Notre Dame

Thanks be to God: it was not all lost. But yes. Notre Dame burned yesterday; it was with a voice near tears that Mom told it to us over breakfast. After that, with the queer, helpless, sick feeling that one has about a tragedy one feels deeply but cannot do anything about, a tragedy furthermore which is developing, and which one can learn about the progress of, but cannot predict or affect, we read and looked and followed the news and tried to comprehend it. Before lunch, I think, the spire and roof fell. In the afternoon, we were warned that the cathedral might not be saved at all. One of the two great rectangular towers had caught fire. After dinner, we read with relief that the cathedral was saved. The fire is out now.

Yet it still does not seem real. It seems out of place, out of proportion. Notre Dame has seen so much, has been through so much. It seemed thirty-six hours ago as if Notre Dame had been around for ever so long, and would be around for ever so long: one, five, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred years from now, we or our children could simply go and see it. It would be there. But yesterday—yesterday we faced the very real possibility that it might not be there. That this beautiful work of man’s subcreation, raised to the glory and the worship of God, might no longer be more than a heap of blackened rubbish. It was a strange and horrifying thought, a reminder of our mortality and the mortality of all earthly things.

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Skiing and Freedom Only When Bound


Photo credit: Grandma Dianne

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne, Holy Sonnet XIV

Today at least, these lines of Donne’s are profoundly countercultural. Our idea of freedom is to be ourselves; and quite rightly. But our idea of being ourselves is to eat, drink, play, live, and love however we want, no matter what anyone else or any of their rules tell us to do. We are to follow our hearts, which, too often, turns out to mean whatever impulse we are under at the moment. We are, in short, free to enslave ourselves however we want. But while wrong freedom means bondage, the right bondage means freedom.

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Fireworks Proclamation: Genevieve of Alea is Published!

Dear friends and family:

Maybe, in the last two and a half years, you’ve asked me “What are you working on?” or “What do you like to do?”

If you have, I’ve probably said something like “Well, I’m trying to write a book…” after which which I would try to explain what it was about with varying levels of detail, clarity, and awkwardness.

But now, I get to tell you: it’s done!  After two and a half years, four grades, two drafts, something over 150,000 words,  and much writing growth, it’s done.  (About the 150,000—don’t worry, the final book is under 67,000 words)

It’s done, and it’s published—I chose to self-publish through Amazon, so now you can get Genevieve of Alea either for Kindle or in paperback.

Here’s the official blurb:

She would rather read than sew, ride a horse than look in a mirror, and quote old poetry than new gossip.  Jenny is a princess who loves the idea of adventure—and adventure, it seems, just might be the present she gets for her seventeenth birthday.

Forty ells of black scales
Cut men off from telling tales.
Wings of iron, claws of steel,
Make wounds none can heal.
Eyes of fire full of ire,
A snake’s tongue with poison hung,
A heart of hate that governs fate,
Spines of horn, laugh of scorn,
Fire breath and iron teeth,
The dragon will be brought by Death.

Jenny has always longed for adventure—but can she handle as much adventure as the mysterious message will bring her?

Thank you all so much for all your love and encouragement throughout this long adventure!  Whether you’ve given me a few encouraging words or read one of the story’s iterations, all of your kindness has really helped me reach this point.

Arius, Smoke, and The Cave

On Thursday morning, there was a great deal of smoke in the air—so much smoke that when the sun rose, we could look at it. Not just when the sun’s edge was a golden gem on the horizon, glittering through the trees: when it was half an hour up, we could still look at it, like a dull red light in the grey sky. It was small, strangely and almost frighteningly small, when it was revealed to be only the apparent size of the moon.

But it reminded me of the physiological impossibility Plato describes in the Allegory of the Cave. In this allegory, Plato tells of a people trapped inside a cave, able to see only shadows on the cave’s wall. One of these prisoners is freed, and forced to turn so that he can see the fire and puppets which were making the shadows. At first, though, he is dazzled by the fire, and does not believe that the puppets are half so real as the shadows he has known all his life. Yet despite his resistance, he is brought up out of the cave and into the daylight. Gradually, he is able to see the things of the upper world; shadows first, later things in moonlight, and at last the sunlit world. Then, says Plato,

Last of all, he would be able to look at the Sun and contemplate its nature, not as it appears when reflected in water or any alien medium, but as it is itself in its own domain.

Plato, The Republic, Book VII, trans. Francis MacDonald Cornford
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Anniversary of an Amusingly Traumatic Incident

An excerpt from the journal of Emma Vanderpol on September 29th, 2017.

So. I splashed beef stock on my keyboard today. It has mostly revived, so matters could be worse, but the experience was a somewhat traumatic one for both me and the keyboard.

To set up the story, Mom is not currently here, being gone with Charlotte for a CM conference in Seattle; and Friday is the evening for Theology of the Body. I mean, for the Theology of the Body Class. Anyways, most of the time one parent takes me and the other stays behind, so everything is fine. But now, this leaves no one at home old enough to watch the younger kids successfully. The answer, of course, is fairly obvious: Grandma and Grandpa helpfully came down for dinner so they could watch the kids afterward and Dad could take me to class.

That’s great. A good opportunity for Hannah and Justin to get extra books read to them, a good opportunity for me to show off my cooking skills. But I guess I was feeling a little extra-stressed or wanted to look extra good, because for some reason I decided that I should pull stock out of the freezer and thaw it to use in the pilaf Mom had scheduled along with salmon patties and roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

So far, so good.

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In Which I Visit a Farm and Feel Superfluous

‘Do you ever visit a farm,’ I asked Mom, ‘and get the feeling that you know how to do nothing of any use whatsoever?’

‘I was just thinking about that,’ she said. ‘I’ve read Wendell Berry, and that counts for—exactly nothing.’

We were in the car on Lazy Valley Ranch, in between the barn where you got registered and directed and the u-pick blueberry patch. I don’t know what parts of the surroundings went together, but it was the overall effect that was important to us. The blue-and-white buildings looked practical and aged. A large open shed overflowed with rusty pieces of what, perhaps not having eyes to see with at a brief glance, I can only call junk. More-or-less dry fields held horses, cows, a donkey, and an emu. Another field had several large pieces of equipment in it and hay bales scattered through it. The vehicles looked long and well used. And we felt like unnecessary and inferior city mice.

I’m reading Hannah Coulter right now, Mom just reread it and is reading some of Wendell Berry’s essays, and we’ve both recently read an interview with Berry in the CiRCE Institute’s FORMA magazine. Part of the message we’re getting is about the value and usefulness of small farms, and—in some ways—the unnecessariness or less-wholeness of sophisticated modern ways of life. Going to Lazy Valley Ranch, this farm which looked like something out of Wendell Berry, brought our reading and considering into a new proximity. I at least felt ashamed of being in the Tahoe there among those rusty vehicles, as if it were a faux pas of some sort (though Mom pointed out that that’s rather funny, as many Americans would look distinctly down at our chunky 2005 eight-seater).

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A Saturday Evening Flood

Now all we need are Fire and Earthquake: yesterday evening the washer leaked all through the mudroom and out into the entry and around to the game table, making for Flood, and we have already had Plague: perhaps we can get a complete collection this month. “The May of the Cataclysms.” Mom says she hopes not. Well, still, “sluttishness may come hereafter…”

However that may be, we got to have an adventure this evening—our drawing lesson was adjourned, without formality, by wordless mutual consent, when Hannah pointed out the puddle creeping around the corner. Then we got to spend a while cleaning it up: moving a table and a cabinet, setting things out to dry, laying towels down so we could traverse the flooded rooms, and getting over half a gallon of water off the mudroom floor by sponge and wetted-and-wrung-out towel.‘If I were Pollyanna,’ I said, ‘I’d say that at least the floor was getting well cleaned.’ ‘I was thinking about the same thing,’ Mom said, though she didn’t detail if that included Pollyanna. A good deal of gunk got cleaned out of corners, and the whole mudroom floor got meticulously hand-sponged; none o’ yer in-and-out speed-mopping jobs. The water in the tubs which we wrung sponges and towels into was of the color that water used to become when my siblings and I were in outdoor play-kitchens and wanted to make hot chocolate—though I’ll guess that we tried to keep bits of twig and bark out of our beverages.

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Sunset State Beach, 5/7/18

From our campsite to the sea there are two dunes. The first is high, dirt mixed into its sand, covered in brush and wildflowers: yellow and blue and white lupins, orange-hearted, yellow-edged California poppies, ice-plant like pink sea anemones, blue on a bush reminiscent of rosemary, majestic deep-red thistles, light purple on a low, spreading plant growing at the dune’s seaward base. The second dune, much smaller and gentler, is all of sand, fewer plants growing there, but the lavender-flowered plant is happy. So is one with succulent-like leaves and blooms like small, flat, yellow poppies. They hug the sand closely, but are cheerily bright.

As we come up to the top of each dune, all we can see over its edge is sky and clouds and layered, cris-crossing contrails. It is like walking up to the edge of the world. Then we come up over the sandy crest, and see another blue, a darker one, in the trail’s sand-floored hollow between the bush-topped hillocks covering the dune. A few steps higher, and the edge between the sand and the blue is seamed with white. A little higher still, and there is a broad band of brown between the sea and us. The sea: we can see the real edge of the world now, inasmuch as it has an edge.

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By the Light of a Fast-Fading Moon

On Tuesday, Sky Guide, a handbook-to-the-heavens-on-your-screen which our family uses, sent me a notification that early the next morning there would be a lunar eclipse + blood moon + supermoon. I didn’t take action in the evening, but at two-something a.m. I woke up randomly, looked up times, and set an alarm for around the three-something the eclipse was supposed to start at. When the alarm went off, I got some brothers, my nature journal, and the first pencil-stub I could find, and headed outside. The boys went back in pretty soon, but I stayed out to do my conscientious duty as a Charlotte Mason student—something I do more dutifully in interesting or unusual situations—and wrote about the eclipse as best I could. So here’s a transcription of it—slightly edited, because I wrote it in the wee hours of the morning by bad light—as my first post here; a piece of writing influenced both by the education I’m being given and my ongoing attempts to put words to the world.

1/31/18—Lunar eclipse

~3:50 am

The visible part of the eclipse is just starting, and I’m sitting on the side of the driveway shivering. In addition to undergoing an eclipse, tonight the moon is an extra-large “supermoon.” It is very large and bright and casts distinct shadows. The pencil lines appear to fade in and out rather, but it’s even possible to write by—but a little hard, so please pardon the handwriting. While writing I am noticing the slice cut off the edge of the moon getting larger when I look up. The night is pretty clear, but there’s a thin cloud layer; you can see the moon through it easily, but not many stars are visible and the moon has a faint white halo at about the distance from stretched thumb-tip to pinky-tip held at arm’s length. The edge of earth’s shadow can now be seen to be curved, but it is not nearly as curved as the moon’s bite from the sun last August. Writing is getting dimmer and harder, but it’s nice to have an eclipse you can stare at without special glasses. Now the moon is almost half obscured. It is possible that it has a ruddy tinge—this is supposed to be a blood moon as well—but the visible part of its disk looks dimmer now we I (the boys went back inside ere I started writing) can’t see the whole thing. This writing is hard.

Note at top of the page: the thermometer out back says 37°

Caption by sketch: even harder to draw than to write by scant moon-light!

1/31/18—Lunar eclipse

~4:50 am—After watching for a while, I went back inside for around half an hour, and now wish I hadn’t! When I went inside the mostly white moon was more than half obscured by a dark, somewhat convex shadow. I was noticing dimmer light and more stars. Coming out again, I expected to see no apparent moon or a slight sliver disappearing behind a shadow. One expectation was met, that there would be much less light; the stars look almost new-moon bright, and I wouldn’t be writing this if not for my headlamp. But the moon did not look as I expected! This, I suppose, is where the prognosticated “blood moon” bit comes in; the disk was lit at the bottom and up the edges, as in my drawing above-right—and the lit part was definitely reddish! The red has now faded, and the moon is somewhat dimmer and less lit, I think, than when I came out. Also, it’s sinking—this time I’m sitting on the asphalt above the driveway to be able to see (cold). I can see and recognize Cassiopeia and the big dipper. Cassiopeia has moved from where I saw her at the beginning of the night. I saw Orion at the beginning of the night, but don’t now; I don’t know if he’s set or I’m just in the wrong spot (on a local level) to see him. I saw a meteor a little bit ago!