Each year at this time, we head for the wilds of Far Western Virginia and our annual church retreat, some of the housing for which is depicted herein (which used to be pretty chilly digs but which now offers baseboard heaters for the 21st century camper).
It’s a weekend that is difficult to describe: certainly there is plenty of serious discussion, reflection, prayer, and singing; but interwoven are hiking, yoga, dancing, hay rides, sessions of watercolor painting and dream work, and time for the more lengthy, intimate conversations for which the Sunday coffee hour is too brief.
The children play community-building games and create spirited art objects that enliven the setting of our closing liturgy. For our daughter’s Middle School group, this meant building and joyously spray-painting enormous colorful internally-illuminated free-standing totems that would be perfectly comfortable on the floor of the Whitney.
Every single year, departure for home is poignant. I post this sketch-memory as a token of gratitude.
For Camp Trinity sketches from past years, please see Holy Water and Stairway to Heaven.
Mary & Chris
We had a few days’ long-anticipated and most welcome end-of-summer R&R at the peaceful lakeside house of dear Martha. Our vacation was baptized with days and nights of amazing and nearly unceasing rain. I took advantage of a brief lull to paint this from the dock—until the rain resumed, adding its own washes.
Walter & Seska
Although the imagery isn’t exactly appropriate for the weather, I post this verse and accompanying painting in honor of the baptismal date (his actual birthdate is unknown) of Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), poet, playwright, freethinker, and influential contemporary of Shakespeare. Anyway, March is just around the corner, so pretty lambs and melodious birds cannot be far off.
The combination of Marlowe’s successful career, yawning gaps in the biographical record, and early mysterious death in a tavern brawl have led to much speculation about his love life, religious views, and supposed alternate career as a government spy. I can’t think why his story hasn’t yet been made into a swashbuckling PBS mini-series.
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of th purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
The painting above was created for the cover of a CD, The Sylvan Court.
Today is the birthday of W.H. Auden (1907-1973), and it is in his honor that I post this rather melancholy but very beautiful poem.
This day is also the 125th anniversary of the dedication in 1885 of the Washington Monument, so for an illustration and mini-history, please see Washington’s Monument.
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.
‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.
‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’
It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.
—W. H. Auden
Here is a verse we sometimes say during Advent before dinner, or as part of our homeschool lesson opening exercises.
Now the twilight of the year
Comes, and Christmas draweth near.
See, across the Advent sky
How the clouds move quietly.
Earth is waiting, wrapped in sleep,
Waiting in a silence deep.
Birds are hid in bush and reed
Flowers are sleeping in their seed.
Through the woodland to and fro
Silent-footed creatures go.
Hedgehog curled in prickly ball
Burrows beneath the leaves that fall.
Man and beast and bird and flower
Waiting for the midnight hour
Waiting for the infant’s birth
Down from Heaven, onto Earth.
This image is available as a high-resolution print on 8.5″ x 11″ archival paper.
Some years ago a group of six of us women took off for the weekend sans husbands and children for an autumn getaway weekend in the Shenadoah Valley. We did a 14-mile hike, clambering through woodlands and ferns, over boulders and streams, pausing at one point to rest in a silent, abandoned apple orchard that swarmed mysteriously with late-season butterflies. But I think the highlight was our arrival at the top of the Big Schloss, which I depict in this watercolor. If you look closely you can count six tiny figures, one of whom is Anne, whose birthday it is today. Happy Birthday, Anne! Remember that view? And remember how good it felt to take off those darn hiking boots and get into a hot shower? Ouch!
To see both left and right views side by side, go here.
I sketched this view across a spread. Tomorrow I post the right side.
Here are cows I sketched on an early morning walk. The lovely and generous cow works hard all the time, transforming grass into milk, butter, and ice cream. Yet she always looks like she’s on vacation.
Whenever I encounter this poem, I receive it as a gentle reminder of the value of cow-ness. I post it here in honor of its author, William Henry Davies (1871-1940), whose birthday it is today.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
—William Henry Davies
Our family spent a morning along the Potomac River at River Farm, the 25-acre headquarters of the American Horticultural Society. The AHS provides gardening information through programs for adults and children, and is a very lovely setting for a quiet stroll. River Farm itself has an interesting history, which I will cover in more detail in a later post.