Monday, January 21, 2013


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
-Marcel Proust

Picking up the oil lamp and walking across the room, Anna deftly set the lamp upon the ebony grand piano.  The light revealed a painting that had been hidden in a dark corner.  The girls noticed the shantyboats and were drawn to it.  The scene was painted in deep winter, mostly in shades of blue and gray.  The shantyboats alone gave the painting a feeling of warmth, even though they appeared to be frozen in a small willow protected inlet where the ice was covered with snow.  Everything looked bitterly cold except for the soft orange light in one of the windows of a boat, and a curl of smoke rising from a chimney pipe.

"Look, someone is up cooking breakfast," offered Emily.

"I can almost smell the bacon and eggs," said Kellie throwing Em a mischievous glance.

Hannah had a cozy feeling looking at the painting.  "You did this painting?  It's wonderful!"

Harlan smiled.  After a few years of study, he turned his back on art school and the trends in painting.  But all of his life he continued earnestly in a direction with his work that was his alone.  For Harlan, a day did not feel complete unless he had spent some time painting or working on a woodblock print.  "Painting, music, reading, and other high endeavors are a part of our daily living.  You could call it life as art, but that may sound a bit strange to you."  

"I might get it though," Kellie mused.  "Grandma has a favorite poem that says something about allowing the beautiful to grow up through the commonplace."

Harlan and Anna saw the girls to be thoughtful.  In her years of working with children, Anna found them often underestimated and misunderstood.  They had so many worthwhile things to say.

"It's our time for some music."  Harlan picked up the violin.

They chose some Brahms to play, and even though the violin didn't sound well tuned, Anna wrapped the music together with skillful piano accompaniment.  The girls saw their pleasure and shared in it.  When the music and clapping stopped, Kellie sleepily offered, "Do you think we should add something to the entertainment?"

"Please do.  We don't get many offers for that."

Sitting next to the fire while the music was played, words found their way into Kellie's head.  
"I've thought of a poem, or whatever you want to call it."

She built a fire and kept it burning
It kept her warm all night...
The giving fire

Next day came freezing cold.
She asked the ashes, "If I give you what I have, will your fire come back?"
The fire asked for ice, for it knew she had nothing more.
From that day, forever she was warm.
The giving fire.

"Your words show imagination," Said Anna.  "I hope you are writing them down."

"Sometimes I do.  When the three of us are together, if we're not with the horses, we like to put on plays.  We have a closet full of old clothes and props we've collected.  It's fun."

With the mention of plays, Emily wanted to do a skit based on one of Aesop's fables called The Sun and the Wind.  Em made her debut in it when she was very tiny.  They knew their parts by heart, so the short skit was soon over with everyone laughing and clapping at the brief but high drama.

"Here's one more to sleep on."  Anna read from her notebook of quotes.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.  One is evil.  It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good.  It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandson thought about it and then asked the grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

The day had been full and satisfying.  Anna helped the girls prepare for the night while Harlan pulled out the guest bed.  It went unnoticed during the day when it was upright and fit in place against a wall appearing to be an unadorned corner of the room.  Anna and Harlan used the bedroom a few steps above the living room behind the fireplace.

"Most of our guests enjoy sleeping in front of the fire", Anna assured them.  "No matter how hot the day has been, it can get chilly and damp enough during the night to make a small fire pleasant.  Besides, it's comforting as a nightlight.  Feel free to add a little wood any time during the night.  It's right here.  If you forget the fire, that's fine too.  Goodnight!

*The painting described in this chapter can be seen in the collection at Hanover College in Indiana.  There is also a very nice plate of the painting in Wendell Berry's biography, Harlan Hubbard, Life and Work.  

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