Returning to Maycomb County


“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seethe.”  Isaiah 21:6

The release of Harper Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman was a hot topic of conversation a couple of years ago.  I missed it.  Somehow I was otherwise distracted and so didn’t read anything about it or engage in any conversations other than the passing acknowledgement that it was available.

I came across a hardcover copy last year in a second-hand book store for $5:00.  It sat neglected for months until this last fortnight, when I could not settle into a book after reading a riveting crime novel.  Within moments of realising I was spending time with Atticus and Scout, I was drawn in and satisfactorily engaged.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s blockbuster, has long held a spot high on my list of favourite books.  Having to teach it to reluctant teenagers did not tarnish its lustre.  While I had a significant adjustment to make to the older Scout in Go Set a Watchman I was compensated by recollections of her childhood which provided a good and detailed account of the passage of time in the lives of many of the main characters.

My beloved Atticus, gentle, wise and honourable, who reminds me of my grandfather, was not as forward facing as I’d have liked.  And I’ll admit I was at first a little disoriented and confused by his portrayal, though I was delighted by the large roles of the critical and complex Aunt Zandra and the charming and captivating Uncle John.  I missed Jem and Dill and Calpurnia, though Lee cleverly fed me enough information to propel me forward.  This is not a novel about Atticus, neither perhaps was To Kill a Mockingbird though I made it so.  Go Set a Watchman is a coming of age novel about one Miss Jean Louise Finch. She probably narrated her 1930’s childhood summer at the age she appears in this current novel.

Though the narrative was disturbing and meandering it held my interest. It’s a powerful and brutal bildungsroman.  It’s a brutal coming of age for Scout and a brutal read for devotees who find the idyllic Maycomb ravaged and transformed by historical events.  The ample dialogue caused me some consternation and rereading when I confused speakers. The novel ends satisfactorily with an invitation for Scout to return to Maycomb, to join forces with others, who, through strength of character, righteousness and will, could set the moral compass for Maycomb and be the watchmen of the town.

What was your experience, returning to Maycomb County?

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Satisfying wanderlust at home

Old Mill built 1829 by convict labour

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” ― Anatole France

My current situation does not allow for extended voyages across the sea to distant shores and yet my wanderlust must be sated.

A powerful desire to journey, to sightsee, to expand and grow saw me wandering my city on a very hot and muggy Sunday morning.  It was 33 degrees celsius and, I swear the  humidity was at 90% at 7am.  It was uncomfortable.  It would have been more sensible to stay at home in air-conditioned ease. I have been accused of being too sensible for so long now that I’m starting to resent the title and so, to spite myself, I went out to follow a trail that would take me to some of the interesting historical sites, churches and shrines in my city.

As an art lover I am as easily captivated by architecture as a painting on a gallery wall. I revel in the juxtaposition of old and new as my mind tries to make sense of history in a modern landscape.  I wonder at the skill and the talent of those who design and then build absorbing edifices.  I marvel at how function and aesthetics combine.

The trail did not take me to previously uncharted territory.  I was familiar with all the streets and lanes I found myself in, though wandering about on foot provides a different perspective from which to view the canvas. You notice things, you can take longer to appreciate the placement of structures in the environment. Being one of very few crazy people out on this particular Sunday, I had many places to myself for the majority of the walk.  What a rare treat in a busy city.

Brisbane was once noted for a particular domestic architecture dominated by timber houses, raised on high stumps with wide verandahs wrapped around the outside to catch the breeze. In contrast, many of the early public buildings were made of stone and brick; a reminder of English origins.  There has been some rapid and interesting changes in the architecture of Brisbane in the last twenty years but my focus on this particular morning was on the quaint buildings, quiet parks, and many charming churches and shrines located at the top end of the city, a hilly location, once a very fashionable residential area, that is now known for its many medical clinics.

Some of the churches were closed, others were filled with worshipers.  To avoid disrupting Mass by taking photographs, I plan to return during the week when, I was assured by church elders, I will be welcome to enjoy the space and take as many photos as I please.  En route I had a lovely conversation with a bus driver who, thinking I was lost, asked if I was visiting the city.  He was surprised to learn I had lived here for over 20 years and then revealed that he too enjoys wandering the city to take in her offerings.  He suggested a public art walk I hadn’t previously been aware of, that is now on my list of ways to satisfy wanderlust between trips.

What hidden gems would your city reveal if you had the time to wander about, on foot, with no other agenda than to absorb and notice? I’d be keen to hear how you satisfy your wanderlust when the itch arises but the timing isn’t right to travel.

Emma Miller Place

 

My polyester castle in the forest

My whinstone house my castle is, I have my own four walls.
                                                                        Thomas Carlyle

In my plans for this year I resolved to go on a solo overnight hike. I decided to experience life this year through being more adventurous, for me anyway.  Sometimes adventure is simply venturing out the front door and going some place new and sometimes adventure is, well, just what we expect adventure to be: an exploit or escapade.  I’m no newcomer to multi-day hikes but I usually embark on them with my beloved at my side. Going solo, a reckless escapade to some, is to me a compelling  imperative.

I am most at peace in nature and I have a thing for sleeping with my back to the earth, and while I love to share these experiences I want to experience something different.  I want to go it alone, to experience real surrender and solitude and to rely totally on myself, outside the normal routines of life. I am getting closer to my goal each day.

I bought my own tent last week. I’m pretty chuffed. My research turned up a neat little three season tent made for one.  It’s perfect for the walks I want to do but not great for snow and ice but I don’t plan on going to Everest anytime soon. I ordered my tent online and it arrived two days later.  I was bouncing with excitement as I collected my package from the post office. The Postie asked if I was going camping.  I’m doing more than camping.  I’m escaping.

More exhilarating is that I actually managed to erect the tent without help in about three minutes flat.  I known that’s not exactly a huge achievement but when one defers tasks to another on a regular basis it is affirming to know you’re capable.  It’s funny how a little thing like this can cause so much excitement.

My beloved was horrified at its size.
“It’s small.”
Exactly – it’s meant to be.
My polyester castle is roomy enough to sleep in and wriggle in and out of clothes. It’s a shelter from the elements and bugs and best of all, it’s only 1.3 kilograms.  What else would a girl need? Well, as luck would have it, the one other thing that I did want was a vestibule for my hiking pack and voila, this little tent has a very generous space for that.

The weeks draw closer to my first solo overnight hike and I find I am well prepared. I have my tent, my permit and a spirit for adventure. I know roughing it outdoors isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there is something magical about choosing a spot of rough ground to call home for the night that transforms it.  That rough bit of ground, a small nook in the woods, begins to transform into a haven, a place of comfort and rest by the time one has pitched a tent and claimed a spot for the night. For a long time now I have delighted in the solace of nature, the calm it brings and the return to simplicity and I am looking forward to returning to it.  I’ll let you know how it all goes.

 

Good fences make good neighbours

old_wooden_fence-2

There, by the starlit fences the wanderer halts and hears my soul that lingers sighing about the glimmering weirs.       A.E Housman

I wasn’t keen on a new fence and I wasn’t on board with the design or the height. Though I lament I can’t fault the workmanship or the expediency with which it was built. I have no quarrel there. Now this fence has been constructed I recall thoughts I had in Berlin where I started thinking about the concept of walls and barriers; to segregate and mark territory, to keep some within and some out. I recall too when I stood on the Great Wall of China and traipsed along Hadrian’s Wall and had similar thoughts. I realise, these structures are walls and not to be confused with fences which are made of lighter weight materials and usually for different purposes.  Nevertheless, a fence is a barrier. Plain and simple.

I’ve mix feelings about this new wall of ours. I can’t help agreeing with Frost who, communicates in his poem Mending Wall that a fence is unnecessary and unfriendly.  Though others would no doubt side with his neighbour who believes “Good fences make good neighbours.”  I can’t see my neighbours anymore. I like them. I’d have been glad not to see the previous neighbours but alas no fence would have stopped their repugnant reverberations from drifting across the top in the wee hours.

“A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it.”  Oh, Baer, too true. Though if I can’t see them I can’t smile at them. Our old, decrepit fence was low enough for me to hurdle which was fortuitous on a number of occasions:  one night to check on the elderly lady adjacent to my property during an electrical blackout and on another, leaping the fence enabled me to help a neighbour after she fell in her garden.  There are times jumping fences is acceptable.

“To be fenced in is to be withheld.” – Kurt Tippett I hear you. I feel hemmed in. I liked the openness between yards, the view to the forest unimpeded by barriers or blockades. Now this timber wall confronts me each and everyday and I immediately feel enclosed.

Fences are not new. We humans have a long history of fence building and of erecting barriers for all manner and purposes. The moat was a type of fence.  I could just about live with a moat, I think, though I’d have to brush up on my long jumping skills.  As I become accustomed to the new boundary around my home I’ll leave you with some interesting fence trivia.

  • Hedge fencing and topiary fencing is one of the earliest forms of fencing ever recorded and were first used for enclosing cereal crops.
  • Military areas, zoos and industrial plants are required by law to have appropriate fencing.
  • In 1873, barbed wire fencing was invented at the De Kalb County Fair in Illinois.
  • Strangely, Marilyn Monroe was quoted as saying ‘A women’s dress should be like a barbed wire fence: serving it’s purpose without obstructing the view’. (The analogy is a harsh one in my mind.)
  • The ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ in Western Australia was more than 3000 kilometres long.
  • The ‘Dingo Fence’, also in Australia, is the longest fence on earth at 5,600 kilometres.
  • A fence hidden in a ditch is called a Ha-ha.
  • There is a tiny town called Fence in Aurora County in Wisconsin, USA.

My letter to you

My spelling wasn't great but I was only 10. Is that a reasonable excuse?

My spelling wasn’t great but I was only 10. Is that a reasonable excuse?

“In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people’s lives.” – Anatole Broyard

Dear Reader,

I miss letter writing.  Actually, what I miss is receiving letters. The thrill of opening the letter box and finding a missive, addressed to me from a loved one, is now just a beautiful memory, a lost joy.  As a child and young adolescent I took great delight in this now old-fashioned communique.  My grandmother and I, separated by distance, closed the miles between us through our regular handwritten correspondence.  This was a time when our household did not have a telephone and weekend phone calls were made at the local phone box.  Our family of five crammed in the booth, each vying for their two minutes to hear our grandparents soothing and loving tones before the coins ran out.  This was a time before email and Skype and Snapchat.

Our letters did not contain acronyms, shortened or abbreviated phrases as is common with forms of messaging today. My handwriting, now decrepit through lack of use, was easy to read, the pen felt good in my hand as it glided across pretty stationery, of which I had a great stash.  Pretty stationery of matching letter paper and envelopes was always a gratefully received gift.

I’ve read a great many books and seem some film recently where letter writing was a significant means of communication, informing confidantes of discoveries, expeditions and life in general.  Our understating of the past has been gleaned from lengthy and detailed letters. In fact, the history of the letter weaves a beautiful passage through the ages.

The material on which and with which letters were written has progressed from the use of tree leaves and folded bark, to papyrus, cotton and paper. Writing implements from bone, reeds and quills to modern-day pen offer a fascinating study. For a long time letters were folded and sealed by wax, no lick and go glue strips on envelopes then.  In fact, no envelopes at all. The stamped letter in an envelope came into being much later, in the reign of Queen Victoria in 1840. Postal services too have seen many changes through the ages. Modern cities and advancements in courier services have improved the lag between writing and delivery of the letter.  No longer are letters passed on by footed couriers, chariot or coach.

In all of this fascinating history the single most intriguing point for me is where the first letter originated.  That, I guess we will never know, though by luck and good fortune we can trace the origin of the first recorded handwritten letter. It was crafted by a woman, a Queen from Persia no less.  This small fact teased the recesses of my mind; I had to research who Queen Atossa was, who wrote this letter around 500 BC.  What was she like? What prompted her to write? What was the content of her letter and to whom did she send it?

Letter writing might be old-fashioned now, though I notice researchers are encouraging the act of putting pen to paper and citing the benefits to both writer and receiver.   Letters communicate an emotional closeness that is often lost in email, texts and the like.  The thrill of receiving a letter is beyond words.  It lifts the spirits and lightens the mood. We have to concentrate, be deliberate and mindful when writing a letter.  No backspacing or deleting, no automatic spell check or thesaurus. We are forced to preserve or improve our long-lost art of handwriting. Letters are a lovely way to enclose little mementos, heightening the personal connection.

On several occasions I have written little messages and tucked them into my husband’s luggage when he travels away or in his lunchbox to discover and remind him of how much he is loved. A handwritten and posted message expressing thanks for a dinner invitation or thoughtful gesture is so much nicer than a text.  Letters leave a legacy.  My much-loved bundle of letters between my grandmother and I tell a story spanning years that may, at some point in the future, be of interest to our descendants adding some depth and form to the lives of otherwise intangible names on the family tree.

Here’s to bringing back the waning art of handwritten letters.

With kind regards,

Shannyn