Favorite Books for Spring

PicMonkey Collage

Springtime brings so much with it from a bounce in your step to a breeze in your hair to a song in your heart. There’s a feeling that can only be described as spring, or perhaps the longing for a true spring on sunny February days before the cold has completely gone like we are having now. What can we do when we want spring so badly but we can’t have it quite yet?

We read, of course! If you’re itching for the perfect book to read this spring, a book that will sing of the season as you do, try the ones below.

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The Iridescence of Birds: A Picture Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan – This picture book about Matise is full of delicate springtime colors that make me want to sing like the birds. The entire book is only two sentences long, but it is lovely in its simplicity and delightful in its message. Parents and educators will also appreciate the educational component as the book explores the life and works of Matisse in the most poetic way imaginable.

1328751On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole – I’m not sure this book is too well known, but I think it should be someone’s life goal to change that. This picture book follows a young girl who grows tired of the grassy green lawn at her house that looks just like the grassy green lawns of all her neighbors. Nothing much happens in her lawn, and it isn’t very interesting. All that changes when she convinces her father to leave part of the yard to grown the next time he mows. From there she decides to plant a tree and even put in a pond. The family’s boring old yard quickly becomes a beautiful park, as well as the envy of all the neighbors – who begin to plant trees of their own. Again, the educational element of this book makes it a great pair for learning about ecosystems or permaculture.

140212The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – Nevermind the snowfall on the cover, this is my number one book for springtime. Why? “Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death. When he shakes his mane, spring shall come again.”

 

 

272752Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman – I think I have mentioned this book on the blog before, but I just love it so much! This tiny book tells the big story of how a community garden is begun and cultivated in a vacant city lot. Each chapter follows a different character and the book truly shows the value of our connection with the earth and with each other.

 

 

402032The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett – A list of springtime books would be incomplete without this classic. I love my copy of Mary Lenox’s story like an old friend, as I remember the wonder with which I read it for the first time. That first desire for a bit of earth in the spring which is the rain falling on the sunshine is etched in the memory of many children, for in no season more than spring are we aware of the Magic all around us. This beloved book tells the story of the awakening earth and the awakening heart.

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I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – This book makes my spirits soar in the same way the spring does, which means I’ve probably talked about this one on the blog before, too. Everyone should read this charming story, but especially writers. To read Cassandra’s diary is to meet a friend and have long, late night conversations with her, finding that you are alike in all of your fears and aspirations.

 

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How are the Roads?

Skunk cabbage

In Michigan, in February, there is one question I hear more than any other question – more even than “How are you doing?” What question is that?

“How are the roads?”

As much as people instinctively respond “good” to the first question, they seem to take an inexplicable joy in relating just how “bad!” their journey was in the snow. The roads were absolutely terrible, barely even cleared, there were at least a dozen cars on the sides of the roads, and visibility was zilch.

Sometimes that sounds like the answer to the other question. The answer we never give.

Winter tends to have the same effect on my creativity as it does on the roads. It’s hard to find inspiration when everything around me is white or slush brown, and there’s no end in sight. It’s hard to be productive when all I want to do is curl up under every blanket we own and hibernate like a bear until spring.

I think it would be better if I forgot about the bear and tried to be more like skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage?

I’d never heard of this plant before moving to Michigan, where it grows freely in the ravine behind my house and my in-laws’ house, and in the local nature center where I like to walk. No one much cares for it, but I think the purple, wild, beak-like flower is really beautiful. What I didn’t know about skunk cabbage until just recently is that it has the ability to generate temperatures 20-60 degrees above the temperature of the air around it.

I know, it’s crazy!

This means that these little green plants started growing in the nature center last week, during the middle of our heaviest, longest snow of the season (so far).

So I want to be a skunk cabbage, and grow, and be green, in February, so I can tell people that the roads are just fine.

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!

Thinking Back

LibraryWorking in a library surrounded by page after page of information, one begins to wonder about things. The kids that come into the library regularly are always the same kids, and even in just the short amount of time that I’ve been around, I’ve gotten to know their faces. i know which kids are good, strong readers, and which ones make a beeline for the graphic novels. (Nothing wrong with that!) I know what each person likes to check out before they place their items on the counter.

As a kid, I was an avid library user, and I took full advantage of my library’s services. I placed holds and found them later on the shelf with my name and the date I needed to pick them up by. (E. Hemphill, 10/23.) I saw the library as my place, and I knew the librarians – which ones I liked and which ones were grouchy. It never occurred to me, however, that those librarians might know who I was, too.

Now I think back and wonder, did they know me like I know the kids who come into my library? Did they notice what I checked out and what I put on hold? Did they know when they rang up my books what my name was and what I liked to read? My childhood library was much bigger than the library where I work, but each time I place a paper around a book and write someone’s name on it for pick up from the holds shelf, I wonder.

I wonder, too, if of all the books that we process and place on the new shelf, one of them might someday have my name on the cover. We see a lot of books come through. Many of them are wonderful, but as many or more I could never bear to read. The thought all aspiring authors have flashes through my mind regularly –

If these people can get published, certainly so can I.

If it were only so simple!

Here’s to libraries, to child readers, and to the ones who grow up to supply the libraries with new books for new readers.

Pensworth 2014

Some of you might be familiar with the annual publication put out by the University of the Cumberlands’ English Department – Pensworth, a journal of student art and writing. Although I did not have the privilege of acting as a student editor this year, I think the journal looks lovely! April is a fitting month for the journal’s publication, for me, because even though I haven’t celebrated Poetry Month this April the fruits of last year’s inspiration made it into the journal. My creative nonfiction piece which won the 2013 Creative Writing Award also appears among the work of many other talented writers! Please enjoy!

You can read last year’s issue here, or visit my post from last April.

P.S. Happy Earth Day! Go plant something! Green

What Blind Men See

PureSometimes everything falls into place in the strangest way you never expected. Sometimes I have nothing to say, no words to write, nothing to share, until in an instant of connectedness I realize that I do, and thoughts pour in from so many places to fill an empty mold of the perfect size and shape that I never knew was there.

Recently I’ve been reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for the first time. Published in 1974 and the recipient of a Pulitzer, Pilgrim is nothing new. Even in 1974, groundbreaking as it was, I believe it was not that the book was new that made it great. Rather, Dillard’s examination and enjoyment of the world, at once both careful and giddy, teaches her readers to look in new ways at what has been there for them to see all along.

Dillard herself learns this lesson in the course of writing Pilgrim, when she learns to see the egg case of a praying mantis. “Now that I can see [them],” she writes, “I’m embarrassed to realize how many I must have missed all along.” Life is often just like this.

She writes, too, about seeing in a literal sense; about how the invention of a successful surgery to be performed on those who suffered from blinding cataracts led to unexpected results that were at once disappointing for the doctors and terrifying for the patients. Concepts such as size, depth, shape, and color, which we learn by exploring objects as babies, are lost to those who are blind from birth. To have their eyes opened to reveal so many colors and shapes and lights that change and move is a strange and startling experience – one that is not always welcome. Some adjust to it and react to the astonishing beauty before them in ways that we who have always seen never do. Dillard wishes these newly-sighted people had been painters, and that we “could all see the color-patches … Eden before Adam gave names.”

At the very same time I have been reading Pilgrim for pleasure, I have been studying John 9, titled in my Bible “Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind.” Despite this bolded text it was not until I heard another woman speak aloud that I realize what this man was going through – thanks to Dillard. Blind for decades, this man has been miraculously healed by a man who, as far as the text says, does nothing but touch his eyes and tell him to go and wash. He does so, and receives his sight – experiences the color-patches and the moving lights that he has no way to comprehend. Despite this shock, he is dragged by the Pharisees to the temple for questioning about the man who healed his eyes.

Dillard argues that even for us who have always had sight there are two ways to see. “When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut.” It is this cameraless, open shutter-gut sight that Dillard seeks when she writes,

“If I thought he could teach me to find [the secret of seeing] and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred desserts after any lunatic at all. … I cannot cause light, I can only stand in it’s beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind.”

Perhaps for the man in John 9, whose eyes have already been opened in a literal sense by the one who causes light, it is easier for him to both stand in the beam and rig his sail. Throughout the questioning, this man stays true to his healer, claiming that Jesus is a prophet of God, who does the will of his father – in spite of the common knowledge that these claims could mark him as an enemy of the Jews. The anger he causes gets him thrown out of the temple, but that’s not the end of the story.

When Jesus heard what happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.” “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!” “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus. – John 9:35-38

Concluding her beautiful passage on the once-blind, Dillard shares how a girl was blindfolded and led to a garden and asked to describe what she saw. “The tree with the lights in it,” she said. As you rest in this Holy week – whether in a literal or figurative sense – think about the once-blind man and his opened eyes. The secret of seeing is within reach – many called Jesus a lunatic, and many followed him. Stand in the beam of the light that he causes, and rejoice that the tree we mourn on Friday has lights in it, and the Light will rise again on Sunday.

April Rain and Resurrection

Due to the events of the past week, I’ve been hesitant to post this. In one day, what had been an observation of a natural occurrence during a rainy April day took on a far different meaning. The spring storms that had been sweet and refreshing became gloomy and cold. This is insensitive, I thought.

But something kept drawing me back. Nagging at me. This week I have heard many people make comments about how things are getting worse all the time and how the recent shootings and bombings are proof that the world is “headed to hell in a hand-basket.” These people shake their heads, expressing fear, anger, and resignation. I have heard and seen just as many comments pointing out how worse things than these happen everyday all over the world and are ignored. These people, indignant, point out that yes, the world is an awful place, but it has always been so and is so everyday – regardless of what the breaking news story on US news networks may be.

The truth is, these people are right. We are, as a planet, headed to hell in a hand-basket. Death and destruction can be found on every continent. But death has been here with us all along, and it will be here until the very end. When that end comes, however, death will be conquered, after the dismantling of every government on earth, and everyone who shares in the hope of Christ will live again without fear of an end.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ – 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 24-27a

Death will be here as long as we are on this awful earth that is full of it. But we needn’t fear it – death has no victory. Rather, it is swallowed up. Defeated. Under His feet.

All that to say that I wrote this poem about April rain, but it turned out to be about some other things, too.
Bodies litter the sidewalk where

the massacre took place. Worms

came, blind, from the ground to live.

Tread lightly

around the carcasses: you too will die

on the concrete instead of the earth.

Puddles drain into dirt, leaving death

and fed grass.