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A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journal Series #1)by Madeleine L'Engle
This journal shares fruitful reflections on life and career prompted by the author's visit to her personal place of retreat near her country home. See more details below
This journal shares fruitful reflections on life and career prompted by the author's visit to her personal place of retreat near her country home.
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We are four generations under one roof this summer, from infant Charlotte to almost-ninety Great-grandmother. This is a situation which is getting rarer and rarer in this day and age when families are divided by large distances and small dwellings. Josephine and Alan and the babies come from England; Great-grandmother from the Deep South; Hugh and I and our younger children, from New York; and our assorted "adopted" children from as far afield as Mexico and as close as across the road; all to be together in Crosswicks, our big, old-fashioned New England farmhouse. It's an ancient house by American standards well over two hundred years old. It still seems old to me, although Josephine and Alan, in Lincoln, live close by the oldest inhabited house in Europe, built in the eleven-hundreds.
When our children were little and we lived in Crosswicks year round, they liked to count things. They started to count the books, but stopped after they got to three thousand. They also counted beds, and figured that as long as all the double beds held two people, we could sleep twenty-one; that, of course, included the attic. We are using the attic this summer, though we haven't yet slept twenty-one. A lot of the time it is twelve, and even more to feed. Cooking is the only part of housekeeping I manage with any grace; it's something like writing a book: you look in the refrigerator and see what's there, choose all the ingredients you need, and a few your husband thinks you don't need, and put them all together to concoct a dish. Vacuum cleaners are simply something more for me to trip over; and a kitchen floor, no matterhow grubby, looks better before I wax it. The sight of a meal's worth of dirty dishes, pots, and pans makes me want to run in the other direction. Every so often I need out; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody away from all these people I love most in the world in order to regain a sense of proportion.
I like hanging sheets on lines strung under the apple trees the birds like it, too. I enjoy going out to the incinerator after dark and watching the flames; my bad feelings burn away with the trash. But the house is still visible, and I can hear the sounds from within; often I need to get away completely, if only for a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings. There's a natural stone bridge over the brook, and I sit there, dangling my legs and looking through the foliage at the sky reflected in the water, and things slowly come back into perspective. If the insects are biting me and they usually are; no place is quite perfect I use the pliable branch of a shadblow tree as a fan. The brook wanders through a tunnel of foliage, and the birds sing more sweetly there than anywhere else; or perhaps it is just that when I am at the brook I have time to be aware of them, and I move slowly into a kind of peace that is marvelous, "annihilating all that's made to a green thought in a green shade." If I sit for a while, then my impatience, crossness, frustration, are indeed annihilated, and my sense of humor returns.
It's a ten-minute walk to the brook. I cross the lawn and go through the willow tree which splashes its fountain of green onto the grass so that it's almost impossible to mow around it. If it's raining and I really need the brook badly, I go in my grandfather's old leather hunting coat and a strange yellow knitted hat from Ireland (one of my children, seeing me set Off, asked, "Who do you think you are, Mother? Mrs Whatsit?"); it's amazing what passing the half-century mark does to free one to be eccentric. When my hair gets wet I look like a drowned ostrich, and I much prefer resembling an amiable, myopic giraffe as I wade through the wet clover of the large pasture. It's already been bayed twice this summer: does the neighboring farmer, who uses our pastures in addition to his own, hay clover? I was born in the middle of the asphalt island of Manhattan, and even nearly a decade of living in Crosswicks all year round has not made me conversant with bucolic terms. When Hugh and I bought the house the spring after we were married (we walked into a run-down place that hadn't been loved for years, and it opened its arms to us) and I saw cows in the pasture, they didn't look like cows to me. My idea of cows was from illustrations in children's books.
After the pasture is traversed, I walk through a smaller pasture which has been let go to seed because of all the rocks, and is now filled with thistles. Then there is a stone wall to be climbed; the only poison ivy around here grows on and by the stones of this wall, and I'm trying to kill it by smothering it with a wet Sunday Timeses? (We also use it for the cats.) I think the poison ivy is less flourishing than it was; at any rate The New York Times is not going to unbalance the ecology. I love the ology words; ology: the word about. Eco, man's dwelling place. The word about where man lives.
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