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April 6, 2014 / annakpf11

On Living Far Away


“…Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route.”

From “The Blue House” prose poem by Swedish poet and Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer (1931— )

The hedgerow is in shadow, but late afternoon sun illuminates the fields behind Long Barn, spotlighting a small herd of cattle. Some caramel-colored, some white, some black, they stand with heads bent to the grass, peaceful as statues. I am looking out the window above the kitchen sink (such an important place in a house; such an important place for a view), absent-mindedly observing this tranquil slice of world where we live.

I am thinking about the choices we make in life, the unpredictable path that led us here, and about loved ones far away. Dave and I feel ‘at home’ here in the UK; we love the place (yes, even the weather!), the people we’ve met, and the way of life we’ve found, and yet there is no denying that family and friends dear to us no longer live near to us. I worry about the separate orbits of our daily lives, about missing holidays and milestones, and about being absent in times of need. I tell myself that proximity doesn’t define closeness, and that the magic of Skype keeps us connected (surprisingly well, in fact), but the human tendency to worry, to scan the horizon for what’s wrong, or what might go wrong, keeps a sense of separation bobbing and floating on the surface of my awareness. How much of this low-grade worry is adaptive, a legacy of ancestors who survived because they paid attention to what caused pain and harm? Neuroscientists say that we have developed a ‘negativity bias:’ our brains are primed to spot potential threats, and our instinctive memory preferentially imprints the negative stuff of life, so if we are to fully inhabit our time on earth, we must remain vigilant to beauty, open to delight.


Unexpected movement draws my eye to the field outside the kitchen window: two fawn-colored, long-legged calves are chasing each other back and forth across the pasture. To and fro they run, moving in gawky splendor, gold-toned flanks catching the day’s last light. In and around they weave, disappearing and then reappearing among bushes and placid cows, propelled by some inner impulse to movement, to motion, and, I like to think, to bovine joy. I savor the sight, and the feeling it engenders in me.  I imagine the elasticity of running free, the synchrony of mind, body, and breath. I relish this vicarious exhilaration until it becomes part of me, a bright, indelible thread in the fabric of my being.

Yes, distance imposes limits. But it also creates possibility. Living far away crystallises our sense of what is important as it expands our field of shared experience, so that the nature of the time we now spend with family and friends—whether we visit them in California or they travel to Long Barn—is even more cherished, certainly more concentrated, and arguably richer and more intimate than before.

The sun has left the field now; the calves have abandoned their game. My gaze turns to the persimmon painted walls of our kitchen, my thoughts to the evening meal. I pull scissors from a drawer, open the back door and step into the garden. The long blue hour of twilight has begun. A blackbird perches on a treetop, proclaiming his rights in flutelike song. I snip the herbs I planted last summer—chives, mint, parsley—already greening in anticipation of spring.

Later, Dave and I will sit down to dinner, and as we always do, we will recall the roses and thorns in our respective days. Thorns, we notice, arrive with plenty of neural fanfare; roses require presence of heart. I will tell him what I witnessed out the window above the kitchen sink, what I would not have seen if I hadn’t been in a receptive frame of mind. I will describe how the beauty of the light, the green field, and the unfettered aliveness of the calves made me feel full, and whole, and part of everything. How, at such a moment, even though we live far away, everyone we love seems very near indeed.


June 7, 2013 / annakpf11

From Bud to Blossom


“The bud stands for all things, even for those things that don’t flower, for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing…”  Excerpted from “Saint Francis and the Sow” by Galway Kinnell (1927— )

The weeks tick by, the long winter recedes, and we witness another English spring: tiny green fists on bare branches, and then the slow unfurling of broad fingered leaves.


Once again, the heart irresistibly lifts at the sight of lambs in the field; the gaze brightens at the metamorphosis of muddy ground to a green and flowering sea.


We find Bluebells in the Beech tree woods, birdsong everywhere,


and twice, a surprise visitor in the back garden:


Shelley, a very clever, and very pregnant pig who realizes the electric fence around her pen has lost power and she can sneak out unscathed. She works her way through the dense hedgerow dividing our land—probably in search of the apples I often lob into her yard—and it is only with the assistance of several neighbors and continuous food bribes that we are able to lure her back through the hedge to her side.


After her second great escape, Shelley gets a new pen, now contained by wooden siding instead of mere strips of theoretically electrified wire. Just as well, for the countdown has begun to the birth of her piglets, and according to the “rule of hoof” for porcine gestation—three months, three weeks and three days—the blessed event should occur any minute now!

Meanwhile, as happens every year on the first weekend in June, our village hosts a traditional Fayre.


A real community undertaking, everyone pitches in to help, setting up and staffing a variety of stalls, pouring tea, baking cakes, and organizing a variety of games, raffles and prizes.


A live band plays on the green, featuring Dave on lead guitar, impressing villagers who had not yet realized that he is a musician and rock star.


The sun shines all day and plenty of ale flows at the pub.


A chance for old and new friends to meet, the Fayre offers diversions for adults and kids alike, from face painting to Pimm’s Cup, to plate smashing to football in the toilet. (Sounds worse than it is.)


There are real bargains to be found at the book stall, Bric-a-Brac, plant sale and jewelry table, and spectator sports include ferret racing, a tug-of-war contest and a karate demonstration.


From all over the county, visitors arrive early and stay late. We dance until midnight, the band still going strong.


Mark your calendar: same time, same place next year. Until then, Piglet Birthday Update available upon request. And here’s the rest of the poem:

“…though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow

began remembering all down her thick length,

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing

beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”

May 3, 2013 / annakpf11

Time and Place

Ightham posy

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

—Rudyard Kipling (1865—1936)

On a blue sky Sunday morning, Dave and I set off to discover historical sites in southwest England. We begin by making a familiar pilgrimage.


Flowering magnolia trees line the approach to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s beloved country house. We stroll around the expansive brick-walled kitchen garden, some of the masonry accomplished by Churchill himself, and soak up the atmosphere of Churchill’s library and study, before taking our leave, for we have a full day ahead, and are certain to be back again.

Dave & Tulip Tree

A local deli provides a roadside picnic of chicken, cheddar and cucumber sandwiches and then we resume our drive through woodlands carpeted with daisies and bluebells. Our next stop is only a few miles down the road, but hundreds of years backward in time.

Ightham in toto

In 1320, life in late medieval England was still fraught with danger, but gradually becoming less so, and thus a gentleman of means no longer needed to build a castle in order to protect his family; he could do with a moated manor house. Ightham Mote is one of the few such surviving structures. Secreted away in a leafy hollow of a green, secluded valley, this perfectly preserved house is described by historians as one of the most beautiful and interesting in all England. That is saying a lot, but Dave and I agree; from first glimpse to last, we are enchanted by the place.

Ightham Entry

Ranks of brick chimneys stand at attention above half-timbered walls and a fortified entry of gray Kentish stone. Overhanging bay windows allow for residents to drop fishing line and baited hook, and the entire vision seems to float on the tranquil waters of the moat.

Ightham courtyard

Built around a stone courtyard (the 30,000 cobbles were painstakingly re-laid as part of the impressive restoration by the National Trust), the four wings include a soaring great hall, an oak paneled billiard room, a Jacobean staircase, airy 20th century sitting room and library, and 16th century chapel. The paintings on the chapel’s unique barrel-vaulted ceiling commemorate the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. We love this place, and depart determined to return.

Ightham Bike

A rambling ride through gently rolling farmland scattered with the region’s distinctive red brick “oast houses,” or hop kilns, takes us across the border from Kent into the shire of East Sussex, and to another wondrous survivor of the late Middle Ages.

Bodiam from afar

Surrounded on all sides by a moat large enough to qualify as a small lake, Bodiam Castle’s watery location is probably what saved it from being later dismantled for the value of its stones.

Bodiam courtyard Bodiam Doorway

Bodiam Girl in Red

How did men of the time construct such a massive, architecturally sound structure out of incredibly heavy materials? As Plato said, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Persistence over time helps too. Bodiam, begun in 1385, was completed in 1388.

Bodiam Arches

I am impressed. But I can’t help wonder, once the stone block walls were in place, how did they keep the place even marginally warm in winter?

Bodiam stairwell

And what did they eat? The outline of the great hearth and kitchen ovens are still visible, so presumably there was a lot of cooking going on. But I’m still glad I was not born yet.

Bodiam Lawn Girl

The wind picks up and the day winds down as we head to the coastal town of Rye.

Rye Blue Door

An important shipping port beginning in Roman times through the Middle Ages, today Rye’s chief industry seems to be tourism. The town’s economy began to falter in the 13th century when violent storms changed the course of the river leading to the sea and local landowners gradually reclaimed the surrounding marshlands, reducing the tidal-flows that were supposed to keep the harbor free of silt. Today, dilapidated boats rest on their keels in the mud. Steep cobblestoned streets and crooked, half-timbered houses impart authentic, if faded, old world charm.

Rye Street

Our destination for the night is Hastings, the seaside town of Foyle’s War fame. (BBC WWII period murder mystery series.) In contrast to Rye, the old town of Hastings feels like it’s on the road to gentrification: historic fishing village meets Coney Island meets Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Hastings Bakery

Still an active fishing port—the only one in England without the slightest protection from the sea—the town boasts a tiny fleet of small but sturdy craft, adept at racing in and out with the tide, and a cluster of 17th century “net huts,” tall, narrow box-like structures jutting upwards to heights of 25 feet.

Net Huts & Boat

Covered in clapboard siding and painted black to mimic the tar originally smeared over the wood, these so-called “huts” provided shelter for fisherman to repair, store and dry their fishing nets, ropes and sails.

3 Net Huts

A bit further along the gold-toned pebble beach, a burned out pier extends into the surf, devastated by fire in 2010 and scheduled to be rebuilt and reopened by 2015. Carnival rides, slot machine palaces, cotton candy vendors and Fish n’ Chip stands clamor for tourist dollars along the waterfront.


But the vibe changes completely just a block away.

Hastings Street

Arty antique and second-hand shops, interior design storefronts, used bookshops, avant-garde galleries, coffee bars, quirky pubs and restaurants line the narrow streets. Everybody seems to have a tattoo, a dog, and at least one piercing.

Hastings Bookshop

Overall, we find the mood of Hastings up and coming, if still a tad ragged around the edges.

Hastings Junk Shop

We spend the night at what must be the best Bed and Breakfast on the whole south coast, a treasure found by Dave. Swan House is a haven of comfortable, eclectic shabby-chic style in an historic half-timbered building. A fire smolders in a great open hearth and a well-stocked Honor Bar hides in the bookshelf. Our bedroom, a former bakery flour loft, has been modernized and decorated to a high standard. Cloud-like pillows, linens and mattress, plus fresh flowers, a carafe of water and good reading light on both sides of the bed. Original artwork, artisan soaps, and a hand-made shell mosaic on the side of the built-in bathtub are just some of the artful details that make me wish we could stay more than one night.

Dave on Hastings Beach

But we have a date with destiny. After a breakfast of sophisticated comfort-food—corned beef hash with poached egg and homemade baked beans, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, seasonal fruit salad, home-made granola or muesli, Greek yoghurt, bagels and whole grain bread, to name just a few of the items on offer—we depart for Battle. This is where, on a crisp October day in 1066, the military engagement known to every British schoolboy as the Battle of Hastings took place, with dramatic impact on the history of England.

Dave and I pause on a smooth gravel path, cellphone-sized audio guides held to our ears, while we listen to a recorded voice describe the long ago battle. In one day, thousands of men died in the peaceful green meadow we gaze upon. I try to imagine wearing a heavy suit of armor and carrying a weighty shield plus weapon (double-headed battle-axe, sword, lance or bow), while climbing up a hill, all around me the noise and confusion of archers on horseback and thousands of foot soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Thousands. The scope and method of carnage boggles the mind. As do the simple logistics of arriving at the battlefield on time. The Norman invaders had to navigate the channel in a flotilla of sailing boats loaded with horses and gear. Led by William the Bastard (spoiler alert: he would soon be known as William the Conquerer), they advanced past the town of Hastings until they arrived near where Dave and I now stand on a grassy hillside dotted with daffodils. The defending Anglo-Saxon army, led by King Harold, waited at the top of the hill. Exhausted before the battle even began, Harold’s men had just fought off a fierce Viking invasion in the north and then speed-walked 200 miles in 5 days to arrive here. Medical and hygiene queries aside, what did they find to eat during their long march south? Surely there was no time to butcher and cook enough chickens and lambs to feed everyone. I find myself hoping they had perfected some early form of energy bar, perhaps mixing oats, honey, dried fruit and nuts?

Legend tells us that after a day of bloodshed, Harold died with an arrow shot through his eye. (The Bayeux Tapestries back up the story, though some say the stitching could have been altered to fit the tale.) Thus the Norman rule of England began, and apart from the slaughter, some say we are better off because of it. Life in Anglo-Saxon England was not much fun, and the slightly more modernized Normans probably inched standards up a notch or two. Linguistically, the Anglo-Saxon and Norman tongues gradually merged into the half-Latin, half-Teutonic hybrid we speak today.


After this sobering contemplation of the long-ago fight for the right to rule the land, Dave and I walk to the top of the hill, where Pope Alexander II ordered William to build a monument as penance for the many lives lost. Accordingly, William oversaw the construction of an impressive Norman church, the first of its style to be built in England, with the high altar marking the exact spot where Harold met his demise. Only the outline of the church foundations remains, but we explore the partial ruins of the adjoining abbey complex, including the vast and impressive vaulted stone ceilings of the novices’ common room.

Our last stop is unplanned, a serendipitous add-on discovered while deciding the best route homeward. A small red symbol on the map, cross-referenced in a guidebook, turns out to be Rudyard Kipling’s home, a place on my mental “to visit” list ever since hearing about it during a poetry circle meeting. Dave readily agrees to the small detour, and it turns out to be one of the highlights of our weekend.

Kipling's Wallpaper

Rudyard Kipling and his American wife Carrie came across Bateman’s, a Jacobean stone manor house and walled gardens, while on a motoring tour of the English countryside, and fell in love with it on the spot.


They purchased it in 1902 and lived here until Kipling’s death in 1936. When Carrie donated the house to the National Trust, she left many of the rooms as they were when Kipling lived there.

Kipling's Entry

Kiplings Desk

Such as his study, where he wrote the well-loved poem, “IF,” containing the resonant lines engraved above the player’s entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same”

Kipling's Front Gate

On that thoughtful note, we make our way home, already planning our next adventure.

For anyone interested, the full text of Kipling’s poem follows, written in 1909 as advice to his son, inspired by the achievements of a man betrayed and imprisoned by the British Government – the Scots-born colonial adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

April 30, 2013 / annakpf11

Nettle Soup

Colander Nettles

Now that English spring has well and truly arrived, it’s time to forage for nettles. They grow wild just about everywhere around here, including along the verges of the farm lane next to Long Barn. I love being able to simply walk outside my door and harvest such a useful plant. High in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium and vitamins A and C, nettles are also a decent source of protein. As a medicinal herb, nettles are used to treat arthritis, anemia, hay fever and kidney problems.

Nettles & Glove

Collecting nettles is a fairly simple endeavor: the key is to wear protective clothing (thick gardening gloves, long-sleeved shirt, socks, and jeans) over every bit of exposed skin, to seek out the youngest plants—less than knee-high—and to pick only the tender top leaves. In no time at all, I have a basket full.

Nettles on Stove

Back in the kitchen, I discard the stems and wash the leaves. Then I submerge the nettles in a pot of water and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the leaves are wilted and I’m sure they are fully cooked. (It’s not toxic to touch or even ingest an uncooked nettle leaf, but I suspect it would be quite unpleasant.) After draining the cooked nettles through a colander and pressing out any excess liquid I’m left with a small batch of what looks like vivid green spinach, though the taste will be less astringent, more floral.

Cooked Nettles

This first harvest becomes a delicious soup. Simple and satisfying. Here’s the recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 carrots, peeled and diced

3 leeks, white part only, washed and finely sliced

1 large potato, peeled and chopped (I used an orange-fleshed sweet potato)

6 to 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

4 cups washed stinging nettles (I cooked mine in advance, which worked fine)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

a squirt of anchovy paste

a squeeze of lemon juice

1/4 cup heavy cream or crème fraîche (optional)

In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the carrot, leeks and potato and cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the stock and the anchovy paste, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potato is soft. Add the nettle leaves and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat. With an immersion blender or in a food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Return to the pot and season with the salt and pepper (add a little more to taste if necessary), then stir in the heavy cream if using, or serve garnished with a dollop of crème fraîche.

The Next Nettle Adventure is already planned: Cooked nettles blended with crushed garlic cloves, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese—Pesto. Can’t wait!

December 18, 2012 / annakpf11

Reflections on Life in England

“…We shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and to know the place for the first time…”

From The Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot (Little Gidding)

Claydon Hat Car

1. Politeness and Courtesy have not gone out of style. The most obvious examples occur behind the wheel, and they happen all the time, as if everyone is vying for some tacit national award of Most Considerate Driver. For instance: It’s five o’clock rush hour on busy cross-town surface streets. You signal your intention to turn across a long, slow-moving line of oncoming cars, expecting an interminable delay. Except that very soon, an anonymous driver stops and briefly flashes his headlights in invitation for you to go ahead. You acknowledge his courtesy with a smile and a wave—or a reciprocal headlamp flick—and zip in between the endless string of cars you didn’t have to wait for. This is no anomaly; it is standard code of behavior, and it elevates driving to a cooperative human endeavor.

Speaking of zipping, merging traffic is another thing that works really well here. Everybody takes his or her turn, slotting into place like teeth in a giant zipper. UK motorists seem to come out of the womb knowing how to do this. Nobody pretends they don’t see you just so they won’t have to let you in. In contrast with the American character of Rugged Individualism that can morph into an ethos of “Every man for himself; you snooze, you lose”—the British culture seems infused with a sort of Rugged Solidarity, an attitude of “Best just get on with it, and for goodness sake be civil about it.

Timber at overlook

2. The English countryside is Canine Paradise, and the next best thing to having a dog of our own is borrowing Timber, the neighbors’ friendly Chocolate Labrador Retriever. Eager to please, impervious to mud, wet, or cold, and friendly to every man, woman, child and beast he meets, Timber is the perfect walk-mate, and he accompanies me on many a ramble through wood and field. He also enjoys doing yoga. His favorite pose is Pigeon.


3. Opportunities for Amateur Sheep Herding Abound. Returning across the field from a morning walk, Timber and I come upon two black-faced sheep grazing in the open meadow behind Long Barn. Dark heads bent to the sweet grass, they act as if they own the place. But I know better. Lamb Chop and Mint Sauce—named for their shared destiny—are not “free range;” they belong to our neighbor and have somehow escaped their pen. But before I can even think of how to lure them back through the hole in the fence they’ve slipped through, the two turn fluffy tails and bolt down the lane.

Timber gives chase, thwarting any slim chance I might’ve had of redirecting the errant grazers. But he, at least, returns to my side when I whistle and call his name. (Amazing what a thimbleful of raw meat can accomplish.) Chocolate lab safely stashed in Long Barn, I hop on my bike and pedal out the driveway in pursuit of Chop and Sauce.

As if waiting for me to catch up, the wooly ones are loitering on the sidewalk. I croon instructions back to their fenced enclosure, which motivates them to break into a gallop in the opposite direction.

Spinning on two wheels, I pursue them onto the Village Green. A neighbor catches sight of us whilst washing runner beans at her kitchen sink. She rushes outside to help, clutching her mobile phone and calling for reinforcements.

Meanwhile, Lamb Chop and Mint Sauce are on the move. The are trotting down Brookstones Lane toward open fields. Perhaps they sense the presence of kindred sheep spirits grazing there. One thing is certain, if they aren’t rounded up soon, things will get a lot trickier. Luckily, the grass must be exceptionally tasty on the verge of the lane, because the two fugitives have pulled over to sample a few mouthfuls. I see my opportunity and glide past them.

Once in the lead, I let my bike fall to the ground, then turn back and stalk the sheep on foot, arms outstretched with palms facing forward. To my surprise and relief, this maneuver actually works. The startled twosome reverse direction and scurry back the way they came, right into the waiting arms of neighbors and villagers summoned by cell phone. Five humans execute a pincer movement and herd the two animals through a farmyard gate. It takes another half hour to coax the shy but nimble creatures into a temporary holding pen. Then we all go back to whatever we were doing—sheep to grazing, villagers to daily routines. In the evening, the grateful owner of Lamb Chop and Mint Sauce treats us to a pint at the pub.

rose blue door detail Lassco

3. Continuing Glossary of British English:

Hosepipe vs. Hose: As our neighbor reasonably explains to me: “hose” means ladies’ stockings, thus a different word is necessary for the long tube that relays water from faucet to garden: ergo the term “hosepipe.”

Homely vs. Homey: If a British person says your house is “homely,” it is not an insult. It means they find your place comfortable and cosy, what might be described in the U.S. as “homey.” (Not to be confused with the American inner city vernacular referring to a young male residing in the ‘hood.)

Flu Jab vs. Flu Shot: When flu season looms, there’s no need to make an appointment with your doctor, no need to stand in line, no need to fret over a fear of needles. Simply request a quick flu “jab” at your local Boots pharmacy.

Lacock Cloister

4. BBC Radio offers an astounding wealth of listening options, from concerts broadcast in their entirety, to in-depth analysis of world and local news, to the annual butterfly census. Interview programs such as “Private Passions” and “Desert Island Discs” keep me entertained while on the elliptical trainer or doing housework, and I’ve even downloaded a four-part special called Farmland Guide to Birds, complete with examples of bird calls. And I’ve only begun to tap the online archive of “In Our Time” a program about the history of ideas; so far have listened to discussions about the ethics of Plato and Aristotle, the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, and the age of the universe. And then there’s the “Shipping Forecast,” a meteorological mantra of offshore weather presented in a distinctly soothing, abbreviated format (“…Faroes, Fair Isle, southeasterly gale, variable 4, perhaps gale 8 later, occasional rain, moderate, occasionally poor…”), a daily ritual for fishermen, sailors and general public alike. 

stained glass

5. No matter what one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof, the ancient stone churches—from country chapels to soaring cathedrals—inspire awe and reverence for the creative spirit which enlivens us all.


6. Each season brings a change in life’s rhythm, like a changing tempo in music. Winter is a fierce and stately hymn of praise. For the way bare branches reveal twig-sewn bird nests, secrets kept since springtime. For the way heated towel racks and on-demand electric heaters are standard in every bathroom. For hoarfrost, crystalline landscapes of white coated cobwebs, sugar spun shrubs and ice-glazed fields. For the way the wind blows through the keyhole and whines in the woodstove flue, but we stay warm in Long Barn. For the lucky cognitive dissonance—or selective attention to units of temperature measurement—that allows 28 degrees fahrenheit to seem downright balmy, since zero (centigrade, but never mind) is freezing. For the way winter light stays low, deep and clear all day long. Even for the way the sun slides toward the horizon at 3:30 p.m., because you never miss a sunset, and each one is a heart-catchingly beautiful ending. And of course, a beginning.

“…And the end and the beginning were always there
/Before the beginning and after the end.
/And all is always now…” 

From The Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot (Burnt Norton)

sunset St. Mary's

July 14, 2012 / annakpf11

Calf in the Field

From Village Newsletter: Dog Worrying Livestock

An out-of-control dog chased and attacked a calf in Patrick Blount’s field. The herd took fright and charged, demolishing two fences and injuring another calf. Patrick shouted at the dog owner who eventually got his dog under control and left hurriedly. Patrick then had to spend his afternoon attending to the calves and repairing the fences. He has asked for all dog walkers to keep their dogs under control and on a lead if necessary while walking through fields with animals present. He is prepared to and has a right to shoot a dog if it is worrying livestock.

Life is never dull in the countryside. For farmers and livestock, it is never easy.

Early one spring morning we wake to Farmer Blount’s cows bellowing from the field behind Long Barn. It’s not the first time we’ve heard such bovine roars, but today’s groans sound particularly distressed. Something is not quite right, I think.

The pained noises continue after Dave has gone to work. I wonder if a cow is giving birth.

I hang a load of wash on the line and still the cows continue their plaintive mooing. The last time Blount’s cows complained so long and loud, a fox was in our neighbor’s henhouse, killing the rooster and all the chickens. Before I can talk myself out of the impulse, I pull on my Wellingtons, stride out the front gate and up a grassy lane to the cow pasture.

Glad of my tall boots, I wade through the meadow, dew-wet stalks swishing in my wake, and make my way to the pasture boundary. I skirt a thicket of stinging nettles, Hawthorne and Elder until I find a gap in the hedge big enough to peer through. And there, right in front of me, a large, caramel colored cow. She’s lying on her side, and nestled against her belly, I can just make out the black and white hindquarters of a calf.

The caramel cow stares at me and then lumbers to her feet. She bows her head and licks her calf’s damp, matted flank. I angle closer, straining to see the calf’s black and white ribcage rise and fall. Instead, I see its coal black head, and its lifeless eye. The mama cow looks at me as if to say, “I’ve done all I can.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. What else can I do?

This is an isolated corner of pasture, separated from the rest of the herd, and I’m afraid it might be days before the farmer finds the stillborn calf. I scan the field’s perimeter and catch sight of a man repairing a section of fence. He is too far away to hail, so I make my way along the bramble and barbed wire border until I am opposite him, then call and wave my arms. But he’s finished his task, and instead of noticing me, he leaves the field.

I hurry back to Long Barn, hop on my bike and pedal through the village to the snug brick bungalow where I know Farmer Blount lives. His wife answers the front door, and I explain about the dead calf.

Now I’ve done all I can. Or have I?

I remember the calf’s sleek black head, its white dappled flank, its neat hooves and dark, sightless eye. I think about how its mother wanted it to live. I cycle home, and write this epitaph.

July 4, 2012 / annakpf11

Field Notes from Long Barn

“Starting here, what do you want to remember? … Will you ever bring a better gift for the world than the breathing respect that you carry wherever you go right now?”

William Stafford (1914—1993), excerpted from “You Reading This, Be Ready”

A few early observations of life in a small village in the English countryside:

1. People “Pop Round.” Face-to-face visits are preferable to calling someone on the phone. Almost daily, a knock at the door of Long Barn heralds the arrival of a neighbor come to offer information, bring a gift of homemade jam, inquire whether I’ll be attending the next Women’s Institute meeting, or just to say hello.

2. Offering Tea is the Right Thing to Do. No matter who arrives—the next door neighbor, the workman come to replace the broken window, the exterminator to eradicate the wasp nest found in the garage, the gardener to mow the lawn—an offer of tea and biscuits will be gladly accepted. Almost expected, in the friendliest sort of way.

3. Strangers Wave at Each Other. The country lanes are so narrow that vehicles are always pulling over to let oncoming traffic by, at which point the drivers exchange a wave to acknowledge the courtesy. So very polite and civilized.

4. Dryers are Rare. Despite the damp climate, people routinely hang their washing to dry. At first I was skeptical that clothes would ever progress beyond damp, but they do. Now, one of my greatest and simplest pleasures is walking out into the garden with a basket of clean laundry and pinning shirts, sheets and towels onto the line. If there’s no sun, the wind is sure to dry them, and even if it rains, everything eventually dries out.

5. Wimbledon is Important. Everyone knows about it, everyone cares about it, and everyone can attend. Advance tickets are sold out long in advance, but anyone can queue up and gain entry to the grounds and a chance to buy inexpensive resale tickets. Which we did! On the first day of play, 2012.

6. Fresh Eggs are Prized. And they are not refrigerated. Even in grocery stores, they’re just sitting there in cardboard cartons. The best eggs I’ve ever tasted are available from a large plastic tub outside our neighbor’s house on the village green. Lift the lid, deposit coins in the dish and take as many eggs as you’ve paid for.

7. The Honor System is Alive and Well. As with buying farm eggs, so it is at the grocery store. A hand-held electronic scanner allows you to scan each item as it goes into your basket and then check out without a human ever verifying your purchases.

8. Gardening and Flower Arranging are National Pastimes. I’m doing plenty of both. My latest endeavor is a kitchen herb garden. I’ve always wanted one, just never had the right patch of ground before. Now I have a fine selection of fresh herbs at my fingertips.

9. British English is a Foreign Language. I remain mystified by the helpful M40 road sign alerting me that “Spray Is Possible.” And I’ve yet to see a large-billed sea bird crossing the road at a “Humped Pelican Crossing.”

10. Weekends are for Walking. Dave and I have happily joined the ranks of people of all ages, shapes and sizes who, rain or shine (and we’re having a lot of the former), don hiking boots and plastic coated map pouches and explore the network of footpaths and bridleways criss-crossing the land. Such outings include at least one pub stop.

June 30, 2012 / annakpf11

Long Barn Summer

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke (1875—1926)

Hard to believe it’s only been three months since we landed here. Seems like much longer, partly because the process of uprooting and then resettling involves so much more than the mere physical transfer of goods and self; partly because the friendliness of our little village makes us feel as if we’ve lived here for ages, and partly because the surrounding countryside has undergone such change in that short time—from winter-bare branches to full-throated blooming—like some giant secret garden, pulsing to life.

In April, fields of bright lemon Rapeseed illuminate the landscape.

In May, Bluebells hover in the woods like mist rising from the ground. 

Hawthorne comes into flower, white and pink lace in the hedgerows.

Lowell and Marj arrive at Long Barn in time to marvel along with us at the wonders of an English spring.

Their presence is a baptism of sorts for our new home, and we are deeply grateful they have crossed the Atlantic to visit. If only they could move in next door!

The solstice approaches. Every tree clothed in every imaginable shade and hue of green, every shrub and vine vying for the prize of most exotic bloom. Grass swirls thigh-high in the meadows and our lawn seems to grow three inches in a day.

Dawn filters through the bedroom curtains at 4:30 a.m., and daylight lingers long after dinner.

Silva, Isabelle and Elsa arrive just before the longest day.

Knowing they’ve breathed in this place with us makes our life here more complete.

Now it is July. Elderflowers appear in the hedgerows, delicate blossoms the color of pale butter. I wade through the field of tall grass behind Long Barn and harvest enough flower heads to make two jars of Elderflower liqueur.

A way to remember this summer, when winter comes to Long Barn.

December 28, 2011 / annakpf11

Parting with Basil

“One loss folds itself inside another,” says the poet Jane Hirshfield, “It is like the origami, held inside a plain sheet of paper. Not creased yet. Not yet more heavy. The hand stays steady.”

Ghostly shapes emerge from dense fog along the banks of Los Gatos Creek. We’ve arrived early for our rendez-vous, and now we sit for a moment in the truck, Basil in his spot on the bench seat between us. All of us stare out the windshield at the deserted parking lot and the mist-drenched landscape.

After months of getting used to the idea, then more months of searching for the right people, what we are about to do still feels unreal. Moving as if half-asleep, we walk Basil around the creekside park until cold seeps through the soles of our shoes.

We return to the truck and wait inside the warm cab. A black Passat cruises into the parking lot and pulls up next to us. I clip Basil’s leash to his collar for the last time, and together we clamber outside. Two dark-haired women, Alice and Joanna, have alighted from their car. Basil wags his tail and runs to greet them. I smile, pleased to see he recognizes them from their week ago visit to our house. Dave and I transfer dog treats to Alice and Joanna’s pockets, dog food to their cooler, dog bed to their back seat. And then it’s time to part ways. Alice gives me a hug and Basil jumps into her car as if he’s been rehearsing the move all week. May he be happy, I think. May he and his new family thrive. May he be warm and nourished. May he feel safe.
Dave and I drive away and don’t look back. Neither of us speaks until we’ve regained the highway and started up the mountain. “That was hard,” Dave says. I reach across the empty seat and take his hand. Indeed, sorrow rides with us in the truck, but relief is a passenger too. Relief that the deed is done. That Basil wagged his tail. That our last sight of him wasn’t a forlorn, sad-eyed pup, but a willing, eager dog, ready for a new adventure.
Within a half hour we are home. Determined to avoid maudlin sentiment, we occupy the afternoon by subjecting the house to a blitz-krieg clean: ashes shoveled from the hearth, tables and bookcases dusted, rugs vacuumed, floors mopped, old clothes sorted through and discarded, even the furnace filter replaced. We are not trying to eradicate all traces of Basil—not exactly—the house needed a good going-over, and there’s something therapeutic and forward-looking about giving everything a shiny new face.
At dusk, a solitary walk. On the bluff overlooking our small beach village and Monterey Bay, I stand still for a very long while—something Basil rarely condoned. The tide is low, the bay smooth as a pane of glass, the horizon smudged persimmon. In the southwest sky, the bright star Venus pairs with a silver eyelash moon. No dog strains at the end of his leash, only this quiet beauty. I reach into my coat pocket for a Kleenex, and instead find a few of the dog treats I always (used to) carry.
The light fades and I make my way back to Antonita Cottage. When I open the front door, Basil is there, of course, in my mind’s eye. He’s curled up in his favorite corner of the couch, and when he hears me, his tail slaps the cushion in happy anticipation of the belly rub he knows I am about to bestow.
December 1, 2011 / annakpf11

British Blog—The Things We’ll Miss

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor
fleshless; neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance
is, but neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Elation without motion…”  
                                  *  *  *
From “Four Quartets,” by T.S. Eliot (1888—1965)    

We fly home today. I will miss the Beech tree woods, a “still point in the turning world.” Their complexion has quite changed since our arrival; where once was a mass of green-gold russet leaves, now great swathes of sky show through.

Dave and I will both miss the conviviality, convenience and ease of the quasi-communal life we’ve been leading here in the flat adjoining Phil and Jenny’s house. I’ll miss leaning out the open window every morning, mug of tea in hand, gazing across our view of pasture and woodland, inhaling the damp leafy odor of the garden. Dave will miss the “vroooom” of Phil’s Audi S4.

We’ll both miss the hedgerow-lined lanes leading to impossibly picturesque villages, the mere sight of which fills us with contentment and continuity, as if all has somehow been made right in the world. Half-timbered houses, walls bulging with age, tile roofs squiggly and sagging. And how every dwelling has a name: “Vine Hill,” “Shepherd’s Croft,” “Robin’s Nest,” “Beech Manor, and “Rose Cottage (there must be thousands of these).”

Dave will miss “popping ’round to the pub” for a pint of bitter. In the workplace, he’ll miss the camaraderie and the intensity; the laser focus on doing a good job while having a good time. He’ll miss the uncensored communication style; the ability to speak one’s mind freely without overemphasis on a tightrope of political correctness. We’ll both miss British humor—funnier, sharper and more ironic than its American counterpart.

I’ll miss the way everything feels like a new adventure, even grocery shopping and doing laundry. I’ll miss the way villages and towns are discreet entities, surrounded by vast green fields and woods. I’ll miss riding the train to yoga class at Julie Bealey’s gracious home in Amersham.

I’ll miss the way Brits young and old seem to take real pleasure in socializing and being together with family and friends, more so than we time-pressed yanks who seem to be more interested in our autonomous selves and achievements, even if only the latest iteration of our “to do” list.

I’ll miss learning new colloquialisms such as “bog-standard,” “with knobs on,” “bubble and squeak,” and “feeling peckish;” along with place names like “Lower Oddington,” “Buttocks Point,” “Beacon’s Bottom,” “Happy Bottom,” “Bishops Itchington,” “Foul End,” “Great Snoring,” and “Hogpits Bottom.” (I did not make these up.)

Before we close this post, a disclaimer of sorts: our impressions of Britain and the British—our thin slice of the people we’ve been fortunate enough to encounter and the places we’ve been lucky to stumble upon—reflect our personal bias; our particular state of mind filtered through our accumulated personal experience at this particular moment in time.

“I envy those
who live in two places…
There is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. I have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. With
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
I am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: I am talking about hope.”  
                           *    *    *

From “Where We Are (for Edward Field),” by Gerald Locklin