Tag Archives: Elizabeth von Arnim

I remember the Hoh.

“Where the trees thicken into a wood, the fragrance of the wet earth and rotting leaves kicked up by the horses’ hoofs fills my soul with delight. I particularly love that smell, — it brings before me the entire benevolence of Nature, for ever working death and decay, so piteous in themselves, into the means of fresh life and glory, and sending up sweet odours as she works.”

―Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden

It was in the fall that my late husband and I once visited the Hoh Forest, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. That is where I took this picture, and where I obsessed about how to describe the fragrance that was of the same sort as what von Arnim loves. The climate is very different, between the Hoh and Germany, and no doubt every locale’s casserole of rotting things, combined with the humidity and who knows what else, makes for a sensory experience unique to each place. If a dog or a horse is alongside you or under you, kicking up the stuff, its scent would be included in the recipe. Though I typically have only my two feet to walk with through woodsy places, these thoughts and memories are making me look forward to some autumn outings.

Elizabeth rescued and blessed.

“I laughed on the way home, and I laughed again for sheer satisfaction when we reached the garden and drove between the quiet trees to the pretty old house; for when I went into the library, with its four windows open to the moonlight and the scent, and looked round at the familiar bookshelves, and could hear no sounds but sounds of peace, and knew that here I might read or dream or idle exactly as I chose with never a creature to disturb me, how grateful I felt to the kindly Fate that has brought me here and given me a heart to understand my own blessedness, and rescued me from a life like that I had just seen — a life spent with the odours of other people’s dinners in one’s nostrils, and the noise of their wrangling servants in one’s years, and parties and tattle for all amusement.”

― Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden

A dream of walking.

“My dream, even now, is to walk for weeks with some friend that I love, leisurely wandering from place to place, with no route arranged and no object in view, with liberty to go on all day or to linger all day, as we choose; but the question of luggage, unknown to the simple pilgrim, is one of the rocks on which my plans have been shipwrecked, and the other is the certain censure of relatives, who, not fond of walking themselves, and having no taste for noonday naps under hedges, would be sure to paralyse my plans before they had grown to maturity by the honest horror of their cry, ‘How very unpleasant if you were to meet any one you know!’ The relative of five hundred years back would have said ‘How Holy!’”

― Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden

We could dance and sing.

Windows above my kitchen sink and near my computer look out on the garden. When the evening sun’s slanting rays make flower stalks shimmer, it is my favorite sort of painting to gaze at, and I can hardly believe it is right here in my back yard — especially in spring when swaths of those blooms are popping up in turn and in overlapping layers, first the white ixia, then blue penstemon and the palest yellow-white California poppies, now the lavender and the rusty yarrow, and banks of little daisies I can never remember the name of.

Probably I should go back and read some of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s descriptions of gardens, to teach me how to convey the scene that makes me so happy. Not only in Elizabeth and Her German Garden but even more in The Enchanted April she expresses her love for this kind of overflowing, colorful and scented landscape, and gardens that are so prolific with blooms that bowls of them bless the rooms of the Italian castle in April (in April, too).

I don’t have a cutting garden most of the time, but right now I am still getting a few heavenly-sweet sweet peas with short stems. When I was snipping them to stick into a tiny vase today, I spied a Cabbage White in the patch of chives. As I understand, those caterpillars eat just about anything, and some years I have seen evidence of that behavior. I wonder how this year will be….

I just discovered that I have never once reviewed a book by Elizabeth von Arnim, or posted a quote by her, on my blog. I guess this is because my relationship with her as a person and writer is about much more than any one of her books; and isn’t it always somewhat of a mystery why we connect with particular authors? Mary Kathryn says it is the writer’s voice that she connects with, and it doesn’t matter what they write about, if one loves that particular voice.

The distance in time and culture between Elizabeth and me seems vast, though it is “only” 100 years. Our life experiences are worlds apart, but as I’ve listened to her voice and her stories, rich with humor that makes me laugh out loud, I’ve been comforted again and again. Today, I didn’t know her name would even come up. Since it has, and while it is yet springtime, here are some words from her that express the feelings of us both:

“Oh, I could dance and sing for joy that the spring is here!
What a resurrection of beauty there is in my garden,
and of brightest hope in my heart.”

Today when I went out to try for a picture of the Lambs Ears, I discovered that the Narrow-Leaf Milkweed flowers have started to open. These are the plants from which I collected Monarch butterfly eggs to incubate indoors, a few years ago. Aphids always decimate the plants, and after that first year’s destruction I realized that any hatched caterpillars would run out of food fast, because the leaves are literally slim pickings to begin with, and then the aphids suck all the life out of them. (By the way, you don’t want to bring in ladybugs to eat the aphids on your milkweed plants because ladybugs also eat Monarch eggs!!) Back then I had to feed my Monarch caterpillars from my Showy Milkweed plants which have large leaves and which the aphids don’t bother so much.

So far the aphids have not arrived — or at least, not noticeably. And the two plants of this species of milkweed come up bigger every spring. I see in the photo enlarged here that ants are among the insects hanging out there, so I maybe the aphids will come soon. But for now, their delicate flower crowns are pristine. The bees will soon be “dancing” around them for joy.