Category Archives: Art

Rising above nature


Good grief, it has been a long time since I last posted. I’ll do my best to get back on the wagon. My children are like kittens, and when I try to write or draw, they do the equivalent of a cat’s sitting on one’s newspaper, or knocking things off of shelves, only on a more problematic scale.

In lieu of a drawing, I present the painting above, which I love, done by my redoubtable mother-in-law. It looks like it could be a western North Carolina scene – it would look even more so if the blue trees in the background were mountains.

On to the burden of this post. It’s easy to wax idyllic about rural life. Our little vegetable gardens are producing like mad. There are pretty trees and flowers and horses and goats all around. On the other hand, there are also large snakes, spiders, and ticks; sweaty-hot days, weeds and thorns and poison ivy.

Poison ivy!  I had no idea of the hidden depths of this plant. It has settled comfortably down in our woods and has spread itself liberally. Did you know, that so much more than leaves of three which ought to be left be, poison ivy makes thick and horrifying V.O.U.S.s (Vines of Unusual Sizes)?  Hairy winding vines, some as thick as your arm (well, my arm) that climb up and choke trees? So I have learned, and we have a couple of fine specimens here, along with all their running branches. Our little homestead, if we were in England, might be named ironically “The Ivies.”

My sister and I, when we are NOT feeling the idyllic side of nature, declaim a version of Katharine Hepburn’s character’s words from The African Queen – “Nature…is what we are put in this world to rise above.”  A couple of weeks ago I went down into the woods, full of vim, to forge some trails. If you want to experience a physical analog of the dark and tortuous depths of human nature, come and visit our woods. Long neglected, it’s got scads of matted thorns, fallen logs, decay, even a dark and spooky gully. It’s given me a new appreciation for park services – and for saints.

If you want to see it you might come soon. I emerged after 45 minutes to ask my husband to get hold of a Bobcat. Untouched nature has a lot of fans, but civilization is a lovely thing, so say I.

Yay daddy, yay cake!


Happy Father’s day, one day late! I’ve been practically too busy to think (a state of affairs not entirely without advantages) let alone draw – but I can share Daddy’s portrait from his Father’s Day cake. He thought he looked a bit Mephistophelean rendered this way. I did my best – I worked in a cake shop once, believe it or not; but filling jelly doughnuts and putting roses on petit fours doesn’t require too much skill. The children didn’t notice, and were delighted to present the cake (and to help eat it.)

Intimations of future laundry

My heart does flips when I behold

The peas and carrots fly:

So was it when I first began;

So is it with each little man;

Shall it be so ’til I grow old?

I heave a sigh!

The Child is father of the Man;

But now, I find my days to be

Filled to the brim with piles of stained laun-der-y.

* * *

Forgive me Mr. Wordsworth, wherever you are. While chatting with my brother on the phone this weekend, I paused to bellow gently at the children: “Stop eating like The Cookie Monster! I am tired of cleaning up the mess!” My brother laughed wickedly; but I forgive him because he has small children too and suffers similar things.

A little Donne

A mural near downtown Asheville NC

A mural near downtown Asheville NC

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town to another due,

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God” (also known as Holy Sonnet 14) has a vivid central conceit – the soul as a walled city, and the Holy Trinity employing a battering-ram to gain entrance. While my husband and I were on a walk this week we saw the mural above, and it instantly brought the poem to my mind.

Seed, soil, and insects

A beautiful seed catalog cover (image source)

A beautiful seed catalog cover by Beatriz Carmen Mendoza (image source.)

Isn’t this seed catalog cover lovely? You can see more of the artist’s works here. What initially caught my eye in this picture is the creature in the upper right hand corner. My father-in-law and I last week saw a curious thing – a creature that moved and had a tail like a hummingbird but had a body, wings, and antennae like a bee. We were perplexed, having never seen anything like it. I googled “hummingbird bee” and found out that it is what’s known as a hummingbird moth.

My wonderful father-in-law built a raised bed for us while he was here. I have been planning a vegetable garden, digging in the dirt and learning about the soil in these parts. Some dry levity from the cooperative extension service:

“Well-aged manure is an excellent soil amendment material… Once it is sufficiently composted, manure has no ‘barnyard smell’. A load of fresh manure in your driveway, however, may raise some concerns among your neighbors.”

I have two small helpers, aged 3 and 5 years. Our three-year-old, as he turned over dirt beside me, with his little spade, kept saying, “Thank you for helping, Mommy.”  Today our five-year-old broke up dirt clods with me, then had a very thrilling time with his brother running around being scared by the great big gusts of wind that made the trees creak.

More Robinson Crusoe

N. C. Wyeth illustration for Robinson Crusoe (Image source)

N. C. Wyeth illustration for Robinson Crusoe (Image source)

One isn’t supposed to judge a book by its cover; evidently one oughtn’t judge a book by its first four chapters, either. Now I’m on chapter eight – Robinson Crusoe has had an awakening of conscience and changed his outlook on life. How did I not see that coming? The book has gotten much more interesting altogether.

I wondered whether the American illustrator Howard Pyle had done any illustrations for Robinson Crusoe, as that would seem right up his alley. I can’t find evidence online that he had, but one of his students, N. C. Wyeth, made beautiful ones, above and below.

N. C. Wyeth illustration (Image source)

N. C. Wyeth illustration (Image source)

N. C. Wyeth illustration (Image source)

N. C. Wyeth illustration (Image source)

“Good” life and “good” death

A depiction of the Battle of Agincourt from the early 15th century (Image Source)

Some months ago I contrasted the outlook of St. Therese of Lisieux, and that of St. Josemaria Escriva – the first with her “Little Way” of childlike trust in God, and the latter with his encouragement to strive (“Esto vir – Be a man!”)

Life is not easy, no matter what your path or state. St. Therese’s way seems attractive – it is attractive. Sometimes I wish God would sweep me up in His arms and clean up my overwhelming messes for me while I sleep. At times He does just this. However, sometimes I find myself wishing life would just stop – that the striving could be done. St. Therese, who endured many pains of body and mind, would not advocate that.

I was reminded this week of King Henry’s St. Crispin’s day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

[G]entlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks,
That fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day.

Of all the teeming billions of human beings ever created, just a relative handful of us are here, now, living out our brief span, assailed by “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Life is a battle – but I think we are meant to be in it and not out of it – falling down, and getting up again and again as long as we can, until the end.

Lately many have been reading and thinking about Brittany Maynard, the young American woman who chose euthanasia after receiving a fearful medical diagnosis. It was written of her that she “loved life.” That’s just it though – did she love life (not that that is easy) or a limited part of it? Euthanasia means “good death”. What is a good death? What is a good life?

Can you fight like a soldier but have child-like trust? I think, yes. It’s hard to say which part is more difficult.