Thursday, May 22, 2008

One Woman's Journey To Find The "Earthly Paradise" ...

"She has been called a pantheist -- and pagan, sensuous, Dionysiac; and this is not untrue, but it is an oversimplification. Actually, her view of human life was austere, unsentimental, even harsh. She was not a wooly optimist, ever.

"But she also knew -- perhaps 'trusted' -- that to be born sentient and watchful is a daily miracle: that the paradis terrestre, the earthly paradise around us, is as wondrous an index of heaven as any we shall ever know; and that to abide here, even as an exile, for seven or eight decades, is a blessing -- because it is a chance to watch, to 'look for a long time at what pleases you,' and to find 'un mot meilleur, et meilleur que meilleur, a better and better word,' with which to secure it for others."

~ Earthly Paradise: An Autobiography of Colette ~
Drawn from her lifetime writings, edited
and with a forward by Robert Phelps, 1966

Wisteria time at Dragonfly Cottage...

Yes, it is Colette again. I have been reading many of her books as I have been writing my own, because my old, worn books of hers are like old friends, someone to talk to on the journey. And while I don't pretend to have her genius, we do have similar hearts and world views. We treasure a tiny precious flower, a good glass of wine, a nice piece of cheese, dogs, birds, wild nature all around us. We seek the earthly paradise because, for me, for I can only speak for me, it makes me more present in this world. And unlike Thoreau who had the luxury of going off into the woods for contemplation, we women, and most men, today, don't have that advantage. And I, for one, barely leave my cottage, and yet being present to all sentient beings, from a blade of grass to a dandelion I pick for a tiny vase on my kitchen windowsill; or stroke a dog's fur, or kiss a parrot's beak; feel bliss over the feel of soft cotton against my skin,; the cold chill of the milk in my mug; the green, legless lizard skittering under the fence, looking very like a snake; a prayer; a smooth glassy feeling piece of glimmering rose quartz in my hand -- the love stone -- these, too, are all precious. And for both Colette and I, the words to express what we see is ever on my mind, as it was hers.

With no other writer have a felt this familiarity -- though I have loved and studied many -- that I could talk to her as if she were my sister, that I could walk in her skin. Of course our lives have been different but many parts similar as well, and to be at the writing desk has been tantamount to both of us.

One of the great wonders of my life, when I left a 25 year marriage -- my husband had always liked to do the grocery shopping, as he said I brought home the best olive oil, artichokes, avocados, thinly sliced, freshly roasted turkey, crusty bread and a nice piece of brie, but never remembered anything practical -- was to actually go to the store and buy just what I wanted. I literally spent 2 hours in the grocery store that first time alone, going up and down the aisles like a little girl in a whole new wonderland. I had fallen down the rabbit hole. Who cares if I forgot the toilet paper, I saw, felt, touched, experienced such wonders there, like holding a cantaloupe for several seconds to take in the lovely aroma of the fleshy, firm, near peach colored meat within, and the skin so thin that you can smell just how ripe it is. You can feel it's firmness, it's weight, and there is a deep satisfaction that you know you have picked the perfect one as you put it in your cart. A single trip to the grocery store can be a moment, many moments, of ecstasy.

I went to the grocery store today. I have my carefully prepared list, and try to stick to it, but sometimes I stray. The one thing I do, however, is to go very slowly up and down the aisles and look at the foodstuffs. It's not the generic American food that grabs me. It's the French cheeses, the Australian wines, the canned artichoke hearts, black olives, fresh parmesan cheese. I bought my meager needs but I could still, for a time, revel in the International section, the fresh baked crusty breads (I breathed them in... I buy it when it's on sale, most especially the olive oil/rosemary bread, a crusty round loaf with soft, oh so soft, bread inside. You spread some room temperature, soft brie on that bread, pour a half glass of merlot, and you know, all the way down to your toes, that heaven exists, most likely in many forms, but it is right here on this earth as well. Look all around you. Try for one moment, each day, to let everything negative fall away, breathe, deeply, and then pick out at least ten things that thrill you to your toes, or make you smile, or fill you will glee, or make you shudder with a kind of happiness you never feel anywhere else. It's perfectly sane to jump over the moon, and we should, at least now and again.

We live in this earthly paradise, and every single day we rush past so much that is beautiful. Just this evening, after I carried in the groceries, I did some pruning in the garden. We've had a fair amount of rain lately followed by seriously sunny warm days. Glorious days. And the plants celebrated by having amazing growth spurts, like teenagers running amuck, but the smaller plants were buried under sprawling roses, fast growing buddleia, and more. I cut and pruned and trimmed and cleaned up and looked with pride at the neat garden, my hands bleeding from the rose thorns, but I was glowing from the joy of seeing both of my hydrangeas blooming for the first time and turning BLUE! I have so loved blue hydrangeas all of my life. And all of a sudden I could see the brilliant white yarrow and the 'Primley Blue' Malva, soon to shoot up flowering blooms, emerging from the overgrowth around it. I felt so happy I would have done a cartwheel if I could! This little life of mine is precious beyond compare. I take nothing for granted. Each day is a gift.

I deadheaded roses, pulled weeds, and kept remembering that if it was miffy, I would let it go, and the garden would be all the better for it. Elizabeth Lawrence would be so proud. Each day, all summer, and well into fall, I will be cutting back, pruning, weeding, cleaning up and celebrating the garden I have made with my own hands. Miracles are, indeed, right in our very own hands.

I become silent now, and a tear runs down my cheek. I am remembering an oft-read and read aloud passage to my students when I ask them to write about their mother. My mother is dying, slowly, in fact miraculously slowly, having been diagnosed with cancer over 3 1/2 years ago and still, thankfully, here with us. She is so courageous. And yet she has blood and platelet transfusions nearly every week, each is about an 8 hour process over 2 consecutive days. She calls me from her cell phone while she is lying there and we talk. It is such a tender, tenuous time. I don't want her to die but I don't want her to suffer. She is blind now, her days are hard, she has lost so much, has so little energy, and we have had so many problems in our lives. But now, now... oh, only as she is coming into her final times, no matter how long that might be, I cry over such little things, lost time, misunderstandings, of two women who loved one another and fell away from one another over and over again. Now I want to make up for lost time, but I am not blind to the fact that there are hurdles we will never be able to cross. And yet, when so many things are stripped away, you treasure the things that you have, you revel in them, it is never too late. Don't let it be too late. Even if you try and don't succeed in the way you wished you could have, try.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said on a weekend retreat that when we feel anger at our mother or our father, we should meditate on them as a five year old child. They were innocent fragile children once too. We forget that. We think of them as our parents, grown-ups, who perhaps said and did things that hurt us, but as we were once tender innocent children, so were they, and life took us all down different roads. If nothing else, remember that tender innocent child that lives deep inside your mother, your father, your lover, your friend. Try to reach that little one, and allow all the tenderness that you have inside of you make your heart swell. Be willing to be the first one to step out onto the swinging bridge over a river high in the air. There are no promises. Let there be no regrets.

And so before I close I want to share with you a beautiful passage that Colette wrote about her mother Sido. Sido loved Colette dearly, they had a very close bond, and she loved any opportunity to visit her, to be with her, but this passage I am about to share with you, dear reader, was written after Colette's husband had asked Colette's mother to come for a visit...


You ask me to come and spend a week with you, which means I would be near my daughter, whom I adore. You who live with her know how rarely I see her, how much her presence delights me, and I'm touched that you should ask me to come and see her. All the same I'm not going to accept your kind invitation, for the time being at any rate. The reason is that my pink cactus is probably going to flower. It's a very rare plant I've been given, and I'm told that in our climate it flowers only once every four years. Now, I am already a very old woman, and if I went away when my pink cactus is about to flower, I am certain I shouldn't see it flower again.

So I beg of you, sir, to accept my sincere thanks and my regrets, together with my kind regards."

"This note, signed 'Sidonie Colette, n
ée Landoy,' was written by my mother to one of my husbands, the second. A year later she died, at the age of seventy-seven.

"Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing it's strength, a desire its power, or a pain the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: 'I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter -- that letter and so many more that I have kept. This one tells me in ten lines that at the age of seventy-six she was planning journeys and undertaking them, but that waiting for the possible bursting into bloom of a tropical flower held everything up and silenced even her heart, made for love. I am the daughter of a woman who, in a mean, close-fisted, confined little place, opened her village home to stray cats, tramps, and pregnant servant girls. I am the daughter of a woman who, many a time, when she was in despair at not having enough money for others, ran through the wind-whipped snow to cry from door to door, at the houses of the rich, that a child had just been born in a poverty-stricken home to parents whose feeble, empty hands had no swaddling clothes for it. Let me not forget that I am the daughter of a woman who bent her head, trembling, between the blades of a cactus, her wrinkled face full of ecstasy over the promise of a flower, a woman who herself never ceased to flower, untiringly, during three quarters of a century."

~ Colette, Earthly Paradise ~

I am the daughter of a woman who, over the last 3 1/2 years, has gotten up every single morning and said, "Everyday's a good day!" even has her body has weakened, needing daily Procrit shots for a white blood cell count that refuses to rise, and now, nearly weekly, needs blood transfusions, and cannot see, the drugs took her sight even as it fought her cancer, and yet for her "Every day is a good day," and she goes to church and has her hair done, and spends time with friends and family and I believe her truly indomitable spirit, at near 82, has kept her alive when doctors thought she would be gone long ago. She has given me gifts that I know I will not fully understand or take in for years after she is gone. That's the way life works. Things seep in, little by little, as we can take them in, and we grow in understanding as we grow in the world, and to grow into an old woman who treasures the opening of a single flower on a cactus, or lived tired, sightless, and in pain, and yet for whom every day has been a good day, is a legacy I only hope that I can leave for my own children.

Let me never forget to live each day as fully as possible, unafraid of what the world thinks of me while I live my odd, happy little life, surrounded by animals, plants inside and gardens outside, stacks of books tumbling over everywhere, knitting things for my family and grocery shopping, every week, to discover what wonders might be found on this trip out.

I have found my earthly paradise, and yet I find more and more of it everyday. Each day is showered with glory, even if my tears, some days, water the garden, still it grows. Let me not let the gloom of the world cast a shadow on the God-given days I still have, for as Fra Giovanni wrote many centuries back, "The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take Joy!" I am taking joy. My license plate says, "Take Joy." I am proclaiming it to the world, I send a bit of it to each of you.

Take peace, take love, take joy, and remember that everyday's a good day. You just have to make it so...




Theresa H. Hall said...

I found a depth and beauty to your story. I shall take myself off to sleep and be peaceful thinking of you finding joy. Thank you for sharing your tranquility.

"Sleeping Kitten - Dancing Dog!"

Shinade said...

Oh my your cottage and garden sound just simply lovely.

I too, being married to a long haul driver spend much time alone at our little lake house.

I so dearly love my roses and to sit out on the porch and watch and listen to all of nature's beautiful little creatures.

Thanks for this simply lovely and beautiful share.:-)

Vista said...

I was wondering if the rendering of the cottage at the top of the page is your actual home or something in your minds eye. It looks like a gorgeous Irish cottage and most of us would love to live in something like that..
Just curious..
Keep up the good work.

Maitri Libellule said...

Thank you so much Theresa and Shinade for your lovely comments. :o) And Jeff, I have written a couple of times and have had a note in the sidebar for some time when the new design went up, that no, that is not my cottage, alas, it is a dream cottage for me. I found the picture when I was making my dreambook for the cottage I will be moving into in the next couple of years. Sigh, they don't make them like that any more. Not here (NC) anyway!

Blessings to you all,


Maitri Libellule said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maitri Libellule said...

By the way, Jeff and anyone else who wonders, if you scroll down through the garden entries you will see parts of my real cottage, coming up to the front door, the garden areas, etc. Just f.y.i. :o)


scartoonist said...

I love your cottage and garden design. An inspired genius at work!

Just wanted to share that while passing by via EC.

I'm this guy:

Have a great spring season.

Shinade said...

Oh my I have been so moved by this post relating to our parents. Especially to my mother.

First of all, one of her favorite blooming shrubs/vines was the Wisteria. And, when we found our retirement home in Oklahoma there was a huge wisteria that climbs all along one side of the pond.

When it blooms it is simply beautiful. And, I always feel so close to my mother who passed away 13 yrs. ago.

My childhood was a very difficult one. Much of this was due to alcohol and quite a bit of abuse.

I wasted years being angry at both of my parents. Yet, I also always remained very close to my mother even with the anger. It is that way for many abused children. Somehow, sometimes we become even more attached than if raised in a non abusive home.

I am fortunate that before my mother passed I was gifted with much insight into why she was the way she had been toward me.

She too had come from a very abusive home. I fogave her years before she left us here on earth. And, she lived with us for the last two years of her life. I did not want her to be in a nursing home.

It was and remains today one of the greatest gifts tat I have received. The ability to see, know and understand her ways.

She will forever be one of the greatest loves and treasures ever in my life.


P.S. Still oon the road and bouncing like crazy...LOLZ!!! Please forgive any typos.:-)

Maitri Libellule said...


Our stories are very much alike. You are truly a kindred spirit. Thank you so much for your wonderful notes and I wish you well, and send you prayers for peace, serenity, joy, and endless love all around you.



Maitri Libellule said...


Thank you so much for your kind comments. I just found your post unmoderated. I hadn't gotten a message. Sorry it took so long!

You are very dear and your cartoons are wonderful. Many blessings to you and thanks for stopping in.


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