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Thursday, December 11, 2008

slow winter




















Almost everything slows, like precipitation taking its time getting to the ground in the form of snowflakes. Not the finches though - quickly scooping thistle seed into their gullets, flashing glances to see if they're being watched. But the photographer is slow and stealthy, the lens is long, and they are captured. I'm grateful all we have to collect out-of-doors these days are photographs and firewood from the corncrib - the lefthand building above. (Don collects eggs, they're sort of indoors in the coop. Thank you, ladies.) Thank you, farmers in a warm climate, and truck drivers who bring food to our stores.




In 1st grade Peter punched airy holes in the tree, below, and pasted colored tissue paper behind to glow through like ornaments. Don's 3rd graders reprised this decoration last week with wreaths, trees and snowflakes. Click on it to see the colors better.





Winter slowing satisfies a craving to sit long and look out a window (not that I need a certain season for that). It's also time for reading a dense book by Henry James (so many commas and clauses in each sentence!) that I would normally read the first few pages of and shelve on top of other unfinished books for another day, which would never come in spite of good intentions. (Sometimes you get what you need from a book in the first chapter, at least in non-fiction . . . ) But after hearing Ann Patchett (whose Bel Canto I also want to read), talk about James' The Ambassadors the other day, I was inspired to push through it, in spite of poor reading comprehension, something I struggled with as an English major: I have to read slowly and sometimes re-read passages again and again. I have to read slowly and sometimes re-read passages again and again. I have to read slowly and sometimes re-read passages again and again. (Oh no, that was a James-esque multi-clause multi-comma sentence.) It wasn't until Don told me a couple years ago what he teaches his 3rd graders, that my comprehension began to improve: Visualize it as a movie in your mind. (You good readers are probably thinking: Duh.) What Don taught me was like punching holes in a book and letting the light through, like Peter's tree.

Another reading comprehension trick - besides not falling asleep - is explained in this cute 2-minute video for parents and their kids: predicting what is going to happen in the story. Following these ideas, maybe one day before I die I'll read as speedily and voraciously as finches eat thistle seed!





If like me you haven't read Henry James before and want to give him a go, you might consider starting with his fairly short tale "Brooksmith" about an upstairs manservant who has the "misfortune of being intelligent." Love this quote from it: ". . . anything that is supremely good produces more acceptance than surprise." It took me 3 years to finish it, but it might only take you an hour, hehe, just kidding. "Brooksmith" comes more easily than The Ambassadors. (When you click on "Brooksmith" it will take you to the Introduction. Click on "enjoy your reading" at the bottom of that page to get to the wonderful tale.)

Painting of the woman in green reading is by Félix Augustin Milius (French, 1843-1894).

61 comments:

Loring Wirbel said...

I'm having almost as much difficulty with Years of Rice and Salt as people have with James, Faulkner, Pynchon -- though I'm almost done! It's been uniformly excellent throughout - right now the veiled women rebelling against a resurgent Islam, under Chinese tutelage, are deciding whether to share atomic-bomb secrets with the allied North American tribes. Trippy.
Next up is Cormac McCarthy's The Road. And yes, we're getting the same series of snowstorms Michigan is getting. Hey, New Orleans got a couple inches today!

Ruth said...

So Years of Rice and Salt is dense as well as l-o-n-g? Wow, well McCarthy's book as shorter at least and may feel like a breather.

I'm curious about your own reading habits, if you want to share, Loring. Did you always visualize the story, did you predict what would happen next?

I wasn't even aware of the national storm, least of all snow in the Big Easy! I don't think we're getting it bad here.

Ruth said...

I meant did you use those reading aids when you first started reading, naturally?

Loring Wirbel said...

As a kid, I was really into sci-fi, fantasy, etc., and that required some visualization. I always do that now. But I avoid anticipating where things might go, because that limits the possibilities of wild shifts to another vector. That's why I always love Pynchon, J.G. Ballard, those kind of writers, because you have absolutely no idea where the next page may take you. The current Rice and Salt book is like that. (Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow even has film instructions and settings, though trying to film that novel in reality would be virtually impossible. But it shows how much he values visualization.)

shicat said...

I'm thinking books on tape! I can't fit it all in! Lori, I read The Road, fabulous read. Ruth, beautiful pictures, the green buildings are just the splash of color we need in the winter. I've been suffering from comprehension problems as well, I think I may be using it as an excuse to avoid work or maybe I'm just too dang old:)

Ruth said...

Loring, so do you get bored outa your mind with the James's, Forsters, Whartons and all the salon melodramas of the world?

Ruth said...

Cathy, I have a long drive (35 minutes) to work, and books on tape would be just the thing. I've just never wanted to put money into them, since I borrow everything I read, almost, from the university library. And I get them for 6 months! Woohoo! :D

Susan said...

What a beautiful snowfall! It makes me want to put Tony Bennett's "Snowfall" on the stereo, and I'm going to do that right now. All we got was a slight dusting.

I have a really hard time reading the classics. I read Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie a few years ago. I really enjoyed it once I got out of my head. I guess I'm one of those people who sees the book as a movie.

I don't read as much as I used to. When I was going through menopause, it seems I lost the ability to concentrate for long periods and I hate to read a good book a few pages or even a few paragraphs at a time.

Please may I have a slice of that pumpkin pie and a cup of decaf to go with it?

Loring Wirbel said...

I don't have a real problem with a straightforward tale well told, but I have to admit being annoyed by too many Hemingway fans. Minimalism is great for a laugh, but complexity lets the words go out on the playground and whoop it up.

freefalling said...

This post is my perfect one stop-shop.
Full of things I love,
farms, the elements, critters, crafty stuff (also vintage stuff) and books.
If you could just weave the beach into this post - I'd never leave!

Sidney said...

That is really Winter...lovely Winter scape... put me in the right Christmas mood.

As for reading... it seems I never find the time for that anymore...:-(

Bob Johnson said...

Great shot of the finches Ruth and I love the Christmas tree craft, cool idea.

It's been snowing almost non stop here for the last week, but very slow and light, everyday I have just enough snow on the sidewalks that I have to shovel.

Lol, I could have used that video about 20 years ago, honestly I don't know how we survived before the internet.

Ruth said...

Pull up a chair, Susan, let's sit a while. Thank you for introducing me to "Snowfall" - I found a beautiful YouTube of it. Nice and s - l - o - w.

Oh dear, I never thought of menopause and losing the ability to concentrate on books. I'd better get these techniques down fast.

I hope you enjoyed the pie! Come back again real soon.

Ruth said...

Loring, I'm with you on Hemingway. But I do like me some Fitzgerald.

Ruth said...

Hi Letty! You saw my beach scenes in ice last year, didn't you? Can't quite get it at the farm though. It's great to see you.

Ruth said...

Sidney, I wonder if you've ever seen snow in person.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Bob.

Another way of looking at the snowfall is that everything stays looking fresh and clean. :)

The 7 Keys to Comprehension didn't come out until 2003 I think, but I'm sure people used the techniquest before then. Obviously I didn't use it for myself, let alone our kids. :|

shicat said...

Ruth, books on tape are free at the pulic library. Enjoy!

Anet said...

Breath taking photos Ruth! Was that the snowfall we had not too long ago? It sure is beautiful, that's the best kind of snow.

Love Peter's hole punch tree, so cute! Kids love using the hole punch in my class.

Loring Wirbel said...

Ruth, I L-U-V me some Fitz. He don't count for minimalism because he's twisted and strange minimalism.

Sharon said...

Oh Ruth, a university library with 6 months loans. I am so jealous!

freefalling said...

Oh yes - I remember those photos.
It was the first time I had seen snow and ice at the beach!
Magic.

Peter said...

How nicely written this post ! Written by a real reading friend! I imagine you spending the snowy weekend inside with some good books, possibly in a more relaxed position and differently dressed than the charming reading lady on the painting?

My Castle in Spain said...

i had this same feeling of struggling when i read the Ambassadors.
When i saw you had it on your right bar, i thought : mmm..maybe i should read it again..

one book i could never finish is James'Ulysses

Ruth said...

Cathy, I wondered about that, but I will have to take out a library card here in my tiny hometown, since I only use the university library (which I need to find out if they have them, I doubt it).

Ruth said...

Hi Anet! Yes, these pictures were taken in the blizzard on the last day of November. Thank you.

We had to look closely at Peter's tree to see how he got to the middle with the holepunch, and we saw that it was folded a little. :)

Ruth said...

True, Loring.

Ruth said...

I know, Sharon! I am not a faculty member in the sense of teaching, but I am included in that employee group, so I get books for a long time (as if I'm researching, hehe). I just loved it last week when the girl stamped my book and said "due back in June"!

Ruth said...

Letty, I loved being there alone that day, but I would love to share that with you next time. Last winter I heard that the frozen surf was twice as high as in my photos!

Ruth said...

Peter, yes she does look very uncomfortable, and I noticed her book is upside down, so her mind is elsewhere (hehe). But yes, if I need a nap, I take a book and lie down, and soon am fast asleep. Do you think that's a bad habit?

Ruth said...

Wow, Lala, I'm impressed. You must be multi-lingual, and because you are French, I assume English isn't your first language, so reading The Ambassadors would be even more challenging. You know Malagasy, Spanish, French, English? Anything else? :)

I am very proud that I finished Ulysses, a feat of monstrous proportions. I can't say I'm better for it though.

You are a very good writer as well as a good reader.

Susan said...

Oh Ruth, thank you for that video. Such beautiful images, especially that one of the sunset at the end. You should make up your own YouTube with your pictures. It would be just as beautiful as that one. I think I may have to move to Michigan. Your snow is so lovely. Our winters here in central Ohio are just dreary and gloomy with an occasional snow to break the dreariness, with slush and more dreariness to follow. We have the worst weather here of any place I've ever lived.

I can just picture the two of us sitting by the fire (even though I have no idea what you look like, lol) and talking the day away. Only getting up once in a while to throw another log on the fire or to get a cup of tea and listening to Tony sing "Snowfall" or Diana Krall crooning in the background. ((sigh))

Ruth said...

Susan, I had no idea your weather is so different from ours. I must say though, that ours has been different from ours these last few winters. I don't remember - since I was a kid - having fresh snow every couple of days. It makes this winter lover very happy. It's nice to know a fellow winter lover in you.

Ah, that's a great image, sitting by the fire with you. Soft music and conversation. I sincerely feel we've lost deeply by rarely meeting up with our neighbors. The "salon" connotes something a little stuffy (though not stuffy or snooty in James' "Brooksmith" story), but I long for it. I had it for 3 years in Istanbul when women gathered every afternoon for tea and crocheting (I did quilting) in one of our salon's (just fancy for living room) after they'd done their home chores and made dinner. I value my independence, but I am conscious of the empty place of neighborly conversation. I fill it with this blog and wonderful people like you.

Nathalie said...

Your photos and accounts of winter life are wonderful - we're almost there with you, standing at the window and watching the snow flakes twirl as they fall.

Keep warm!
Here it's great blue sky and strong "mistral" northerly wind!

Tara's Talk said...

Beautiful pics!! I love your post & photos! We don't have snow here yet. . we got some flurries that didn't stick. . but nothing more yet.

Stop by & check out some of my blogs when/if you get time!
~~Tara

http://www.blogger.com/profile/16187242078303599851

Susan said...

I know, Ruth, I miss that conviviality of being able to drop in on a nearby friend just to chat and have a cuppa. I miss it, but I don't want to go back to living in a subdivision. We love the solitude of our house in the woods. And that's the very reason I blog and I'm so happy to have "met" my wonderful friends here.

Ruth said...

Hi, Tara! Welcome to synchronizing. Yes, on the east coast you don't seem to get the snow we get. It was fun looking at your blogs, especially the birds.

Gwen Buchanan said...

Ruth you amuse and entertain.. do you notice people in your midst in spent raptor ...
Oh I love this thinking!!!

...and such beauty from every angle.. and not to forget to mention (which I did before)...yours and Don's headers... I could spend a day there...

Thank you my dear.. slow, now... slow.. I know the feeling...

Ginnie said...

You've reminded me of the book from back in IVCF days, Ruth, written by James Sire: How to Read Slowly. It's actually an art, important to use on many books. But I've noticed that most the books I choose to read are like that, which is why I don't get through scads of books in a year.

I love this post and how you've woven it together with art going all the way back to Peter's early years!

Ruth said...

Dear Gwen, what I notice is that I love these conversations. What a treat to have a place I can instantly publish whatever I wish, and then have friends chime in adding wonder, beauty, insight, pleasure, etc.! 10 years ago who'da ever thunk we'd get to do this, and meet friends around the world.

Ruth said...

Boots! I now remember that book, though I didn't read it. I tend to read non-fiction, as you know, and as you do too. Inge has helped me come back to fiction, and I see how much I've missed. Thank you, sweet sister.

photowannabe said...

Beautiful magical snowfall pictures. They look like Christmas cards.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Sue, I don't get tired of the snow, ever. Even in April.

carl h. sr. said...

Wow,Ruth.By the time I get through the interesting comments and down to the place to make my own comment,I have lost my train of thought! The snow shots are so lovely,and they take me to another world!

Ruth said...

Carl, you are a trooper, but I agree that the comments add a lot, so thank you for reading through them.

If you remember what you were gonna say, hope you'll come back. Thank you, that blizzard was just gorgeous.

laura said...

Love the photos, Ruth--snow!--and the tree ornament: great idea.
Henry James is my idol--my favorite writer! I might recommend "The Aspern Paper," a novella-length short story to begin. My favorites are are the late novels and despite what everyone says they are not "difficult" if you get in the flow: "The Ambassadors" and "The Golden Bowl" are worth any effort.

Ruth said...

I was hoping to hear from you, Laura, because I wanted to hear your opinion of James. This is even better than I expected!

I wrote an ashamed email to our expert James professor confessing I was reading him for the first time, and I was ready to gobble up more. She recommended Portrait of a Lady then: "Since you liked The Amb, you are also sure to like Golden Bowl and Wings of Dove--the other late great novels. The Sacred Fount is bizarre but also great, in a very different mode." Then Roderick Hudson "that is programmatic of everything else that follows in James."

Ruth said...

Oops, I inadvertently skipped you, Nathalie. Ohh, the mistral. The word alone makes me nostalgic - for something I've never even experienced.

laura said...

How could I forget Portrait of a Lady--a very accessible middle-period novel. James's heroine, Isabel Archer, forms a triumverate for me with Wharton's Lily Bart and Eliot's Gwendolyn Harleth,

Barry said...

I recall having a much easier time as a teen working my way through 19th century literature with its long convoluted sentences structures than I do today.

I recently picked up a copy of Dickens "The Mystery of Edmund Drood" and finding myself, like you, lost within endless subclauses that branch off like numerous pathways in a dense forest than never seem to return to the original trail.

If this continues I may begin to find Mickey Spillane a challenge.

Ruth said...

Laura's triumverate: sounds like inspiration for another novel.

Ruth said...

Barry, funny! But unlike Susan you can't blame yours on menopause.

Sandy said...

What wonderful photos of the snow. I can so appreciate it when I am miles and miles away from the cold. Just gorgeous!

I'm hoping this will go through.

Sandy said...

by the way, love your statement in the comment box.

Ruth said...

Yay, Auntie Sandy, your comments worked! Thank you for your kind words, fair weather friend. :)

carl h. sr. said...

Hi neighbor,thanks for the coffee and pie.
Corn crib! You reminded me of my Grandpa Sunday's corn crib.
He would grow his own feed corn,and let me twist it off of the cobs,while the chickens ran all around me trying to get some corn before the others ate it.
I really should write a little about that corn crib and the things that were on and around it.

Ruth said...

Carl, funny! That sounds like chickens, but not ours. Don says ours don't seem to like the corn he gave them, he thinks it's too big for them.

Hope you'll write about Uncle Sunday's corncrib.

:: c'chantique :: said...

hi!!!

nice blog u get there...

come n visit my blog..

a lot of far-east collections...

thank you!!!

Don said...

Thank you, C'chantique. Your patterns and designs are gorgeous.

Christina said...

This is exactly why I love your blog! Books, snow, birds. I watched the video and this really helps, considering i teach my children.

I read Bel Canto so long ago, maybe I should try and read it again.

Reread- I love that!

PS: I have moved. I hope you will come visit. ; )
xxoo

Ruth said...

Good, Christina! I was hoping some parents would find that video helpful. I wish I'd seen it years ago.

Your new blog is just lovely, and I'm excited you're at Blogger now.