Deer in a Clearing

Deer in a Clearing, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

Deer in a Clearing, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

Albert Bierstadt’s landscapes have just the right combination of wildness and perfection. I saw two real deer while walking on a trail in the woods this morning, and the scene was so ideal, so picture-perfect. Although Bierstadt and other Hudson River artists idealized the landscape, there is truth in that ideal. It is the true landscape minus the imperfect things, like a clumsy mom turning her ankle and hitting the ground with something snapping in her foot. Bierstadt would never have painted that. I’m pretty sure my foot isn’t broken. I hobbled back to the car. And now I hobble around the house. I’ll be okay eventually.

The Incredible Journey

This journey took place in a part of Canada which lies in the northwestern part of the great sprawling province of Ontario. It is a vast area of deeply wooded wilderness–of endless chains of lonely lakes and rushing rivers. Thousands of miles of country roads, rough timber lanes, overgrown tracks leading to abandoned mines, and unmapped trails snake across its length and breadth.

– from The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, 1960.

I enjoyed this book as much as my son. The three animals, a labrador, bull terrier, and Siamese cat, are old friends by the end, and the wilderness they travel through is described with a great deal of personal knowledge.

I chose the above quote, the very beginning of the novel, because I needed some passage into deeper, darker subjects. I don’t exactly know what is going on right now, but I am following an unmapped trail through my life. My house is messier than usual. I’m reading like a maniac. I somehow manage to get all the meals and food issues taken care of (though I’m not sure how). I write when I can even to the point of writing a new story freehand on the back of my kids’ scrap paper. I’ve gotten myself and all three kids to the dentist in the last few days. School beginning is at the back of my mind, and I’m stockpiling the necessary books and things. And now I’m thinking, with all this strange busyness, this push to get my book read, get my story written, get school going, get everything done, where am I headed? What incredible journey am I on? Did those animals know exactly where they were headed? The lab did; he was the leader, following his instinct to his home three hundred miles away. The other two followed because they always stayed together. Am I running on instinct right now? Am I simply following a path God set out for me? My life feels so strange.

But here I go, ever forward. Don’t look back.

Why I read classics

This topic came to mind when I followed up Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley and The Professor with the 2010 book Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The Bronte books were bound together in one 900 page book which I picked up at the library. The library lending period is 4 weeks, after which you can renew for another 4 weeks if there are no holds on it. After that you are at the mercy of the librarian. I finished in 7 weeks and 4 days. The reading was slow, mainly accomplished in the evenings in bed. With such a heavy book propped up in front of me, I became aware of each time I nodded off, thus causing the book to tip either backwards onto my stomach or forwards into my face. I often had to force myself to put the book down before I had read a satisfactory amount. I would not describe the stories as gripping; neither were the novels “page-turners.” But I lived those 7+ weeks with Bronte’s characters, and their stories became urgent through my close association with them. I did feel disappointment at the turn of the last page. I had traveled through the book and returned home, left with clinging memories.

My sister-in-law lent me the Heaven is for Real book. It’s a decent size, but I read it in two days. It made me cry. It made me laugh. It made me pray. It made me keep reading even when I should have been doing something else. I am not here to say this was a bad book. Far from it–the true story it tells is amazing, and I found the writing personal, honest and moving.

The contrast between the way I read the two books struck me as profound (and that is why I am writing–to learn from myself the depths of what I feel). I “liked” both books. But in the Bronte novels I entered a world larger than my own, and I read with as much care as I could. I made the best of it. In the Heaven book, I entered a narrower world. The writers made the best of the story, and my own reaction became a result of that. Manipulation might be too strong a word. I’m not sure if I was manipulated by the author, but I do know that I don’t like a book to force strong emotions from me. I prefer subtlety. Tragedy and comedy are fine. When I read Shakespeare’s plays, I do not react with crying and outward laughter. It would seem that the bigger the world inside the book, the more room I have to live inside it. The smaller the world inside the book, I am forced to live (and react) outside it.

There are certainly contemporary books which house large rooms to fall into, but that is trial and error. The classics have been lived in by thousands of readers, and I can trust myself to such tried and true stories without breaking my solemn reading face. I certainly don’t read only classics, but when faced with the decision of what to read next, more often I will gravitate toward those older volumes.

Song of the Builders

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God -

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

–by Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early, 2004

Today was a contemplative day for me. I felt as if only the body part of me was doing the daily work. But certainly there are those other days, those cricket days, when I am completely bent on doing things. I’m glad Mary Oliver wrote this poem. I was feeling ashamed because I thought I was lazy. The poem didn’t exactly justify my lack of doing; it brought to light what my mind was doing.

Planning for the new school year

I’ve been doing some planning. Going through the book list on Ambleside Online and downloading the free Kindle versions of some of the books I need. For awhile I was planning on buying a spelling program despite the fact that Charlotte Mason says we don’t need to teach spelling as its own class. I thought the spelling program looked like something my son would enjoy. Then I decided to trust Miss Mason, and so I’m not buying the spelling program although it’s a great temptation. I did buy a keyboarding program that came almost free with my handwriting workbooks. Miss Mason has nothing bad to say about keyboarding:)

I’m signed up for a lot of emails that offer homeschooling advice, advertisements, freebies, giveaways. It’s almost too much. I like the good advice. I like being directed to a really helpful free website. I don’t enjoy being offered all sorts of sales on ebooks, bundles, and services that are supposedly designed for a Charlotte Mason education. It’s supposed to make my life simpler, but it doesn’t. Ambleside Online’s website and forum are fairly time-consuming in themselves. I don’t need more companies to distract my attention away from what I really need to teach my children. I’m working on trusting Miss Mason, and trusting my own instincts about what is worth the time and money.

What do I really need right now? I have to figure out how I’m going to teach Bible every day of every week. I’m supposed to read right out of the Bible, and I will, but my children do not do well with that. I need a plan.

I also need a foreign language plan. It makes sense for me to teach Spanish. It’s the foreign language I learned. But I don’t have a passion for it. I’d rather teach them German or French, and learn right along with them. I’m not sure. And I have not found a curriculum I like for any language. I might hold off on foreign language until I get that sorted out in my mind.

I am stubbornly holding with the Delightful Reading kit I purchased a couple years ago. The results are dreadfully slow, but that is probably because my children are not ready to read yet. I cannot rush human brains. It will do no good.

Then there’s the handicraft challenge. We do crafts quite often, but they are not the sort Miss Mason has in mind. She recommends the sort of crafts that they can learn now so they will be useful in their future adulthood, such as knitting, weaving, sewing, etc. These things take a large amount of ambition on my part. I might be expecting too much from myself. I need to take it easy, play it by ear, be inspired at the spur of the moment rather then fretting about a scheduled project. I think I’ve just decided I need to plan less for handicrafts.

I know my kids love spontaneous adventures. Some things have to be planned, and that’s why I like AO. They do a lot of the planning for me. But there is room for lots of spur-of-the-moment excitement. So I’ll keep those emails coming, ignore them most of the time, and occasionally let them lead me down a new and inspiring path. How’s that for a plan?

Van Gogh in Montmartre

Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre, Vincent Van Gogh, 1886

Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre, Vincent Van Gogh, 1886

I bought a framed print of this at a garage sale today. It’s going on the wall above my computer screen. At the moment it is resting in a chair behind me, and I am getting nothing done because I keep looking back.

Montmartre is a part of Paris in which Van Gogh lived with his brother during 1886-1887. The Moulin de Blute-Fin is a windmill. My initial reasons for loving to stare at this painting include the short, stubbled brushstrokes characteristic of Van Gogh, the adventure of joining these observers on the terrace, the way the whole painting makes me feel a cold, raw wind against my face, and the quirky lampposts that seem both wrong and very right at the same time.