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November 2015

Giving Thanks

My annual Thanksgiving poem, reminding me of all that I have to be grateful for. Health issues prevent me from making my usual climb to the top of Nattadon Hill this year, but in my imagination I am on those trails, Tilly bounding just ahead....

Our hill in the mist

I'm also thankful for you, dear Readers, and the whole mythic arts community.

To those of you in America: Have a warm and peaceful Thanksgiving weekend, full of good talk, good food, loud laughter, quiet moments, and of all of the ancient, mythic, magical, noncommercial things that matter the most. And to those of you in the rest of the world, I wish the very same.

I hope to be back to the studio (and Myth & Moor) sometime next week, if all goes well. Fingers crossed.

Tlly on Nattadon


Recommended Reading

Comfort in Quilting by David Wyatt

From Irish Fairy Tales  illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1920)

The bug that I'm down with is still going strong, so I can't yet predict when I'll be back in the studio. In the meantime, here's some recommended reading for you...

"A Conversation with Phillip Pullman" (Slate Book Review).

"An Interview with Jenny Diski" by Robert Hanks (The Guardian).

"Witches Brew: Patti Smith's M Train" by Evelyn McDonnell (Los Angeles Review of Books).

"The Books" by Alexander Chee (The Morning News).

"Writers, we need to stop saying this" by J.H. Moncrieff  (blog post).

"Paint by Gender: The Shoes Under the Art World" by Pat Lipsky (The Awl).

"Why are Old Women Often the Face of Evil in Fairy Tales and Folklore" by Elizabeth Blair (NPR Books).

"Richard Dadd: the art of a 'criminal lunatic' murderer" (and fairy painter), by Paul Kerley (BBC Magazine).

"The Greatness of William Blake" by Richard Holmes (The New York Review of Books).

"Salthouse Marshes" by Robert Macfarlane and Adam Scovell (Caught by the River).

"HS2: The Human Cost" by Patrick Barkham (The Guardian).

"Finding Time" by Rebecca Solnit (Orion).

"Rebecca Solnit on Modern Noncommunication" by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

"In the Eyes of a Bear" by Julian Hoffman (Zoomorphic -- a fine new magazine dedicated to wildlife and the more-than-human world).

"In Search of the Mountain Ghost" by Katey Duffey (Zoomorphic).

"The Last of the Granny Witches" by Anna Wess (Appalachian Ink).

"The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy" by Sarah Boxer (The Atlantic).

"The Tea Party in the Woods: a Modernist Fairy Fale by Akiko Miyakoshi" by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

"A Mythological Dreamworld: Inside Sophie Ryder's Spellbinding Home" (The Telegraph, via Tanith Hicks) -- an inspiring glimpse into the magical home of one of my very favorite artists.

"The First Person on Mars" by Sarah Smarsh (Vela Magazine). I love Smarsh's autobiographical essays, drawn from her working class background...and this one is particularly good.

"The one with the Storyteller" by Joel Defner (Serial Box). Although ostensively an essay answering the simple question "What is your favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episosode?," it's actually much more: a meditation on the importance of stories themselves. Whether you're a Buffy fan or not, please don't miss it.

"Saved by the Invisibles" by Jonathan Carroll (Medium). Brief and lovely.

Tilly sillinessArt above: "Comfort in Quilting," a painting in the Local Characters series by our friend & neighbor David Wyatt; and an illustration for James Stephen's Irish Fairy Tales by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). Photograph: Tilly looking rather less elegant than Ozzie, the gentle whippet in David's painting.


Myth & Moor update

Sleeping Beauty by Honor Appleton

Dear Readers,

Well, so much for plans. I'd scheduled an off-line Work Retreat for last week, my intent being to catch up on all the writing and correspondence that I've fallen behind on due to health problems over the summer. I'd been planning this Retreat since September (postponed several times), so I woke up early Monday morning excited and eager to begin at long last...and within an hour I was back in bed again, knocked off my feet by the latest lurgy (a virulent cold-flu combo) making the rounds of our village.

"It's just not fair!" I wailed to my patient husband...or, rather, croaked to him, since by this time my voice was disappearing rapidly. I'd barely left the house for many months precisely to avoid catching anything like this while in a weakened state of health -- but the week before I'd finally reached a level of recovery where I could start to live a more normal life. I went out exactly twice that week: to dinner at a friend's house and to a Sam Lee* concert at a small local venue...and, alas, that's all it took to put me back in bed again.

All of which is to say that I don't know when Myth & Moor will resume...it depends on how long this lurgy lasts. I've barely been able to read this week, let alone write; I can only hope the coming week will be kinder.

Also, I send my deepest apologies to those of you awaiting for correspondence from me; I will get to it as soon as I possibly can, and I'm grateful for your continued patience.

Finally, to the Video Fairies (you know who you are) who have been showering me with videos out of the blue: your timing couldn't have been better, and I'm touched indeed. More personalized thanks will be coming your way as soon as energy permits, and I love you all.

Faithful companion

* Footnote: If you have a chance to see Sam Lee perform live, please don't miss him. The concert that friends and I attended (down a windy, muddy track in the wilds of Devon) was not recorded, but here's am earlier film of Sam discussing his work as a singer/song collector, including a 4-year apprenticeship to a master singer of Scottish Traveller ballads.  He does a wee bit of singing towards the end of the talk, but you'll find more of his music in this previous post.

Related to this, as Sam talks about being a Jewish lad from London singing Gypsy songs, I'm reminded of the words by Ellen Kushner in this post: "The Cauldron of Dreams."

Toskiyuki Enoki

Art above: Sleeping Beauty by Honor Appleton (1879-1951) and Tokyo-based painter Toskiyuki Enoki.


Dreams of deer

Brother and Sister by Cremonini

I have another deer poem for you today, a psalm for the wild ones of the forest.

Fawn by Kiki SmithThe enchanted deer in the pictures above and below come from two classic French fairy volumes. Above is "Brother and Sister" from Les contes de Grimm, illustrated by Cremonini (Editions Fabbri, 1965). Below is "Bright, Dear Deer, and Kit" from Le livre des bêtes enchantées, illustrated by Adrienne Ségur (Flammarion, 1956). Selections from Le livre des bêtes enchantées and an earlier volume, Il était une fois, were published in the U.S. as The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, translated by Marie Ponsot (Golden Books, 1958).

The illustration on the right is "Fawn," by the German-American artist Kiki Smith. Alas, I have no idea where the final photograph is from...but isn't it marvelous?

Bright, Dear Deer, and Kit by Adrienne Segur

Old photograph, provenance unknown


Boredom in the studio...

New bone

Not my boredom; I've got too much to do to be bored. But Tilly is on antibiotics for a persistent infection and can't go out into the woods today. She's been listless and miserable all morning...until a new bone made life worth living again. Now everything is wonderful, misery forgotten.

I want to be a dog in my next life.


This is sacred work

Autumn on the Commons

From "O.K., You're Not Shakespeare. Now Get Back to Work," an excellent essay by Allegra Goodman:

"Treat writing as a sacred act. Just as the inner critic loves to dwell on the past, she delights in worrying about the future. 'Who would want to read this?' she demands. 'Nobody is going to publish a book like that!' Such nagging can incapacitate unpublished writers. Published writers, on the other hand, know that terrible books come out all the time. They anguish: 'The reviewers are going to crucify me, and nobody will want to publish me after that.'

"But take a step back. What are you really afraid of here? When you come down to it, this is just a case of the inner critic masquerading as public opinion, and playing on your vanity.

Meldon Hill

Chagford

"I know only one way out of this trap, which is to concentrate on your writing itself, for itself. Figuring out what the public wants, or even what the public is: that's the job of pollsters and publicists and advertisers. All those people study the marketplace. But the creative artist can change the world. A true writer opens people's ears and eyes, not merely playing to the public, but changing minds and lives. This is sacred work.

Marsh pond

"Love your material. Nothing frightens the inner critic more than the writer who loves her work. The writer who is enamored of her material forgets all about censoring herself. She doesn't stop to wonder if her book is any good, or who will publish it, or what people will think. She writes in a trance, losing track of time, hearing only her characters in her head.

By the Lower Commons stream

Autumn leaves

"This is a state of grace possible only when you are truly desperate to tell a story."

Tree Elder, lower CommonsWords: The essay quoted above was first published in The New York Times (March 12, 2001), and is well worth reading in full. The poem in the picture captions is from Wake Up in Brightness  (Poetry in the Schools, Seattle 2009). All rights reserved by the authors. A related post: "When Every Day is Judgement Day." Pictures: A walk on the village Commons earlier this week.


Time-traveling on the Devon coast

Dead Man's Folly, at Greenway

Greenway House

I'd never read much of Agatha Christie's work until our daughter, a big Christie fan, sharpened my interest a few year ago. Then I finally sat down and read all the Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries one after another, marveling (as readers have done since the 1920s) at Christie's extraordinary skill in piecing plots together like intricate jigsaw puzzles. Christie grew up in Torquay, on the south coast of Devon, and later owned a country estate called Greenway in Glampton, on the River Dart. The estate is now owned by the National Trust, and we've long talked about visiting it one day. Last month, on the weekend before our daughter's birthday, we finally did.

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple (Geraldine McEwan)The countryside around Greenway is still quite rural, approached by Devon's famously narrow lanes, and in Agatha's day, when motorcars were few, it was a remote country haven indeed. The best way to get there would have been by the steam trains routes that once ran all across the West Country -- and in fact one of those trains remains, running down the coast from Paignton to Kingswear. Since these trains are such a feature of  Agatha's fiction, that's how we decided to go.

In addition to Victoria, we took along two of her friends: a trio of women now in their 20s who have known each other since childhood. I think of them as the Three Graces, for in intelligence, talent, and beauty (inner and outer) they could teach even those Greek goddesses a thing or two -- but they will appear today only in this acknowledgement of their lovely presence on our journey, as I don't want to infringe on their privacy by posting their pictures without permission.

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The Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway at Paignton Station

Terri Windling photographed by Carol AmosWhen we left the house, it was autumn on Dartmoor, but the season shifted back to late summer as we drove south to Paignton...and then time itself shifted as we boarded the train, taking us back to the 1930s. One of my dresses happens to be from that era (bought years ago at a vintage shop), so I wore it that day in Agatha's honor and imagined our party as characters in her books...preferably without the murderer or murder victim in our midst.

The train runs along the edges of the southern coastline, winding between the fields and beaches of Torbay. The views are rather spectacular, and the steam trailing past and the hooting of the whistle seem familiar from so many old films...

south Devon coast

Torbay

Torbay

Torbay

Howard on the train journey

The train makes a stop at Greenway Halt in the valley below the Greenway estate. Howard and the Graces exited there, then continued on foot through the Greenway woods -- but, alas, I was walking with a cane that day, so I caught the decidedly less romantic shuttle-bus instead. I'd read Janet Morgan's biography of Agatha just the week before, so I thought about her remarkable life as I made my own up to the house. I imagined her beside me, with her much-loved dogs, walking and talking with the formidable energy she sustained into old age...and since this was my daydream, I was hale and hearty, walking just as energetically too.

The view of the Dart from the entrance to Greenways

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, née Miller, came from a privileged background (her father had inherited a fortune) and was raised in a large house in Torquay, a seaside town more elegant and exclusive in her day than it is in ours. Although a large portion of the money was gone by the time her father died when Agatha was 12, she was nonetheless used to a world of large houses, servants, and friends with titles before their names...a world she would later portray (and dissect) so well in her various books. She was a shy, quiet girl who loved animals, music, and the Devon countryside; she loved to swim (and did so all her life) and to tramp across the wilds of Dartmoor. She never had a formal education (and barely any schooling at all), a fact that somewhat embarrassed her. Instead, she educated herself by reading her way through her father's library, and then trained as a pharmacist as part of the war effort during the years of World War I. (This gave her a useful understanding of toxic substances!)

Agatha Christie in childhood and youth

Agatha left her beloved Devon for London during her first marriage to Archie Christie, a pilot and war hero -- but the marriage ended abruptly and traumatically when their only child, Rosalind, was seven. Agatha's mother had contracted an illness and died, and while Agatha reeled from this sudden loss, Archie announced he was in love with someone else and wanted a divorce. Divorce was still uncommon then, so this involved public scandal as well as heart-break. In a state of shock from both of these blows, Agatha disappeared for ten dramatic days following a mental breakdown in which she'd lost all memory of who she was. Since she was already a popular novelist at this point, the newspapers went wild over her disappearance -- even going so far as to speculate that the whole thing was a publicity stunt, although this intrusively personal publicity was precisely the kind she loathed.

Agatha with her first husband, Archie Christie, and newspaper coverage of her disappearance

Agatha's second marriage, to archaeologist Max Mallowan, was a much happier one. She'd been very young when she married Archie Christie on the eve of World War I (a time of many over-hasty marriages), and in Max, she'd found a partner who was considerably more compatible: intellectual, adventurous, and interested in everything, just like Agatha. (Archie, by contrast, was a stockbroker whose only real passion was playing golf. He left Agatha for a fellow golfer.)

Agatha and Max met on an archaeological dig in southern Iraq: she was there by invitation (a friend was running the dig); he was a member of the working team. She was 39 years old and already famous; he was 26 and at the start of his career. This unlikely couple fell in love while sharing a harrowing train-and-boat journey back to England, married later that year, then forged a long and successful life together -- divided between periods in Oxford (where he taught), London (where she wrote for the theatre), summers with Rosalind and her family at Greenway, and winters at Max's archaeological digs in the deserts of Syria and Iraq. (Agatha could work anywhere, and simply took her typewriter along.) He went on to become as well regarded in his field as she was in hers, and received a knighthood for it.

Agatha and her lovely second husband, Max Mallowan

Agatha Christie, Max Mallowan, and their dogs

Greenway House (photograph by Derek Harper)

Max and Agatha bought Greenway in 1938. "‘One day we saw that a house was up for sale that I had known when I was young," Agatha wrote in her autobiography. "So we went over to Greenway, and very beautiful the house and grounds were. A white Georgian house of about 1780 or 90, with woods sweeping down to the Dart below, and a lot of fine shrubs and trees -- the ideal house, a dream house...."

In the gardens at Greenway

Greenway

Autumn flowers at Greenway

Although they didn't live there year-round, Greenway was always bustling with life: Rosalind and her family spent a great deal of time there, family friends were urged to go and stay (Agatha had always been generous this way), and the staff was encouraged to make use of the whole house whenever the family wasn't around. Agatha often said that Greenway was her true home.

The family room at Greenway

Agatha writing in the corner of her bedroom, and her bedroom today

Agatha died at the age of 86, world famous, much loved, and with her family around her. Max died two years later, and the Greenway estate was passed down to Rosalind and her son. They, in turn, passed the house and all its contents to the National Trust, under strict conditions: It was not to be turned into a commercial "Agatha Christie theme park," but left to look just as it did when Agatha lived and worked there -- the same books on the shelves, the same art on the walls, the same dishes in the cupboards of its large country kitchen, the same black typewriting poised on the desk, ready for her next story

Although grand from the outside, when you step through Greenway's door it doesn't feel like a show piece; it still feels like a warm, cluttered, book-filled family home...albeit the home of an unusually well-traveled family, stuffed with curios and artifacts gathered from all around the word.

A corner of Agatha Christie's library

Agatha's clothes, and family pictures on the piano

Agatha Christie's books

Despite Greenway's spaciousness, Agatha's office is squeezed into an endearingly small room...although in fact she wrote all over house: in the library, in the corner of the bedroom, in the living room amid the tumult of family life.

One of the things I admire about her is that she wasn't precious about her writing. She took it seriously (and expected others to do so too), yet she was always a consummate professional: she simply sat down and worked -- in trains, on boats, in hotel rooms, in tents under the Middle Eastern stars. Wherever she was, she observed life around her, took it all in, and then sat down and turned it into stories.

"There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional," she wrote in her autobiography. "I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well."

But she always wrote well, at least until the final years when her powers began to fail -- and even then, she concocted characters and plots so vivid that even her lesser works are engaging, suspenseful, and well worth reading.

Books above Agatha's desk

Agatha Christie's desk

Agatha's typewrite

Agatha Christie's typewriter

Agatha Christie's office window at Greenway

After wandering through the house, Howard and I found a bench outside and sat in the warmth of the lowering sun, while from the house we could hear the faint notes of someone playing Agatha's piano. We wondered aloud what it would be like to live and work in place so peaceful, so beautiful....

And then we remembered that we do. Okay, ours is a plain little house, a simple, sturdy workman's dwelling from the Edwardian era, so small that the entire thing could probably fit into Agatha's living room. But we, too, are surrounded by the green beauty of Devon; and we, too, step through the door into a warm, cluttered, book-filled family home...albeit a much more humble one.

And suddenly we were eager to head back there. We gathered the Graces, and made for the train.

Leaving Greenway

Terri Winding & Howard Gayton on the Paignton Dartmouth Steam RailwayPhotographs are identified in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) The majority of the photographs are mine, but when they're not, credits are listed. A related previous post: "On Poirot and the Pup" (2012).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

John Dowland 'First booke of songes or ayres' London, 1603

I'm in the mood for a little John Dowland this morning, so I hope you are too....

Above, Dowland's "A Fancy," performed by the great English lutenist Julian Bream, the very best  of Dowland's contemporary interpreters. His classic album Lute Music of John Dowland, recorded in a Dorset chapel in 1976, introduced many people to Dowland's compositions, and to Early Music in general.

Below, Dowland's "Lachrimae Pavan," performed on the classical guitar by Nataly Makovskaya. The piece was composed sometime before 1596 for solo lute, and then re-appeared as a song, "Flow My Tears," in Dowland's Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (1600). This guitar version is perfectly lovely.

Above, "Weep You No More Sad Fountains," from Dowland's Third and Last Booke of Songes or Ayres, 1603 -- which, fortunately, wasn't his last at all. The song is performed by the English folk & Early Music duo Ben Walker and Josienne Clarke, whose CDs I've been listening to so much lately that they've become the soundtrack of my summer and autumn. The folk end of their repertoire was featured here earlier this year, and also back in 2013.

Below, "Now, O Now I Needs Must Part" from Dowland's First Book Of Songs Or Ayres, 1597 -- performed by Les Canards Chantants, a choral group from America dedicated to Renaissance polyphony. Although they're based in Philadelphia, the video was filmed on a steam train on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in the north of England. They say: "See if you can spot the station used as 'Hogsmeade' in the Harry Potter movie. All aboard the Hogwarts Express!"

As it happens, I've been on a steam train recently too, one that runs along the south Devon coast between Paignton and Kingswear. I'll tell you more about that tomorrow....