Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Quest for Pretty Leaves:

"Aigle was a High Romantic. She saw life as an occasion for achieving the improbable, for aiming at the unseen, and enforced this frame of mind on others. For the enforcing, she relied on quests. She could not go questing herself, being a Queen, or send her ladies on them, questing being unsuitable for ladies; and the working fairies already had their duties to carry out. But for the male half of her court she invented one quest after another. The quests necessarily complied with the seasons: in the winter months they were domesticated, their objects ranging from a lost thimble or the Absolute to a Bflat in alt. With the spring, they soared. There was the Quest for the White Gentian, when the mountain slopes were speckled with stooping questers. There was the Quest for the Toad in a Stone, when the mountain peaks rang with tap-tap of geological hammers and curses of those whose hammers fell awry. There was the Quest for the Purple Carp, the Chamois Shod in Silver, the Ring Hung on the Topmost Bough, the Crested Hazel Hen. For several summers there had been a Quest of the Dragon, but this was abandoned, not so much because dragons were out-of-date as on account of so many questers being lost in caverns, some never to be found again. When Aigle's invention faltered, there was always the Quest of the Four-Leafed Clover to fall back on. There was also the twice-yearly competition for the First and Last Rose of Summer.
In the servants' hall opinions differed about the quests. The valets disapproved of them because of the clothes to be brushed and the boots polished, the housemaids because of the dirt tracked indoors. The kitchen fairies were sypathetic, and laid bets. Ludla (the Cook) invented a recipe for the Purple Carp, whose colouring she proposed to reinforce with beetroot. Meanwhile she put up picnic lunches."

(The Power of Cookery ~ Sylvia Townsend Warner)

Like Queen Aigle's Elfin Court, Schloss Dreiviertelstein, in Styria, here in Dandyland we have seasonal quests. Four-Leaf clovers fairly well present themselves to me, being naturally lucky, but the First and Last Rose we do, Most Scenic View of the Full Moon Rise, Perfect Xmas Tree, etc. And every fall Cebah gathers up candidates for Prettiest Fallen Leaf. Here she is arranging sets of sassafras leaves to reestablish that there are five distinct types; 3 lobes, right hand glove, left hand glove, single lobe, and a mysterious fifth that we can now neither find nor remember the shape of.

13 comments:

Cathy said...

You've inspired me to hunt out some pretty things to delight Cebah's eye.

Thanks for introducing me to Sylvia.

Dan Dutton said...

This is the latest we've had colored leaves, ever. I could still pick up some stunners today, though it is cold, cloudy, and thank goodness rainy.

I'm planning to treat myself this winter to rereading Sylvia's "The Corner That Held Them" ~ I think that was her last novel. "Kingdoms of Elfin" was written in her 80s!

Cathy said...

I don't know that one - I'll check it out.

Dan Dutton said...

Oh it's the best! You wouldn't think that a semi-historical account of a beleagered medieval nunnery, consisting mainly of reports of bad weather, the plague, and money matters could be such a hoot, and so deeply moving ~ but Sylvia knew what she was doing!

I was tempted to give away what happens to the anchorite, but resisted.

Mary Beth said...

Sassafras! Oh the homecoming of the faded memories of youth!

Have you ever made tea or sauce from the boil root? As a kid we'd catch crawdads in Otter Creek then feast on their tails dipped in such a sauce!

There was a sweet mountain tale about a family that froze to death one winter. A slender Sassafras sapling, the lone witness to their suffering, took great pity upon the little family. Each spring, it unfurls it's leafs in the shapes that each family members hands froze in. Gentle Sassafras whispers their story to this day and begs us to be generous and compassionate with our neighbors.

Dan, when you've the time, please draw or paint the old roses and the honeysuckle. While I know them well, I'm longing to see what transmogrify their passionate beauty and song of summers plenty will shape beneath your pen. You’ve such a lovely way of seeing!

SBD said...

Mary Beth,
You are, without a doubt, our soul sister.
Moma always made a spring tonic of sassafras roots. We would most likely be clearing a fence row, where sassafras loves to dwell, and burning the tobacco beds( both early spring chores). The tea, a distinct burnished red color, lingers as a strongly pungent smell and flavor in my memory....
Since we never saw a doctor, I believe the old cures worked.

Dan Dutton said...

Honeysuckle is in the queue already, because of an odd dream I had about my grandmother. I've painted it a few times in the past. The old rose that came on horseback from Virginia appeared in a collage I did years ago for a local charity ~ so it is due for a reappearance. At this point I'm still a little stumped, or overwhelmed, as to the best visual approach to my family history. The artifacts, photographs and documents have a strong aesthetic presence themselves, much of it "wabi" ~ (a tea ceremony term with a whole cluster of meanings ~ but in this case; showing the effects of time, nature, and will.) ~ that I'm thinking I should reconfigure some, or maybe even most, of my methods to integrate the aging of surfaces. It's a slippery slope! Imitation would not bring me closer! So I've got a lot of thinking to do...

At this point I just gaze at the materials - the blank page will not even wink back, and the brush's body language says "Surely you wouldn't impose an unprepared embarrassment."
Let the insect-style waiting begin.

We always make sassafras tea in the spring here in Dandyland; it's a tonic. And I use it to make a digestive/medicinal liqueur called "Root Adjuster", along with 6 other wild roots. My sister Ruth Ann & I had the last crawdad feast here back in the 80s. The branches and creeks hereabouts are in too much stress now to supply human sustenance.

The latest thing is using powdered dried sassafras leaves (file' to the Cajun) to flavor avant garde deserts. Yesterday I used it to replace the spice in molasses cookies with very toothsome results.

Mary Beth said...

Thank you SBD! what a very high compliment!

Dan, I'm getting confused with your roll in "You'll Always Come Back." You seem to be taking on the project both as artist and as something more, something I can not name. Are you acting as the curator/facilatator this time? Is it a matter of getting others to slow/stop and here the whisper of a hundred stories that Dutton's hill has to tell? Are you the weaver, bringing all the stories to one tapestry of life? ( Wasn't it in Belgian tapesty that flowers were worked into the scroll about the border?) Are you the narrator of the tale? Are you the water/life in spring itself? The water jar in the tea ceremony? I know these are weird questions but... at least I dared ask!

Dan Dutton said...

Ha! Mary Beth, you're making it worse! (lol)

I used to say, back when I was working with The Secret Commonwealth Ensemble, that dancers with ballet training, or method training of any sort, had to have a little scrubbing out of what they thought they knew before they could perform The Secret Commonwealth, & it was true of the technicians, musicians, singers, etc, too. I now believe that was based on a very naive concept of how the body and imagination develop, but I still think it was useful. I suppose I'm pretending (?) attempting (?) to do something similar to myself now.

I have a resistance, which seems in my (likely daft) mind to be a survival gambit, to unexamined habitual patterns. Probably another vanity, but I believe it's the artist's charge to balance consciousness and ecstacy in the performance - whether that's singing or painting - or, in the case of Y.A.C.B., aesthetically prejudiced assemblage. (!) (?)

At a certain point all this uncertainty may fall away and my role will be plain (as water bowls should be). An art historian wrote about my stuff years ago that on the surface it was... "oblique, but on more careful consideration clear categories and meanings emerge."

I think that You'll Always Come Back is an opera. I keep returning to Pete and Charles, 6 & 8 yrs old, arriving on the hill in 1845, wondering what was in their minds when after perhaps weeks of riding 3 on a horse, they finally reached their destination.
I'm convinced it was in August, for slight reasons, so I know what the air feels like, how the horizon looks, what sounds the bugs are making, even what it feels like to have your small legs spraddled for a long time on horseback. The action is split somehow, between what is apparent, and what could be called the Other World - because they must have still been tethered to their ancestors too, (via Eshu, the crossroad entity who can connect across boundaries.) ~ at the very least the mother they had been taken from. Her parting words and look must have been coming to mind every so often. Where words fail to convey meaning, music may still have a chance at evoking emotion.

I'm thinking about their mother(s) a lot at present ~ wondering what I would do, under the circumstances, to make the way easier for my child, if I could not help its being taken. I suppose one would try to normalize the parting as much as possible.

So until I have a good guess at that chestnut, the first note, the image, the colors, can only be provisional guesses!

Dan Dutton said...

What I do know is that for my work, there must be a unified field of resonant connections, and they'll have to be based on something more clear than looking or sounding like what we imagine the period between 1845 and 1931 to have been. (Unless there's a way I can frame "imitation antique" to connect it with imagination now ~ but I've gotten wary of Brecht's alienation theory too... and all the neo's and de's. One must clear & work the ground somewhat before planting.

Mary Beth said...

"I'm thinking about their mother(s) a lot at present ~ wondering what I would do, under the circumstances, to make the way easier for my child, if I could not help its being taken. I suppose one would try to normalize the parting as much as possible."

Maybe I'm stating the obvious....but....their mother did what all mother's do. She had nothing concrete to offer, trinkets for them to carry... thus she was left with the comforts women bestow on their babes, kisses, cuddles, and songs.

my mind is stuck on James Taylor's
ROCKABYE SWEET BABY JAMES
"Theres a song that they sing when they take to the highway
A song that they sing when they take to the sea
A song that they sing of their home in the sky
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep
But singing works just fine for me"

I wonder if there was a song of blessing and transition.

Then again... maybe I'm just rooting for a woman who was a powerless underdog.

My heart wants to believe!

Dan Dutton said...

I'm wondering if she told them that they were going to a fine place, on a great adventure, for them to be brave and that everything would be ok.

This is a problem with historical opera ~ when there is neither text nor artifact, one must invent - and invention in narrative is motive. I don't know enough (yet) to have a motive!

It is natural, I think, to ascribe noble values to parents in a story - but one of the first traditional stories that I learned to tell was a drawn out mountain spin on Hansel & Gretel, & those parents were no help at all.

And film complicated narrative so much, in part by making it more like memory - one doesn't have to start at the beginning, or even know the beginning, and it's possible to believe that there is no beginning. I've thought of starting with Pete's burial THEN going back to their arrival, the very sort of thing that a green director would think was clever.

But I do have another clue! & I'll blog it soon.

Holly said...
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