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Thursday, August 27, 2015


Don't they look juicy?
Despite the organizing still to do at our new house in North Carolina, Rob and I got into the car to explore what will soon be our new surroundings.  Country roads lined with working farms are extraordinarily beautiful and relaxing, and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

It is early August, and peaches are hanging ripe for the picking.  All around the area are peach festivals, but these festivals will have to wait until next year.  But we have to eat, don’t we?  So we head to Buttermilk Creek Farm, a family-owned business.  The farm grows and sells blackberries, blueberries, and peaches.  You’ll soon hear why knowing all three is important.

Today Rob and I are there for the peaches.  In Warwick, we also go to the orchards, and we buy our peaches from Pennings on the outskirts of the village.  The hardest part is deciding whether to go for the yellow or the white peaches.  They’re both delicious.

If you’re used to supermarket peaches, you’ve never had the almost unearthly delight of having to bend forward as you bite into a ripe peach you’ve simply twisted off the stem into your hand.  You bend in order to keep that sweet-smelling, peachy juice from running down your chin and on to your shirt.  That’s the way it is when you twist a peach from its branch and bite past the tickling fuzz into the heart of it.  You can see why it was impossible not to go peach picking when we had the chance.

Being new-comers to the area, we take Pat and Tom’s sage advice and head to Buttermilk Creek Farm, a family owned, pick your own fruit farm in Burlington, North Carolina, and conveniently near us. 

To get there, we drive past tobacco fields and farms, across bridges spanning Lake Cammack where we hope to sail and fish very soon.  We probably take the long way as we are just getting the lay of the land, and early August is so pretty.  There’s a wonderful serenity in driving country roads. I don’t think I have ever seen tobacco growing before, and on one farm, men were in the fields snipping the flowers from the leafy plants. 
These plants are tobacco.  Quite beautiful, aren't they?

Buttermilk farm grows blackberries, blueberries, and peaches, and we picked a few peaches—we haven’t moved in yet, so there is little more we can do than eat them fresh.  Just wait until next year.

It is just nice walking up and down the rows, squeezing a peach here and there until we find one that is just right.  We actually pick peaches that will sit on our counter for a day or two before being perfectly ready.  That is the advice from the man in charge whom we meet there.  

When I looked for some online information on Buttermilk Creek Farm, there was a uTube video. I believe I found the same friendly man, Steve Smith, who owns the farm and, if you watch the video, you’ll learn more about it.   Here is the link to the video:  Buttermilk Creek Farm

But we feel very welcomed here, and before we leave with the few peaches for which Steve refused payment, by the way, we did have a chat and learned a little of his impression of the people who come to pick—particularly his berries. 

He told us that it appears that transplanted Northerners go wild over the blueberries while Southerners seem to prefer the blackberries.  We guaranteed that we would be back for both.  I started making jams last year, and I think it will be wonderful.  By the way, this past season peaches were $1.50 a pound and berries were $3.75 a pound.  I think I shall be very busy.

He was so nice and friendly, just as everyone we’ve met has been.  And Pat and Tom treated us to some brandied peaches over vanilla ice cream.  Yes, my friends, we will be back.

Friday, August 21, 2015

This is the entrance to the Monastery at Glendalough, founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century.
The main entrance wall which separated the monks from the outside world
was accessed through this double-arched gateway.
It was probably built between 900 and 1200.
Here's the amazing part--
There is no mortar to support the arches in this gateway.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.  Hmmm.  I held back from reading any reviews or analyzes of the novel I pre-ordered and waited for with bated breath.  I had already read the various stories about this book's history, and I wanted to put that aside as much as I could just as I wanted to put To Kill a Mockingbird aside as much as I could.

But as I read Go Set a Watchman, I could not see Atticus as anyone other than Gregory Peck nor Jean Louise as anyone other than a grown-up Mary Badham.  Nor could I ignore that, at the very least, Go Set a Watchman may have been "touched up" by persons unknown from Harper Lee's original rejected draft form and that the characters I would come to love in To Kill a Mockingbird, including Tom Robinson, as well as the sub-plot of his trial, would have their seeds planted, to some degree, in this earlier book. The absence of Boo Radley was very obvious.  It wasn't until I finished reading that I looked at some of the reviews to see how others reacted not only to this book but also to the bits and pieces inserted or missing from To Kill a Mockingbird.

I did not finish Go Set a Watchman with the negative reactions I’ve read in the press and in magazines.  I thought the grace of language and the feelings of small-town Southern life that speak primarily of a past era were here, and the soft fluidity of expression that Harper Lee exhibits in a supremely more polished manner in To Kill a Mockingbird is evident here.  The tone, despite Jean Louise’s rambunctious and iconoclastic rebellion, is calm and consistent on the parts of the older Finches and troubled on Jean Louise's part.  One can see how Atticus’ approach to his daughter when she was six has not changed much now that she is 26.  Nor can one see any inconsistency in Atticus’ earlier defense of Tom Robinson or of his present defense of Calpurnia's son.  Held in higher regard than personal feelings is the law.  

While it is distressing to be reminded that the council’s feelings and even Atticus’ reasoning were so much a part of the pre-1960s South (and unfortunately even later), those feelings were real and to deny them is to re-write history.  I abhor re-writing history.  But this novel, if printed in its own time, would have died a natural death and gone the way of other dated and/or unacceptable works.

Go Set a Watchman is a rite of passage novel, and it's interesting because our protagonist is already 26 years old, far older than usual. She has to move out of the old ways and into the new, and she has to experience how different life is in a place like New York before she can make that move.  When she left Maycomb, she was searching for something she could not identify.  This trip home helps her move closer to the road she will follow in life.  It's not her Daddy's world anymore even if he doesn't know it yet.  That's a universal truth most adults have a tough time accepting, and Atticus is no exception.

I wonder where Harper Lee’s real feelings lie in these matters.  She said she wanted to write a "race book." There's no question that she sides with Jean Louise.  Was she trying to make that transition from the world in which she grew up into the new world just being born when she wrote this book?  Had this book been published in its time, I wonder if To Kill a Mockingbird would have followed.  I doubt it.  But if it had, would it have ever gotten to the pinnacle of American Classics?  I doubt that too, for we would never have forgiven the older Atticus Finch who is so much a part of the old order.  Jean Louise revolts against Atticus’ ideas, but she comes to understand them.  She is just past them.  She is actually asked to come back to Maycomb and exert some positive influence on these too-long-held ideas.

What is interesting about Jean Louise is that even as she is repelled by the people she loves, she sees how she accepted many of the same behaviors.  When she visits Calpurnia and asks if Calpurnia hated the family she faithfully served, Jean Louise awakens to the stark, hard realization of how different and how difficult their worlds were.  But it is not as if she had never been to Calpurnia's home or known Calpurnia's family.  She was brought up blinded to the injustices of the times.

Jean Louise realizes that accepting the way she is raised is the basis of racism and other types of prejudice.  Attitudes and behaviors that appear to be the natural scheme of things are never questioned, but they are subtly taught and passed down generation after generation.  Change is right, but change is a huge challenge.  When Jean Louise leaves Maycomb, she still has a long way to go.  But she is willing--and anxious--to work at it.  There's the key to moving in the right direction--it takes conscious work and effort.  It can be achieved.

The character of Henry becomes important in light of Jean Louise's awakening.  She already revolted against some of the hometown characteristics, and she continues to take stronger and stronger stances.  Henry, however, comes from a different background, will remain in Maycomb, and despite his feelings that some of what he sees is wrong, he is concerned with his own acceptance, and so he approaches problems from an entirely different standpoint.  Isn't that the way the world works?  In Jean Louise's case, it is Uncle Jack who lectures her about the way their world works and how she fits into that world--or doesn't.  I found it all interesting and with a great deal of truth.  Sometimes the truth hurts, as Jean Louise discovers.

The Boo Radley sub-plot of To Kill a Mockingbird is not hinted at in Go Set a Watchman.  What that does to To Kill a Mockingbird is broaden the definitions and demonstrate another type of prejudice.  It fills out this second book and adds to its richness. It reminds me that Go Set a Watchman is a rejected first draft.

I liked the title of this novel as well.

According to the website Bible Hub, the title is from Isaiah 21:6 about the prophecy concerning the ruin of Babylon. Jean Louise symbolizes that watchman, and she reports what she sees in the land that must change.  As in the Bible, the event is not to happen immediately, but will in due time.

In the novel itself, it is suggested that the watchman is one's conscience.  We know right from wrong, and we should be able to choose right for ourselves as we grow up and begin to individually evaluate the world around us.  We need a watchman to alert us to dangers.

No matter how one approaches Go Set a Watchman, first reactions will be visceral.  This novel, still a monumental best seller, hits us with a flurry of punches that knock the wind out of us because Atticus Finch is not the man we thought him to be--as Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise--or because the South was just beginning to be forced to change in many ways after WWII and was still filled with seething animosity.   We don't want to hear that.

But I recommend this book.  I see the seeds of Harper Lee's greatness. I'd like to hear your reactions to it in the comments section.