Monday, December 21, 2020


solstice light

A brief note to wish us all well for the winter solstice today.  The turn of the year, here it is again.  One of my very favorite days in the entire calendar, as ancient and holy as it is.  And here comes Christmas too, and the New Year.  May 2020 fade into history and 2021 ring in with truth and justice.

Speaking of solstices.  The book room here at home has one window, partially curtained, facing due north.  In June, at the time of the summer solstice, I always see a ray of light that comes in, for only a few days, as the sun reaches around to that side of the house ever so briefly:

Every year I notice it - What's that light doing in there? - it's usually so dark!  And then I remember, it's the solstice again.  And now, at the winter solstice time, the sunlight slants so low that it finds its way across the south-facing dining room and into the north-facing kitchen (right under the book room).  Our own personal Stonehenge, this wonderful old house we are lucky to inhabit.

Winter light: here's a bit more of it, on nearby Mount Desert Island.  I took this photo on Saturday, when we packed up the picnic basket and went to Seawall for lunch, for my birthday:

I love the light this time of year (and any time of year, really, but winter especially).  It feels like such a gift.  In the bleakness of the short cold days, whatever does choose to shine is more welcome than ever.  Safe and happy holidays, and may the light find you where you live, now and always.  

Sunday, December 06, 2020


small green books and a large green tree

Good morning from the snowy wilds.  Last night's storm lingers, and flakes chase each other around as the wintery sun attempts to break through the clouds.  I have some shoveling to do, but not yet.  It's a good indoor time to share some books and hopefully some good cheer.  We are doing okay here, overall.  Thanksgiving was quiet, just the three of us (Ryan, Hodgie, and yours truly).  The day before, I made a batch of cranberry sauce and a casserole of stuffing, and went straight to leftovers, instead of a big celebratory meal, which didn't feel right.  Although pie was had, rest assured.  This is the beginning of our fourth year of being vegetarian/pescatarian, so my leftovers sandwich was mayo, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and smoked cheddar cheese.  Let me say, it was splendid.  I also made a vegetarian chili with the three sisters: corn, squash, and beans.  And I'm feeling thankful for so many things, in this difficult time: our relative safety and prosperity, and that of our friends and family, and the fact that Ryan can work mostly from home, and me too.  Also beyond grateful that Ryan was called for jury service this month, and right before the trial was due to begin, the accused person confessed.  This is so not the time to be required to sit in a room for hours each day, with other people, even masked and apart.  Now we are planning for the solstice and Christmas at home, by ourselves.  The living room is full of greenery; we found a tree yesterday before the storm began.  It always feels like bringing the wildness of the woods inside, for company:

Decorations soon, after we enjoy the tree as it is for a day or two.  I think we'll leave it up for a long time this year, to lift our spirits in the days and months ahead.  We are going to hunker in for the duration.  I am doing my best to be positive.  Books help.  Here's my current stack:

I carried them downstairs and spread them out on the table and Ryan said, "That's a lot of little green books!"  Yes, the Thoreau Journal set is green, but the spines have faded to earth-brown, and the spines are reinforced in burnt orange.  He might approve.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Before I get into the Journal (and I am into it, as the bookmark in Volume 2 shows), I want to mention what I read before starting it.  This set was edited by Bradford Torrey (Houghton Mifflin 1906), and while I was waiting for it to arrive in mail, after I bought it on eBay, I took a look at the two Bradford Torrey books I have on hand:

I read some of A Florida Sketch-Book (Houghton Mifflin 1894) and meant to start Spring Notes from Tennessee (Houghton Mifflin 1896), but still haven't.  But aren't these covers lovely?  Neither decoration is signed or initialed, but they sure look like the work of Sarah Wyman Whitman.  I've kept these for twenty years, after offering them for sale once at an antiquarian book fair, and not selling them.  Both are inscribed and signed by Torrey:


As is evident, I offered this copy for sale for $125, which seems optimistic, even for those days.  Be that as it may, when I looked at these books again, I got to wondering about this Joseph Edgar Chamberlin person.  Who was he?  What was he?  A newspaperman, in Boston, that's who.  I owned a book of his once, and I think I sold it.  I suspect I did, because I ordered another copy of it, and recognized it when it arrived!  Nomads and Listeners of Joseph Edgar Chamberlin edited by Samuel M. Waxman (Riverside Press 1937) is a memorial collection of his pieces, short essays on this and that, the very last one being A Booklover's Heaven - a paean to the Boston Athenaeum and bookshops.  A taste (p.186):  "...there must be thousands of people in Boston that surely never would want to go to heaven unless they had some sort of inward assurance that there are second-hand book shops there."

This is not an expensive book, so I didn't feel any guilt about buying another copy.  Not the case for the other two Chamberlin books I decided I also needed!  To sit on the shelf with the Torrey books, I bought these:

Chamberlin's two collections, The Listener in the Town and The Listener in the Country (Copeland and Day 1896) are comprised of short essays from the Boston Transcript.  The Town contains Humanity Studies, which are fascinating voyeuristic glances at people seen on the streets of town, and wondered about, and Some Vain Notions and Mental Curiosities, which are simply that.  The Country contains Birds and Beasts, Looking at Mountains, and Some Aspects of Nature.  No wonder he owned Torrey's books.  A similar quiet writing style, about birds and rambles, and perhaps a shared love of Thoreau even.  Unfortunately also a similar kind of quiet racism, in language if not in intent - they may not have recognized it as such.  I had a few problems with Torrey especially, in this regard (as I did with Mark Twain).  But why did I buy this little Chamberlin set, other than to read it?  Well, it's inscribed and signed too:

I'm hiding the price, in the upper right hand corner, because I'm more than a little embarrassed about spending that amount of money for these diminutive volumes.  Ah well, I love them, and they are unique, as inscribed.  Here's the second one:

A more interesting inscription than the first, wouldn't you say?  "With tender memories... where many of these little papers were written."  Hmmm.  Who is this Clara Hutchins?  The googles tell me - if she is this Clara Hutchins, and indeed she may or may not be, I don't know - that she was a widow and her sons were schoolteachers.  Otherwise she has vanished into the ethers of the past.  Except, this:

"One of my friends..." Chamberlin writes.  There are no other pencil markings or markings of any kind in either of these volumes, and yet here in the Country, someone has carefully indicated in pencil this one passage.  Clara?  Is this you?  Counting the repeating song of the whippoorwill?  I hope so.  Nomads and Listeners has a nice frontis portrait of Chamberlin, and he looks like a thoughtful soul, and a bookish friend:

I made significant progess with Chamberlin and Torrey both, then the Thoreau set arrived.  Eleven volumes, shabby but decent reading copies.  The last few volumes of the set are sadly missing.  But eleven should see me through the winter, I hope, and I may be able to turn up some odd volumes to complete the set in the coming months.  If not, I have other options.  I could run out of steam before reaching the end, or I may want to sum up his final few years, if I've had enough by then.  There's a nice edited version of the Journal published by nyrb, that I think I'll get a copy of, just in case.  And as I mentioned last time, much (if not all?) of the Torrey edition of the Journal is available to read online, if I must.  The eleven volumes I do have are around 500 pages each, so I'll have plenty to keep me occupied until the missing volumes become a pressing matter.  When the set arrived I looked with interest at the few pencil markings inside the front covers - someone's initials - then deciphered a greeting card tucked inside the front cover of Volume I:

A Thoreau quote on the card, and address for the Thoreau Lyceum, Concord, on the back.  And inside:

A nice note from Anne McGrath, Thoreau scholar and curator of the Lyceum from 1968-1994.  The initials in each volume in the set belong to Robert Graham (and possibly Robert F. Graham; they are cursive, pencil, and hard to decipher), but who he is I cannot tell, and thus my story of association copies ends.  The stack of little green books is going back upstairs to the book room, and Volume II of the Journal back to the bedside table.  I'll have lots to say at some point soon about the contents of the Journal itself, since I've been reading and taking copious notes for a few weeks now, but that will have to be on another day.  Stay well, friends, and take good care.

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