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I stopped at the library on my way to work last week and emerged with a yummy stack of new books. I’ve been a weekly library patron for about 44 years. I read in the bathtub, in bed before I go to sleep and often first thing in the morning, and on my 45 minute bus ride to and from work.
One of the books I got (and am more than halfway through) is one of those rare, self-affirming, possibly life-altering reads. Quiet by Susan Cain. The cover attracted me. Less is more. With its title and minimalist cover,
I expected the book to be thoughtful, well-researched and enlightening.
That’s the sound of your thoughts.
If you are happy with what you hear,
you may be an introvert.
For too long, those who are naturally quiet,
serious or sensitive have been overlooked.
The loudest have taken over – even if they have nothing to say.
It’s time for everyone to listen. It’s time to harness the power of introverts.
It’s time for Quiet.
I’m not necessarily learning anything new from this book. I’ve known that I’m an introvert for much of my life. Although it’s been a painful journey at times, it has been an amazing voyage of self-discovery. I’m familiar with Carl Jung and the Meyers-Briggs and have read Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person. From my undergraduate coursework in Psychology and my graduate studies in Counseling Psychology, I am familiar with many of the research studies that Susan Cain cites. I’ve done several workshops on the Enneagram (I’m a Type 4 – the Artist/Romantic/Individualist) and feel comfortable with my natural tendency towards introversion.
What I am really enjoying is how Cain ties all of these strands together and keeps stating the value and power of introverts. It’s bringing all of my insights and positive feelings about being deep and quiet to the fore. She also writes about blogging and online community/collaboration, how very much it suits us thoughtful, quiet types. Somehow, reading this book at this time in my life is enabling me to proudly carry the banner of ‘I’m an introvert and I’m OK!’
I went to the gym yesterday morning to work out. (I like my Sunday morning weight lifting sessions, as I am usually one of the few people there!). I made sure to take my camera because I noticed on Friday some trees just outside covered with plump red berries being foraged by blackbirds. After my session, I lingered outside and took some photographs. There was a group of blokes shouting and playing some loud game with a ball, football or rugby, on the pitch outside the sports centre. A couple of people came out of the gym and looked at me curiously. I just waved and went back to observing the trees and birds. Sometimes I feel a bit odd, stopping to stare and dream about things. But yesterday I realised the ball players are a bunch of extroverts doing their thing and here I am, an introvert, doing my thing.
I thought about a design I love by William Morris called ‘The Strawberry Thief’
and how the three birds who were squabbling in one of the 5 trees were the brash extroverts of the tribe, whilst the lone bird quietly going back and forth between hedgerow and another tree may well be an introvert blackbird. One of the things I learned in Quiet is that the introversion/extroversion spectrum spans animal groups too.
I was using my little Pentax Optio 40 which slips right into my pocket. Maybe if I had a bigger camera with a zoom lens I’d get a better photo, but I really don’t want the hassle of carrying bulky camera equipment around and the fuss of changing lenses.
What I thought are berries are actually ‘haws’, the autumn fruit of the hawthorn tree. In Irish folklore the Hawthorn is sometimes referred to as the fairy bush, due to the belief that fairy spirits inhabit the tree as guardians, and since early times it has always been considered bad luck to cut or damage the tree in fear of offending them.
Some folks make jelly or wine from them. This recipe for Chili Hawthorn Dipping Sauce looks great, but I’m not really a jelly maker.
I thought about the coming of winter and stocking up the larder. One of my weekend plans is to make pomegranate liqueur which will be ready by the winter solstice. I heard the steady clip-clop of hooves and waited for a horse and rider to pass by before I set off home to have a hot bath, read some more of my book and then turn my attention to pomegranates.
This is very exciting! I met up with Bonnie McCaffery at the Festival of Quilts and she snapped a really nice photo of me and my bed.
Bonnie is a great friend of mine, whom I meet up with for a few hours at a time when she’s here in the UK teaching or filming vidcasts. Bonnie was filming video of quilts at the show for Luana Rubin of eQuilter.com and I was interviewed by Luana!
After the Festival of Quilts, Steve and I broke down the bed, collected Bonnie and we all came down to Devon for a few days.
Some friends of ours let us use their property to photograph ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams’ in the woods. It was the perfect setting and a beautiful day with sunlight twinkling through the trees.
We got some fantastic photographs from the day. Here are a couple.
I commissioned Bonnie to make a short film of me telling the story of ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams’, from the making of the bed frame when I was a student at the Chippendale International School of Furniture through to all of the symbolism in the headboard and bed quilts. At the end, the secret of the hidden valance is revealed. Even though Bonnie lives in America, through the magic of the internet, we’ll be able to keep in touch while she’s producing the video. I’m really looking forward to seeing it sometime in 2013!
On day two, we turned my living room into a photography studio and Bonnie took some amazing portrait photographs of me. I’m saving those for another post.
The work on my commission is going really well. I’ve been working on it most days when I’m at home. I went on a walk ‘around the block’ on Monday, to have another look at hedgerow leaves before I stitched many more of them down. I especially wanted to find some hawthorn leaves and berries, just to be sure of them.
I live in a Dartmoor town which is surrounded by fields and moorland. One of my favourite walks begins by heading west out of the town and after about 5 minutes, I reach a public footpath. I always feel like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole!
There are some fantastic tree roots on either side.
The footpath opens up into a field which usually has livestock in it. Right now it’s sheep.
A bit further on were some beautiful Devon Ruby cattle
Further on, I paused for a view of Moretonhampstead, my hometown.
Some of the fields are scattered with late summer daisies and clover.
The latter half of my circuit is along a paved single track road, with a few passing places. I usually meet at least one car, tractor or person on horseback. I love the stretches where the trees meet overhead, especially on a hot, sunny day!
Long before paved roads and signs, this granite cross has marked this intersection
One the last leg of my journey, the early evening sun lit the foliage from behind.
By the way, I’ve been looking into the Celtic meaning of the trees whose leaves I’ve used to frame my Green Woman — hawthorn is a symbol of union of opposites, and serves as a message for us to be more accepting of the unconventional.
I usually run along this circuit and enjoy each beautiful view,
but it’s great to walk it with my camera and take the time to peer and notice all of the small, beautiful details.
Moretonhampstead all decked out with summer flowers and bunting for the annual Carnival.
Finally . . .
Over Lent, I went on an online retreat/journey with the Desert Mothers and Fathers. Along the way, I was invited to consider the three virtues or practices in my life right now which feel essential for cultivating my connection to Self and God.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been practising the virtues of Stability, Patience and Presence. As an EdgeDancer and someone who for many years sought Home over the next horizon, these don’t come easily to me. But I am learning to trick my small self and ‘just try them for a moment’ and before I know what has happened, I am in the Eternal Now.
I’m playing with practising one or more of the three virtues, when I remember, at different times of my day. For instance, I can practise Patience if I’m working at a slow computer. Or Stability if I want change just for it’s own sake; rather than begin a new activity, I can relax into what I am already doing and really focus on the task at hand. I find that these small awarenesses give me a different perception of time and a deeper connection to everything.
The apple orchard I walk through from my bike parking spot to my bus stop is a great teacher of many things, including these virtues. It is a grounding Presence in the spiral of changing seasons, embodying them and also remaining constant. In November and December, I stop to count the diamond stars shining through the bare lichen covered branches. Now, I find constellations in the blossom laden boughs.
And I know that in the Autumn, the orchard will give us an abundance of sweet and juicy cider, cooking and eating apples, each with a star in the centre.
And again in the Winter, a beautiful lattice through which to view the deep night sky and shining stars.
So please forgive my silence (not that there aren’t hundreds of other diverting, deep, Muse-inducing blogs and things to keep you occupied!) while I’ve been finding a different point of view and new ground beneath my feet.
Momijigari (紅葉狩), from the Japanese momiji (紅葉), “red leaves” or “maple tree” and kari (狩り, “hunting”, is the Japanese tradition of going to visit scenic areas where leaves have turned red in the autumn.
In the English language this phenomenon is known as ‘leaf peeping’. According to Word Spy a leaf peeper (1980) is a tourist who visits New England in autumn to see the changing colours of the foliage. The quest is for the perfect moment — the exact time and location when a leaf peeper will encounter the height of foliage color and experience foliage ecstasy.
Yesterday, Steve and I went up to Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire (Old England) in search of foliage ecstacy. Westonbirt is a 600 acre arboretum in the Cotswolds, with 18,000 rare and beautiful trees. Started in 1839 by Robert Holford, at a time of great excitement in the plant world, with plant-hunters like David Douglas bringing new and exotic species from the farthest reaches of the British Empire. Although Robert Holford never went on expeditions, he probably financed some and the collection contains some of the original plants brought back. It seems likely that Robert, in keeping with wealthy Estate owners of his day created the arboretum for pleasure and as testament to his taste and wealth. Holford’s son, George was responsible for planting many of the rhododendrons and maples for which Westonbirt is so famous today. The arboretum passed to the Forestry Commission in 1956 in lieu of death duties.
In the autumn, the stars of Westonbirt are in the world famous maple collection. After changing into our Wellies, we set off through the Silk Wood to visit the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) trees.
I don’t think I need to say much more than this: ‘ We found our red leaves.’
When I remarked that this bloke has some serious kit, he replied that his camera equipment cost him more than his first house. I personally don’t like to shoot with an SLR because having to stop and change lenses takes me out of the moment and from what I’m experiencing in the world around me. I used Steve’s Fuji Finepix bridge camera for most of these shots. It’s a bit bulkier than my little Pentax Optio A40, but I like the range of settings I can tweak on it. Plus I love the optical viewfinder. Anyhow, I hope that guy got some good shots. Not sure how good a time he was having, because when someone’s dog had the audacity to come up to him and say ‘Hello’ he got really narky.
In the whole universe of colour that I was immersed in, I felt the most deeply moved by the occasional, solitary one or two leaves. The ones who stayed for just that brief moment longer, so that I could stop and look and really see them in their unique and individual beauty.
A shaft of morning sunlight shone from beneath the mantle of cloud
to touch the tops of the still, turning leaves.
Just for a moment
washing them with the promise of the burnished riches
to be found in the depths of autumn;
leaving me alone again in the misty, grey-green morn.
- Melinda Schwakhofer, 2010