Bird Cottage, (Book Review)

I just finished the most unusual and delightful book I’ve read so far this year! Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer is a novel based on the life and research of Len Howard. Len was born Gwendolen Howard in 1895 in Wallington, UK. She grew up in a bird-loving, artistic family–her father was a poet and dramatist–and became a violist with an orchestra in London.

After years of a successful musical career, she decided, at age 40, that she’d had enough of city life and that what she really wanted was to live quietly in the country observing and interacting with birds.

She moved to Ditchling in East Sussex, had a small home constructed, which she aptly named Bird Cottage, and lived the rest of her life with birds. The birds learned to trust her, would fly in and out of her house and even roost in her house in nesting boxes. They became familiar enough with her that they would land on her head, shoulders, hands, and feet. A few of them even came to her when she called. Len began to distinguish different calls and songs, and to understand the birds’ behavior through close, careful, continual observation.

Over the years, Len wrote for various nature magazines and wrote two books: Birds As Individuals and Living With Birds. She became more reclusive as she got older because she was so focused on not changing things in the birds’ environment. When guests would visit, for example, the birds were unfamiliar with these newcomers’ gestures and voices and would stay away. This would set back her research for several days.

Sadly, because she was not a trained scientist and she focused on bird behavior and relationships rather than measurable, quantitative observations, none of the scientific journals would take her seriously and publish her research. However, her writings did raise the general public’s awareness to the importance of birds and the habitats they needed to thrive.

What was wonderful about this book was the way the author interspersed chapters about Len’s life, from age ten and onward, with chapters containing fascinating stories about particular bird friends at Bird Cottage. Even though it was fictionalized, it felt as if I was reading a biography.

Whether you enjoy books about birds, nature writing, or people who follow their own path in life, you will absolutely love this book. I highly recommend it!

I received a copy of Bird Cottage from Pushkin Press, but all opinions are completely my own.

I’m Thinking About Trees (A Poem)

I’m thinking about trees, the ones standing 

at the back of the house. Maples, in particular. 

And how they are so clearly trees and 

are not in the habit of having identity crises. 

They aren’t wondering if they should perhaps

be like the evergreens next to them, or, 

maybe, like the apple trees in the orchard. 

After all, those pines don’t stand naked and 

exposed during the coldest months of the year. 

After all, apple trees have pretty pink blossoms 

in spring and all those juicy apples in fall. 

No, the maples stand sure with their trunks straight, 

while their branches grow out their new green leaves. 

They don’t seem to care if the wind blows fiercely 

against them. They just dance along—their branches 

swaying and bending, their leaves shimmying 

with each gust. They have two aims: to root down 

deep into darkness and to grow up tall toward 

the light.

If anything looks like a prayer to me, 

it’s how a tree lives its uncomplicated life. 

How it gives itself to each day completely, 

as only a tree can. How it stands rooted 

no matter what comes and never tries to be

something it’s not. A tree is itself: a tree.

Poem by Kim Pollack /©2019 All Rights Reserved

Evening Poetry, April 18

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass (This poem is in seven sections, so I’ve spread it out through the week.)

5.

We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we

change.

Congratulations, if

you have changed.

This poem can be found in the collection Evidence.

Evening Poetry, April 16

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin, With the Sweet Grass ( This poem is in seven sections, so I am going to include one section each evening during the week.)

3.

The witchery of living

is my whole conversation

with you, my darlings.

All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.

This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.

It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.

It’s more than the beating of a single heart.

It’s praising.

It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.

You have a life–just imagine that!

You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe

still another.

This poem can be found in the collection Evidence.

Evening Poetry, April 15

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

To Begin, With the Sweet Grass (This poem is in seven sections, so I am going to spread it out through the week.)

2.

Eat bread and understand comfort.

Drink water, and understand delight.

Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets

are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds

who are drinking the sweetness, who are

thrilling gluttonous.

For one thing leads to another.

Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.

Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star

both intimate and ultimate,

and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:

oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two

beautiful bodies of your lungs.

This poem can be found in the collection Evidence.

Evening Poetry, April 13

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

Mindful

Every day

I see or hear

something

that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It is what I was born for–

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world–

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant–

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these–

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

This poem can be found in the collection Why I Wake Early.

Evening Poetry, April 12

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

The World I Live In

I have refused to live

locked in the orderly house of

reasons and proofs.

The world I live in and believe in

is wider than that. And anyway,

what’s wrong with Maybe?

You wouldn’t believe what once or

twice I have seen. I’ll just

tell you this:

only if there are angels in your head will you

every, possibly, see one.

This poem is found in the collection Felicity.

Curiosity and a Cob Oven

 

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According to www.dictionary.cambridge.org, one of the definitions of the noun renaissance is: “a new growth or interest in something, especially art, literature, or music.”

This word renaissance has stayed with me since the end of 2015 as I felt a shift taking place in many areas of my life. Sure, “midlife crisis” may be the term used to describe major changes that humans undergo in an attempt to find meaning and satisfaction in their lives. To me, though, I began to “choose the path of curiosity instead of the path of fear”, which were words used by author Elizabeth Gilbert to describe creative people in a recent On Being interview with Krista Tippett.

To me, though, I began to “choose the path of curiosity instead of the path of fear”.

This meant doing new things through my anxiety and fear of the unknown. And I have a boatload of anxiety and fear. Some of my everyday anxiety includes when I have to talk on the phone–both calling and answering the phone, going to the bank or post office (I haven’t analyzed this, I just know it happens), going to large-ish parties or gatherings even if I know a good deal of the crowd, basically, introvert problems.

This week I was mulling all this over because I bumped into a girl I met at the Cob Therapy cob oven workshop at Hawk Meadow Farm that I took in June 2016. We stood in Greenstar and chatted. I asked her if she’d done anything with the knowledge we gained and she shook her head. Neither had I, I told her, but Alan has a pile of field stone that would be perfect for the base of a cob oven if we had a team of people and Matteo and Peaches from Cob Therapy to oversee the project.

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On the other hand, that workshop taught me things I have carried into this last year and a half. I helped a team of people build a beautiful and useful cob oven with my own hands. We worked at least 7-8 hours in the summer heat making cob, hauling stone, lifting, stacking, mixing clay, straw and sand with our feet and hands yet we all were positive and downright happy from start to finish.

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Although I respect and admire nature, I’m not inclined to get myself dirty, but it felt good and I won’t forget it. We worked together without jealousy or squabbling of any kind. We blended together and worked peacefully. It’s a cliché to say we felt like family for those four days, but there was that sense.

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Since that class, so much has continued to change in my life and I’m still following curiosity’s path. I am trying new things: a craft business, NaNoWriMo, becoming pescatarian, writing more poetry, challenging myself to publish a blog post daily, attempting to learn about marketing on social media, trying watercolor, and figuring out what I want to do next. I’m still faced with anxiety, but I have the solid memories from the positive experiences I’ve had to spur me on new experiences. My personal renaissance will continue, hopefully throughout my life.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

–Walt Disney

Where are you with your personal renaissance and with choosing curiosity over fear?