I think the time's come to bow out here, at least for a while.
I didn't think I'd do this, that I'd presumably do what so many old friends and better bloggers have done before, simply fade away without a fuss, occasionally dropping back to leave a word or a picture, but I think I need to make some kind of a clear decision, say it out loud and stick to it. It's not easy and feels a bit dramatic and portentous; Box Elder has been my companion and an important dimension of my life, for over ten years now, even as my relationship with it and the people who come here has changed and evolved.
The reasons are several. This blog used to serve as a means for friends and family to keep up with our news, which I don't get the impression it is any more. From a creative point of view, I rather sense I've run out of steam; the drive to write to make poems and take photos finally faded away a couple of years ago, but perhaps that doesn't matter too much, and needn't stop me posting in a chatty way. The sometimes almost oppressive need to 'feed the blog monster' which was part of the activity in early days hasn't had any real hold for a long time, though there is always the slight nagging 'I haven't blogged lately, I suppose I should...'. But it's not much trouble to post something now and then, I hope in a reasonably well-written and amusing way, about Elfie or knitting or what we've had to eat, but my doubts as to whether there's any point in doing so have reached a critical point, and that's the chief rub.
Repetition always stalked this medium; whatever you blog about, after a time there's a limit to what you can post on that you haven't before, especially when it's mostly the domestic detail. But also I'm afraid I'm giving in, at least for the moment, to the weight and darkness of the world outside. I feel somewhat uncomfortable writing like this, which is another indication that I think I'd prefer to shut up for a while; it seems to me that the world events of the last year, and even more those which I fear are to come, need a response I find myself unable to give them, at least not here. Fluffy stuff won't do any more, and I can't get away from a sense that in more and more places I go on-line there is spreading toxicity, anger, mistrust, self-importance and bitterness that are leaving me feeling depressed and powerless either to heal or to ignore. There may well be good and brave and healthy things afoot too, and I wish well to those who are at work on them. I suppose it is a kind of spasm the world is going through, something inevitable, needful even, but I feel I have to detach from it. It may be copping out, the sin of despair, being a precious snowflake, whatever, but to avoid the damage I feel it's doing, and just to be useful to myself and the people I care about, I need to back away.
That said, I trust I'll keep such friendships as want to be kept; I intend to go on frequenting other blogs and showing up in comments boxes sometimes; in truth I've felt for a while now that what I've written in the comments threads of one or two other people's blogs has been of more worth and interest than most of what I put here, which might say something of the unsatisfactory relationship between me and my blog these days. (In fact, I'll probably spend a bit of time hanging out here in the archives, some of the stuff I've done wasn't half-bad...). I'll go on using and visiting other on-line places like Ravelry, Pinterest, the épagneul breton discussion forum... But perhaps I need to redirect my time and energies somewhat.
Since the fire I've felt a great need to make changes; this has been put on hold rather over this period of winter suspension, but simply on a personal level I know the coming time is going to place a lot of demands, mental, physical and spiritual, if you will. We have been made vulnerable and aware of the contingent and fragile nature of our being here. This isn't necessarily any bad thing, but combined with the sense of foreboding that world events are imposing, it takes its toll and has to be managed. There are things I can't afford.
The changes can be positive too, though. I'm quite interested to know what it will be like no longer to be a person who has a sense of obligation to blog. I hope that in a year or two, the plans I feel I need to concentrate on will be coming to fruition, perhaps even the world will look like a somewhat brighter and less threatening place, who knows, and I may feel like writing and photographing and making something of life again through this medium. I won't make the mistake of saying I'm stopping for good. I may also feel moved to share things from elsewhere here, since I don't do facebook or google plus or anything, but we'll see.
I can't express enough how much I've appreciated everything that blogging has brought, the joy and catharsis of posting and even more the friendship and support I've had from you who come and read and comment, in good times and bad; how comforting you've been in the loss of loved ones, times of illness and anxiety, how helpful it has been to write about the things like the fire and to receive your kindness and sympathy and useful responses; I can't imagine having been through those experiences without them. And indeed, the encouragement and praise and joy when I've produced something good here. Thanks and thanks again.
Tom's Christmas leftover socks, made not from cold cuts, dry sage and onion stuffing and petrified Christmas pudding, but from the ends of sundry sweaters, bits of tapestry wool, hats and other socks. Leftovers, store cupboards and stash, the best of things.
This seems to me the kind of picture used to illustrate the concept of hygge, narrowly beaten by Brexit as the neologism of the year. While googling around, I found this Slate article, well worth reading if rather disturbing to quietist stay-at-homes like myself - 'Responding to [the events of 2016] in any meaningful way will mean dousing the log fire, leaving the house, and feeling a chill'. Also a lengthier, rather less abrasive, analysis in the Grauniad, and an amusing last word ('hygge is byllshytte') from the Daily Mash, of course. Personally I find the conviviality aspect of hygge rather offputting* but reserve the right, at this stage of the proceedings, to maintain necessary levels of warmth and comfort, and indeed, to turn inward and give up on the world sometimes as we make our sad way through this ever darkening vale of tears.
We do brace ourselves and get outside. Elfie is a perpetual delight, though she continues to behave in a decidedly non-hyggeligt manner towards many forms of wildlife, and cats. Letting her off the lead on the old rail track, she trotted along amicably with me for a bit then suddenly picked up something, probably the trace of a roe deer, and in a trice was over the drop of the wooded escarpment, a couple of metres at least though soft with undergrowth and leaf mould, and rapidly bouncing off out of sight and hearing like an orange and white springbok. I stood on the edge whistling and swearing, out loud.
'Bonjour, Lucieee' from behind me.
It was our former insurance agent, neat and poised with her dear little pedigree westie on a neat red lead at her side, a woman I truly like but who seems to have a knack of making demands on me at the wrong times.
'Oh, bonjour Simone, c'est ma vilaine qui est partie...'
'Oh yes,' with clear what-can-you-expect sympathy, 'that hunting dog you got from the SPA. Will she come back?'
'Uhm, in general she comes back. It might take a few minutes...'
She went on to regale me with the details of her daughter's career, punctuated by rather unhelpful remarks and questions ('Aren't you afraid for her? How long have you had her now?) which I tried to listen and respond to while still whistling and swearing, inwardly.
I finally shook her off, climbed a nearby bank into the wood, whistled a couple more times and a few moments later Her Predatoriness came crashing back, pushing through brambles and over branches in her eagerness to return and share her joy in her adventures with me, as always. I'm happy to say I've never poisoned such recall as she does have by showing her anything other than delight, praise, treats and much whooping on our reunion, most of which is genuine, coming from pure relief.
Yet it is a bit more than that. The love we bear one another, and a pocketful of tasty treats, won't quite stop her running away after something irresistible, but I'm beginning to think it will make her want to come back, and there's nothing like her eager wild face coming towards me, or the extra-affectionate cuddles we have the evening after one of her rasher exploits. And her acute, intense awareness and perceptions of the natural world (even if she does mostly want to chase, kill and eat it) are infectious: I never knew before in which spots in the bank the field mice lived, or in which flooded ditches the water voles had their holes, that there was a family of partridges that lived around the hamlet of le Boissy, or indeed that the roe deer sometimes graze in winter in that low lying wet paddock by the farm below Quengo or in the long fields beside the mirabelle hedge; I knew these places, of course, but not their finer, more living details, albeit prompted by my need to be one step ahead of her whenever possible. I am curious as to why blackbirds get her going and are fun to harry and stalk when they rustle around in the hedges, yet their fieldfare cousins in the open are put up in only the most lackadaisical manner, and why crows are given a wide and respectful berth, even an injured one in the middle of a field was left alone with very little calling off from me.
I am torn; I want her to express her nature and the behaviours which make her what she is, but I also need to restrain, intercept and control them, for her own safety and for the sake of the poor struggling wild creatures who are persecuted enough - when spring comes and they have their young I know I must constrain her even more. I hate the whole business, in the modern world, of humans hunting with dogs and killing for fun, I'm squeamish about dead and injured things, but I also find myself wanting to know more about why she does what she does, how much is nature and how much training, as well, of course, as wondering why someone with a dog fine-tuned to respond to pheasants, hare and partridge, and fairly indifferent to pigeons and rabbits, simply let her get lost and never reclaimed her, which we'll never know. Her buggering off isn't always rebelliousness or ignorance, I'm sure, but that she thinks that's what we want her to do, what a dog like Elfie is supposed to do when out in the countryside with her humans. Her predatory impulse towards injured and lame things (toads on the terrace get no more than a perfunctory sniff unless they are trapped and floundering in puddles in black plastic, wagtails always catch her attention because their long-tailed bobbing movement looks like the trailing flight of something damaged) is repugnant to us, but natural and in fact quite kind in hunting terms, both in man-made hunting and in nature; wounded, damaged prey needs to be pursued and finished; trainers and hunters on épagneul and American Brittany websites I've researched pride their dogs on their ability to track, tackle and bring back crippled quarry.
It seems to me I could sometimes work with her impulses, rather than confuse her with aversion. The live (though presumably not well) blackbird she dived into the leaf litter and pulled out was not killed but only shocked and winded, it fluttered off apparently undamaged when Tom took it away, probably if I hadn't panicked and shouted when she did it so that she tensed and held on to it and had to be forced to give it up it might have fared better. One day, after her nerves were jangled and her mind distracted by coming across a number of hunters and their dogs (whom she hates and reacts to with volleys of uncharacteristic barking and growling) out and about, I took her out on the terrace to brush her. When I'd finished and we turned to go in, she broke away from me, rushed over to the edge of the terrace where the birds feed, and picked up a dead sparrow, which I'd not seen but she evidently had, and brought it back to me in a perfect retrieve. Another time, running around in a pasture some way from me, she picked up something large and grisly looking; instead of running at her shouting 'leave-it', I called and cajoled and encouraged her to bring it over, which she did, with some effort, as it proved to be an enormous, ancient thigh bone of an ox, very grubby and much chewed (lord knows what it was doing there). She was a little reluctant to give it up but with much praise and laughter and lots of treats we sealed the bargain very cheerfully so I took it from her and led her away from it.
It often seems to me a rather wonderful and mysterious thing that we have this strange, wild, golden-eyed creature in our home, lying by our fire or on our couch, eating from a tin and a packet, snuggling our feet and soaking up endless love and affection while very visibly dreaming, and enacting, her dreams of flight, pursuit,bloodshed and mayhem. A dog the like of which I haven't had before, and the source of much joy.
*As I've said before, I can do conviviality, but seldom find it reassuring or conducive to complacency.
The last red candle is burned, the cards come down, we eat the last piece of Christmas cake with the last glass of very delicious aged port. We skip breaking our teeth on the fève in the stodgy galette des rois, but I'm a stickler for the decorations, such as they are, coming down in time; not for us moulting Christmas trees, sad bits of tinsel and other tawdriness hanging about into February thank you very much.
To end the season, here are some lovely things made by others. I had these cozy and beautiful booties and bonnet for Christmas:
In fact I bought them myself early in December from Soize's stall at the marché de Noël at Ploeuc-sur-Lié near here. It was a lovely stall, loaded down with beautiful things she and BN had made, and in fact the whole market was really very good - I've seen some truly dismal marchés de Noël round here it must be said, but this one made me think perhaps they really might be getting the hang of it: it was cosy and bright with Christmassy music, hot food and drink and a good variety of nice merchandise. However, as she related, the trade was pitiful, not really worth the hours of time and work the stallholders put it, and poor Father Christmas sat sadly up on the stage with no one to talk to. Obviously they don't quite have the hang of it after all, at least not on the customers' side. But Soize was typically cheerful and not disheartened. I bought the hat and slippers (for a fairly derisory price but at least I appreciate the skill and effort that went into them) thinking I'd give them away as presents, but liked them so much I put them back in their pretty bag, and passed them to Tom telling him to give them to me on Christmas morning. Soize told me to pretend to be surprised when this happened.
We didn't do much gift giving this year, but as always there were parcels in the post from Tom's kids; M always sends us DVDs, which is a kind of interesting lucky dip; sometimes they're turkeys we've no taste for at all, often, as with Sherlock and Broadchurch, they're revelations which we'd never have thought to choose for ourselves, this year there were three films (they're more often tv series), which we've yet to sample. A always sends her dad marzipan in various shapes and forms which is a safe bet and very kind as it weighs a ton. K is more unpredictable; her parcel this year was very heavy, and turned out to include this little turned olive wood pot:
I've always loved olive wood, I hanker for a big lumpy unique pestle and mortar made from it, but desist from getting one because it would really only be for its visual beauty, we have a good working ceramic one, plus a mezzalune and board and an electric spice grinder, so it would simply be clutter. Olive wood also seems to have an emotional resonance, a memory I can't quite pin down, perhaps of objects shown by our kindly, churchy primary school teachers as being from 'the Holy Land', perhaps from the Mount of Olives itself, handled and spoken of with reverence, but fascinating to me then as now for their exotic, rich grain and figuring. This is perhaps Palestinian olive wood too. The base of the pot looks like a strange bird's head.
The loveliest thing about her parcel though, and the reason for its weightiness, was that it contained two substantial bags of whole cumin seeds. She knew, for Tom spoke about it when the family visited while we were in lodgings in the summer, that the stores of cumin and other spices, many of which she had sought out and brought over previously, were among the principal casualties of the house fire (their interesting savoury aroma mixing with the vile fumes of burning plastics, I remember noticing on waking) and that he had felt their loss keenly. K teaches English in England to people from all over the world, and likes nothing more than trying new flavours and learning about how they are created, and the finer and more obscure points of Asian cooking are an area where she and her dad have often bonded. The cumin seeds were an encouragement to him to start afresh.
And finally, Colin and Li Yi's Christmas video for 2016. I've still not ever met these two but feel as though I have, as they've been around in an exceptionally vivid way in the lives and conversations of my family for a while now. They've been sending me the videos ever since my niece forwarded me the first one, and I've posted them ever since I've been getting them (with the exception of last year's which I missed because we were in Iceland, I think, and one year they didn't make one because they were getting married or something). This one came a bit early because Colin went off to Malaysia, where he and Li Yi came from originally, and she came to my sister's for Christmas, much to everyone's delight there, I gather. Now in London, they live, work, volunteer at a soup kitchen, and endlessly make endlessly beautiful things, for a living, to share and give away, to do good in the world and simply for the love of doing so. Colin's website is here; though clearly very digitally savvy, he uses all kinds of very hands-on, low-tech media: architectural paintings done in coffee, an earlier Christmas video was made mostly using bits of pastry dough an other kitchen bits and pieces, and a lot of these layered paper-cut-out montage things, all done freehand with scalpels and a lot of loving patience.
I challenge you to watch this without getting a lump in the throat and without applauding its conclusion, delivered without preaching but with typical humour, gentleness and sincerity. Here's to 2017.