Homebound: A Tour Of Mersea

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Christie and I are homebound. She, an author and writer of contemplative prose, is bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. And I, a writer of poetry and prose, live in a small southern shrimping village. My home, Mersea, is an old white Victorian built in 1904. We are both writers, wives, mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

Christie and I exchanged a few “Homebound Letters” over Lent. The nature of a letter is to communicate over a distance, but the season of Lent introduces other distances — there is the space between winter and spring, the break between longing and fulfillment, and the chasm, so like a tomb, between death and new life. But what is Lent, after all, but a kind of long homecoming? It is a practice of return and a way of erasing distance.

 

“Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them”Psalm 126:6). This is the meaning of Easter.

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Easter is watching all that miserable distance shrink, almost to nothing. Easter is no more letter-writing but a face-to face encounter. Christie and I haven’t yet achieved that, it remains our not-quite-yet, but here is our literary equivalent. Here, for you Christie, and for each one of you reading along, is your very own tour of Mersea at Easter time. I am so glad you’ve come to visit.

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Christie, welcome to Mersea! Not only do I welcome all of ya’ll, but the sounds of the sea gulls and songbirds, and the sweet smells of salt air and sea spray coming on shore, they welcome you too. As if on cue they are singing their own songs of gladness and welcome. Shrimp season has just re-opened here so Sweet, my english cocker spaniel and I walked to the end of the road to the seafood market this morning and bought fresh shrimp for our lunch. So I can promise the shrimp salad is fresh! And the girls provided the eggs for the deviled eggs. So they are fresh too. (Perhaps we can exchange recipes. I’d love some from you all.)

Let’s have lunch on the front porch in the spacious wicker rockers with all the cozy colorful pillows. You will learn so much about this small village by watching the locals walk up and down our sidewalks. There will be lots of bicycle riders too, of all ages. I hope my neighbor rides by today, the one who pedals her tricycle with her big fluffy dog tied to the handlebars. She always makes me grin. My hope and dream and wish is to ride my own bicycle into my seventies and eighties. She is an inspiration.

We will not be bored, watching the world go by, you and I and our lunch of shrimp salad, fresh lettuce greens from my garden and fresh picked chocolate mint in our glasses of iced tea. Every once in awhile a crabber will go by with his or her crab pots in the back of the pick up truck. There is such beautiful simplicity in the design of the pot and in making a living from the sea. The village will tell you some stories, if you sit still and listen.

This wobbly old front porch has recently won my heart and become my favorite room in the house. It doesn’t hide its age or the wear and tear of living. It flaunts the fact that it has survived at least two major hurricanes, if not more. I am sure you saw the sign posted on the front column when you arrived, the one presented by the Village Museum. I will tell you over lunch a little more about my decision to name the house Mersea. You see she already has one “official” name, The Thomas William Graham house. As you will see in a moment, she not only has two names, but two front doors as well.

I suppose I could be a bit prideful about how desperately we need to paint the exterior of the house, but change and renovation take time as you well know. There is a certain special kind of peace which comes in loving Mersea in her in-between place. I am beginning to wonder if she will be too shiny, too new, too polished once her new paint is applied to her old white boards.

Now, which door shall we enter. These two front doors of ours, I find them to be at once doubly welcoming and a bit odd. I have a passion for doors, so this suits me just fine. But when folks come to see us they are just not quite sure how and where to enter when we say “Come on in!”

In the springtime and anytime the weather is showing off, we leave the front doors open so that the outside can come in and bring its goodness. Fresh air and cool winds flowing through Mersea is one of my greatest joys. Open! Yes, open is always preferred. And two open provides double the sea air and gull cries and birdsong and smells of spring.

But we must have screen doors. As you know, the gnats and mosquitoes and the “no see ums” can be unbearable. We joke and say it keeps the village small, as it keeps folks away. One screen door slaps so hard you will likely remember its slam even when you return to Maplehurst. The other door is so loose it sometimes requires an intentional closing. This is one of many juxtapositions and idiosyncrasies you will see as we continue on the tour.

Let’s go through the foyer and through the dining room. Try not to peek as I want to show you these spaces a little later after we go to the kitchen to grab our lunch. You must be hungry as you have come so far. I made a pecan pie and we are having fig preserves with lunch. Both are a hat tip to the pecan and fig trees out back. I don’t make good biscuits, but I buy great biscuits. The biscuits are just a placeholder for the spoonfuls, plural, of fresh fig preserves. Bought too. But this summer I have big plans to make my own, like my mother used to do with figs from her fig trees. I am missing mother this first spring without her. Spring was her favorite time of year. So many things here at Mersea were gifts from momma. I will point them out to you as we go.

Would you like coffee or hot tea with your pecan pie?

To be continued…

(Follow along on Instgram @graceappears for more photographs of Mersea)

 

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Christie Purifoy has offered to give all of us a tour of her home. Click the link here to follow along on her Homebound Home Tour of Maplehurst At Eastertime.

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Homebound: From Mersea To Maplehurst With Love, March 9

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Christie and I are homebound. I, a writer of poetry and prose, am bound to Mersea, a simple white Victorian, nestled in the historic district of a southern shrimping village. She is bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse build by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Christie and I are writing letters, she beneath the hemlocks and maples and I beneath the pines and pecans. We reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them.

Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss and restoration.

Welcome to my third letter in the series. To read Christie’s previous letters and more of her beautiful words go to her web site, found here. To read all the letters in the Homebound Collection, visit the tab at the top of my home page, entitled The Homebound Letters.

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March 9, 2017

(From home after being away)

Dear Christie:

The brown leather sofa in the parlor is holding me with a familiar leather scented embrace. A cool night has left the house chilled, but I am warmed by both blanket and puppy. What an apt name my husband has given our sweet English Cocker whose name is Sweet. She chooses to stay by my side as I write, apparently my absence was noticed as she leans in especially close this sunny morning. Perhaps she missed me, as I missed all things familiar, all things home.

Christie, as you know I accompanied my friend to Boston for a trip to Mass General Hospital. We left on a Tuesday, returned on a Wednesday and I am back to my beloved writing on a Thursday. I am viewing home now with the lens of leaving. Leaving and returning bring many gifts, one is a newly framed perspective. I like the frame. It focuses me, like the European silver with a bit of patina that I chose to frame my son’s portrait here at Mersea.

Perhaps leaving reawakens all the senses and plants tiny seeds from the experiences within us. What seeds have I brought back which I will need to tend to and water? How will I grow because of where I have gone?

I imagine we are all being renewed daily. During this Lenten season perhaps I am more keenly aware of renewal. It feels more present and sacred this year. I long for it more deeply, and am even slowly chasing after it. Somehow I feel we are beginning to meet, change and I. She is gentle. And she is patient and willing to wait for me even as I must wait on the minute radish seeds in our garden to grow into edible radishes. I must wait for the natural process of seeds transforming into bulbous red radishes.

But it is worth the wait. For I will slice the radish thinly, place it on a thick slice of grain toast with avocado, arugula and fried egg like the one I sampled in Boston. And it will be good. A simple good that comes along as gift. Why is it that I want to slice the radish thinly so that it becomes translucent, nearly transparent? Are we called too to be transparent like the cut radish?

When I was in Boston, I tried to make it my temporary home. To be rooted there for but a blink. Graciously Boston gave good gifts. The signs along Charles Street provided a curated display of simple art. Each one, uniquely designed and hung with care outside of the shops spoke to pride of place. I walked at a snail’s pace along the bumpy and worn brick sidewalk, looking up and studying the design of each shop keeper’s home.

Rich conversation was a by product of this long journey for a bittersweet visit. The seventh floor of Mass General held both sorrow and joy. During one of our talks, my wise friend reminded me that joy and sorrow can and do coexist. We can celebrate the miracle, slivers and slices and servings of joy even while grief, sorrow and sadness are present. What mystery there is in celebrating what they each bring.

Flying looks like a metaphor for our lives. The experience felt new as I hadn’t flown in a long forever. I have lost my wanderlust. Maybe I have found other things to replace it and it is not therefore a true loss. My desire to go faraway anymore has been mostly snuffed out.

But this was an invitation to go. I wonder about all I would have missed if I had said no. What a place of honor to travel as a companion and co-traveler with my beloved friend on her journey. I call her teacher too. We have much to learn from each other about loss, love and restoration. Christie, oh how I am enjoying your letters! And you too are teaching me about important things.

On this micro-journey, as in life, we experienced delay, turbulence and frustration. But there was joy too in seeing the unparalleled aesthetic beauty of the clouds. Their shape, color and mysterious movements, viewed from a plane window are spectacular. Childlike wonder sat with me. I thought I knew how to press into looking up at the clouds from my earthbound, rooted place. But glimpsing the cotton white masses moving against an azure blue backdrop at eye level reminded me there are new ways to see everything.

And there was joy in being, just being with a friend and meeting kind souls along the way, such as the world’s coolest Uber driver. The news was good in Boston and so we are full of rejoicing. Is this a preview of what is to come at Easter-time?  We are moving in that direction, the place of newness. I hope I am ready and that I am changed.

Today I will go to the tiny post office here in the village to mail some thank you notes. I wish I could box up and mail you a package of springtime. It would contain color and hope, buds and seeds, pieces of me and Mersea. My hope for you is that it will not delay, this true and fully fledged spring.

In time we will both celebrate its arrival. Spring will come for all of us. Newness and change are the sweetest of gifts. I hope I unfurl my clutched fists to receive it all. And to allow the gift of change in me.

Peace and grace to you,

Elizabeth
Mersea

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Homebound: From Mersea To Maplehurst With Love, March First

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Christie and I are homebound. I, a writer of poetry and prose, am bound to Mersea, a 1904 simple white Victorian, nestled in the historic district of a southern shrimping village. She is bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Christie and I are writing letters, she beneath the hemlocks and maples and I beneath the pines and pecans. We reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them.

Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss and restoration.

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My first letter to Christie may be found here. To read Christie’s response click here or the link to her letter may be found at the conclusion of my own.

February 2017

(From my green leather chair, the color of pea soup, at Mersea)

Dear One:

The wind is almost violent today. The gusts are like bursts of labor; nature is birthing something weather-wise that reminds me of the hurricanes we have lived through. Mersea has seen more than I. But I have seen all I care to see in one lifetime. Last fall’s hurricane, the one named Matthew, made landfall here. We chose to ride it out, to stay with our home and so we witnessed the force, the power, the destructive nature of the wind.

Today when the wind stops howling it is so peaceful and yet there is this waiting. The pattern is set. There will be more rattling and rumblings. The wind comes in like a train too fast at the station. My heart calms and speeds up in tandem with the wind.

Each time the wind barrels through the pine trees I am reminded of the bending and breaking they do. How resilient they are. And yet, in a moment one could come down on the house. The gust too much for the fragile, weak or old tree. So much restoring left to do here and yet a ripped and damaged roof would add to the list of “we need to’s”. I love the restoring. It feels important and life-giving. But do I want to add a project birthed from disaster?

I love the trees here in the village and at Mersea. They are mostly old and grand , some pecan, some pine and some oak. We live with them and learn from them. They seem to be storytellers and teachers. Walking us through the seasons with hope and renewal. Pointing out and upward with limbs of praise.

In the winter they appear to be grieving. Bearing up under the weight of their bareness. Providing so much and asking so little. Generous to a fault like the one in the book, “The Giving Tree”. Givers and teachers and beacons of what’s to come, these trees seem to be. Shade givers and hammock holders. Tire swing hangers and fig producers.

The wind is coming in a little calmer now. Just as the seasons do, change comes if we hold on tight and wait. I can hear the songbirds better when the wind dies down. Their song is vibrant, telling a story I cannot quite interpret. But yet, and yet, I miss the passion of the heavy gusts.

Our restoration has slowed down a bit here. I miss the passion we once had. But in this time of dormancy I am learning contentedness in the waiting. The quiet lull between projects provides a sanctuary of sorts. I must wait. And it is always good, no better even, when I do. It changes and shapes me, this waiting.

Peace and grace to you and your beloved Maplehurst. You are on my heart as I wonder what is being birthed and restored in your own heart and in your home.

Wishing you joy and hope in your restoration,

Elizabeth,  Mersea

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To read Christie’s beautiful response to me from Maplehurst  follow the link to her blog found here. Christie, author of “Roots and Sky” writes on her blog Christie Purifoy, A Spacious Place

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Hitting Close To Home: Finding Lovely In The Places Nearby

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I am looking for a passport which bears the name of someone other than myself. I think it’s tucked away among old stained t-shirts and outgrown boy things. I stop to imagine the uncovering. Of both the semi-lost passport and of the waiting wonder and beauty on this trans-Atlantic journey. The hunt for this documentation, necessary for going away, is taking me places I never imagined I’d go. A circuitous journey of coming back around to my staying home.

It is enough, this vicariousness. There is profound joy and deep satisfaction in mental wandering. I wonder about the topography of Wales, the weather and whether it will rain or not. And if it does, what does a post-rain village smell like in the springtime there. Old brick and ancient soil co-mingle to tell stories, an aromatic telling. (I can read of Wales from here and I can see a hundred photographs. But the smells, I must net them in my wildest dreams. Capture them in my imagination. That is the sense that takes me travelling in place.)

Wet or damp, dry and cool, how do the fields smell. Sweet like wildflowers or pungent like arugula and rosemary, whose powerful scents explode in their breaking. The pastures, splaying out from ancient castles like oceans of green grasses, blade on blade of lovely; how do they wave in the wind? A green that only May may know, that is the green of my imagining. Green, a favorite smell is the green that shouts new birth.

Each dream, each splinter of my imagination is rooted in love. This season, the one in which I find myself, is one of staying. Of anchoring. Of tethering. I am harbored close to home. All of my travels are in the soil of nearby.

I both remember London fondly and recall my dormant desire for returning. I grieve for what I missed, victim of a younger me wasting time in a city I long to experience her again as an older version of myself.

So I may ask them to visit a bookstore for me, to bring me a something I can hold of that place. Go in my stead. Yet, I do not want my influence to attend their journeys. I want this trip to be wholly theirs in every way. I imagine the places the soles of their shoes will mark. I close my eyes and dream about the planes and trains and automobiles that will whisk them along from town to town. They will soar and fly and rumble, while I will remain in place.

But I have my own rumblings to lean into. And I have my own soaring to do. I ride on the wings of words. And I go faraway in the nearby. I am discovering the shards of lovely in the places nearby.

When they return, when they all return, I am the receptacle of experiences not my own. They dig deep into the well of experience and I am there, far from here. Removed from my present place. I receive their experiences and stories, soak them in and hold on to a re-living. They take me with them in their telling.

The squeak in the eighth stair down, is my siren call to stay. It reminds me as I travel up and down this staircase, built circa 1904, that I am going back and forth through time. I live in a time capsule, a concrete paradox of staying and leaving.

Yesterday the dirt was dark and thick. Each fingernail held the soil-turning of the day, by hand. I placed the pansies into the containers, chosen by design for their size and significance. I dug into the contentment of staying put.

Staying calls me to dig deep in the narrow fields. It forces my hand to root out the nuanced beauty that lies in wait. If I am to discover anything, I must know how to discover the nearby first before I go out in search of more. I must rejoice here, celebrate here, if I am to be practiced at perfecting discovery anywhere else.

The squeak in the eighth and ninth stair combine to play a duet. And I am content to strike the chords of staying.

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