It’s Alive … Honoring The Gardener

Horse on Village Green In EnglandI have never been much of a gardener although I’ve purchased more than few books over the years on designing, building, and maintaining  an outdoor space, and I can certainly perform the routine maintenance tasks that go with a typical American yards such as grass cutting, hedge trimming, and weed pulling, but living in Cornwall I’ve had a chance to slow down and appreciate the green-thumbed efforts of others like never before.

Not long after I married my husband and moved to his home in England, I met a very interesting man who at the time was in his late 80s. On my way back from a run one day, I noticed him walking slowly at the edge of the village green carrying several small bags looking as if he’d just come from the local shop. I realized as I got closer that he lived in one of the houses on a road nearby and I stopped to chat and to offer a hand with his shopping.

Walking back to his house, he told me how he use to bike around Cornwall in his 40s and his travels took him through our village. It was our good fortune that he moved here after retiring from a career in forestry service because when Dutch elm disease took most of the trees on the green in the 70s, he was part of a group of folks who replanted the trees we now enjoy.

Not long ago his house was sold after his health deteriorated and he could no longer live on his own. His house went to someone who lived locally on the edge of the village who wanted to downsize and be closer to its center. Mr. Thomas had a lovely garden although there was so much there that it was easy to over look much of what made it special. I always loved his huge hydrangea bush and an unusual pine tree that I’ll say more about in another post.

I was never much a fan of the hydrangea until I saw some of the gorgeous full ones that grow here. I think my experience in the US made me think of them as being chronically spindly with big heads.

When I saw that the lady who bought Mr. T’s house was making major changes to the front and back garden, I meant to ask about snagging the hydrangea bush if she didn’t want it. I assumed she might not after seeing it cut back to the ground, but I almost waited to late to ask.

John and I were on our way out one day and saw a truck at the house filled with roots and bits that had been in the front garden. John stopped the car when I shouted and I went around the back of the house where I could see some men using a mini digger to pull up more of the tougher roots.

After explaining my sentimental connection to our former neighbor and his hydrangea bush, I asked if I might go through the roots in the truck bed to see if I could find any parts of the hydrangea and they not only said yes, but they stopped to help me sort through it. After a bit of digging, we found a couple of limbless chunks of root and we took them home hoping we had managed to find some parts of the hydrangea.

John does the gardening and said he’d plant them the next day as he was on his way out, but I got worried and dug a couple of holes while he was away because I too impatient to wait.

I’ve been keeping watch over two root bits in particular of the four I planted a few months ago, and I was over the moon to see new shoots popping out of the two I thought were part of the hydrangea.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UKIt may not bloom this year, but I hope it won’t be too long before it looks like it did when it was nurtured by Mr Thomas.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UK

I wonder if any of you, like me, are developing a inclination towards gardening due to sentimentality.

A Romantic Story For Valentine’s Day

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Written by Edward Lear and translated by Francis Steegmuller

In 1975 my great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John sent me this book in a birthday gift box for my fifteenth birthday. She always sent the best presents, and packages from her were special even when I was uncertain as to why she gave me certain things.

I collected owls or owl themed items when I was growing up and since I did not speak French, this may have been what led her to choose The Owl and the Pussycat translated into French as a gift for me, or perhaps she imagined I might consider taking French in high school. Having a terrible facility for foreign language, I went with Spanish which was said to be easier than French and saved this book  for sentimental reasons even though I could not read it.

When I moved to Cornwall I had loads of books that had to find a new home. This one made the cut because Aunt Wylly had given it to me and it found a home on a bookshelf that my husband John built for me after we married. I displayed it in a way that made the cover visible and it sat there looking pretty next to a little owl that had been a gift from her as well.

A few weeks ago, just before our fifth wedding anniversary, I looked up from my desk and saw it on the shelf and it occurred to me that while I still did not speak enough French to read it, my British born husband did.

John seemed a bit surprised when I brought it in as we were getting ready for bed and asked him to read it to me. I think his exact response was,  “Now ?”

Even though the poem was not new to me it sounded pretty sweet to hear him read it in French, 39 years after opening it on my birthday.

I know most would argue that it was just a bit of coincidence, but I can’t help but wonder what my aunt would think about our love story and how the romantic in me never gave up on finding lasting love.

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Today is the sixth anniversary of our meeting face to face having met almost “by accident” online six weeks earlier. I flew to Cornwall in 2008 on Valentine’s Day and when my visit was over two weeks later, we both knew our future was set.

Despite an 18 year age difference that created loads of initial objections from my family and friends, I think we both would agree that the ocean between us, a five-hour time difference, and the limitations imposed on the amount of time immigration would allow me to stay were some of the bigger issues in our early relationship.

Being wooed from across the sea was full of surprises and I can still remember when John quoted these lyrics not long after I had returned to the US from my two-week long Valentine’s Day visit.

How could I not fall madly and deeply in love with a man who said such reassuringly sweet words.

At 17 he falls in love quite madly
with eyes of azure blue,
At 24 he gets it rather badly
with eyes of a different hue.
At 36 you’ll find him flirting sadly
with two or three or more;
When he fancies he is past love,
It is then he meets his last love,
And he loves her as he’s never loved before.

~ Peter Dawson

Please feel free to share your own stories  in a comment or links to a blog post you have a special one for today.

I have told our story in different places on my blog, but I will include a few links for those who might be here for the first time. The highlighted words above will take you to other earlier posts if you wish to know more.

The Gift You Keep

Will You Stay With Me Will You Be My Love

Remembering The Day We Met – Valentine’s Day 2008

Buttercup Madness and Mid – May Diversions

Remembering Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert

Captain Bradley Gene Cuthbert (Photo by Elizabeth Harper)

It can be frustrating when you spend several hours searching for someone online and can’t find them. We’re all so used to easy access to information, but what if you spent your whole life searching and wondering.

Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert went missing on November 23 1968 during a flight over North Vietnam. It was his 28th birthday.

When agreements were reached and the POWs came home, Major Cuthbert was not with the survivors. According to information I found online, it seems he was declared dead based on two teeth, a dog-tag, and differing tales from witnesses some as old as 21 years after his plane was shot down.

Two teeth were repatriated and his military file was closed.

His daughter, Shannon Cuthbert Sassen believes he may still be alive somewhere.

I’d like to think we wouldn’t leave a solider behind and that all efforts to find him were exhausted, but 45 years is a long time and it seems unlikely that her father will be returned to her now.

After reading his story and her comment with it, I tried to find her online to give her a copy of the image above. I took the photo of the POW bracelet with her father’s name on it during a trip to Washington D.C. when John and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The long dark wall is a powerful memorial to loss and suffering and like many memorials, people sometimes leave mementos behind. Placed along the wall are personal touchstones left by people connected to someone whose name is etched on the reflective wall of war dead.

A lasting memory from my childhood, the POW bracelet caught my eye placed as it was in front of the wall next to an American flag.

I tried to find Major Cuthbert’s daughter through a variety of search routes before giving up. I hope this post finds its way to her so she will know that her father is not forgotten and that I too, will be thinking of him today.

I’ve written more than a few words about Memorial Day over the last few years and you may be interested in those stories as well.

Leaving Cornwall – Moving On

Cornwall 2013

” How do geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within if we would only listen to it, that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown. ” ~ Elizabeth Kubler -Ross

A local friend of mine told me the other day that he’ll be moving at the end of the month. He is leaving Cornwall to be closer to the family he has left. Having been born in Cornwall, he is what you don’t often meet here, a true Cornishman. His words are of those of acceptance, but they are tinged with a sadness that I can almost feel.

We have talked at length about Lanhydrock, a place very familiar to him and his lively stories have made a place already special to me, even more memorable.

Last week John and I walked into Lanhydrock from a new direction. We parked at Respryn Bridge and wandered down a long tree-lined road that once welcomed carts and carriages and the first automobiles. I thought of my friend as we enjoyed the fresh beauty of our long-awaited spring weather. The sun came and went as we walked with dark clouds shadowing us at points along the way before retreating without even a drop of the rain I thought might come.

After hearing me talk about distance running not long after we met, my Cornish friend shared a bit about his running days … telling me of a time when his feet knew the way to all the best paths around Lanhydrock. It will be impossible not to think of him on days like the one we had even though his season of running has passed and his time in Cornwall is at an end.

I imagine I will see him there from time to time in my mind when the weather shifts as it did with us. I’ll think what a fine day and suddenly he will be there, on the path in his running shoes with no need for walking sticks … moving easily in a place between the past and the future.

Safe travels, my friend.

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Bridge Building & Invitations

Newquay

I tend to be pretty competitive, but not with everyone.

When it comes to those close to my heart … I let a lot slide.

In those relationships, love is always more important than winning.

That’s not to say I don’t feel disappointment, I just try not to linger there too long.

I can be a relentless bridge builder when a misunderstanding threatens a relationship.

But it doesn’t always work and it’s no good pushing too hard.

Sometimes all I can do is build a bridge and offer an invitation to the other side.

After that, I let go.

How do you handle disappointment in relationships. 

A Castle For Your Dreams

13th Century - Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

13th Century – Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

Hundreds of years ago someone imagined a life on hillside overlooking the River Fowey. Not content with the natural height provided, they scooped up the earth to build a motte and bailey design castle. The first structure appeared around 1100 in what would eventually become the stone remnants you now see in the photo above. Restormel Castle in Cornwall is considered one of the best remaining examples of a motte and bailey castle and according the English Heritage site, one of 70 remaining in Britain.

Fulfilling the dreams of others

When my best girlfriend Patrice came for a short visit in 2011, she had a list of things that she wanted to do while she and her partner Lisa were here for a few days. One of which was a visit to a castle.

I took them to Sunday services on St Michael’s Mount and later John walked with us through the attached castle, but I wanted more for her. I wanted her to see a remote castle with no furnishings and few people, a place where she might have a moment alone to think about her mother who had died a few years earlier without going on the ‘Castles of Europe’ tour she’d always imagined she’d see one day.

I remember Patrice telling me how she’d asked her mother if there was anything she wanted to do in the time she had left and how they had talked about castles before her mother began chemotherapy. Her mother died without going on that trip so this was more than just another tourist stop for Patrice, it had a special meaning and while she didn’t mind which castle she saw, I wanted it to be really special and I had a feeling that Restormel Castle might be that place.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

When I see this photograph of Patrice, I can almost hear her saying, ‘I’m here, Mama’ as she pauses in the first entrance to the castle.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see a second entry point into the castle where the person in blue is walking under the arch. The gatehouse was originally three stories high but was partially dismantled during the Civil War. I found the history of this building style fascinating when I researched Restormel Castle. If you’d like to know more, I have done some of the work for you by providing the highlighted links above.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see the entrance to the chapel in the center of the photo above. The chapel projected out past the circular structure and had points of entry from smaller side doors.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleLooking to the middle left of the photo above, you can a side entrance to the chapel as well as an arched entry leading directly into the sanctuary.

Patrice & Lisa

Here’s a shot looking mostly down into the space. I’m afraid these images are not my best work as it was wet and windy shooting that day, but perhaps you can still get a sense of the space.

Patrice & Lisa

From this angle so you can see how thick the walls are and get a glimpse of the lovely view from the castle walls.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

There are stories about a dungeon, but I’m not sure they are more than stories.

Patrice & Lisa

There are stairs which lead to all kinds of hidden areas like this one with Patrice. I said she looked like a monk from a distance with her dark hood up to avoid the rain so she assumed a prayerful position at the end of a moss-covered passage way.
Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

In this photo, you have a window in the center with an open space  to the left where a fireplace once stood. There’s a matching window (not seen here) on the other side of the fireplace shell.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

I wondered how many faces must have looked though these great stones windows over the last 800 or 900 years and thought about how the view must have changed along with the ownership of the castle. My imagination goes wild thinking about the lives of those privileged to have been able to stand or sit near the windows in a room with such an important function.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see how the windows and fireplace might have looked in the great hall by double clicking on this image of a plaque from the castle grounds.Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleHere’s a last look at what the interior of the keep might have looked like. You can see the window outline and the fireplace off to the left in this photo of one of the English Heritage information plaques. I usually take a quick photo of these to use later as a reference when I want to do more research online at home. I thought these might be helpful for this post.
Duchy Nursery

One more shot of Restormel Castle from a distance … the first and last photographs were taken during the last week and all others in September 2011.

It was good to help Patrice complete a goal that had been one of her mother’s dreams. Two castle visits may not have been the ‘Castles of Europe ‘ tour her mother dreamed of, but walking through Restormel Castle and St Michael’s Mount, I can’t help but think that Patrice’s mother would have had a little chuckle to see her daughter fulfilling a few of mom’s unfinished dreams.

I imagine most of us have something like that. There are so many places I see living in the UK that I know my dad would have loved to see himself, but the thing I feel most keenly is the connection he and I shared with writing and imagination.

My father left a fair amount of unpublished words and ideas and at least one story he wrote for his daughters. I know he would have been a big fan of my writing (being my dad) and would have encouraged me to go beyond the limitations of my blog. I hope to manage that one day and do something that he, like Patrice’s mom, never had a chance to do himself.

How about you? Are any of you secretly hoping to complete a dream desire that someone special to you can no longer do for themselves or maybe one like mine that you shared with a parent or other loved one?

The Last Photographs Of My Life … Not Yet

Wales 2013

Multi-Car Accident on A40 in Slebech, Wales ( I took this from inside the ambulance. The blue van in the middle of the road is the one that hit us. She also hit the car to the left, near the sign.)

Four days ago my husband John and I were hit by a woman in a van. It was 2:20 in the afternoon on a Friday in Wales.

The driver was drunk … almost twice the legal limit.

She drove head-on into our lane and only John’s quick reactions saved us from something that could have been very ugly. I don’t know why she made the decision to drink and drive or why she felt it necessary to try to pass a delivery truck on a crowded two-lane road after having had the equivalent of four pints of beer, but she did.

None of the cars were moving slowly although 40 to 45 miles an hour may sound slow to those used to higher speeds on major roads. I imagine the drunk driver was also accelerating when she pulled out from behind the large truck that witnesses said she’d been trying to overtake for a while before reaching us. They said it almost looked as if she had someone else in the car jerking the wheel back several times before she drove into our lane.

I looked up from a book I was reading when I felt John shift suddenly and saw the van coming at us, his quick response moved us to the edge of the road or what they call ‘the verge’ here. She hit the side mirror before striking the back side car near the tire which caused our car to go into a spin. We left the road temporarily while spinning … moving through the grass and mud before going back into the road and coming to rest across both lanes.

Wales 2013

We were traveling in the opposite direction of how the car is facing in this photo.

Wales 2013

The blue van in the middle of the road in the distance is the one that caused the accident. She also hit the car near the sign to left in the photo. You can see the grass we brought with us after spinning through it. The white car was behind us and stopped to help. (That’s our tire jack on the right … it flew out during the spin. We lost a big suspension coil as well)

Knowing there were other cars traveling in both lanes, I expected to feel the impact of more cars even after we stopped moving, but all was still afterwards except for the sound of my own coughing. As the dust from four airbags cleared, I knew I was unharmed, but I had to force myself to look at John because I knew his side of the car had taken the hit.

I was afraid to look for fear of what I might see.

Seeing him unharmed except for a bit of blood on his lip was unbelievable given the wild ride we’d just experienced and before we could say more than, ‘Are you alright,’ we heard a man yelling, ‘ Get out of the car, get out of the car!’ It turns out having four airbags going off at once can give an impression of a car filling with smoke and as we jumped out I didn’t know whether the car was on fire or about to be hit by something larger.

Having my camera in my lap at the time of impact proved useful and I snapped a few photos before a mad adrenalin rush and uncontrollable shaking had me sitting in an ambulance being evaluated. I took a few more photos from a sitting position inside the boxy vehicle which is larger than most American ones.

Wales 2013

My window to the world from inside a Welsh ambulance (enlarge to see the Welsh writing on the wall.)

Wales 2013

After hitting us and the delivery truck she was trying to pass, she hit the wall to the right and scraped the road. Somewhere during her out of control ride, she also hit the white car on the left side of the road too.

My title would suggest these were the last photographs I was referring to, but at then end of our day after being released from the hospital and having arrived by taxi at our B&B for the night, I was going over my photos when I came to those I’d shot less than an hour before the crash occurred.

I told John as I flipped through them that had things not gone as they had, someone else might be looking at the last photographs of my life … my final view.

These are some of those images.

Wales 2013

Wales 2013

I don't usually take photos that include the car, but I liked the cloud's reflection in the hood.

I don’t usually take photos that include the car, but I liked the cloud’s reflection in the hood.

My Last Photo ... Not Yet

My Last Photo … Not Yet

The photo above of the rider-less horse … is the very last one I took before the crash occurred. The rider had dismounted just before I took this shot.

Big big thanks for all of the kind thoughts from our Facebook friends. You heard first about our encounter with the drunk driver and your supportive comments were very much appreciated.