Sunday, April 18, 2010


Divine landscapes

A spring garden with nothing planted in it yet is a beautiful sight. New England folklore says plant your peas on Patriots' Day if you want to harvest them on the Fourth of July. I'll get busy with that. Tomorrow. Because I have declared today a rest day. Ryan is of course out running a road race, but I am here writing and eating oatmeal with raspberries and I don't plan on doing much else today. I might take a walk.

And read. I've been slowly savoring a challenging and beautiful book sent to me by a reader from overseas (thank you, dear R), written by one of my current literary loves, Ronald Blythe. The book is Divine Landscapes: A Pilgrimage Through Britain's Sacred Places (Viking 1986), and in it Blythe travels through scenes of religious literary history, tracking William Langland, John Bunyan, George Herbert, and others, while describing the effects of physical terrain on their writings and spiritual lives. The chapter on Bunyan and The Pilgrim's Progress is particularly fine; entitled How to Make a Pilgrimage Without Leaving Home, it says of Bunyan's hero Christian:

"...his life has remained an astonishing lesson on how an ordinary person can intensify the home scene. Don't get bogged down in it.... Get up and go to the visible heights of love." (p.121)

This book is full of such fine writing. I didn't want the chapter about George Herbert to end. It made me wish that Blythe had written an entire biography of him. Blythe quotes from Herbert's book Outlandish Proverbs, after writing the finest definition of a proverb I've come across:

"...a proverb had its resonance. It was a statement of plain truth which hung around in one's hearing, setting up an intricate kind of thoughtfulness." (p.150)

One of Herbert's proverbs reads: "Building is sweet impoverishing." Oh my, yes. The local proverb about planting peas pales by comparison to some of Herbert's. Many of his are still common parlance today, "Living well is the best revenge," et al.

Speaking of building (and impoverishing), Sunday is also our builder's day of rest. The house is blissfully quiet. It's still too early to plant, even if just by one day. But I've been out admiring my handiwork in the gardens. Here is our little vegetable garden, ready to receive seeds and seedlings. The chives in the foreground are huge, and the forsythia is in full bloom:

Backing up a bit, this is the herb garden I finished yesterday. Once that lumber was gone and the stone set into place, it looked like it had always been there:

A close-up of the herb garden - each bed is about five by seven feet. In it we have more chives, sage, thyme, a tiny tarragon, and some anise hyssop just beginning to show green. I'm going to fill the center with basil and lemon basil, and have flowers over in the right bed, as yet undetermined, maybe nasturtiums with creeping thyme around the edges:

I love the gardens at this early stage of spring, they remind me of carpet pages from medieval illuminated manuscripts, so square and clean and plain against the wildly greening grass. I'll end with this today, from the Blythe book (p.152), a bit of George Herbert's perfect verse about his own beloved gardens:

Nothing we see, but means our good,
As our delight, or as our treasure;
The whole is, either our cupboard of food,
or cabinet of pleasure.


Looks like a great garden. No doubt, you've read Henry Beston's Herbs and the Earth. If not, it's highly recommended. The only thing I knew about Herb was it was a nickname for Herbert- turns out that's not the case :-)

Hi Dan! I do have that Henry Beston book - it's a good one - on the shelf with very favorite cookery books, in the kitchen.

I still haven't planted yet. Perhaps this weekend. Now that the first blackflies are out (I knew I waited for a reason).


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