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Category Archives: Fun and Games

RABBITS IN JACKETS AND MICE DRESSED NICE

Trundling along through old age this winter, I was pleased to discover that Diana Athill wrote her memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, at the age of 89 and then lived on to the great age of 102!.  My favorite part of her book is where she notes that  children prefer to read and fantasize  about animals, which seem to echo their own feelings  even better than other children.  She cites Tigger, for example, who persists in being “exuberantly bouncy” to the point of annoyance; or Piglet (with whom I always identify) as “an anxious, timid little person, capable of being brave if he absolutely has to be, but only at great cost to himself.” 

When I got to the very last chapter of my very last academic book, at a time when I was clicking my heels at my impending escape from the toxic groves of academe, I extended my learned comparison of American/British/Canadian/Native Peoples poems about goddesses, just for fun, to the topic of Bears.   While Native Peoples liked to claim a Bear who married a Princess as the ancestor who taught them all their wisdom, white Canadians saw bears as archetypes of nature’s terrifying power, Americans took them as objects of the hunt, but the British dressed bears up in little jackets and dresses or dressed to the nines in tweeds and vests, smoking their pipes before a roaring fire.

Although I am way to the left of liberal and pretty free with my opinions on Facebook, I have never received any hostile feedback.  And so I am comfortable creating posts and seeing what my friends are up to.  Somewhere along the line, I seem to have acquired C.R. (Christopher Robin) Milne as a “friend,” and I enjoy his thoughtful posts along with his quotes from his father’s writings.  I don’t have a human avatar but sometimes express my feelings with a picture of an appropriately dressed mouse. Here I am, courageously setting forth on new adventures, intrepid in demeanor though really quite nervous underneath:

Why, for heaven’s sake, a mouse? Mice go way back in my life story, to its very beginning: my mother used to tell me that a darling little mouse poked its head out of her bedroom wastepaper basket to herald the onset of her labor. Always small for my age and young for my class, my nickname at school was “Mighty Mouse,” a sobriquet I did my very best to live up to.

As a child, I was skeptical about” growing up” if that meant ever becoming an adult.  It wasn’t that I thought I was going to die young – I was simply incredulous about turning into alien beings like the “role models” my principal thought it very important for us to meet so that we could consider what it would to be like them “when we grew up.”.

I was especially certain that I was not going to grow up to be Eleanor Roosevelt, who took us seriously and talked very kindly, but who loomed like a vastly tall lighthouse, her torso rising up and up to a balcony of horizontal bosom (I think this had something to do with the undergarments they wore in those days) jutting out over our heads.

That was a time when I climbed every tree like a monkey, tore around the playground like a puppy, and squirmed into cleverly concealed hiding places like a mouse – animal identities with which I was far more comfortable than anything the adult world had to offer.  I simply refused to believe that I would ever become one.

Now that I have nobody but myself to please, I have been revisiting my animal comfort zone. Some years ago, I took to knitting mice.   My all-time favorite was Stuart L. Mouse, named for a New Yorker like me, and here we are dressed up as each other:

A while later, I created Stella Mouse, whose outfit in my knitting book called for a tweedy skirt and cashmere-style sweater and was labelled “Vassar Mouse.”  I gave her to my friend Brenda, but Stuart had fallen in love with Stella so I let him move to her house, where the two of them got up to no good and produced little mouselings all over the place.  When Brenda died, one of her grandchildren spirited Stuart and Stella away to Washington State, where I hope they are living happily ever after and not thrown to the back of somebody’s closet.

In the wintertime, to let my friends know I am going into hibernation for a while, I might post a cozy little scene like this:

When summer comes at last and I invite them to the river for fun and frolics, I might, put this on the invitation:

You might wonder if I am descending into some kind of regressive senescence,  but what I think is really going on is that, after a long life seeing to the needs of  my career, my students, the community, and my family, I am creating a space of comfort to include a few things I missed out on by having to grow up much too soon, one of which was playing with stuffed animals.  I didn’t have my first relationship with such a being until I was twelve years old, and at that age I was ashamed that it might be seen as “babyish” to be spending so much time playing with “Scampy,” a three-inch tall (not very fuzzy) bear figurine that wasn’t technically a stuffed animal at all.

So, it’s not regression as much as compensation that makes me fasten a seat belt around a Mickey Mouse on the passenger seat of my car, read poems out loud to a stuffed lamb in a bow-tie, and picture myself on Facebook as a trepid/intrepid  mouse taking off on yet another terrifying adventure –  I am making up for lost time! 

ON THE MARGINS OF THINGS

All through elementary school, we had a spelling teacher named Miss Affleck.  In her room we were assigned spelling lists of words we needed to memorize, given spelling tests on them, and taught adages like “there is a lie in belief” and “there is a rat in separate.”  Maybe it was to relieve the tediousness of teaching spelling all of the time or just because it was a passionate obsession of hers, Miss Affleck not only treated us to everything she knew about her beloved Middle Ages but also taught us to pen “illuminated manuscripts” of our own with flat nubbed pens, inks in all kinds of splendid colors, and anything we wanted to draw in the margins.

In an article subtitled “When the Edges Take Center Stage,” Anika Burgess motes “countless examples of unusual marginalia” in Medieval manuscripts “monkeys playing the bagpipes, centaurs, knights in combat with snails, naked bishops, and strange human-animal hybrids that seem to defy categorization.”

One day, Miss Affleck brought in illustrations from the Bayeux Tapestry, a huge, long depiction of the Battle of Hastings (1066) in crewel wool embroidery.  I have never been interested in men slaughtering each other, which made up the main theme of the central panel, but along the edges were all kinds of animals (some of them fantastic), hunting scenes, men and women farming, other men and women who seemed to be tumbling all over each other, and lots of birds. 

Although in the 1070s, when the Tapestry was created, women embroiderers had not yet been supplanted by male guilds, they were commissioned to chronicle the standard heroic deeds of male society.  Nevertheless, right out in public, they wove a secret feminine iconography all along the edges of patriarchy, a message of their own.  Many of the Bayeux Tapestry animals, for example, derive from Aesop’s moral fables, and may constitute women Embroiderers’ commentaries on the central action, and is it possible that the delightful scenes of daily Medieval life represent their preference for peacetime pursuits over military violence?   Is it any coincidence that the Tree of Life motif occurs frequently, even when the central panel is strewn with corpses and body parts?

 

Gale Owen-Crocker speculates about these marginalia in an intriguing article about  “Squawk talk: commentary by birds in the Bayeux Tapestry.”

 “At several points the birds in the upper border appear to take a keen interest in the armed knights … but they disappear from the bottom border during the Battle of Hastings.” On the border of the scene depicting King Harold’s defeat, the birds’ necks are all tied in knots, “graphically demonstrating the strangulation of Harold’s prestige and ambition”. (see also Mike Pole in “1066 and the Dead Parrott)

That’s what doodles actually do, don’t they? We scribble them in the margins of our text books and lecture notes to testify to our presence in this deal, providing an edgy commentary and a touch of wry humor, subversive little announcements that we are there, even if merely on the edges of things, with a right to our own quirky takes about what is going on in the middle.    

Will the day come when a critical mass of edgy people pile up in such numbers on the margins of society that the margins implode, and we quirky eccentrics become centric after all?

Spinning Among Fields

One happy summer day, years ago now, I went blueberry picking with my eleven year old grandson.  He was all over the place, leaping from bush to bush, getting  scratched up in the brambles, telling me about this, then telling me about that – enthusiastically imparting whole bunches of information, each item related to another, and very interesting to hear.

As we walked home down the hill, I said

“I notice that you haven’t been taking your ADHD medication for the last couple of days.”

“That’s right. I haven’t – and do you know why?”

“No, tell me,” I answered.

“It’s that I like the way my mind leaps around between this and that.  One thing gives me an idea about another other; when things bounce up against each other, they take me along into whole new places.”

That fruit (I also have ADHD) does not fall far from the tree.  I told him about an article I once wrote called “Spinning Among Fields,” based on the story of how different kinds of sheep took to leaping over fences from one pasture to another, leaving all kinds of wool stuck in the wires so that spinners who came along after them found wool to blend into brand all new colors and textures.

“That’s ME,” shouted my grandson, tearing gleefully down the hill in a whirl of skipping and leaping.

I am currently reading a book by the physicist Carlo Rovelli, who argues against the idea that important scientific discoveries always contradict previous assumptions. There is something of Aristotle’s theory of gravity in Galileo, and there are elements suggesting quantum theory in Einstein. It is in the places where theories abut each other that important breakthroughs occur:

“The borders between theories, disciplines, eras, cultures, peoples and individuals are remarkably porous, and our knowledge is fed by the exchanges across this highly permeable spectrum.”

Or, as Krista Tippett puts it, “Wisdom and wholeness emerge in a moment like this when human beings have to hold seemingly opposing realities in a creative tension and interplay.” There is a problem, however, This kind of interstitial thinking can really irritate people who like to think one thing at a time and are fond of either/or categories.  It got me into all kinds of trouble in a viciously territorial academic world that values loyally clinging to separate disciples; and you see it, more grimly, in the intransigence of power/over people like white supremacists who resist functioning as one among a variety of races.    

The tangential talkers in our family drive our linear thinkers to distraction as we leap from topic to topic in a conversational style they call “always changing the subject.”   So, with profound apologies to them (we have thrashed this all out and are working to communicate better when we are all together), I will be getting on with my wool gathering.  

GOING LIGHTLY, with e.e. cummings

In this world full of ponderous pundits and people who take everything far too seriously, have you noticed how relieved you feel when someone comes along who takes things lightly? 

I was dreadfully serious in my 20s, as many of us are at an age when we need to convince everybody – especially ourselves – that, having passed the age of 21, we are really adult (that was the age of adulthood in the fifties and sixties – it seems to be somewhere over 30 these days). My great passion was poetry then – reading it but, also (ponderously) writing it – and I took modern poets like T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats very seriously.

But then, there was e.e. cummings.  We had not “studied” him in our seminars;  I first encountered him in unusually joyous circumstances, when I was  leaning over the rail of a student ocean liner with the love of my life whom I had just kissed for the first time. 

I was (ostentatiously) carrying a little poetry collection around with me.  Henry leafed through it and then read out loud:

“when faces called flowers float out of the ground

and breathing is wishing and wishing is having –

but keeping is downward and doubting and never

it’s April (yes, April; my darling) it’s spring

yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly

yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be

(yes the mountains are dancing together)”

It fit the moment and the mood, it was light-footed to read, cheerfully anti-authoritarian in its lowercase lettering, and lacking the gloom and doom that had shadowed my life until I met my completely joyous, radically optimistic, guilelessly enthusiastic Henry  boarding in Rotterdam two days before. 

Yonks later, I am growing less and less serious and more and more fond of pure unmitigated silliness.  (No, this is not a second childhood, just an renewed appreciation of fun):

“o by the by

has anybody seen

little you-i

who stood on a green

hill and threw

her wish at blue”

Tthe other day I encountered a serious young mother reproving her little girl for splashing in a mud puddle;  

I just had to lean down and whisper to her:

Isn’t “the world mud-luscious…and puddle wonderful!”

We don’t expect anyone to advise us to become more shallow, but there is a lot to be said for trying not to be so boringly deep in order to walk more lightly on the earth. That was e.e. cummings’ idiosyncratic genius, like when he thanks God

“for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is

 infinite which is yes.

(i who have died and will live again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and love and wings:

and of the gay

great happening illimitable earth)

A Time of Darkness, a Time of Waiting

It grows darker and darker now, for longer and longer.  The sun sets as early as 5 in the afternoon, and the dawn often brings only a narrow golden band that is all too soon absorbed by the grey overhang.   When we have sunshine, it is so fleeting that we rush to put our coats on and go for a walk before it vanishes. More often, the sun is a mere pewter disc, briefly glimpsed and, apparently, ephemeral.

Even if we don’t observe the liturgical season of Advent, we experience advent as a sense of something coming into being, an undisclosed incipience. This time of year, we sink into a sense of waiting and of longing, an ancient yearning for the end of so much darkness.  Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen sees it as a “time for deepening” when an odd mixture of joy and despair shapes our moods and feelings – joy if we are nurtured by a loving community and despair if we find ourselves alone.

Happiness, we are told, springs from attachment – to community, to family, to friends we are fond of or to someone deeply loved.  When people nurture children or fall in love,” writes Maia Szalavitz in an article about why people take opioids, “hormones like oxytocin are released, infusing memories of being together with endorphin-mediated feelings of calm, contentment and satisfaction. This is one way that social contact relieves stress, making bonding a fundamental protector of both mental and physical health.”  Conversely, “when we are far from our loved ones or sense that our relationships are threatened, we feel an anxiety that is not unlike withdrawal from drug.”

In countries like Finland and Denmark, where there are as little as six hours of daylight, Scandinavians seek to ward off winter gloom by producing an atmosphere of “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah), a mood of cozy, warm comfort.  This can be a cup of coffee or tea or cocoa and a good book in your most comfortable chair, or it can be a gathering of friends or family for long winter talks and hilarious games.

To set the mood you need something baking in your oven, fire your fireplace and candles on the mantle, as well as evergreens and glittering ornaments fetched out from (dark) attics and basements.

“He seems very nice,” my mother would say when I brought a suitor home for her inspection, “but is he good for forty years of long winter evenings?” (Reader, he was)

The principal holiday of the season antedates Christian Christmas as the Winter Solstice, when our primitive fears that it will get darker and darker forever are alleviated by the observation that – very gradually and at first barely discernably -the year has turned and our days will get lighter and lighter from now on.  And that is why candles are lit everywhere to welcome the returning light and urge it on its way; and why, in Celtic traditions, we “open wide the guesting door” to family and friends and to all those in need of the solace of company.

When I was growing up, we attended midnight service on Christmas eve.  Full of every kind of expectation, we sat silently in the pitch dark sanctuary until an old chorister named Chauncey appeared at the door to sing, in a deep a capella voice,” Oh come, oh come Emmanuel” as he made his way up the aisle, swinging a dimly lit kerosene lantern.  When he reached the chancel, candles sprang into light all over the church.

I used that memory in my novel Fly Out of the Darkness, so here is that take on Advent, with my wishes for your joyous advent, profound hygge, merry Christmas, and strength for the new year.

Father Robin’s Solstice Sermon – The Worlds We Long For (annispratt.com)

New Worlds, Web Update

“We may not have wings or leaves” like our fellow created beings, writes Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braided Sweetgrass, ” but we humans do have words. Language is our gift and our responsibility. I’ve come to think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land.”

This is a great motto for me when I wonder about my purpose in life since I morphed from a writer of Eco Fiction to a political/environmental columnist for a world-wide publication and a contributor to a newspaper out of Frankfort. Michigan.

So, here we go! For those of you interested in a collection of my columns on the Trump Horrors, the Rise of Republican Fascism, the Nitty-Gritty of Political Organizing, How to Handle Climate Grief, and some of the alternative ways to redeem our good green world that we yearn for in these troubled times, check out my updates to The Worlds We Long For . Then, to cheer yourself up, you can see what my zany family and I have been up to at our Betsie River cabin now that, after long pandemic absence, we are together again!

Birmingham Eccentrics

When I came to Birmingham for the first time in 1958, I thought the local newpaper was named The Birmingham Eccentric because I met so many eccentrics in Birmingham.

First, there was my fiancé’s family. His father was a fan of the Grand Trunk railroad and rode it to work in Detroit, but his great passion was for buying oddball cars – Volkswagens, Citroens, and Peugots – before anyone ever heard of them.

On my first visit, however, I was met at Willow run in an all-American brand, an open top, 1932 De Soto touring car. It was a huge, heavy thing – useful, as I discovered my first Birmingham Christmas, for rescuing hapless drivers of more lightweight vehicles.  When it began to snow, I thought we would settle cozily around the fire.  This was not to be: we buttoned up in layers and went out to the De Soto.  My fiancé and his brother stood on the running boards, but I was assigned to sit on the hood to provide traction while we drove up and down big Beaver in the blizzard, pulling people out of the ditch.

Eccentricity ran in that family: the teetotalling great-grandfather had been an inventor of copper tubing devices, but when he learned, to his chagrin, that they were being used in whisky distillery, he sold the business and moved to Birmingham, where he founded his own religion. I inherited his notebooks with hand written chemical formulas down one side of the page and, upside down on the other, the tents of his oddball sect.

Did I mention that my mother-in-law dried her paper towels in the oven to use again and removed the yolks from hard-boiled eggs to feed to the squirrels? They dropped dead all from overdoses of choresterol, but maybe that was the point?

Then there was Fred the milkman, who stopped for long chats in the kitchen and knew everybody in the neighborhood. And the hermit who lived in the woods across the street. And the family friend, a quirky loner who never saw a doctor and smoked himself to death while his house fell down around him.

Birmingham eccentricity manifested itself in  dizzyingly idiosyncratic housing styles: stucco bungalows next to wooden Cape Cods, mid-century glass modern next to traditional brick ranches.   The houses  conformed, nevertheless, in being of the same size.  Tiny homes ran along certain streets, two and three bedrooms prevailed on others, while, one street over, they might run to four or five. You mostly found real mansions on streets of their own, mainly clustered near the Cranbrook Estate.

The town itself was nice, though the proprietors of the hardware and drugstore and corner market were (you guessed it) somewhat quirky. It was a perfectly ordinary place to shop- you could get an apron at Kresge’s, a modest outfit at Crowley’s, splurge on something fancier at Jacobson’s, and have a chat about books at the Birmingham Bookstore.

Recently, we had an interim minister at our church, and when I asked him if he had walked downtown he threw back his head and laughed  “that’s not a place for people to shop,” he explained.  Birmingham, it seems, has been turned into a high-end outdoor boutique, affordable only by the (very) rich.

I guess you can tell that I like variety and difference and that I find Birmingham’s monochrome population a serious drawback.  Historically segregated by zoning ordnances and redlining, it has been slow to attract a variety of residents.  That was why, when I read about the city’s new plan for multi-unit, affordable housing along our major boulevards, I posted in our neighborhood email about how excited I was at the diversity the new housing might foster.

This was not well received.  I learned that I belonged to the “cancel culture.” I had to ask around about what that meant: if it is monochromatic sameness in race and income I would like to see cancelled,, I plead guilty.  I was asked why I thought other (?) people might want to live among us (?). One woman was convinced that living in Birmingham constitutes the pot at the end of a meritocratic rainbow for which only the wealthy should aspire; she expected her own young relatives to live in Royal Oak until they earned the right to live here.

Fear not: though we are an endangered species, Birmingham still has its eccentrics. For example: this is me writing on a paper plate on my head:

Keep your eyes open- you might spot one coming out of the woodwork anywhere around town.  There are hoarders and hermits, quirky loners and cranks, off-the-grid artists, inventors and oddballs yet dwelling amongst us.

Consider the admirably persistent artist who rose at dawn for years and years to concoct beautiful assemblages of feathers and flowers and pine cones all along the path in Linden Park.  Just yesterday, I discovered that she inspired an apprentice, someone who had covered the top of a sawed off tree trunk with stones, little figures, and decorations with colorful baubles dangling over from an overarching branch.  And then, just a little way further down the path, I found a poem thoughtfully encased in plastic attached to a birdhouse, telling us all about the goldfinches in the park and how they warm out hearts.

Pandemic Autumn

In the spring, I still had a sense of humor.  I could write comic pieces about how my mask frightened the neighbors because I looked like a burglar. Now the weather is cool again, and the same outfit seems sad rather than funny.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year – back to school, fresh writing projects, activist tasks that refresh my spirits and lead to meeting all kinds of new people.   In the fall, even the “familiar strangers” of my daily encounters – sales clerks and grocery baggers, pharmacists and librarians – respond with more than their usual verve in the interactions I have always cherished.

Now it is all deliveries to my porch or the brief, unsatisfactory encounters of curb pickups.

My state of Michigan has managed Covid 19 very well, and I have not caught it, but a gang of white militiamen who are furious about masks, social distancing, and (especially) bar closures laid plans to kidnap our governor.  Our terrifyingly dictatorial President caught the virus, but, far from being sidelined, he has lurched back into the last weeks of his campaign with spooky intensity, wearing a superman undershirt.

There is dread in our world.  There is dread for our world.

There are sleepless nights.  There are tearful mornings. There are long, lonely stretches as the afternoon dark comes early.

A November without Thanksgiving and a winter without Christmas are upon us. We plan to gather around the Zoom hearth and eat our solitary feasts with some (remote) semblance of festivity.  I do feel rather clever to have purchased two electric lap robes for the porch, so that I can still have friends over for a chat.

My neighbors have been more neighborly than before the pandemic: they buy me groceries, swap extra supplies, go for walks and sit on the porch.   My friendship groups offer heartwarming support on Zoom, and I deeply cherish long phone calls with my dearest old friends.  

But we are dying – two of us are gone now (dear Rheba just a few weeks ago) and though I have a good, solid philosophy of mortality  along the lines of “What a life! What a lark,” it doesn’t keep timor mortis from my door every time I have a fever or feel a bit flu-ish.

My father was quite a recluse, as is one of my grandsons; I worry that being shut in so long might turn me into an agoraphobic.   I am unused to company:  last Saturday, with two real people coming over (distanced walk/with masks, distanced porch-sit/with masks) plus a densely populated Zoom meeting, I freaked out and crawled under my bed.

I have always talked to myself, but now I am talking to people who aren’t there.  When dear Rheba died (as Mozart played in a Canadian hospice where she was given an injection to the heart – what verve! what courage!) I fell right over keening, like a ululting Arabian widow.   Then her last words (filled in on the “motto” line of her Canadian end of life form) got through to me –

“Disturb the universe!  Rejoice!”

– So I got to my feet and brought her along on my household chores, chatting all about them with her.

This morning I had a long discussion with the bathroom spider about where he planned to secrete himself while I took my shower.

I bet I am not the only senior citizen arguing with her stuffed animal about who will sleep where in my bed.

I say good morning to the squirrel and to the nuthatch, and goodnight to the moon and the stars and to my picture of the Dalai Lama.

Tenzin Gyatso – 14th Dalai Lama

He is just my age and has this enormously engaging grin; he seems to find everything funny.

I plan to work on that.

Pandemic Lemonade

I haven’t worn a bra in two months.

On my daily walks, I wear a mask.   But nobody else wears a mask. I have a pleasant (6 foot apart) chat with a young woman who is not wearing a mask, at the end of which she says she is a nurse anesthetist at the local hospital. I rush home to wash my mask.

I have always felt naked without lipstick. With a mask over my mouth every time I go out, I don’t need to put on lipstick.

My mask leaves me breathless whenever I walk up hill, and gets all fogged up when I breathe excitedly while birdwatching.

My engagement book reads like Wylie Coyote – Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!

Zoom is intrusive: it lets a whole committee into my home office and then, when they all disagree with me, there is no place to hide.

I discover that I can mute them: all of them!

A dear old friend tells me that, deprived of her volunteer comings and goings, she went “all OCD” and cleaned her garage “right down to the gnat’s eyebrow.”

(I feel no such compulsion)

I am not changed in any way by social isolation. I am not changed in any way by social isolation. But I can no longer get into the bathtub without my rubber ducky.

 You know those bras I haven’t worn?  I cut one up to make two masks, but it sure feels weird to stick my nose where my nipple used to be!

As I wait on the sidewalk for my friend to come out for a (socially distanced) chat, I realize that in my tweed cap, black jacket, mask, and umbrella I look like a robber intent on coshing her. So I devise an outfit consisting of a pink windbreaker, pretty cotton mask, and baseball cap to look less threatening. 

I appear so utterly anonymous that I post it as a joke on Facebook.  In the park a dear friend comes running up to me. “How did you know it was me,” I ask.  “Oh, I recognized you from your Facebook picture!”

An English Village of the Mind

So, yesterday I decided that I needed to get my mind off the pandemic, which seems to have crept into every mental nook and crevice.  When I was little, there was a lovely world I escaped to when things pressed down too hard upon my small shoulders, a world of tall grass and sunlight and the reassuring colloquies among mourning doves in the mulberry tree.

These days, I find solace in novels about life in rural England, quiet little villages where everyone knows everyone.  There are cottages, of course, their front gardens friendly with hollyhocks and roses, and just enough quirky eccentricity to keep the gossip juices flowing.

There is nothing better for this proclivity than Angela Thirkell’s Barshetshire novels,  which natter on about nothing at all and are indistinguishable from each other.  I have shared this taste and our extensive Thirkell ttrove with a good friend, ever since we pounced upon a deceased Englishman’s collection at a local rummage sale.

So, in the present exigency, we swapped the novels we haven’t read (or have forgotten we’ve read) and I’ve been off and away at the end of each and every day of isolation, content in some English village of the mind.

But last night, with months of quarantine yet to come, I realized there was only one Thirkell left on my bedside table.  And then, oh frabjous  joy, I found J.L. Carr’s  A Month in the Country on my Kindle – an old church, a vicar, a shell-shocked World War I veteran – it would do for now. After that, it would be back to my collection of  P.G. Wodehouse and E.F. Benson, who also write the same English village novel over and over about nothing much at all.

Of course, it’s all unrealistic escapism – that’s what makes these novels so comforting in our present perils, which are much more like what went on in the Lincolnshire village my own ancestors escaped from by the skin of their teeth.