
See also: the devil's darning needles.
(I get these in dribs and drabs. "Is that all you can remember right now?" I just asked him. "Yes, that's all," he said. But while I was searching for a good image of snowflakes, he came back into the room. "Did I ever tell you I wasn't allowed to watch during pig-killing time?" he asked me. "No," I said. "Why weren't you allowed to watch?" "Because if you pitied him, he wouldn't die," said Grampa. "I was allowed to watch after he was dead.")