Helen Nearing, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, Harlan and Anna Hubbard, and me. Each is a link that forms a full circle of connections for me. From earliest memory, fascination with the rustic life was strong . Growing up in the heart of a huge city like Chicago could not change it. I spent happy hours in the unkept yard of our second story apartment examining weeds in total fascination. In childhood I could be happy making tents and mud pies, but later I found inspiration in others who took the wild path.
Helen Nearing is probably the first one who got my attention via Mother Earth News magazine. Helen and Scott were at the front of the back-to-the-land movement. I read most of the Nearing books and was inspired by their sun-heated greenhouse. I still have and use Helen’s no-cook cookbook, Simple Food For The Good Life. She was a salty gal who spoke her mind. Had to love her.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy came to my attention in the 70’s when a local herb farmer told me about her favorite herb writer. Juliette soon became my favorite too. I didn’t know then that she was one of the first to use holistic veterinary medicine. Her book, Nature’s Children was a constant in the raising of my two children, and herbs later became a big part of my care for horses and dogs. If anyone was the earth-mother type, it was Juliette. We met her at the 1997 HerbFest put on by Frontier Herbs in Norway, Iowa. She was a joy!
It took me over ten years to search out and read every one of her books. But her three booklets of twenty poems each are almost impossible to locate. However, Juliette copied and sent me one of the poems. That was Juliette.
Later it came to my attention that Helen and Juliette knew each other, and well. Helen wrote at least one introduction to one of Juliette’s books. When I learned Helen had a copy of ‘Look! The Wild Swans’, a novel I had been trying hard to find, I wrote Helen about it, and she offered to loan the book to me; leather bound, gold leaf and all! I read it quickly and returned the treasured item.
Offers of some favor to Helen in return were replied to as unneeded, so I sent her Payne Hollow and Shantyboat to read. The Hubbards had come to my attention via Organic Gardening magazine, and their lifestyle was a deep ongoing interest. Her concise reply, 'Thank you, thank you for lending me these fine books. Real river, and real people!' Love, H. So like Helen!
For me, the connections formed full circle.
This poem of mine was published in the Shawnee Hills Review in 2008
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem...
Someone explained this mysterious song is about a girl,
like a rose.
I know about growing up through the concrete,
so soft and sweet...
Am I not being forced like a bulb to bloom in the city too?
So much so, that I seek out patches of earth
and delight in anything alive here.
The Latin beat pulses down from Grandpa's radio
to my given spot in the yard where I have peace to think,
and dig with fury
making spectacular mud pies.
Music adds drama to this place where I have been planted,
low and closely rooted to the ground
where observation is so intimate, almost secret,
and I can concoct anything I please.
How delicious is the scent of the earth!
How satisfying to see my collection of empty bottle caps
packed full of fresh dirt:
Miniature tarts and casseroles set down neatly in a row,
waiting to be shared.
Lyrics from "Spanish Harlem" by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector, Atco Records, 1961.