Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Tag: Nature Writing

The Prince of Tides – Quotes with Page Numbers

From  Suzanne Wingo’s Poems

The Dedication:

Man wonders but God decides
When to kill the Prince of Tides.

Nature Writing in Prince of Tides

“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat. … I could pick a blue crab clean when I was five. I had killed my first deer by the age of seven, and at nine was regularly putting meat on my father’s table. I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. As a boy I was happy above the channels, navigating a small boat between the sandbars with their quiet nation of oysters exposed on the brown flats at the low watermark. I knew every shrimper by name, and they knew me and sounded their horns when they passed me fishing in the river.” [p. 1]

“It was my mother who taught me the southern way of the spirit in its most delicate and intimate forms. My mother believed in the dreams of flowers and animals. Before we went to bed at night as small children, she would reveal to us in her storytelling voice that salmon dreamed of mountain passes and the brown faces of grizzlies hovering over clear rapids. Copperheads, she would say, dreamed of placing their fangs in the shinbones of hunters. Ospreys slept with their feathered, plummeting dreamselves screaming through deep, slow-motion dives toward herring. There were the brute wings of owls in the nightmares of ermine, the downwind approach of timber wolves in the night stillness of elk.

“But we never knew about her dreams, for my mother kept us strangers to her own interior life. We knew that bees dreamed of roses, that roses dreamed of the pale hands of florists, and that spiders dreamed of luna moths adhered to silver webs. As her children, we were the trustees of her dazzling evensongs of the imagination, but we did not now that mothers dreamed.

“Each day she would take us into the forest or garden and invent a name for any animal or flower we passed. A monarch became an ‘orchid-kissing blacklegs’; a field of daffodils in April turned into a ‘dance of the butter ladies bonneted.’ With her attentiveness, my mother could turn a walk around the island into a voyage of purest discovery. Her eyes were our keys to the palace of wildness.

. . .

“Melrose Island was a lozenge-shaped piece of land of twelve hundred acres surrounded on four sides by salt rivers and creeks. The island country where I grew up was a fertile, semitropical archipelago that gradually softened up the ocean for the grand surprise of the continent that followed. Melrose was only one of sixty sea islands in Colleton County. At the eastern edge of the county lay six barrier islands shaped by their daily encounters with the Atlantic. The other sea islands, like Melrose, enscarved by vast expanses of marshland, were the green sanctuaries where brown and white shrimp came to spawn in their given seasons. ” p. 2.

“I began to run down the beach. At first it was controlled, patient, but then I started to push myself, letting it out, until I was sprinting, breaking into a sweat, and gasping for air. If I could hurt the body, I would not notice the coming apart of the soul.

“As I ran, I considered the sad decline of flesh. I struggled o increase the speed and remembered how once I was the fastest quarterback in South Carolina. Blond and swift, I would come out of backfields with linemen thundering toward me in slow-footed ecstasy as I turned the corner and stepped toward the amazing noise of crowds, then lowered my head and dazzled myself with instinctive moves that lived in some fast, sweet place within me. But I never wept in high school games. Now I ran heavily, desperately, away from the wife who had taken a lover because I had failed her as lover, away from the sister too quick with blades, away from the mother who did not understand the awful history of mothers and sons. I was running away from the history, I thought–that bitter, outrageous slice of Americana that was my own failed life–or toward a new phase of that history..” p. 26

“It is an art form to hate New York City properly.

“My sister, Savannah, of course, matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her.” p. 27

“‘People that like to read are always a little fucked up.’ … ‘Savannah’s living proof that writing poetry and reading books causes brain damage.’ p. 28

. . .

[In the book The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy illustrates how three siblings have reacted to something terrible that has happened to them. None of the children are dealing with their pain in a healthy way, and none of them are fully facing what has hurt them. Rather, all three of them have assumed a false persona–a facade that defines them. This facade has become associated with the roles that they play in the dynamics of their family].

Tom’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction [Tom Is the Character Associated with Pat Conroy]

“My designation in the family was normality. I was the balanced child drafted into the ranks for leadership, for coolness under fire, stability. ‘Solid as a rock,’ my mother would describe me to her friends, and I thought the description was perfect. I was courteous, bright, popular, and religious. I was the neutral country, the family Switzerland. I had been married for almost six years, had established my career as teacher and coach, and was living out my life as a mediocre man.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 43-44.

“But it was good to feel the tears try to break through. It was proof I was still alive inside, down deep, where the hurt lay bound and degraded n the cheap, bitter shell of my manhood. My manhood. How I loathed being a man, with its fierce responsibilities, its tally of ceaseless strength, its passionate and stupid bravado. How I hated strength and duty and steadfastness. … Strength was my gift, it was also my act, and I’m sure it’s what will end up killing me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 46

Luke’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

” Luke had been offered the role of [p. 43] strength and simplicity. He had suffered under the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child. He had made a fetish out of his single-minded sense of justice and constancy. …he was the recipient of my father’s sudden furies, the hurt shepherd who drove the flock to safety before he turned to face the storm of my father’s wrath alone. … He had the soul of a fortress…

Savannah’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

“From earliest childhood, Savannah had been chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy. Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle. …. Craziness attacks the softest eyes and gentlest flanks.

. . .

Luke chose to react the way that his mother had reacted and to totally deny that the tragedy had occurred. He pretended or he convinced himself that he had forgotten the incident entirely, but Tom remembers:

[Luke]”‘Mom told us it never happened.’

[Tom]”‘Mom also told us that Dad never beat us. She told us we’re descendants of southern aristocracy. She told us a million things that weren’t true, Luke.’

[Luke]”‘I don’t remember much about that day.’

“I grabbed my brother’s shoulder and pulled him toward me. I whispered brutally in his ear,  ‘I remember everything, Luke. I remember every single detail of that day and every single detail of our whole childhood.’

“‘You swore you would never mention that. We all did. It’s best to forget some things. It’s best to forget that.’

. . .

“‘We’ve pretended too much in our family, Luke, and hidden far too much. I think we’re all going to pay a high price for our inability to face the truth.’ ” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 42-43;

A failure to face the truth is not a solution to a problem. It damages people in a number of ways:

  1. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Numbness
  2. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Cynicism
  3. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Bitterness

[As the book Prince of Tides begins, Savannah has tried to commit suicide, and at first, it appears that a mutually shared wound has affected her more than it did her brothers who preferred not to deal with the issue. But upon further reading, we realize that Savannah is trying to cope through her writing].

[Tom] “‘I just think the truth is leaking out all over her.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 42

[Luke] “‘She’s crazy because she writes.

[Tom] “‘She’s crazy because of what she has to write about.

. . .

[Luke] “‘She should write about what won’t hurt her, what won’t draw out the dogs.’

Tom] “‘She has to write about them, That’s where the poetry comes from. Without them, there’s no poetry.’” p. 43

From  Savannah’s Poems

[This passage describes writing and how words are working within Suzanne]

My navies advance through the language,
destroyers ablaze in high seas.
I soften the island for landings.
With words, I enlist a dark army.
My poems are my war with the world.

I blaze with a deep southern magic.
The bombardiers taxi at noon.
There is screaming and grief in the mansions
and the moon is a heron on fire. Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 47

Denial and Masked Words

[When Tom first meets with Dr. Lowenstein, he is cynical, in an angry sort of way.  Instead of answering Lowenstein’s questions, he makes jokes out of them].

“‘I cannot help your sister if you only answer my questions with jokes or riddles.'” p. 52

In the book The Prince of Tides, generations of Wingos had not listened to their inner warnings. For one reason or another, they had stuffed and suppressed their feelings, and the entire family was ill. Too often, families never move from their frozenness, their numbness, their cynicism, and their bitterness, and they refuse to listen to the reasons why they are angry and they do not allow the anger to move them to another, healing level. But by the end of chapter 3, Tom Wingo dared to take the next step:

“And then the pain summoned me. It came like a pillar of fire behind my eyes. It struck suddenly and hard

“In the perfect stillness, I shut my eyes and lay in the darkness and made a vow to change my life.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 63.

Chapter 4

In chapter 4, two stories twine around each other. While Tom and Savannah Wingo are being born during a South Carolina storm, their father is wounded in Germany. A German priest helps the father and brings him food. The father describes the food:

“Years later, my father would describe with undiminishable wonder the taste of that dark German bread, that slab of precious, hoarded butter smeared across that bread, and the red wine the priest gave him from the bottle. … all of us could taste it again with him, the wine spreading like velvet in our mouths, the bread, fragrant as earth, softening and melting on the tongue, the butter coating the roofs of our mouths….” p. 71

Healing Through Remembering

Chapter 5

[Tom begins to remember his past. Initially, he remembers to help explain Savannah’s problems, but gradually, he remembers as a means to help himself].

“After the first week, there came to be a shape and character to all those New York summer days–those introspective, confessional days when I spun out the history of y dispirited, sorrow-struck family to Savannah’s lovely psychiatrist whose job it was to repair the damage sustained by one member of that family.

“The story grew slowly and as it unfolded I began to feel an interior strength flicker into life. …and each day startled myself with some clear vision of memory I had repressed or forgotten. … Each memory led to another and another until my head blazed with small intricate geometries of illumination.” p. 84.

. . .

“In stillness, I started to keep a journal…. At first, I concentrated only on what was essential to Savannah’s story, but I kept returning to myself, able to tell the story only through y own eyes. I had no right or credibility to interpret the world through her eyes. The best I could do for my sister would be to tell my own story as honestly as I could.

. . .

“But first there had to be a time of renewal, time to master a fresh approach to self-scrutiny. I had lost nearly thirty-seven years to the image I carried of myself. I had ambushed myself by believing, to the letter, my parents’definition of me. They had defined me early on, coined me like a word they had translated on some mysterious hieroglyph, and I had spent my life coming to terms with that specious coinage. My parents had succeeded in making me a stranger to myself. … I allowed them to knead and shape me into the smooth lineaments of their non-pareil child. I adhered to the measurements of their vision. They whistled and I danced like a spaniel in their yard. They wanted a courteous boy and the old southern courtesies flowed out of me in a ceaseless flood. They longed for a stable twin, a pillar of sanity to balance the family structure after they realized Savannah was always going to be their secret shame, their unabsolvable crime. They [p.85]succeeded not only in making me normal but also in making me dull. … I longed for their approval, their applause, their pure uncomplicated love for me, and I looked for it years after I realized they were not even capable of letting me have it. … I needed to reconnect to something I had lost. Somewhere I had lost touch with the kind of man I had the potential of being. I needed to effect a reconciliation with that unborn man and try to coax him gently toward his maturity.

. . .

“I was not comfortable with anyone who was not disapproving of me. No matter how ardently I strove to attain their impossibly high standards for me, I could never do anything entirely right and so I grew accustomed to that climate of inevitable failure. I hated my other, so I got back at her by giving my wife her role. In Sallie, I had formed the woman who would be a subtle, more cunning version of my own mother. Like my mother, my wife had come to feel slightly ashamed of and disappointed in me.

. . .

“Though I hated my father, I expressed that hatred eloquently by imitating his life, by becoming more and more ineffectual daily, by ratifying all the cheerless prophecies my other made for both my father and me. I thought I had succeeded in not becoming a violent man, but even that belief collapsed: My violence was subterranean, unbeheld. It was my silence, my long withdrawals, that I had turned into dangerous things. My viciousness manifested itself in the terrible winter of blue eyes. My wounded stare could bring an ice age into the sunniest, balmiest afternoon. I was about to be thirty-seven years old, and with some aptitude and a little natural ability, I had figured out how to live a perfectly meaningless life, but one that could imperceptibly and inevitably destroy the lives of those around me.

“So I looked to this surprise summer of freedom as a last chance to [p. 86] take my full measure  man, a troubled interregnum before I ventured into the pitfalls and ceremonials of middle age, I wanted, by an act of conscious will, to make it a time of reckoning and, if I was lucky, a time of healing and reconstitution of an eclipsed spirit.

“Through the procedure of remembrance, I would try to heal myself, to gather up the strength I would need to manifest as I guided Dr. Lowenstein along the declivities and versants of the past.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 84-87.

Callenwolde

“Behind the house, a large deciduous forest, circumvallated by a low stone fence, stretched al the way to Briarcliff Road. Thre were ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted along the fence at thousand-foot intervals. Our grandmother informed us in a breathless, conspiratorial voice that ‘very, very rich people’ lived in the property and that under no circumstances were we ever to cross the fence to play in those verboten woods. This was the Candler family, the heirs of Coca-Cola….

“But we would approach that fence after school each day, that deep-green perfumed realm forbidden to us, and smell the money coming through the trees. We longed to glimpse a single member of that noble and enchanted family. But we were children and soon we were climbing the fence and taking a few forbidden steps into the forest, often racing back to the safety of the stone wall. …Slowly , we began to demythologize the outlawed woods. Soon we knew the acreage of that forest better than any Candler ever had. We learned its secrets and boundaries, hid in its groves and arbors, and felt the old thrill of disobedience buoyant in young hearts gallant enough to ignore the strange laws of adults. Surrounded by trees, we hunted squirrels with slingshots, watched from the high branches of trees the lucky Candler children, looking serious and [p. 107] bored, cantering thoroughbreds down forest paths….

“The house was known as Callanwolde.

. . .

“We built a treehouse in one of Callanwolde’s extravagant oaks. … Quails called to us at dusk. A family of gray foxes lived beneath an uprooted cottonwood. We would come to the forest to remember who we were, what we had come from, and where we would be returning.

. . .

“It was early March and the dogwoods were just beginning to bloom. The whole earth shivered with the green tumult of ripening sun-soft days, and we were walking through the woods, looking for box turtles. [p. 108] Savannah saw him first. She froze and pointed at something ahead of us.

“He was standing beside a tree covered with poison sumac, relieving himself. He was the largest, most powerful man I had ever seen, and I had grown up with men of legendary strength who worked around the shrimp docks in Colleton. He grew out of the earth like some fantastic, grotesque tree. His body was thick, marvelous, and colossal. His eyes were blue and vacant. A red beard covered his face, but there was something wrong about him. It was the way he looked at us, far different from the way adults normally studied chidren, that altered us to danger. The three of us felt the menace in his disengaged stare. His eyes did not seem connected to anything human. He zipped up his pants and turned toward us. He was almost seven feet tall. We ran.

“We made it to the stone fence, clambered over it, and ran screaming into our back yard. When we reached the back porch, we saw him standing at the edge of the woods, observing us. The fence we had to climb over barely came to his waist. My mother came out of the back door when she heard our screams. We pointed toward the man in the woods.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 107-109.

Grandpa Wingo – Character Development Through Memorabilia

“Savannnah was the first person who ever said aloud that Grandpa Wingo was crazy.

“But it was a sweet, uncomplicated craziness if that is what it was.” p. 130

“Along the back roads of the rural South, he carried one suitcase filed with his clothing and his barbering tools and another, larger one, brimming with Bibles of all shapes and sizes. The least expensive Bibles were small, black, and utilitarian, the size of children’s shoes. But their print was small and could induce myopia if read too fervently in bad light. He considered it his duty to push the showier lines. The Cadillac of Bibles was one of dyed, milky white Naugahyde with gold tassels to use as page markers. It was sumptuously illustrated by the Biblical paintings of ‘The Great Masters.’ But the crowing glory of this radiant voume was that the spoken words of Jesus of Nazareth were printed in vivid red ink. These most expensive Bibles were invariably snatced up by the poorest families, who purchased them on a generous time-payment plan. In my grandfather’s wake, poor Christians would often have to make the difficult choice between paying the monthly tariff for their flashy white Bible or putting food on their table. ,,. he would never bring himself to repossess a Bible once he had filled out for free the family chronology in the Middle of the book. He believed that no family could feel truly secure or American until they were all named up in a decent Bible where Jesus spoke in red.

. . .

“As a salesman of Bibles, my grandmother became something of a legend in the small-town South. He would hit a mill village or a crossroads town and start going door to door. If a family was no in need of a Bible, then someone in that family was probably in need of a haircut. He would cut a whole family of hair at a group rate. … He spoke of the life of Christ above the razor’s hum and the dense clouds of talcum as he brushed the falling hair fro the necks of squirming boys and girls.” p. 131.

Inherited Family Dysfunction

[Note: Grandpa Wingo’s wife had abandoned her husband and child when the boy was young. She returned years later, but Tom Wingo’s father was raised by a single father, the traveling salesman Grandpa Wingo]

“But as a traveling salesman whose territory covered five southern states, my grandfather often left my father in the lackadaisical. inconsistent care of maids, cousins, maiden aunts, or whomever Amos could rustle up to care for his son. For very different reasons, neither of my grandparents ever got around to the fundamental business of raising their one child. There was something unsponsored, even unreconcilable, about my father’s quarrel with the world. His childhood had been a sanctioned debacle of neglect, and y grandparents were the pale, unindictable executors of my father’s violations against his own children.

“My grandparents were like two mismatched children and their house retained some flavor of both sanctuary and kindergarten for me. When they spoke to each other it was with the deepest civility. There were no real conversations between them; no light, bantering moments, no hints of flirtation, no exchange of gossip. They never seemed to be living together, even after my grandmother’s return. Nothing human interfered with their unexplained affection for each other. I studied their relationship with something approaching awe because I could not figure out what made it work. I felt love between these two people but it was a love without flame or passion. There were no rancors or fevers, no risings or ebbings of the spirit to chart, just a marriage without weather, a stillness, a resignation, just windless days in the Gulf Stream of their quiet aging.

. . .

“I never heard Toalitha or Amos raise their voice. They never spanked us and were almost apologetic when they corrected us in the slightest way. Yet the had created the man who fathered me, who beat me, who beat my mother, who beat my brother and sister, and I could find no explanation or clue in my grandparents’ house. … My mother forbade us to tell anyone outside the family that my father hit any of us. She put the highest premium on what [p. 132] she called ‘family loyalty’ and would tolerate no behavior that struck her as betrayal or sedition. We were not allowed to criticize our father or to complain about his treatment of us. He knocked my brother Luke unconscious three times before Luke was ten. Luke was always the first target, the face he turned to always. My mother was usually hit when she tried to intervene on uke’s behalf. Savannah and I were struck when we tried to pull him off my mother. A cycle was born, accidental and deadly.

“I lived out my childhood thinking my father would one day kill me

“But I dwelt in a world where nothing was explained to children except the supremacy of the concept of loyalty.

“I learned from my mother that loyalty was the pretty face one wore when you based your whole life on a series of egregious lies.

“…I had prayed for God to destroy him….My prayers buried him up o his neck in the marsh flats as I prayed to the moon to make the ocean surge over him, watched the crabs swarm over his face, going for his eyes I learned t kill with my prayers, learned to hate when I should have been praising God. … Whenever I killed a deer, it was my father’s face beneath the rack of horns; it was my father’s heart I cut out and held aloft to the trees; it was my father’s body I strung up and emptied of viscera. I turned myself into something heinous, a crime against nature, … My mother taught us that it was the highest form of loyalty to [p. 133] cover our wounds and smile at the blood we saw in our mirrors,” p. 134

. . .

“If your parents disapprove of you and are cunning with their disapproval, there will never come a new dawn when you can become convinced of your own value. There is no fixing a damaged childhood. The best you can hope for is to make the sucker float. p. 134.

Pat Conroy on New York City

“It is  an art form to hate New York City properly. So far I have always been a featherweight debunker of New York; it takes too much energy and endurance to record the infinite number of ways the city offends me. Were I to list them all, I would full up a book the size of the Manhattan yellow pages, and that would merely the prologue. Every time I submit myself to the snubs and indignities of that swaggering city and set myself adrift among the prodigious crowds, a feeling of displacement, profound and enervating, takes me over, killing all the coded cells of my hard-won singularity. The city marks my soul with a most profane, indelible graffiti. There is too much of too much there. On every visit I find myself standing on the piers, watching the splendid Hudson River flooding by and the noise of the city to my back, and I know what no New Yorker I’ve ever met knows: that this island was once surrounded by deep, extraordinary marshes and estuaries, that an entire complex civilization of a salt marsh lies buried beneath the stone avenues. I do not like cities that dishonor their own marshes.

“My sister, Savannah, of course matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her. It is these damaged birds of paradise, burnt out and sneaking past the mean alleys, that define the city’s most extreme limits for her. She finds beauty in these extremities. She carries in her breast an unshakable fealty to all these damaged veterans who survive New York on the fringes, lawless and without hope, gifted in the black arts. They are the city’s theater for her. She has written about them in her poetry; she has learned some of the black arts herself and knows well their ruined acreage.” p. 27

“Savannah knew she wanted to be a New Yorker long before she knew she wanted to write poetry. She was one of those southerners who were aware from an early age that the South could never be more for them than a fragrant prison administered by a collective of loving but treacherous relatives.” p. 28

. . . .

“It was not until my second week in the city that I developed the first unmistakable symptoms of the New York willies. I always felt an ineluctable guilt when I was just taking it easy in New York when all those grand museums, libraries, plays, concerts, and that whole vast infinitude of cultural opportunities beckoned me with promises of enrichment. I began to have trouble sleeping and felt as if I should be reading the complete works of Proust or learning a foreign language or rolling out my own pasta or taking a course at the New School on the history of film. The city always stimulated some long-dormant gland of self-improvement when I crossed her rivers. I would never feel good enough for New York, but I would always feel better if I was at least taking steps to measure up to her eminent standards.

“When I couldn’t sleep, when the noise of postmidnight traffic proved too dissonant or the past rose up like a pillaged city in the displaced instancy of dreaming, I would rise out of my sister’s bed and dress in the darkness. On my first morning in New York, I had tried to jog to Brooklyn but had only made it to the Bowery, where I stepped over the recumbent shapes of malodorous bums who slept in the vestibules of lamp shops on a street overripe with sconces and chandeliers. ” p. 135

Catholics in the South

“Until 1953 my family were the only Catholics in the town of Colleton. My father’s wartime conversion, the one radical act of the spirit in his lifetime, was a perilous and invigorating voyage on weedy, doctrinal seas. My mother accepted her own conversion without a word of protest. … And such was the nature of my mother’s naivetè that she thought her conversion to Catholicism would mean an automatic rise in her social prestige. She would learn, slowly and painfully, [p. 142] that there is nothing stranger or more alien in the American South than a Roman Catholic.

. . .

“But though the feasted on that succulent corpus of dogma whole hog, they they remained hard-shell Baptists masquerading under the veils and gauderies of an overripe theology.” p. 143

Descriptive Writing – Sense of Place – Setting of the Upstate Area of New York in the James Fenimore Cooper Leatherstocking Tales

susquehana-river-new-york

“As this work professes, in its title-page, to be a descriptive tale, they who will take the trouble to read it may be glad to know how much of its contents is literal fact….But in commencing to describe scenes, and perhaps he may add characters, that were so familiar to his own youth, there was a constant temptation to delineate that which he had known, rather than that which he might have imagined….

“Otsego….lies among those low spurs of the Alleghanies which cover the midland counties of New York, and it is a little east of a meridional line drawn through the centre of the State. As the waters of New York flow either southerly into the Atlantic or northerly into Ontario and its outlet, Otsego Lake, being the source of the Susquehanna, is of necessity among its highest lands….

“Otsego is said to be a word compounded of Ot, a place of meeting, and Sego, or Sago, the ordinary term of salutation used by the Indians of this region. There is a tradition which says that the neighboring tribes were accustomed to meet on the banks of the lake to make their treaties, and otherwise to strengthen their alliances, and which refers the name to this practice.” Pioneers – Introduction

Image result for council rock james fenimore cooper

[Cooper is describing the area of Council Rock, which is the area where he grew up. James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans and several other books that were set in the area around his home in upstate New York. In one of the books, he wrote about how the Native Americans would canoe to a big boulder to meet. This big boulder is Council Rock, which is an actual rock that is very near Cooper’s childhood home. The description of the rock in Cooper’s writing of historical fiction is beautiful and when we know that Cooper had first-hand experiences with the rock, we have little doubt that in writing what is supposedly fiction, Cooper was describing from his own memories.]

“Near the centre of the State of New York lies an extensive district of country whose surface is a succession of hills and dales, or, to speak with greater deference to geographical definitions, of mountains and valleys. It is among these hills that the Delaware takes its rise; and flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs of this region the numerous sources of the Susquehanna meander through the valleys until, uniting their streams, they form one of the proudest rivers of the United States. The mountains are generally arable to the tops, although instances are not wanting where the sides are jutted with rocks that aid greatly in giving to the country that romantic and picturesque character which it so eminently possesses. The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated, with a stream uniformly winding through each. Beautiful and thriving villages are found interspersed along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at those points of the streams which are favorable for manufacturing; and neat and comfortable farms, with every indication of wealth about them, are scattered profusely through the vales, and even to the mountain tops. Roads diverge in every direction from the even and graceful bottoms of the valleys to the most rugged and intricate passes of the hills. …Only forty years have passed since this territory was a wilderness.” Pioneers – Chapter 1 – Opening Lines

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“There was glittering in the atmosphere, as if it was filled with innumerable shining particles; and the noble bay horses that drew the sleigh were covered, in many parts with a coat of hoar-frost. The vapor from their nostrils was seen to issue like smoke; and every object in the view, as well as every arrangement of the travellers, denoted the depth of a winter in the mountains. The harness, which was of a deep, dull black, differing from the glossy varnishing of the present day, was ornamented with enormous plates and buckles of brass, that shone like gold in those transient beams of the sun which found their way obliquely through the tops of the trees. Huge saddles, studded with nails and fitted with cloth that served as blankets to the shoulders of the cattle, supported four high, square-topped turrets, through which the stout reins led from the mouths of the horses to the hands of the driver, who was a negro, of apparently twenty years of age. His face, which nature had colored with a glistening black, was now mottled with the cold, and his large shining eyes filled with tears; a tribute to its power that the keen frosts of those regions always extracted from one of his African origin. Still, there was a smiling expression of good-humor in his happy countenance, that was created by the thoughts of home and a Christmas fireside, with its Christmas frolics. The sleigh was one of those large, comfortable, old-fashioned conveyances, which would admit a whole family within its bosom, but which now contained only two passengers besides the driver. The color of its outside was a modest green, and that of its inside a fiery red, The latter was intended to convey the idea of heat in that cold climate. Large buffalo-skins trimmed around the edges with red cloth cut into festoons, covered the back of the sleigh, and were spread over its bottom and drawn up around the feet of the travellers—one of whom was a man of middle age and the other a female just entering upon womanhood. The former was of a large stature; but the precautions he had taken to guard against the cold left but little of his person exposed to view. A great-coat, that was abundantly ornamented by a profusion of furs, enveloped the whole of his figure excepting the head, which was covered with a cap of mar ten-skins lined with morocco, the sides of which were made to fall, if necessary, and were now drawn close over the ears and fastened beneath his chin with a black rib bon. The top of the cap was surmounted with the tail of the animal whose skin had furnished the rest of the materials, which fell back, not ungracefully, a few inches be hind the head. From beneath this mask were to be seen part of a fine, manly face, and particularly a pair of expressive large blue eyes, that promised extraordinary intellect, covert humor, and great benevolence. The form of his companion was literally hid beneath the garments she wore. There were furs and silks peeping from under a large camlet cloak with a thick flannel lining, that by its cut and size was evidently intended for a masculine wearer. A huge hood of black silk, that was quilted with down, concealed the whole of her head, except at a small opening in front for breath, through which occasionally sparkled a pair of animated jet-black eyes.

“The mountain on which they were journeying was covered with pines that rose without a branch some seventy or eighty feet, and which frequently doubled that height by the addition of the tops. Through the innumerable vistas that opened beneath the lofty trees, the eye could penetrate until it was met by a distant inequality in the ground, or was stopped by a view of the summit of the mountain which lay on the opposite side of the valley to which they were hastening. The dark trunks of the trees rose from the pure white of the snow in regularly formed shafts, until, at a great height, their branches shot forth horizontal limbs, that were covered with the meagre foliage of an evergreen, affording a melancholy contrast to the torpor of nature below. To the travellers there seemed to be no wind; but these pines waved majestically at their topmost boughs, sending forth a dull, plaintive sound that was quite in consonance with the rest of the melancholy scene.” Pioneers – Chapter 1

[This post is a work in progress. I am reading all of the books in the Leatherstocking Tales, and I’ll be adding to these observations]

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Provides A Word Painting of 19th Century Life in the English Lake District – Sense of Place

Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in a journal, and her words paint a brilliant image of what life seemed to her when she and her brother William Wordsworth lived in the English Lake District during the early 19th Century.  She  began the following entry immediately after saying farewell to her brothers John and William, who had departed for Yorkshire.

“The lake looked to me I knew not why dull and melancholy, and the weltering on the shores seemed a heavy sound. I walked as long as I could amongst the stones of the shore. The wood rich in flowers. A beautiful yellow, palish yellow flower, that looked thick round and double, and smelt very sweet–I supposed it was a ranunculus–a crowfoot, the grassy-leaved rabbit toothed white flower, strawberries, geranium–scentless violet, anemones two kinds, orchises, primroses….Met a blind man, driving a very large beautiful bull and a cow–he walked with two sticks. Came home by Clappersgate. The valley very green, many sweet views up to Rydale head….One beautiful view of the bridge, without St. Michael’s….I resolved to write a journal of the time til W. and J. return….” Dorothy Wordsworth Journal Wednesday 14, May 1800.

Nature was important to the Wordsworths. It was a tonic for their spirits, and William Wordsworth said that Nature was his teacher. He was saying that Nature spoke to him and directed his path and that he communed with Nature.

The following was painted by H. Levan.

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“Warm and mild, after a fine night of rain. Transplanted radishes after breakfast, walked to Mr. Gell’s with the books, gathered mosses and plants. The woods extremely beautiful with all autumnal variety and softness…All flowers now are gay and deliciously sweet. All flowers now are gay and deliciously sweet. The primrose still pre-eminent among the later flowers of the spring. Foxgloves very tall, with their heads budding. I went forward round the lake at the foot of Louhrigg fell. I was much amused with the business of a pair of stone chats. Their restless voices as they skimmed along the water following each other their shadows under them, and their returning back to the stones on the shore, chirping with the same unwearied voice. Could not cross the water so I went round by the stepping stones.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 16, May, 1800.

“I went to Ambleside after tea, crossed the stepping stones at the foot of Grasmere and pursued my way on the other side of Rydale andClapppersgate. I sat a long time to watch the hurrying waves and to hear the regularly irregular sound of the dashing waters. The waves round about the little island seemed like a dance of spirits that rose out of the water and to hear the regularly irregular sound of the dashing waters. The waves round about the little island seemed like a dance of spirits and rose out of the water, round its small circumference of shore….and was accompanied by Mrs. Nicholson as far as Rydale. This was very kind but God be thanked I want not society by a moonlight lake….”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Monday 2 June 1800.

Constable

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J.M.W. Turner

“After tea we rowed down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild strawberries, and walked p to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking at the lake, the shores all embrowned with the scorching sun. The ferns were turning yellow, that is here and there one was quite turned. We walked round by Benson’s wood home. The lake was now most still and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky.

Image result for vintage painting crow“We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood as we were floating on the water it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above it called out and the dome of he sky seemed to echo the sound–it called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre a musical bell-like answering to the bird’s hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo after we could see him no longer.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 27 June 1800.

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Rydal Water by E. Longstaff

“A grey evening. About eight o’clock it gathered for rain and I had the scatterings of a shower, but afterwards the lake became of a glassy calmness and all was still. I sat till I could see no longer….” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Saturday2 August 1800.

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Painting by Benjamin Williams

“In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills and the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale–of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine and overhung with partial mists, the green and yellow trees and the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 10 October 1800.

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Henry Britan Willis

“After dinner we walked up Greenhead Gill in search of a sheepfold. We went by Mr. Olliff’s and through his woods. It was a delightful day and the views looked excessively cheerful and beautiful chiefly from Mr. Ollif’s field where our house is to be built. The colors of the mountains soft and rich, with orange fern–the cattle pasturing upon the hill-tops kites sailing in the sky above our heads–sheep bleating and in lines and chains and patterns scattered over the mountains. They come down and feed on the little green islands in the beds of the torrents and so may be swept away….Look down the brook and see the drops rise upwards and sparkle in the air….” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Saturday 11 October 1800.

“We pulled apples after dinner, a large basket full. We walked before tea by Bainriggs to observe the man coloured foliage the oaks dark green with yellow leaves, the birches generally still green, some near the water yellowish. The sycamore crimson and crimson-tufted, the mountain ash a deep orange, the common ash lemon colour but many ashes still fresh in their summer green. Those that were discoloured chiefly near the water.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 12 October 1800.

“The prospect most divinely beautiful–from the seat–all colours, all melting into each other….a very cold frosty air, and a spangled sky in returning….Wytheurn looked very wintry but yet there was a foxglove blossoming by the roadside.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Wednesday 15 October 1800.

“Rydale was very beauiful the surface of the water quite still like a dim mirror. The colours of the large island exquisitely beautiful and the trees still fresh and green were magnified by the mists. …We sat at the two points looking up to Park’s The lowing of the cattle was echoed by a hollow voice in Nab Scar.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 19 October 1800.

“The ash in our garden green, one close to it bare, the next nearly so.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 24 October 1800.

“The coppices now nearly of one brown. An oak tree in a sheltered place…not having lost any of its leaves as quite brown and dry. We did not walk after dinner. It was a fine wild moonlight night.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Monday 27 October 1800.

“A very rainy night….We walked out before dinner to our favourite field. The mists sailed along the mountains and rested upon them enclosing the whole vale….A fine moonlight night when we came home.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Tuesday 28 October 1800.

“A cold rainy morning….The Michaelmas daisy droops, the pansies are full of flowers. The ashes opposite are green all but one but they have lost most of their leaves. The copses are quite brown….A rainy night.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Thursday 6 November 1800

“a rainy morning. A whirlwind came that tossed about the leaves and tore off the still green leaves of the ashes. A fine afternoon. Wm and I walked out a four o’clock. West as far as Rothay Bridge… The country very wintry–some oaks quite bare–others more sheltered with a few green leaves others with o=brown leaves, but the whole face of the country in a winter covering.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Saturday 8 November 1800

“I baked bread. A fine clear frosty morning. We walked after dinner–to Rydale village. Jupiter over the hilltops, the only star like a sun flashed out at intervals from behind a black cloud.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Monday 10 November 1800

“A mild night partly cloudy partly starlight. The cottage lights, the mountains not very distinct.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Tuesday 11 November 1800

“Went upon Helvellyn, glorious  glorious sights. The sea a Carmel. The Scotch mountains beyond the sea to the n=right. Whiteside large and round and very soft and green behind us. Mists above and below and close to us, with the sun amongst them–they shot down to the coves….A soft grey evening–the light of the moon but she did not shine on us.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 25 October 1801

“Mary and I walked as far as Sara’s Gate before supper. We stood there a long time, the whole scene impressive, the mountains indistinct the lake calm and partlyl ruffled–large island, a sweet sound of water falling into the quiet lake. A storm was gathering in Easedale so we returned but the moon came out and opened to us the church and village. Helm Crag in shade, the larger mountains dappled like a sky. We stood long upon the bridge.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Wednesday 18 November 1801

“We….returned by Butterslip How–a frost and wind with bright moonshine. The vale looked spacious and very beautiful–the level meadows seemed very large, and some nearer us unequal ground heaving like sand, the cottages beautiful and quiet. We passed on near which stood a cropped ash with upright forked branches like the devil’s horns frightening a guilty conscience.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 22 November 1801

“As we were going along we were stopped at once, at the distance perhaps of fifty yards from our favourite birch tree. It was yielding to the gusty wind with all its tender twigs, the sun shone upon it and it glanced in the wind like a flying sunshiny shower. It was a tree in shape with stem and branches but it was like a spirit of water. The sun went in and it resumed its purplish appearance the twigs still yielding to the wind but not so visibly to us. The other birch trees that were near it looked bright and cheerful, but it was a creature by its own self among them…. A shower came on when we were at Benson’s. We went through the wood–it became fair–there was a rainbow which spanned the lake from the island house to the foot of Bainriggs. ….Catkins are coming out palm trees budding–the alder with it plum-coloured buds. We came home over the stepping stones. The lake was foamy with white waves. I saw a solitary butterflower in the wood. ….

“In speaking of our walk on Sunday evening the 22nd November I forgot to notice one most impressive sight. It was the moon and the moonlight seen through hurrying driving clouds immediately behind the Stone Man upon the top of the hill on the forest side. Every tooth and every edge of rock was visible, and the Man stood like a giat watching from the roof of a lofty castle. The hill seemed perpendicular from the darkness below it. It was a sight that I could call to mind at any time it was so distinct.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Tuesday 24 November 1801

 

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