Blog Hop: The Next Big Thing

My sincere thanks to Andrew Shattuck McBride and Tsena Paulson for “tagging” me to participate in the Blog Hop, in which I get to detail “The Next Big Thing” I’m working on in my writing.

Here, I respond to a standard set of interview questions about my writing projects. Please bear with  my unusual numbering. I mostly do know how to count; it’s just that my “poetic” logic occasionally supersedes rigid numerical sequencing.

1. What is the title of your book? Is it a working title? / 5. What genre does your book fall under?

My book is titled Impossible Lessons: Poems. It’s due out this April from MoonPath Press. Working titles for my manuscript included “About the Food Chain, and Other Pointed Questions for the Deities,” “The Logic of Leaves,” and “Myths of Origin, Falling Away.” My publisher, Lana Hechtman Ayers, came up with several more idea for titles, including “Impossible Lesson,” and Andy McBride suggested ending “-s” to the end of that. I’m delighted with the resulting title, Impossible Lessons. It implies that the poems ask challenging questions, and that the answers I receive through them are equally challenging.

2. Where did the idea for your book come from? / 3. Who and/or what inspired you to write your book?

The poems in this book are inspired by hikes in the Pacific Northwest and England; by my struggle to reconcile my experiences of a loving God with the violence I observe in nature and among humans; and by my search beyond Judeo-Christianity and Western philosophy, into the realm of other ancient mythologies, for explanations. My inspirations also included my horses, a cat, and several wayward chickens.

4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The poems in the manuscript span thirteen years of writing and revising. One of the earliest poems I drafted, “Strange Bird,” is from 2000, whereas others, such as “Eve Reflects” and “Cover Letter from the Goddess,” I wrote within this past year. I’ve been submitting various iterations of the manuscript to first-book competitions for the past nine years.

6. What books would you compare yours to in your chosen genre?

While I wouldn’t presume to compare my book to theirs, I can say that my writing in it is strongly influenced by the poems of Mary Oliver and Luci Shaw, and by the lyric prose essays of Annie Dillard. I also frame some of my poems as responses to William Stafford, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.

7. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Alder, appetite, campfire, cedar, sorrel horse, goldfinch, grasses, cantaloupe, quantum, boulder, backbone, blame, molar, altar, swallow, snakeskin, suffering, farewell, whiskey-jack, allure, sparrow, cattle, blood cell, thistle, cosmos, alfalfa, spindle, impermanence, chemo, woodpecker, salmon, heron, flaring, huckleberry, gratitude, granite, fir, world, blade, feather, unfolding, holy.

Yes, I think that about covers it.

8. Do you have a publisher, or will you self-publish your book or seek representation?

Lana Hechtman Ayers at MoonPath Press, which publishes poetry by writers from the Pacific Northwest, is the editor and publisher of the book. I am terrifically indebted to Lana, who invited me to submit my manuscript–and then hand-selected and arranged the poems for the volume! I’m outrageously pleased with the result: the collection she has compiled is essentially a “best of” representation of my writing from the past thirteen years.

10. What else about your book might pique readers’ interest?

It uses the F-word just once, and that’s quoting Philip Larkin, so it’s really okay.

9. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie or to read your work for a recording?

Ah, now we’re getting to the next Next Big Thing I’m working on. That would be a manuscript of persona poems with the working title “Impersonations,” for which I’m seeking a publisher. My poems in this collection are voiced by various Old-Testament figures, Greek goddesses, and two characters of my own invention: emerging poet Amanda Bubble and her imperious, mercurial, epistle-penning aunt, Fabiana. I wouldn’t know how to wrangle all these personae into a film with a plot, but if I were to stage the poems as a dramatic reading, with the characters writing letter-poems to each other, I could envision the following cast:

Mia Farrow as Eve
James Earl Jones as Abraham
Carol Kane as Noah’s Wife
Lucy Lawless as Artemis
My completely awesome local FedEx delivery lady as Aphrodite
Zachary Quinto as George Clooney–wait, no: George Clooney as George Clooney
Zachary Quinto as Amanda Bubble’s imaginary boyfriend (but I digress…)
Gwyneth Paltrow as Amanda Bubble
Joanna Lumley–wait, no: Helena Bonham-Carter–wait, no: Carla Bruni as Fabiana

But I digress again. The next next Next Big Thing I’ve recently begun writing is a lyric essay, inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds and Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being and Holy the Firm. It’s an autobiographical meditation that interbraids topics of adoption, horses, forgiveness, walking, place, and becoming a mother.

And now, I’m very pleased to tell you about the four writers I’m “tagging” to respond the interview questions next:

Marilyn Cavicchia lives in Chicago, where she is an editor at the American Bar Association and a freelance editor at home. She received a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in journalism, both from Ohio University. For about 15 years after college, she wrote hardly any poetry. Since resuming in 2009, she has had about a dozen poems published in literary journals. Her next challenge: chapbooks. She blogs at http://MarilynCavicchiaEditorPoet.wordpress.com/ and will post on February 12.

Bethany Reid, while earning her MFA and PhD at the University of Washington, authored a chapbook, The Coyotes and My Mom (Bellowing Ark Press) and became an editor for The Seattle Review. She has won the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize at Calyx and, in 2012, the Gell Prize for her poetry collection Sparrow. She lives with her family in Edmonds, Washington, and teaches at Everett Community College. She blogs at http://AWritersAlchemy.wordpress.com/and will post on February 15.

Amy Shouse is an L.A. native who lives with her husband and dog. Her childhood had just the right amount of unwieldy dysfunction to make her a hopeful reader looking for safety as well as a writer who loves to hear the reverberation that comes back when she throws words out into the world. She is the author of the poetry collection Underway–Looking Aft and blogs as Cupcake Murphy at http://OddGoodTrue.com. She will post on February 24.

Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson is a Canadian who married an American. She resides in Bellingham, Washington. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous places, including The Literary Review of Canada, The Liner, EDGE, Echolocation, and the anthology Killer Verse. She blogs at http://www.CaitlinThomson.com/wp/ and will post on February 26.

Many thanks to these writers for agreeing to carry the Blog Hop forward. I’ll post links to each of their blogs on the days they post their responses to the interview questions, so that you can see what The Next Big Thing is for each of them!

Thank you for reading!

Cheers,
Jennifer

NaPoWriMo Day 18 (Day 25 for Everyone Else)

This poem has been simmering for a couple of weeks now, ever since I used the persona-poem prompt to write about Abraham. Today, seeing a magnificent poem in the voice of Hagar, by Catherine Pritchard Childress at Vince Gotera’s blog, sent me back to work on the new poem, this time from Sarah’s point of view:

SARAH BREAKS HER SILENCE

Some time later I tested Abraham
by bidding him to lie with my servant-woman, Hagar.
It had been many years since The Speaking
granting us a land for our descendants–
and my husband was feeling keenly his dearth
of descendants. I suspected that his trust
in The Speaker was growing shaky (imperceptibly
to all but me), like both of our wrinkling hands.

I myself had never doubted
that the promised child was far off.
I knew that for a time, The Speaker was just keeping
His word to Himself. And often,
in the hot afternoons when the tent grew quiet
and the livestock slept, faintly I could hear
the approaching child’s laughter fluttering
around my body like a gossamer cloak.

Besides, I remembered clearly
my own Speaking vision, given when my father
gave me in marriage to his brother:
I half heard, half saw, fully knew my husband’s destiny
would be to try to carve a blade into our future son’s lean neck
the way his own father had sliced and gouged
temple idols out of oak. In this way I knew
my husband, in consenting to turn upon our son,
would turn away from me and from every deity of trees.

Thus at Mamre, it was not just my laughter
but my own cracking bark I heard
upon the visitors’ Speech announcing
our next-year baby. That, and the chopping fall
of all the oak Asherah poles outside His future temples–
and my betrayal by a Deity without roots.

NaPoWriMo, Day 2 (Day 7 for Everybody Else)

Today’s prompt is to choose a color and then to “dye” the poem with that color.

Also, not uncoincidentally, Happy Easter.

Red

Easter week, post-mastectomy,
my mother asks me to check
the bandage over her incision.
Below her ribs I see the tube
draining fluid and blood
from higher up, where
her left breast used to be.
I hesitate because this is her body,
broken for R.J. Reynolds. This is
her blood, shed for Philip Morris.
Fifty years they pierced her inside.
Fifty more it will take me
to forgive them. Still,
she is up and around again,
just three days after
her surgery. Surgeon says
when the flow of blood
and fluid drops, he will pull
the drainage tube and she
will be free and whole, ready
for the rest of her life.

On Knowing versus Being “Baffled,” and Which One Is More Productive, with Sincere Thanks to Wendell Berry

I enjoy not being certain about most things. But on one burning issue, I’m impatient for clarity.  Last fall, a recurring preoccupation of mine re-recurred.  (It has to do with being horrified by the foundational narrative of monotheism; I’ll post more on this soon.) This resurfacing of an earlier issue sent me to some fascinating books on psychoanalysis, theology, language, and myth–a couple of which I’d read before, and one new to me–for some solid, or at least plausible, answers.

But then, I had the poetry reading to prepare for, and after that, the holidays were suddenly demanding my attention, and then, a visiting family member treacherously introduced me to the crime series Lie to Me, and I put my reading on hold. Consequently, having stalled in my quest for answers, I put writing about everything on hold.

Then, today, I happened on this tasty morsel from a poem by one of my favorite nature writers, Wendell Berry, that a friend had emailed me months ago:

THE REAL WORK

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

(From Wendell Berry, Collected Poems)

This lovely passage got me started again. Not on the reading–that will happen when it happens, in the slivers of time between everything else–but on writing, and particularly, blogging. I’d somehow, subliminally, talked myself into the perception that until I’ve untangled the whole knotty theological problem I’m confronting, I won’t have anything to write about it.  However, as I told my first-year writing students over and over for twenty-odd years, having everything figured out comes at the end of a writing project (if ever), not at the beginning of it. It’s in the process of writing that I can discover what I think and what I have to say.

This is, naturally, the first thing I learned in graduate school about how to teach writing:   writing is a means of discovery. How easy this principle is to forget, though, when what I’m after is an answer, an explanation, a nice, hefty chunk of certainty. But if I attain that certainty, what then? I’ll need to find a new problem to be “baffled” by, since, as Berry says, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”

As WordPress is reminding me in the lower right-hand corner of this page I’m drafting (and revising and editing and re-arranging and re-reading), “Just write.” Okay, I will.

More, and right soon,
Jennifer

“Poetry and the Spiritual”: A Workshop with Paul Piper

Saturday afternoon I attended a fantastic workshop with poet, librarian, and dog whisperer Paul Piper. Like the nature-writing workshop of his I took eight or nine years ago, this one, titled “Poetry and the Spiritual,” had participants reading and discussing a broad selection of sample poems. Paul, a kind and skillful leader, loosely grouped the poems into such categories as “prayer poems,” “ecstatic / love poems,” “wrestling-with- / investigating-God poems,” “apocalyptic poems,” and “encountering-the-spiritual-in-nature poems.” As you can imagine, I found this approach–and the poems, and the discussion of the poems–tantalizing and inspiring.

One poem I hadn’t encountered before, a Kwakiutl women’s prayer, especially fascinates me:

PRAYER TO THE SOCKEYE SALMON

Welcome, o Supernatural One, o Swimmer,
Who returns every year in this world
That we may live rightly, that we may be well.
I offer you, Swimmer, my heart’s deep gratitude.

I ask that you will come again,
That next year we will meet in this life,
That you will see that nothing evil should befall me.
O Supernatural One, o Swimmer,
Now I will do to you what you came here for me to do.

(From Women in Praise of the Sacred:  43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, ed. Jane Hirschfield, NY:  HarperCollins, 1984.)
I love the reciprocity of the relationship between the human and the salmon expressed here. This poem also resonates with mythologies around the world that tell of a deity who dies, feeds its people, and returns to do it all over again.

The two hours scheduled for the workshop didn’t allow time for writing exercises, so we agreed to draft poems on our own and then circulate them to each other by email. Although I write poems all the time that are spiritual, in both content and intent, I have to admit that this is turning into a surprisingly daunting assignment. Saturday evening, I did draft a poem, one I’m fairly happy with. But by Sunday morning, I realized that this poem, like most I’ve been writing the past couple of years, distances me pretty significantly from the subject of my personal faith. Instead of penning sincere expressions of my own faith / doubt / wrestling, I’ve been throwing my voice in persona poems spoken by scriptural and mythological characters, or writing ironic-voiced philosophical poems that engage theology intellectually, but not spiritually. To be sure, these pieces do fall into the capacious category of wrestling-with-God poems. Nevertheless, they reflect my hesitation to approach the subject of faith too closely.  Doubt, wrestling, skepticism:  these I’ve had a lot of experience (and fun) with in my poems. It’s the faith part I’m having trouble writing about.

Others in the workshop made great suggestions as to how to sneak up on the subject without scaring myself away. Paul described how he doesn’t set out to write a “spiritual” poem; he just works on a poem and allows his Buddhist practice and experiences of nature to influence what he writes.  J.I. Kleinberg pointed out the usefulness of humor as an approach, citing the example of a dog named Cooper who offers Sunday  “prayers” on the hilarious, poignant blog Odd, Good, True. I think these approaches will help me find some ways in to writing about, or to, Whatever It Is that I believe in.

My thanks to the folks at the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest for putting on yet another terrific writing workshop (I can’t imagine a more fitting or enjoyable way to raise funds for the contest, unless it involved chocolate), and to Paul Piper for his thoughtful, expert leadership of the session. I can’t wait to see what other participants come up with in their own poems.

Bootprints on My Dining Room Carpet, and Other Clues That I’m Assembling a Manuscript

It’s first-book contest season, and new poets throughout the land are busy compiling, revising, and otherwise fretting over their poetry manuscripts.  Aside from self-publishing, first-book competitions are the most common way for poets to get their first books into print.  How these work, in the ever-tightening world of book publishing, is that the entry fees for each contest provide publishers with the funding to risk taking on poets who lack previous book credits.  (And ominously, some first-book contests are becoming first- and second-book contests, since these days, a successful first book is no guarantee that a publisher will break even on a poet’s second collection.) In the last seven years, I estimate I’ve spent enough on contest entry fees (most run $10 to $25 per manuscript) to fund the literary launching of Matthew and Michael Dickman.

In hopes of getting launched myself one of these years, I too am in the process of putting together my manuscript and researching which of the several contests with October and November deadlines to submit it to. This time around, I’m refocusing the manuscript to incorporate the large number of poems I’ve written in the last year, which seem (to me, anyway) stronger than than many of my earlier pieces. The subjects of my poems haven’t changed much–they still obsess about the food chain, theodicy, birds, the usual material–but in more complex and, I hope, skillful ways. My tentative title is “Myths of Origin, Falling Away” to reflect my increased use of mythological motifs and personae in the newer poems.

So I’m experimenting with different ways to organize this 60-odd-page pile of papers:

  • Good old topical sections:  a chunk of theological poems, a chunk of nature poems, a chunk of mythological poems… This method has never worked well for me in the past, but I did sequence one version of the manuscript this way just to take inventory as I was getting started last week. At this stage, I did a lot of pruning, taking out poems that appeared weak next to their stronger neighbors in each section, to get the manuscript down to a trimmer and hardier 52 pages.
  • Organization by “voice”:  after a brief section of strong poems that introduce the collection’s major themes, a long section of poems that are quiet-voiced and meditative, followed by another long section of poems that are more kinetic and lively-voiced. I like some of the poem sequences I came up with here, and sorting my poems according to “voice” was instructive as to the direction I seem to be moving in my writing (that is, away from the earnest-voiced poet-in-the-first-person and toward the zingy persona poem).
  • A more woven, cyclical structure:  following the model of some poem sequences that I came up with during my experiment with organization-by-voice, I’m currently trying to meta-sequence the whole manuscript accordingly.  By this I mean setting up repeating cycles, such as of three mythological persona poems followed by a theological meditation followed by a skeptical tantrum followed by a couple of consoling nature poems…and repeating. The actual formula is more complicated (and, to be honest, more flexible) than this, and it’s seriously bending my brain. I feel like I’m trying to juggle eggs, watermelons, chainsaws and flaming torches–about a dozen of each–simultaneously. If I can get it to work, though, I think this will be the best-structured manuscript I’ve come up with so far.

As I work on all this, I pace around my dining table, making numerous lines and piles on it with my poems, then writing down the sequences I’ve laid out–then gathering up the pages and laying them out differently, according to a different idea of order. This passage in Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life always comes to mind when I’m assembling a manuscript:

“I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet” (46).

At Dillard’s suggestion, that is exactly what I am doing as I write this. Cheers to you, Dear Readers, and more soon.

Note as of Oct. 10:  Jeffrey Klausman’s comment on this post, and my reply, ended up over here.

Farewell, Zonker Bonker and Baby Tabby

Sad goodbyes to our two beloved tabby cats. Yesterday, we had to put down Zonker , whose failing kidneys finally stopped responding to the intensive veterinary care that had been keeping them functioning for the past year and a half. As we mourn that sweet marmalade kitty, we also grieve Baby Tabby, who disappeared in July. I don’t like to picture Baby’s likely end, in the jaws of a coyote that neighbors say they saw prowling our street this summer. Two days ago, indulging my wishful thinking, I made one more round of the local animal shelters, just in case his homecoming could give his buddy Zonker, and all of us, a lift on Zonker’s last day. No success.

So I just have to imagine Baby snuggled in next to Zonker in the little grave in our back yard, our two Love Tabbies warming each other in this sleep as they had for many years in their cozy naps on our haystack, on our beds, in the sun on our deck.

Now, the struggle to make meaning out of these goodbyes. Here’s one attempt of mine from several years ago, originally published in the journal Rock & Sling (vol. 4, issue 2, Winter 2007):

 

Strange Accounting

Grieving Tomcat, flattened in the road
Easter morning, I told over the litany
of his many names and nicknames
and wept, harder, at “Daffodil.”  His orange
tabby patches and white roundnesses,
the blameless pink of his nose and mouth
and ears, had all suggested increase

of blooming and brightness.  Amid the lilies,
I always forget:  this is my season of loss,
of wondering what to do with loss, of watching
as the cosmic accounts are reconciled
by means of a heroic and terrible dying.
I struggle to understand this system of bookkeeping.
Still, the ultimate audit intrigues me,

and that night I re-read the Franciscan
who says that when you are resurrected, all
that your heart has loved is resurrected with you.
And so I prayed for salvation, not so much
for my own body as for the eventual unburying
of fur, of purr and pink and scamper,
and the everness of springtime without passing.

 

Baby and Zonker, Love Tabbies

Farewell, Zonker Bonker. Farewell, Baby Tabby. Farewell Tomcat, Buster, Poco, Alex, Beanie, Sylvester, Seymour, and our other loved ones. Bless all your hooves and paws.

Mythology On, and Off, My Bookshelf, Part 1

Did you ever see the magnificent film Rivers and Tides, about the work of Scottish land artist Andy Goldsworthy? I’m smitten by it, and by Goldsworthy’s work, in which he uses whatever natural materials come to hand (sticks, leaves, rocks, icicles, dandelions) to improvise sculptures that erode sooner or later–and sometimes very soon, in the case of, say, floating leaf-snake shapes that uncoil and flow downstream, or icicle sculptures that collapse when the winter sun reaches them. As you can imagine, I dig the frequency of leaves in his work.  Goldsworthy curls them, tears them, layers them, stacks them, weaves them, fastens them, arranges optical illusions with them. Leaves are one of his primary materials for creating.

Now, picture me falling deeper into smittenness with this film when Goldsworthy mentions offhand the existence of a “tree alphabet”–yes, an alphabet based on the names of trees–in ancient Britain. Google offered me no leads; this was 2004. But earlier this year, while browsing in a used bookstore, I found a copy of English poet Robert Graves’s 1948 doorstop The White Goddess:  A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, which is all about trees, ancient alphabets associated with them, and their symbolic and mythological significances. Dear Readers, I swooned.

It took me over three months to meander all the way down Graves’s many-branched trail through the mythological and linguistic thickets of Western Europe and the Middle East. His examples span the Paleolithic period to English Romanticism, with extended, interwoven analyses of ancient Egyptian, Classical Greek, Old Gaelic, and Medieval troubadour texts, songs, and artifacts. Graves’s deft movement from culture to culture and period to period makes his pace feel dizzying, in spite of the book’s length at 500-odd pages. And though I frequently sensed that his rapid jumps elided possible problems with logic or evidence, his comparative approach kept me fascinated. Never before had I guessed that Isis was worshiped in France, or that the Welsh god Bran was Saturn transplanted. Or that Jesus was the most recent specimen in a vast forest of ancient kings whose bodies were sacrificed and eaten, then resurrected and transmuted to a divine status. Or that the primal figure of the White Goddess of the Sea lurks just behind every patriarchal deity worshiped in the West for the past three and a half millenia. OR that the role of the Irish ollave and Welsh bard was originally not just to entertain royalty with their poems, but to preserve–and conceal–the sacred alphabet of the trees, protecting it from invading cultures whose own magic alphabets and powerful deities threatened to obliterate local peoples’ languages, histories, and beliefs.

The White Goddess has been through many editions and reprints since its original publication in 1948 (my own copy is from 1997), and though it is difficult going and frequently flawed, I can see why its appeal persists. As I understand it, this book helped launch the idea current in theology, cultural anthropology, and popular feminism that prior to the ascendancy of patriarchal religions in the Middle East and Europe, the Goddess was worshiped for her power over birth, maturation, and death; growth, fruition, and harvest; dawn, day, and dark. These motifs saturate myth and literature, of course, even to the point of being cliches. But it’s fascinating to read that before they were symbols, they were attributes and manifestations of a triadic Goddess whose own linguistic code was embedded in trees.

There’s Something about Eve

Started making notes for a new poem last night.  I have three things so far:

  • the idea of Eve, upon her & Adam’s expulsion from Eden;
  • the title:  “Ten Great Gifts for the Woman Who Has Nothing”;
  • a single line, “her hair still smelling of blossoms and smoke.”

Interestingly, the first line that occurs to me usually becomes the final line of the poem. Thus my composing process often involves writing my way to that provisional last line. From time to time, I’ll attempt a re-write using that line as the beginning, but I’m rarely satisfied with the result.

So, Just What Do I Mean by “Poetry at the Intersection of Mythology and,” of all things, “Hiking”?

Hiking–like study, like horses, like composing poetry–is one of my passions.  It’s kinesthetic learning, thinking on (or through) my feet.  As my stride finds a rhythm, my sensory perceptions sharpen, and I notice more and more of what’s around me.  The upward-spiraling notes of a Swainson’s thrush, the white flash of a flicker’s tail feathers, the piney flavor of ripe salal berries:  these details I notice, note, and distill into my poems. A beloved teacher and mentor, the poet Luci Shaw, once told me, “Jennifer, you do your best writing with your hiking boots on.”

The River Spey, Scotland

Walking anywhere inspires me.  I love walking downtown Bellingham, Washington, to learn the layout of my city.  (I call this foot-mapping.)  I love walking Boston–have you hiked the Freedom Trail?–and taking in its history.  But my favorite walking is off the pavement, anywhere.  Dirt trails, kind to my plantar fascia, rate highest, with bonus points for a cold stream to cool those grouchy heels in.  Before our son was born, my husband and I used to take long-distance walking trips in England and Scotland:  one to two weeks of hiking village to village, carrying light packs with just rain gear and one change of clothes, doing “sink laundry” each night at the inexpensive b & b’s where we stayed.  In the Highlands, we hiked the Spey River Valley, sampling single-malt whisky along the way to the North Sea.  In Yorkshire, we hiked a route linking Wharfedale, Wensleydale, and Swaledale.  (As I struggled along with a case of bronchitis, my husband flatteringly nicknamed me The Greet Snorking Fellwheezer.)  Despite the frequent rain, despite the exertion on top of the jet lag, despite the occasional bull ignorant of the laws granting public right-of-way on trails through farmland, walking the long-distance paths of the U.K. is our favorite form of travel.  We use trains and buses to get to our starting point, then do the main route on foot, freeing us to slow down and re-ground as pedestrians.

Our first walking trip (echoing the one in 1990 that I took with my mother) was in the Cotswold Hills, stopping at Roman ruins, 12th-century chapels, and the remains of a medieval monastery pulled down by order from King Henry VIII.  It was experiencing these evocative historical sites that initially linked foot travel with my love of the ancient. Visiting, I launched my search for the meanings of the ancient symbols still visible in those places.  What did that grape-leaf inscription signify to the Roman craftsman who carved it into those stone tiles?  What did the cross, and Christ, mean to the Normans who constructed that church, and to the conquered Anglo-Saxons who worshiped there?  What significance would the monks have seen in the wheat-sheaf pattern decorating the broken stone arches of the abbey?  And more:  how did those long-ago people and cultures eventuate in the people and cultures now living?  How did “they” become, broadly speaking, “us”?

My husband and I eagerly await the year that our son, now five, will have the height and stamina to trek a countryside route with us.  In preparation, I’m already nourishing his hungry interest in geology and archaeology, as well as in apples and cheese (our favorite trailside lunch).