Adventures in Nature

Caleb and I recently decided to become members of the local nature center, Sarrett. After living in the Appalachians for four years, we’ve been going through some adventure withdraw up here in (mostly flat) Michigan. While not a mountainous national park with hiking like we are used to, the Sarrett Nature Center provides some lovely board walks and trails through swamp, brush, and wood.

I packed a bag with journal, pen, and book, hoping to find a quiet spot to sit and work or read inspired by the outdoors all around me.  This cool Red Dogwood Bench seemed like the perfect spot, until I sat down, and realized there were far more bugs in inspiration than I am comfortable with. So I walked on. (If you keep moving, they mostly leave you alone.)

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The next bench, too, was buggy. Go figure. I gave up on my plans and decided to snap some pictures instead!

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Unfortunately, Sarrett is, at least at this time of year, little-used, meaning that the birds and frogs and such were so shy it was ridiculous, flying away and jumping into ponds from as much as 10 or 15 feet ahead of me! I had a tiny run in with a garter snake, who of course hid his head in the grass before I could reach the shutter, but other than that – let’s just say I’m grateful that flora has neither the capacity for fear nor the ability to flee that fauna are so fond of!

Sarrett

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All in all, it was a fun and relaxing trip on one of the first truly warm days we’ve had in Michigan this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing what the trails look like with green leaves on all the trees and the plenty that is summertime!

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Not Yet Spring at Spring Institute

april

April has begun, and though the average temperature is still in the 40’s, we’ve at least chased away most of the snow. Even so, when I had the pleasure last week of attending the Michigan Library Association’s Spring Institute – a conference for youth and children’s librarians and library staff – the view from my 15th floor window showed a few too many specks of white falling past.

Since I am so new to library work, last week was both especially fun and increasingly tough. We started the week off by closing the library to train the staff for the catalog migration that was implemented on Wednesday. Then, soon after the migration we discovered that well over 1,000 patron records had been compromised during the switch and went about fixing them. While everyone else continued working on that for the rest of the week, I got to travel up to Battle Creek, MI for Spring Institute, where six talks per day informed me of the latest innovations in the younger generations’ library services. Talk about a lot of learning!

SI was incredibly fun, and I got to meet fun authors like Susin Nielsen and Jim Benton. Nielsen’s book The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen won the MLA Thumbs Up Award this year. (I’ve since read it, and it’s quite good!) I also met many other fun people who work in libraries all over the state of Michigan – including one library that services an entire county, including a real-life ONE ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE that has 30 students K-8th grade! Who knew places like that still existed?

After a full week of workplace learning, I almost feel like I need to learn it all again. So much was crammed into my head in so short a time that it’s hard to tell if anything stuck! But one thing I know for sure that I learned, and won’t be soon forgetting, is that I love that I’ve been given the opportunity to work among such an awesome group of people. Library people are awesome! They are people who love to knit and craft and do cool science-y stuff with kids. They love the work they do and love going to conferences to chat with others who do the same kind of stuff. But they’re also the kind of people who can write the entirety of The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock from memory during a one hour session that doesn’t interest them. Prufrock!

In short I can safely say that for the first time ever I’m glad I work where I do, with the kind of people who really like working there, too. Yay libraries!

What Light Through Yonder “Window” Breaks?

Hobbit Hole

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. …It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.

In the weeks leading up to our marriage, my now husband and I were provided with the opportunity to rent a basement apartment from some friends at a great price. Since we were both unemployed (and still are!) we saw this as a wonderful opportunity. The apartment was mostly furnished, came with all of the necessary appliances, and had a private entry that would allow us to be totally separate from the main house. We took the deal.

Only later did we realize that the private entry was not a walkout, but a basement door that came with it’s own set of outdoor stairs. The apartment, which is otherwise perfect in every way, is entirely below ground – in the entire floor plan there are only two tiny egress windows to let us know when the sun has risen or set, and what the weather might be like above our heads. For a sun-lover like me, the thought of living somewhere with such windows long-term was entirely depressing.

When we reached the apartment last week, we discovered that one of the tiny “windows” is in the bedroom, and the previous inhabitants had covered it with a cardboard cut out for lack of curtain. I nearly panicked when closer inspection revealed that the children who’d lived here had clumsily drawn their sprawling interpretations of the sun, moon, and stars, and labeled the heavenly bodies with awkward letters. Was I moving into a dungeon, where the only way to remember natural light was to draw pictures of the spheres that gave them?

I wasn’t, though, as I discovered on the first morning when I saw the gray light that filled the great room. There wasn’t a lot of it, but it certainly lit the room and helped me to wake up. This light came from the second egress window, in the living room. Through it, when you stand in just the right spot, you can see a bird feeder in the front yard, and the tops of the trees beyond – a happy contrast to the bedroom window. I’ve found that this tiny pane of glass causes me to look out more often than I might have otherwise – I have to make a point to look up and out, to see if I can find any birds, or to find out if the snow has melted.

Which brings me to another of our little burrow’s many benefits – we are never, ever cold. The basement is cozy and warm, despite temperatures that have often reached the negative teens outside.  As I am usually always cold, this is a huge plus. Perhaps I shall just hibernate for the winter? All this snow says that is not a bad idea. It’s a dangerous business going out your door, after all, even if you have a door of your own.

Go West Young Ones: Rocky Mountain National Park

This summer as part of my internship, I got to go on what was likely a once-in-a-lifetime road trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. It was an amazing experience, and we have hundreds of beautiful photos – none of which do justice to the surreal, majestic feeling of being there for real. In spite of this, however, I want to share a handful of photos from the trip and say a few words about them. =)

It’s always surreal to come back from a trip like this, but looking back at these photos, I just feel blessed to have had this opportunity. Spiritual experiences somehow always feel stronger on a mountain top, and these mountaintops were about as high up as you can get in the US. These places are so beautiful in photographs that I want to go back and remind myself how much more lovely they were for real. It is hard  to face the reality that this extra loveliness will live on only in my memory, but reassuring to be reminded that the spiritual experiences of the mountaintop are accessible everyday.

The Beginning of the End

Last fall, as I drove from Williamsburg, Kentucky to Annapolis, Maryland for the last summer vacation of my college career, the last spring road trip home, it struck me that these were Last Things, and that the entire previous semester had been a Last Thing, and almost everything that I did in Williamsburg from then on out would also be a Last Thing. Last check-in, last dorm room, last Welcome Week, last Homecoming, last Patriot games, last Williamsburg hiking trips, last finals week. Not gonna lie, I teared up a little thinking about this during that drive home. As I passed each of the half-dozen colleges I drive by on the interstate during that trip, I realized that I could have gone to any one of them and had a very different experience, but instead I went to Cumberlands, and experienced the things that I was now thinking about leaving behind.

Now, an entire summer later, August has come with a great continuation of Last Things. For the last time, I made that long drive back to UC with visions of an exciting new semester ahead. One last dorm room to decorate, one last class schedule to write out, one last RA staff to get to know and work with.

One last.

And I realized – this is the beginning of the end. And as much as I will feel grown, accomplished, and ready for the next step upon graduation, I know that I will also be sad to leave this place and these people and this time of my life behind. I have never been  a huge fan of endings, and this one seems especially definite. So as this ending begins, I am looking back on the past three years and being thankful I am not quite at the end of it yet – not for another 125 days.

Gillespie Staff 2013

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words?

Some places are more magical when you don’t take pictures of them.

Sometimes, the woods along a little river can be lit by the perfect evening sun so they become the perfect shades of green and sandy brown. Sunlight slides through the spring leaves, peeking out from between the branches, and reflections in the smooth water seem to be another world. Birds chirp and sing, and squirrels bounce from limb to limb, tree to tree, scampering quickly over deep puddles in the path which you must navigate so carefully around. Two small children – a boy and girl – run and laugh with each other in the grassy glade across the stream, the last long beams of the setting sun reaching out toward them to grab hold of their joy before descending behind wooded, budding mountains.

A photo cannot capture this.

Neither can a still, flat photo capture the magic that comes with books. There is magic in all books, but sometimes a bookstore comes along with a name like A Caperson Books that makes the wonder of ordinary bookstores pale and small. The inset door seems made of gold, the entrance to a paradise unattainable, and the hush inside that is broken only by an occasional car heard through the still closing door rests in stark contrast to the full orchestra that has begun to play in your soul, reflecting so much the exuberance that overwhelms your senses so that no outward reaction is even possible.

Books are everywhere. Floor to ceiling, stuffed everywhere they will go, stacked on the floor when the shelves are full. The small square footage of the shop is maximized by shelves that protrude from the walls and curl in, creating many tiny nooks in which a subject (the Civil War, the Great Lakes, Religion) has its very own kingdom, complete with turrets and flying buttresses. Children’s books line longer walls at the very back, providing a larger collection of early 1900’s syndicate volumes than you’ve probably ever seen in one place. Beside them is a staircase where a narrow shelf houses the rare, the ancient, the expensive – the beautiful.

A photo cannot capture all of this. A photo cannot describe the smell. A photo would show books – yes. Many books, for sure. But a photo would not tell you the feel of the pink velvet sitting chairs in the perfectly sunlit reading nook or how they seem to envelop you when you sit in them, bigger than real life, or show you the ripple of the sheer curtains that blow in a divine breeze like waves on the lake shore beach.

Photos are great. The moments in life that are made pale by being frozen in them are magical.

A Castle of Paper and Thought

Have you ever been somewhere that felt too wonderful to be real?  Too impossible to be seen? Too magical to exist?  I have. Yesterday.

The Library of Congress is gorgeous, even just from the outside.  Above the front entrance are the busts of famous writers, Benjamin Franklin in the center as per the designer’s preference, and they look with unblinking eyes over the Capitol and beyond, over the nation, watching and thinking and turning thoughts into written words for all to read, and see what they have seen.  On the ceiling inside are murals and designs so intricate and colorful that the neat, plain rectangular panes at regular intervals are easy to pick out.  On them are printed in gold lettering the names not of kings or politicians or soldiers, but of writers.  An entire building the beauty of which is dedicated to writers!  Who has seen such a thing?  WHITMAN, POE, LONGFELLOW, MILTON… so many names; poets in some rooms and thinkers in others.  Passing underneath a high archway nothing more beautiful could await, one thinks, until it does.  Two upright glass cases face each other, the books behind them much larger than any that would fit on today’s shelves. One is printed, the other an illuminated manuscript.  Their names? The Gutenberg Bible, and the Giant Bible of Mainz.

Upstairs there are exhibits, with documents and artifacts and portraits of Civil War folk, but all the while there are books which run on shelves above a ledge that runs along the ceiling. And then there is Thomas Jefferson’s library.  Reconstructed, of course, but over 6,000 books, from the approximately 6,500 that made up his personal collection, which he sold to Congress, beginning the Library which now holds over 35 million books.

Which leads to the main Reading Room. You can’t go in, but you can see in, and ohmygoodness there are books!  Just the ones you can see from that little window must number in the hundreds of thousands, and that’s not even close to how many there are in the huge rooms that branch off from this main reading room.

Then there are tunnels, under ground which lead to the other two buildings that the Library has, which you must have clearance to enter.  How comforting it is to know that in an increasingly digital age, there are so many books safe in their very own castle.  The tunnels are dimly lit, full of tucked away supplies, custodial closets, and vending machines.  They seem to go along forever, exposed computer wires overhead and grungy tile underfoot.  But an air of mystery is added to the grandeur of the building upstairs, and in mind and memory the Library becomes a place of magic.