I’ve had a thing about war since I was a kid and have vivid memories of a hot Summer night in the early 1960s when I was feverish with chickenpox thinking that there were armoured tanks invading the small town in Co. Monaghan where we were living then.
When the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s , we were living just 3 miles from the Border and it was downright scary. For some reason, I seemed to believe that if we could somehow get to the Isle of Man we’d be okay. I think that it was probably because the Isle of Man had the name of having no violence. (Years later, I was fortunate enough to visit it and found it to be a delightful place where peace did reign.)
The rumblings of the last few days about World strife and nuclear attacks have stoked those smouldering embers and today I craved the comfort of nature.
I seemed to spend a lot of time in the woods during my blogging break and every single time I went out there, I found that there was a robin waiting for me ~ perched on a branch overlooking the little wooden bridge and full of welcome.
Robins never fail to stop me in my tracks. I can’t just walk passed them and go about my business.
They take me to all sorts of places and this is just a tiny part of a long list:
#1.Emily Dickinson’s lines:
“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”
― Emily Dickinson
#2. Robin Williams and, especially Dead Poets Society which speaks volumes about what education should really be about and the role that an inspirational and creative teacher can have.
#3. Robin Hood and long hours playing ‘Maid Marian’ to my big Bro’s Robin Hood when we were kids. There are many lessons to be learned from Robin Hood about equality and what it means.
#4. Reading poetry with my father in the last months of his life through the Spring of 2010 and especially this stanza from Thomas Hood’s, I Remember, I Remember:
I remember, I remember, The roses, red and white, The vi’lets, and the lily-cups, Those flowers made of light! The lilacs where the robin built, And where my brother set The laburnum on his birthday,— The tree is living yet!
Dad and I shared a love of robins and some of my happiest memories are watching him from the kitchen window while he was doing the garden but being distracted by a ‘pet’ robin who used to come and eat out of his hand or perch on his shoulder.
I’ve been doing a bit of reading about robins and it seems like they are quite solitary in their own way, especially when it comes to other birds, but just look at how sociable they are when it comes to humans. Maybe I see a touch of the robin in myself (inherited from Dad) ~ leaning into nature and feeling incredibly at peace with a tiny bird and not so much the ‘madding’ crowd.
When I was trying to focus on the daffodils the other day, a little daisy kept catching my eye with her yellow blending in with the yellow of the daffodils.
She’s been playing on my mind ever since because this common flower ~ or weed, as some are bold enough to call her ~ evokes so many thoughts and memories.
He loves me, he love me not, he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he … Hot Summer days lying on the grass plucking the petals off poor daisies with my sister as we looked toward the horizons of heady romance.
That Summer’s night in 1979 when the love of my young life, who was later to die from cancer when I was in my early twenties, jumped out of the car and gathered daisies to make me a daisy chain. It remains one of my treasures, pressed in a huge book with other special flowers that have bedecked my life.
And what of Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby ~ how I envied her!
There was my embarrassing innocence on my fist day as a researcher in a Cheshire Home for people with physically disabilities and chronic illnesses in England. I was introduced to a man in his thirties who had multiple sclerosis who was asked by the guy in charge to fill me in on life in the Home. We had a long chat, with plenty of laughs, but in the middle of it, he said something about how he’d soon be ‘pushing up the daisies.’ I hadn’t a notion what he meant and he saw my puzzlement and came straight out with the shattering disclosure that he probably only had a couple of years left to live. He is a man I will never, ever forget as he was the first person to show me the human side of disability ~ something that influenced many of my decisions in pursuing research into the experiences of people with disabilities for many years after that.
In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy hit the screens in Ireland and it remains one of my all time favourite films. Yes, it was very American, but its messages about racism and stereotyping, connections and ageing are as pertinent today, if not even more so, than they were back then.
The humble daisy has much to teach us if we let her. What a difference there is between being defined as a wildflower and a weed …..
There’s something incredibly special about being able to read an English Composition that my late mother wrote on October 2, 1935. She would have been fourteen then and poised to set off for boarding school after being schooled by a governess with her brother and sister. They lived on a farm which had no schools nearby so my grandparents went down the governess route.
I have to confess that I’ve never met anyone else whose mother was taught by a governess. It seems extremely ‘old-world’ ~ a term that Mother used to say a friend of hers once attributed to my grandmother.
Old-world or not, the red copybook is all I have to evoke thoughts of Mother’s time with the governesses. She talked a fair bit about those days and how she and her Big Bro did everything in their powers to encourage the governesses to let them do English, History and Geography ~ anything rather than maths!
The governesses lived in and most came for just a year at a time ~ some for less as they were very isolated. Mother recalled how she was very fond of some of the governesses and how she kept in touch with a few for many years after they had emigrated to America and Australia. Others, she wasn’t so keen on and was thrilled when they would depart the scene. Reflecting back, she used to think what a lonely life it must have been for these young women who were part, yet apart, from the busy farming family.
Here is that English Composition that Mother wrote on October 2, 1935:
WOULD YOU RATHER BE A BIRD OR A FISH?
I would rather be a bird than a fish. I would love to be able to soar into the blue sky and roost among the leafy trees in summer. If I were a fish I would be very cold and clammy and live in the same bit of the river, assuming I was a trout, all my life. I would see much the same things every day. Of course, I would be able to swim but I would prefer to fly.
If I was a bird there would be danger too. Guns, birdlime and net would be used. Or if I was an attractive bird, which would be most unlikely, mischievous boys might set up a trap with a riddle and a piece of string, and some dainty which birds love for bait. If I were caught alive by this or any other method and put in a cage I feel sure I would pine away and die.
Another deadly menace to small birds is the hawk, who swoops down on his prey and carries them squawking away to be killed and consumed by the hawk.
A bird would be able to travel and see new places and new birds. Also they are more intelligent than fish. Birds eat nicer things than fish. Berries, fruit, especially strawberries, and other appetising things. I can’t say I would relish worms so much, though. Perhaps if I were a bird I would like them as much as they appear to. I daresay I would never be the early bird, though.
Most birds sing sweetly, and that would be another advantage to being a fish, for if they communicate with each other they do so very silently.
If I were a crow I hope I would have the decency not to inflict my voice on the other inhabitants of the rookery. Or perhaps I would imagine, like the crow in the fable that I was sweet and enchanting.
Still I would like to be able to sit on the topmost branch of a leafy tree in summer and warble in the sunshine.
However, I doubt if I will ever be a bird or a fish, but if I am I hope the gods will be kind and make me a bird (not a crow or a crane, though, please!)
It’s fascinating how some turns of phrase that I associate with my late mother, like ‘I daresay,’ appear in this piece of writing. In ways, the composition seems childish to me ~ a far cry from the sort of essay one might expect from a fourteen year old nowadays. On the other hand, it shows a deeper knowledge of nature than one would be likely to find in our modern social-media- oriented world.
Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary so it’s a day of reflection on the flow of life as we push into our Autumn together:
And how could I not include this dog-eared quote from one of Dad’s many books of Humorous Quotations? (After all, he and Mother lived to see 60 years of married bliss!)
Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to the restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes on Tuesdays, I go on Fridays. (Henny Youngman)