Views from Annie's Cabin

miscellaneous musings on aging and living and loving

Sundials and Heartache

on January 9, 2016

Last night, in the soft quiet hours of the morning, the ones that Fitzgerald called the loneliest, I found myself once again wandering the night in Abbey the Book Barn, searching the shelves for something to read.  Nothing with a plot or story line would do; my mind was too weighted down for amusement, too fragile to enter into anyone else’s sorrow.  I’m living with the knowledge that I’m having to send a most beloved companion, my Ragdoll cat Mr. Darcy, over the Rainbow Bridge Sunday morning.  He’s given me joy for ten years and he’s been a true and faithful companion, but now he’s struggling with a debilitating disease and it’s time for me to be merciful instead of selfish.  Hence my sorrow; hence my midnight hours’ wanderings…….

I first leafed through Gertrude Jekyll’s WOOD AND GARDEN, enjoying the straightforward, unblowsy chronicle of her gardening adventures.  And thanking her for her courage and adventuresome spirit, for, in later life, crippled with myopia, she undertook to learn the art of photography. And so her books are graced with her own photographs of the gardens and walks and pergolas she’s describing.  Nice, pleasant, engaging and soothing midnight reading……..but then, aha…..I ran into a reference she gives to Mrs. Earle’s gardening books and that’s when I settled into true serendipity.  Mrs. Alice Morse Earle’s OLD TIME GARDENS (1901, MacMillan) is one treasure I own and the other treasure is her SUNDIALS AND ROSES OF YESTERDAY (1902, MacMillan; 1971, Tuttle).  My copy of SUNDIALS was “Officially withdrawn from Timberland Regional Library” in Olympia, Washington.  How sad for a book to be withdrawn from a library; how fortuitous that it landed in Abbey my Book Barn; how perfectly wonderful that my eyes and hands found it last night….when I needed it.

The subtitle of the book is “Garden Delights Which Are Here Displayed in Very Truth And Are Moreover Regarded As Emblems.”  With 240 (!) photographs of sundials from all over the world, from all centuries, from cathedrals to cottage gardens. Poets and philosophers are quoted.  Perhaps my favorite chapter (though that’s hard to say) is “The Charm and Sentiment of Sun-Dials.”  At Grey Friars Churchyard, Stirling, England, is this motto:  “I Am A Shadow, So Art Thou/ I Mark Time—Dost Thou?”

And Rossetti, comparing love and sundials:  “Stands it not by the door?/Love’s Hour—?/Its eyes invisible/Watch till the dark thin-thrown shade/Be born,—yea, till the journeying line be laid/Upon the point that notes the spell.”  Oh, to mark the hour of falling in love by the shadow of the gnome following the sun in its course………….Oh my……

And this one, a bit of timely forewarning, on the sundial of Thornby Church, Northamptonshire:

MARK WELL MY SHADE, AND SERIOUSLY ATTEND/THE COMMON LESSON OF A SILENT FRIEND,/FOR TIME AND LIFE SPEED RAPIDLY AWAY;/NEITHER CAN YOU RECALL THE FORMER DAY./ YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO RECALL THE PAST, BUT LIVE THOU THIS DAY AS IF THE LAST.

Yes, so utterly true, so haphazardly forgotten in our razzle dazzle frenetic times—no, one cannot call back a former day, nor can one re-call the past……..

And this one, Oxfordshire, 1691:

A MOMENT—MARK HOW SMALL A SPACE/THE DIAL SHOWS UPON THE FACE; YET WASTE BUT ONE—AND YOU WILL SEE/OF HOW GREAT MOMENT IT CAN BE.

And so, the night unfolded.  Me, with a beloved companion’s last journey on my mind, reading what men throughout time have had to say about mortality, and how they’ve immortalized those thoughts—for us to take to heart—by channeling the sun and shadow to mark the passing of our days.  “FOR THE NIGHT COMETH.”

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One response to “Sundials and Heartache

  1. Lyn says:

    Lovely….and thinking of you and Mr. Darcy. oxoxox Lyn

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