I’m not really down–it’s spring after all. But my allergies keep me from going outside and I am currently slammed with work–the third revision of the world’s thorniest book on top of a deliverable I haven’t started and is due April 15. My house is a wreck. Boxes from my soon-(but not soon enough)-to-be-renovated home office are in the dining room, library, and our bedroom. My desktop and small laptop computers are infected with viruses (thank you, Facebook!) and will be out of commission for two weeks. My washing machine is leaking during the rinse cycle and "throwing oil", which means a new appliance purchase looming in our future. I like control of my home, my work, and my life.
I want to be free from contract books and go out and plant flowers and wander around downtown Fredericksburg with my notebook. Fill up my creative fount.
Well, I can’t do that now. So rather than whine, I made myself a Happy Basket. I went to Michael’s yesterday and got this sweet eyelet-lined basket and the bunch of tulips, both 40% off. Plus some $1 fun things, like the journal inside the basket. I tied the bunch of tulips to the handle with a wide pink satin ribbon.
Then I filled the basket with treasures: a new issue of Romantic Homes magazine, the bird journal, a pretty pen, a packet of vintage-y Paris-artist notes, and two books: A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel, and Thoreau on Birds. The Paris book I’ve had a while. It has Paris-themed writing exercises that you can apply to your hometown. Though I will be pressed to find a charming footbridge over the Rappahannock River (crossed by throngs of traffic on Route 1), I still want to try the exercises. Not now, but the book is waiting in my Happy Basket.
The Thoreau book is a new treasure, shipped two days ago from Advanced Book Exchange. I admire Thoreau more than anyone else, even Thomas Jefferson. My favorite childhood book is The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton, a treasure-hunt-mystery laced with philosophy from the Alcotts, Emerson, and Thoreau. This was heady stuff for an eleven-year-old and prompted me to declare I was a Transcendentalist, renouncing my Lutheran upbringing (my parents took it in stride–I was famous for being dramatic).
As a kid I was also a birdwatcher and I still am. Not a serious birdwatcher–I’m happy watching the doings of our backyard birds. So to find a book that combined my love of birds and Thoreau . . . ! The bird passages are culled from his numerous journals and Walden. This is what I read before I go to sleep, my Happy Basket perched on my nightstand. Here, Thoreau recorded a walk in a storm:
"To see the larger and wilder birds, you must go forth in the great storms . . . A life of fair-weather walks might never show you the goose sailing on our waters, or the great heron feeding here. When the storm increases, then the great birds that carry the mail of the seasons lay to. To see wild life you must go forth at a wild season." Don’t you love that phrase, "the great birds that carry the mail of the seasons"?
Because it’s spring, I’m reading Thoreau’s spring entries. This is how he described the wood thrush’s song: "Some birds are poets and sing all summer. They are the true singers. Any man can write verses during the love season . . . We are most interested in those birds who sing for the love of music and not of their mates . . . He deepens the significance of all things seen in the light of his strain. He sings to make men take higher and truer views of things. He sings to amend their institutions; to relieve the slave on the plantation and the prisoner in his dungeon; the slave in the house of luxury and the prisoner of his own low thoughts."
I want to write fiction the way Thoreau (and I) watches birds: to touch ordinary events with the extraordinary. If I come within a pinky’s length of Thoreau’s magnificence, I’ll be happy.
I’ll close with his musings on my favorite bird, the Eastern bluebird:
"A mild spring day . . . The air is full of bluebirds."
"The bluebird carries the sky on his back."
"The plaintive spring-restoring peep of the bluebird is occasionally heard."
"The bluebird comes and with his warble drills the ice and sets free the rivers and ponds and frozen ground."
"Throughout the town you may hear them–the blue curls of their warblings–harbingers of serene and warm weather, little azure rills of melody trickling here and there from out of the air . . ."
Pack yourself a Happy Basket with books and notebooks and your camera and a cookie or two. Carry it with you. Go forth into nature and listen for the blue curl of the bluebird’s song, guaranteed to lift low thoughts.