June’s image from the Limoges Brothers’ Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry doesn’t match up with the couplet from Sara Coleridge’s poem, “The Months.” I ascribe this to the different worlds featured: the Duc de Berry’s wealthy lands — with nary a posy in sight — at the height of the Middle Ages, versus Coleridge’s middle-class genteel life 400 years later in the early l9th century. She’d have seen field workers, but to her, June means flowers for bouquets.
However, the image from Très Riches Heures does illustrate two stanzas from a 16th-century farming calendar that Dorothy Hartley has been quoting for each month of Lost Country Life. Thomas Tusser (1524-1580), farmer and poet, wrote A Hundredth Good Pointes of Good Husbandrie in 1557 to encourage and instruct his fellow farmers (as well as their wives). The stanzas advise:
If meadow be forward, be mowing of some, but mow as the makers may well overcome. Take heed to the weather, the wind and the sky, if danger approacheth, then cock apace cry. Plough early till ten a’clock, then to thy hay, in plowing and carting, so profit ye may. By little and little thus doing ye win, that plough shall not hinder, when harvest comes in.
The men mow, while the women rake the cut grain into haycocks. A cloudless sky means they can keep working. Tusser would have approved.
Most of Hartley’s June chapter concerns sheep (washing, shearing, applying salve, preventing sunburn — yes, sheep can get sunburn after they’ve been sheared) and wool (rolling fleeces, packing wool sacks, spinning, dying). Other ovine products (lanolin, tallow, parchment, horns) get a nod. It’s reassuring to know that nothing was wasted.
Down in Provence, Peter Mayle and his wife join their neighbors in an emergency blood drive. Afterwards, he notes with pleasure that in France the reward for donating blood is not the usual tea and biscuit one gets in England but instead a buffet at a long table full of “Coffee, chocolate, croissants, brioches, sandwiches of ham or garlic sausage, mugs of red or rosé wine”.
His friends don’t believe him when he says he’s too busy to go to Avignon or Arles, the Camargue or Marseilles. It’s just too pleasant at his little house in the countryside, with all the interesting neighbors and workmen. Even the odd visitor or two is welcome
But Aix-en-Provence is an exception. They travel down the terrifyingly fast and busy RN7 (Route Nationale Sept, now the D7N) to Aix for a day of wandering, shopping, and eating. He mentions cafés, restaurants, streets, boutiques — and thus Aix moves up a few notches on my must-get-there list. I understand this is the price I pay for reading travel books, the ever-growing list of places I’d like to travel to. But better to have that list than none at all. Nothing wrong with dreams.
And finally, Gladys Taber at her country house on The Stillmeadow Road spends June dealing with dogs. She and her housemate, Jill (another divorced mother who lived with Taber for decades), already have, if I’ve counted correctly, three cocker spaniels and one Irish setter. But now the dog show is in town and other dog owners visit, bringing even more dogs into the mix. Taber has referenced a local breeder from whom she’s gotten puppies, so among her own dogs are no mutts or animals rescued from the pound. But she is a glutton for dogs — there can never be too many, for her, and even the noisy ones are just “having their say.”
Yet Taber’s narrated year — and I use “year” loosely, as each chapter is filled with memories that range across the 30+ years she has lived with Jill at her house on Stillmeadow Road — is interrupted by a “Between Seasons” interlude. She and Jill and Holly, one of the spaniels, are at Cape Cod. “If there were any warnings of disaster, I do not remember them,” she writes in the interlude’s first paragraph. At first I thought something was going to happen to the dog. Then, when she visits the doctor, I wondered what life-threatening disease she’d picked up. But it was neither. Jill had anemia whose cause the doctor couldn’t pin down. It was perhaps 4 weeks from initial tests to Jill’s death, and the last few pages of this chapter take us through Taber’s anguish as she works towards hope.
Taber has written in earlier chapters about her deep religious faith, and it plays a critical role in her process of recovery from the loss of her companion. Through her children, Jill’s children, and various grandchildren, as well as the dogs, Taber reconnects with life and moves forward. She even regains her optimism. “What do I believe?” she writes at the end of this chapter. “I believe we never lose those we have loved…. I believe eventually good overcomes evil, and that we are put on earth for a purpose which has to do with love and with good.” A few lines later, she adds, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, and the substance of living. With faith, we may face the fact of death and not be defeated.”
More to come next month, as we move into summer.
Wonderful timing on this post. Were you attracted to those final few sentences of Taber’s because of your experiences of the past few years?
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Thanks, J. And yes, those last few lines are certainly similar to what I’ve been thinking for a while, given not just the state of the world, but also two TV series that explore what being “kind” requires. In case my readers don’t know by now what I’m referring to, these are “The Good Place” and “After Life”.