Monday, May 22, 2017

Green Witch's Report

Come into the Garden with me!
'Tis Spring and there's so much to see!
Take my hand, we'll make the rounds...
If we look closely, no telling what will be found!

Like Goody Prymm, plants are grown for their uses...
But also for their beauty and contemplative leanings...
Here the creatures feel welcomed, from the friendly green the Owls that roost in the Cedars.

There is a tiny herb bed within the greater Garden...see the tin barn spire that marks its center?
And around it are four stones, marking North, South, East, and West.  There you will find Basil just beginning, Lemon Thyme and Garden Thyme, Italian Oregano, Comfrey, Mexican Oregano with its pink tubular blooms that seduce the tiny hummingbirds, French Tarragon for deliciously sweet vinegar salad dressings, Lemon Verbena, and of course one of my favorites, Sage, an herb you either love or strongly dislike (I'm removing the word hate from my is used so casually's not a word, in this Green Witch's opinion, to throw around carelessly).  And asleep under this herb bed are Spider Lilies and St. Joseph Lilies to bloom in other seasons...

I appreciate and collect Rocks and Shells for my Gardens.  Their colors and textures add so much...
My Gardens speak to me (and I to them), but I also like them to speak to my visitors or just to passersby...

These little white Shells were gathered along the shoreline where I lived as a little girl....and are now a welcoming committee...

(While all the other pictures are current, this one is several seasons old, but I "shell" use the concept again this summer!)

Sometimes the Garden plants itself!  Here there is Larkspur and Tickseed and wild Spiderwort, which later will have understated blue flowers, as sweet as can be... and variegated Black-eyed Susans filling in where needed!

Goodness knows, I didn't plant them, but they seem happy, don't they?  And there are other herbs here on this side of the Garden, Tansy being one of my favorites.  It will grow taller than I, just you wait and see!

The Echinacea is a social butterfly, always inviting more of its kind with each passing season...

That's fine with me...the more the merrier!!  And the Lilies arrive in time to show their colors of cream, yellow, orange, and grapefruit reds...

My last Spring's newcomer...a "black" Pincushion Flower which, now being in its second year of perennial growth, is really bushing out, reaching a height of three almost three feet!  A treat for the butterflies when it finally blooms in full! The blooms will fan out in the most deliciously deep purple-black flowers, now just beginning to show themselves.   Lori...have your seeds sprouted yet?  ;)

I have both real and imagined creatures that live in the Garden...this fellow sporting a top hat and tails...and the sweet little Screech Owl, who lets me get soooooo close...

There will be more to see with each passing day...Inspiration just flows after a stroll in a Garden...

***With a nod to The Primitive Hare for some of the freebie lettering I'm using in my design (I would never steal), as well as the printed 35-count Anne Boleyn linen for the ground.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Saturday, May 20, 2017

In Preparation: Lessons From the Garden

"Never does Nature say one thing, and Wisdom another."


The rain just kept coming down, meaning that, aside from necessary chores, yet another spring day was to be spent, cooped up indoors.  Remember was restless, and the prospect of sitting still and stitching her sampler held no appeal.  Goody Prymm, however, had a smiley countenance as she peered through the leaded diamond pane window out to the gardens, nodding her approval and stating that the rain was a necessary boost for healthy growth.   Already, tiny shoots were sprouting up through the dark, well-prepared soil, a promise of healing herbs and plants to be harvested throughout the summer and into autumn.  Remember just sighed audibly and rolled her eyes, as impatient youth is wont to do, Goody Prymm noting it and stating in a matter-of-fact and low tone that all things come in due time...that herbs are mild, and their action slow, requiring good air, good water and, most importantly, a grower's contentment of mind.  Then old Imagination turned and walked into the lean-to.

There she summoned Remember to join her, entreating her to first go to the great cupboard and bring what Remember had come to refer to as Imagination's "Book of Secrets."  The book always fascinated Remember, the handwritten scribbled notes of discoveries and treatments in the margins of pages and pages of plant sketchings and curative recipes.  There were at least three different pairs of hands that had contributed to these pages, maybe more, proof that this book was a treasure handed down from Imagination's distaff side, generation to generation.  Upon entering the lean-to, Remember saw Goody Prymm standing there short-statured, arms akimbo, assessing shelves lined with earthen drug jars and myriad Delft pots, half-stocked with dried herbs, salves, ointments, tinctures, and all manner of healing mixtures.  There was much work to be done in the interim before the newly growing gardens produced their magic.

And so the lessons began.  Some curatives, Goody Prymm explained, had to be made using fresh herbs, but many could be prepared ahead of time...some necessarily so.  Tinctures, for example, she said, involved grinding the leaves, roots, and seeds with mortar and pestle, covering with alcohol and, after three weeks, adding spring water and then storing in a cool, dark place, where the tincture could be kept up to five years, a process which took foresight and planning.  Tinctures, she continued, could be added to teas to be taken internally, bringing relief and comfort to the ill and suffering.  They could be added to fomentations, too...strong herbal teas in which a clean cloth is dipped or filled with various herbs and then applied to the affected parts.  And here she cautioned her that all things can work to the good...or to the bad...depending upon how they were applied, Goody Prymm eyeing Remember as she explained these things, pleased and relieved that Remember, bright girl, was taking it all in with keen interest and proper sober reflection.

Some herbs, she continued, could be used fresh or dried...poultices made from comfrey, for example, were excellent for applying to wounds, fractures, and leg ulcers---even areas affected by the gout.  If it were winter and there were no fresh herbs to be had, dried herbs would then be soaked in boiled water until soft and then  mixed with slippery elm powder to make the poultice adhere; afterwards, the mixture would be applied to the affected area, around which would be wrapped a clean cloth.  A decoction of leaves would work nicely in many cases but, depending upon the severity of the issue, using the comfrey root was far more potent.

And there were syrups, which involved simmering the appropriate dried herbs in the "tree water" (as the Indians referred to it), straining it, and storing it in a cool place.  If bark were to be used for remedy, Goody Prymm always adhered to the Indians' way of thinking:  that bark growing on the sunny side was more potent than that growing on the shady side of a tree.  Here, the Wise Woman inserted that Nature was a wonder in what it need only to listen and observe to discover its potential, her old finger tapping on the copious notes already recorded in the margins of the book.

Goody Prymm, healer and midwife, went on to explain the process of preparing salves for all manner of skin conditions, using comfrey, lavender, pine needles, and elderflowers, to which was added green walnut hulls and whole, smashed horse chestnuts for pain alleviation.

The lessons continued throughout the day, the two of them working side by side, mentor and pupil, in the process to make the best use of last year's harvests.  When they had done all they could for one day, Goody Prymm gently handed Remember the Book of Secrets, telling her that this spring Remember could begin to add her own notes to the book and, taking down a tea mixture of mugwort, thyme, and yarrow, went to boil water.

Before sitting down to tea with Goody Prymm, Remember walked to the window and glanced out, the ceaseless rain still drumming against the rooftop...still feeding the gardens...and smiled, thankful for its gift.

***With a nod to Clarence Meyer and David C. Meyer's The Herbalist's Almanac:  A 50-Year Anthology, June 1991; Ellen Evert Hopman's A Druid's Herbal, 1995; and David Potterton's Culpeper's Color Herbal, 1983.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Undula, the Sea Witch!

Introducing the Bonnie White Hare's latest creation...Undula, the Sea Witch!

Her origin is the sea around the Shetland Islands, where she swims the cold, deep green waters under a Crone Crescent Moon, looking for sailors who have spoken well of the sea.  She can, after all, hear what they say, so sailors would be wise never to speak disparagingly of the sea (if they do, she could bewitch them and bring about their destruction!), and they should be sure to return their first catch of the day to placate her.  If they speak of the sea with sincere praise, she brings them a rope with three knots.  If the sea is becalmed, leaving their ship stranded, the sailors need only untie one knot to bring a gentle, southwesterly wind.  If they need yet more wind, they could untie the second knot for a stronger, north wind.  However, if the third knot is untied, it brings a tempest with great fury!  You see, the Sea Witch ties the wind in knots...that is her power!  Her rope here is actually an antique trot line that I found in an antique store some while ago.  :)

 We all know that witches spin, and so I've made my Sea Witch no different (see how she even sports the pointy witch's hat), except that she uses a spindle shell for her spindle, spinning seaweed into beautiful strands.

I have layered her body with hand cut dyed wools, all hand sewn with cotton thread.  Her flowing hair, and magickal tail are hand-dyed wool locks from a friend in central Sweden (thank you, Renee!!).  I've stitched little blue stars to accompany the yellow, cloud-strewn moon.

The background is a gorgeous hand dyed wool from Olympic Wool Works (thank you, Darlene!), while the backing is a charcoal-colored material, part wool and part rabbit fur.  It is stuffed loosely with fresh straw and is sewn together by my version of a herringbone stitch, with various hues of eggplant wool thread.

The Bonnie White Hare is all about "Where Imagination Weds the Past."  It was clearly the guiding mantra of this folk pillow!

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Where Are Goody Prymm and Remember?

Why, they're in the lean-to, assessing their tinctures, syrups, poultice herbs, salves and the like...Goody Prymm knows that her time is nearing and she must teach Remember everything!  So they have retrieved from the old cupboard the book of secrets handed down to Goody Prymm from her mother and her mother's mother.  Join them soon, if you will...they won't mind a little peek...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Finding Magic

You can find it in the Full May Moon, which gives off a mysterious pink-gold light...

It's in a tiny screech owl that lets me get close, she keeping one eye open...

It's turning wool fluff from a faraway friend into yarn!

What's more magical than these?

Today, it's creating a Sea Witch, swimming in cold green waters under a Crone Moon!
She can tie the wind in knots!
And, like all witches, she spins...using seaweed for her wool and a spindle shell for her spindle!

Woolen "Sea Witch," imagined but not yet completed...

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Monday, May 8, 2017

Keeper of History

Goody Prymm had been gone a long while this day.  Remember knew she had broken trust by reading her letters.  Ashamed for the betrayal, she quickly gathered the pieces she had read, bound them with the hemp twine to the others, as yet unread, and closed and locked the desk.  Carefully placing the desk back from where it was brought down, she put all things in order once again...but in her mind, there was anything but order.

Dusting her hands on her skirt, in walked Goody Prymm, all full of good cheer and telling Remember to grab her shawl...they were going down to the shoreline.  Without a moment's hesitation, her eyes wide, Remember did as she was bid and out the door they went, full of bustle and anticipation.

Goody Prymm had long ago promised Remember that she would take her to the ocean.  The day was fair and unseasonably warm, and perfect for a walk on the strand.  Along the way, Goody Prymm began to tell her of whaling.  Her voice like a meditation, rhythmic and expressionless, and yet comforting, she began to speak of long ago, when Indians would harvest the whales that the sea had given up to the beach.  They would butcher them, long strips of blubber used to cook with and rub on their bodies to deter biting insects.  Of the bones, they made fish hooks and all manner of implements for life and survival.  And, if the whale were fresh, the meat was food for the people, as little waste as possible from this gift of the sea.  They believed, she continued, that the Great Spirit placed all living things on this earth, each of which had a unique purpose...the birds to migrate, the trees to produce fruit, the fish to swim near the shore.  And pausing, she took Remember's hand, squeezed it and, looking squarely in her eyes, explained that people, too, had a purpose.

Walking on, Goody Prymm thereafter referred to the whales as "Pootop," the Wampanoag word for "whale."

The early Colonists had an entirely different purpose for harvesting Pootop...primarily for profit, as the oil was prized for making high-quality candles, among a myriad of other uses, even to flatter vanity, as the whalebone was used in the making of women's underclothing---stays to bind linen pieces together that would be laced, pulled tightly, constricting the breath to an uncomfortable degree.  The Colonists' whales, though, were not gifts from the sea.  The whale was hunted with harpoons, impaling the creature as it swam frantically away until exhaustion set in, the final blows of long lances tearing into its vital organs.

Now, the Colonists and the Indians worked together to hunt whales along the coast, using small sailing vessels.  Time changes everything, she told Remember, her old eyes reaching back in time, and yet somehow to the future.

When they arrived at the shoreline, they stopped, Remember now understanding why Goody Prymm wanted to make such haste.  There on the shoreline was a black whale, a Pootop, breathing its last.
They walked slowly up to the dying creature, Remember speaking softly and stroking it, its small eye watching her all the while. Out in the water not far from the shoreline swam a young whale, clearly the mother whale's baby.  Remember worried whether the baby would be able to survive.  Goody Prymm quietly and comfortingly explained that when a baby Pootop is born, the mother must bring it to the surface for its first breath of fresh air.  After that, she would support it until it was strong enough to be on its own.  She said the size of the calf suggested it would be fine without its mother.  And placing her aged hand on Remember's shoulder, softly told her that the young Pootop would be alright, and that it was time to go back.

That night, in the quiet, Remember wept for the mother...and she wept for the baby that would have to go on without her...

***With a nod to Historic Nantucket, vol. 44, no. 3 (Winter 1996), pp. 98-100; and from "Oil and Bone," by Nancy Shoemaker, from Common-Place:  The Journal of Early American Life, Vol. 08 No. 2, January 2008.

***The photograph is from a relative who lives happily in Cape Cod.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Saturday, May 6, 2017

My Face: The Bonnie White Hare Runs Through the Field!!

[For just a moment, a flash, she may escape her captors...!  Quick, look!  She may be gone in a trice!]

I look in the mirror.
And see my face...
But so much more...

The lines at the corners of my eyes
Reveal much laughter and happiness in my life.
Happiness for me...and more so for those I love and have loved.

My skin is not so supple...but doesn't an aged tree have bark with rivulets
Which speak nobly of its time spent on this earth?
My eyes are not as clear as in youth...but they have seen so much beauty
And deep sadness, too...though not as much as many have seen.

There is wisdom and joy in my countenance.
Reflecting the joy of teaching youth for decades
And helping them to find their gifts.

There is openness for all cultures and races,
As long as they harm no one.

There is love and concern for those who suffer.
They inspire me and make me stronger and more compassionate.
And there is even love for those that hold anger, making their hearts cold
And hardened to others and their tribulations.

My Lord says to love my enemies.
I trust in Him and His Word.

He says to forgive.
I can and will do that, knowing He is my Guide.

For I know that my face...and all the faces in this world...
Are the face of God.
If you seek to find that Truth, you will.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

For my sweet followers and encouragers...I will do my best with what is happening here with the invasion of my precious privacy.  Writing is like prayer to me.

Dedicated to those who are hounding me...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Upon Opening Goody Prymm's Past: Finding Trust

Remember wondered when Goody Prymm would return from her errand in the village...she did not want to be caught reading such private thoughts of hers.  Nevertheless, after glancing through the leaded diamond panes and seeing no one yet approaching, she proceeded to turn another page of Goody Prymm's past.

                                                                                                    July 1627

I dare not tell Samuel of my experience today.  If he knew, I would never be allowed to go into the woods alone again.  Working on our house, they did not notice me slip away.  I have no fear of the woods.  I freely roamed the forests of Lancashire and had always felt at home.  But these woods are different from those in England.  They seem more raw, and fresh.  There are worn footpaths throughout and, given the wildness of this area, I wondered who...or what...could have made them.  I decided to follow one and soon found myself deep in the forest, surrounded by great oaks and all manner of wild plants.  Some I recognized from back in the old country, but there were many unfamiliar ones that piqued my curiosity, and so I picked samples of them as I went and placed them in my pocket tied to my skirts for more careful evaluation later.  At some point I came upon a black pool of water.  It ran clear and pure and deep and, having walked in the heat, I found myself thirsty and sat down on a nearby fallen log to take a drink.  It was beautiful in that spot...and so quiet that it felt almost sacred, with nothing but the twitter of birds and the wind swishing through the tops of the great pines.  I breathed in my surroundings and closed my eyes, reveling in my aloneness, until my thoughts became the very breeze that blew.

I don't know how long I remained in that state, but when I opened my eyes, standing there before me was a very tall man---taller than any of the English I knew---tawny-skinned with long, straight, black hair.  His clothes were scant, he wearing naught but what looked to be animal skins wrapped about his waist and legs.  His own skin was coated with a strong-smelling grease, the purpose of which I do not know.  His face was young looking but had carved or burned within in it the image of a wolf, darkened with some sort of ink or stain.  He wore elaborately carved stone and shell pendants, and carried on his shoulder a graceful bow, and in his waist belt, which appeared to be some sort of papery skin, a stone knife and leather purse.  I did not flinch, but rather looked him directly in the eyes, his being black and yet having an amberness from the sunlight that shafted through the trees' branches.  He spoke but one word.  It sounded like "qway."  And, as quietly as he appeared, he left me. 

 As foolish as it may sound, I saw truth in those eyes...and will never forget it as long as I live.

                                                                                                    Imagination Prymm

Remember tried to imagine what it must've been like for Goody Prymm to have met such a stranger, she having come from worlds away...and she marveled yet again at her courage and spirit.  It was no wonder then that Goody Prymm still held an abiding fondness for the Indian people, whose numbers had so sadly dwindled now.  Remember stood and walked slowly over to the hearth where sat the basket  given her last autumn on the day Goody Prymm took her to the tribal campsite and all had feasted together.  She smiled at the memory, her slight fingers gently tracing the painted figure of a wolf on the basket's surface.

***With a very special nod to Jack E. Hauck, from his article "A History of the Original Settlers," June 1, 2014

***Note:  "Kwey" (pronounced "qway") is an Algonquin friendly greeting...

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Commentary on Imagination

The Bonnie White Hare bounds the open fields "where Imagination Weds the Past."  Anything I write or create with my hands melds facts and knowledge with my own imagination.  I may write a poem to accompany a piece I've made...or I may breathe new life into folklore as old as the hills.  But I find that when I allow my imagination full reign, new life is breathed into me!  As a child I had a vivid imagination...I could play for hours by myself, creating worlds known only to me.  The giant white rock riddled with weathered holes lying in the alley behind our house became my fairy kingdom.  Some days I was a girl pirate a-sail on the vast oceans, always looking for the next world.  And yes, I had an imaginary friend or two...

I love to watch little children at play.  They become immersed in their imaginary worlds.  So often, when adulthood enters, that ability is lost to life's cares and realities...instead, it reveals itself through the art, visual arts, music.  Perhaps that explains why these things are so revered in the grownup world.

For Emily Bronte, Imagination was an escape from a painful emotional existence.  When the cares of the world weighed heavily on her, she depended on her imagination to lift her up.  She wrote in her poem "To Imagination,"

"But thou art ever there, to bring
The hovering vision back, and breathe
New glories o'er the blighted spring
And call lovelier Life from Death.
And whisper, with a voice divine
Of real worlds, as bright as thine."

And Albert Einstein knew the importance of Imagination, writing,

"Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

And Ray Bradbury, while recognizing the importance of knowledge, places Imagination above it:

"Knowledge is important.  But if you don't have an imagination to use the knowledge, civilization is nowhere."

Never fear knowledge...and never fear imagination.  Right now I am dreaming up and piecing together in my imagination a Woolen Sea Witch who can tie up the wind in knots!  Go figure.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Upon Opening Goody Prymm's Past: What the Past Teaches

Remember sat spellbound, her slender hand holding Goody Prymm's first account of making her way to the New World.  She was beginning to understand the depths of Goody Prymm's knowledge and experience.  Placing the first page gently aside, there was no turning back now, and she settled in and leaned against the old cupboard to read the next account...

                                                                                                   May 25, 1627

I cannot look ahead without looking back. The past, though sometimes painful, is a part of us and must teach us, and we would be wise to hearken its lessons.  Samuel and I are headed to the New Land together, though for different reasons entirely...he is running to, while I am running from; he for business ventures and profitable gain, and I to escape the tyranny.  Tansy was no witch, though she was hanged for one.  She was my beloved sister.

My grandmother was a wisewoman, one of the cunning folk of our area of Lancashire.  I grew up with her healing concealed up in our chimney to keep away malevolent forces...I well remember the hexafoils she scratched next to our windows...and the hag-stone tied to the door with red yarn for protection.  The corn dollies at harvest time, amulets said to promise good crops the next year, and the blue glass beads to be worn to heal lung infections, were all truths in our child eyes---after all, they were our grandmother's truths.  Our mother was a healer too, and though she honored our grandmother, she did not practice in the same ways.  Like most of the people of Pendle who were still faithful to Roman Catholic ways, their Masses held in secret, my mother's healing ways were in offerings at holy wells, pilgrimages, and praying to the saints...our Holy Mother in particular.

They both grew herbs and made their medicine from the plants they harvested.  And this, this was the sticking point...these things, which had long been accepted, came to be viewed as "daemonologie," and we were now deemed religious nonconformists...and ultimately a threat to the Crown.  A simple old woman bearing the deep wrinkles of wisdom and a gobber tooth---a spindle in her hand---was now become a witch, and the Old Catholic Ways now akin to witchery.  It was Fear and Ignorance hanged my Tansy in the woods that day, and I'll not forget it.  Samuel has warned me that there will be Puritans where we go, and so I've determined to start anew.  I will be a healer, but different from my mother and grandmother, my healing coming only from the plants I will grow...and I will watch my tongue, most assuredly.

Thankfully, our journey has been smooth these past few weeks.  Sometimes late in the night I creep up on deck and secretly breathe in the fresh salt air and gaze at the stars, our tiny guiding lights.  I've heard talk that we are close to our destination...a place they call Salem.  My hope lies in tomorrow's sunrise...leaving fear and ignorance behind, and welcoming a New World.

                                                                       Imagination Prymm

Carefully placing the page with the one previously read, Remember sat quietly and reverently, reflecting on the old woman she had come to love so much.

***With a nod to "The Witch Trial That Made Legal History," by Frances Cronin, BBC News, 17 August 2011; and Touching Magic, by Ian Joseph Evans, Doctor of Philosophy and History, October 2010.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan


Friday, April 21, 2017

Healing Gardens: A Two-Sided Pillow

Goody Prymm---midwife and healer--- inspired me to make this little pillow.  Measuring 14" x 8 1/2",  I call it "Healing Gardens," as it portrays two entirely different scenes, each with healing plants:  a moonlight herb garden and a sunlit flower garden.  The Nighttime Garden side is mostly embroidery, using vintage wool and white linen threads.  It features a magnificent full moon of creamy white wool, the great lady looking over this garden of sage, rosemary, rose, garlic and hemlock.  I chose soft and dreamy colors to contrast the background of black wool, with stripes of muted undertones.

Flip the pillow over!  The Daytime Garden side awakens to much more action, as it features an ancient sun with cosmic spirals of energy flaring out to heat and give light to the flowers in this garden:  daisy, echinacea, and sunflower!  This side is primarily appliqué, with accents of embroidery, which gives it a more naive look.  Its colors are primarily bold and bright, placed against a background of rich gold wool.  The purple coneflowers seem to be reaching out to one another, while a busy bumble bee is making his way to the giant sunflower.

Here, a closeup of the little bumble bee...rather, a suggestion of one.  I wanted him tiny...but we all know how important the bees are, don't we!

I chose to stuff this pillow with fresh straw.  I like the stiffness of the finished piece, which makes a delightful crackle when held.  All natural...

  A wonderful way to bring in the merry, merry month of May, don't you think?

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Upon Opening Goody Prymm's Past: The Journey Begins

Goody Prymm had gone to the village to tend to some tasks, she said, and would be gone most of the day.  Remember was to stay behind and take care of fixing the evening's meal and completing a few other chores needing done.  Having already prepared the pottage which was now bubbling cheerfully in the kettle, and having folded their clothes, which had been washed yesterday using their lye soap and dried in the fresh spring air, Remember was now free of duties for a while.   It was a rare day indeed that Remember had the house to fact, it was the only day she recalled having ever been left alone and in charge.  She loved Goody Prymm so, but it felt somewhat freeing to be here...independent...and feeling that, she wandered into the lean-to and marveled at all the medicinal preparations which by now had grown quite low, but she knew that the gardens were beginning to burgeon, and soon the supplies would be refurbished, only this time, Remember would be her helpmeet.

Walking back into the main hall, her dark eyes lit, as they had so many times afore, on the great oak carved desk box situated on top of Goody Prymm's ancient cupboard.  Her curiosity as great as her dear Smoke's, she fetched a chair and gingerly took the box down, its being quite heavy.  It was dark oak and grandly carved on all sides with stars and crescents and wheels and the like, and hinged with H-shaped hinges, the corners dovetailed.  Remember knew this was one of Goody Prymm's treasures brought from the old country, which only added to its mystique.  There was a small key already in the lock, inviting to be turned and, casting her eyes around at no one, Remember accommodated, Smoke mewing encouragingly, and gently opened the lid.  A wonderful musty smell arose from its wooden interior.  Inside was a quill pen, no doubt fashioned from the molted flight feather of a turkey.  And there was blank paper...very old...most likely from England and transported here, as there were no paper mills in Ipswich.  A small pewter inkwell held the residue of homemade ink from long ago, and Remember recalled Goody Prymm's speaking of having made oak gall ink and writing on linen she had woven for pages, the same linen Remember had chosen for a sampler. Why had Goody Prymm not used this paper, she wondered...

And then, underneath the blank and somewhat brittle pages, Remember found yet other pages, neatly bound in hemp twine...pages on which Goody Prymm had indeed written, the ink having darkened over time.  Did she dare undo the twine?  She felt as though she were invading a secret space in Goody Prymm's mind.  But youth being impulsive, that thought was soon cast aside, the temptation too keen, and her curiosity too dear to refuse.  Her slim fingers lightly pulled the loose end and opened to Goody Prymm's thoughts.

The first page read thusly:

                                                                                               May 1627

It has been two months since we set sail from Weymouth on the Spirit.  Samuel had prepared us well for our journey to the New Land, which he says will take us months to reach.  But did he know what it would be like?  I wonder.  His ambition, while admirable, frightens me sometimes, as I think it overtakes him.  There is constant sickness in the hold, both from the unhealthy conditions as well as the ship's pitching and rolling, the recent storm having torn the sails of our small merchant ship.  Winds on the ocean, I've discovered, can be both friend and foe.  If too strong, they can wreck our vessel, shattering masts and opening seams in the hull.  If not strong enough, they can leave us to rations and possible starvation.  And what of pirates and privateers?  We have no cabins but resort to our piled up baggage having become our only living space.  My single comfort is in knowing that I have my two wheels, Samuel having paid well for that luxury, my refusing to come otherwise.  My spinning wheels are my most important link to my mother and grandmother.  I miss them so...and oh! how I mourn my Tansy's tragic end!  Would that we could return to the carefree days when we two ran through the woods of Lancashire, free as crows on the wing!  To think such darkly sweet thoughts serves no good, though, and so I turn away from them and concentrate on now and the future.  Our fellow passengers have brought stones for peaches, plums, cherries...kernells of pear, apple and quince...seeds of woad, hemp, flax and madder...roots of potatoes...wheat, rye, oats, beans, and peas to plant.  In my desk box here I too have stored my own seeds and roots for our new world, our new life.  Seeds are hope, after all.

My lids grow heavy as does my heart...perhaps our ship's name is a good omen, for we all need the proper spirit to make this journey...

                                                                                                              Imagination Atwell Prymm
                                                                                                                  Age 18
Remember allowed Goody Prymm's words to sink deep into her heart, and she wondered how she ever could have thought that being left here alone today was independence...

***With a nod to Robert C. Ritchie's "Perils of the Ocean in the Early Modern Era," from History Now:  The Journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute; and Anne Stevens' research, from

© 2017 Nancy Duncan

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Prelude and Preference to the Modern Laptop

I'm a writer.  Although I have only had a very few published articles (and those in somewhat esoteric publications), still I write nearly every day.  My current focus is my Goody Prymm blog series, which I hope to have published in the next few years.  So, yes, I am a writer...and a lover of history and its artifacts, so I suppose it's not unusual for me to take up an interest in writing tools of the past.

I've been reading a lot about the Bronte sisters lately.  And although I taught Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre for years, I've suddenly taken a keen interest in Emily Bronte in particular.  Best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights,  Emily remains elusive to historians, as she was quite the solitary person.  I like that.  I am like that in many ways (though Emily would most likely never have a blog!)..and I am most enthralled by her poetry.

In Deborah Lutz's The Bronte Cabinet, she reveals the biographies of the three sisters---Charlotte, Emily, and Anne---through nine objects of theirs, one being their slope desks.  This captivated me, knowing that, upon these portable desks, some of the world's greatest literature was born!  I began researching the history of slope desks, finding that they go back hundreds of years, even used on the battlefields.  Well!  I needed to have one of my own!  I recently purchased this little slope desk, believed to be ca. 1900 to 1909.  It was purchased in Pennsylvania as an American antique by the seller's mother back in the 60s.  She is now 96.  It is made of genuine mahogany (typical of slope desks), the bottom being pine.
What charmed me most was the little brass heart escutcheon for the keyhole... <3

When folded out, the desk could be placed in the lap whilst traveling or simply placed on a table, much like today's laptop.  In the 1800s it was all the rave.  Sometimes the desktop surface was leather, but most times in the Victorian era, it was a type of material such as velvet or baize (like on billiards tables).  Mine is green baize.  At the top end is a tray for desk supplies, and little wood separators which could be removed if desired.

At the other end is a latch and, when opened, reveals a place for writing paper and whatever the owner desires to keep there.  So far I keep an antique photograph of two sisters and a lock of my (startlingly!) greying hair tied with a slip of antique Victorian lace.
I was informed by a locksmith that the hole to the right of the latch once held a metal pin which would have been a part of the lock (most likely a ward lock).  I wanted a key made, but as this was the case, my little slope desk would need further restoration, and I prefer my antiques stay as they is a part of their history.  Opening up the other side is yet another section for objects.


The entire storage tray can be fact, the locksmith said, "Do you know that it has a false bottom?"  I told him I had suspected that, but was proven wrong as my hand can slide under there.  I believe it just made more room for paper.  But that's what's so intriguing about antiques...mysteries abound!  So what else do I keep in my writer's slope desk?  So far, I have a traveling ink well, an 1800s silver nib pen, a vintage dip pen nib wipe, and a small magnifying glass (who knows...maybe I'll create a teeny tiny book just like the Brontes!).

The pen actually came from a mid-Victorian era traveling embroidery kit that I inherited.  In my research I discovered it is a prized collectable, marked S Mordan & Co Makers, which made these high-end solid silver dip pens from 1845 to the 1860s.  I figured it belonged here more than in the little traveling kit...but I will return it to its rightful place when I buy another antique dip/nib pen.  You can see how it is so portable!

The traveling ink well is just so darned clever.  Made of brass, it holds a glass well (which still has ink residue) which can be removed.  It is only a few inches in size....perfect for traveling.

Finally, I found a dip pen nib wipe in the shape of a little leather book!  There are leather "pages" inside through which the writer can slide the tip of her pen to keep things neat.  It is only 1 1/2".

The portable magnifying glass has a small ring for a chain so that it can be worn around the neck...and was typically used to examine stitching closely.  Charlotte had one in her slope desk...:)

I've said before that I am not really of this world...I much prefer a beautiful, simple antique slope desk filled with all manner of both practical and pleasurable objects over the modern laptop.  Why, just yesterday I entertained the idea of creating my own oak gall ink...and writing the very first page of A Year and a Day in the Life of Goody Prymm using all of these writer's tools...

© 2017 Nancy Duncan