The Flight of the Sparrow

Last summer I saw a baby Stellar Jay perched on my arbor, resting after trying out its wings. I looked away for an instant; when I looked back, it was gone.

It reminded me of something The Venerable Bede once said.  Bede was an Anglo-Saxon monk born in 672A.D.

In  The Ecclesiastical History of the English People he compares a person’s life to the flight of a sparrow.  Imagine sitting in a mead-hall at supper by the light of a blazing fire, while outside a winter storm rages.

A sparrow flies in one door of the hall, into the light, then darts out out another door, back into the cold dark night.  “So our lives appear for a short space,” said Bede, “but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.”

People have many different thoughts, feelings, beliefs and explanations as to what or if anything comes before…

…or after the sparrow’s flight.

Sooner or later each of us will fly out into the night.

That seems to be the only thing everyone can agree upon.

I don’t need to know all the answers before I fly back out.

I am right here, right now, basking in the warm and beautiful light of life.

Whatever happens outside the mead-hall won’t change the way I live my life here and now.

I have work I am passionate about…

..family I love and good friends to play with.

I care about issues in the wider world…

…and in my own little sphere.

I hope I can make some small difference…as a writer, a storyteller, a parent, a friend…

…and to leave even just a little nightlight shining…

…when my flight is done. nullAll words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more images of The One Word Photo Challenge:Storm.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo challenge: Let There Be Light.

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s Photo a Week Challenge: Flight

Island Time

Little pockets of Britain, such as Gibraltar, can be found in the most unexpected places.

You will know them by their breakfasts.

Their mailboxes…

Their unique signage…

And their excellent thrift stores…

…which are staffed by the friendliest most helpful people, like Thelma and Kathy with a ‘K’.

In Britain, thrift shops are centrally located, often on the high street, each dedicated to a worthy cause: for the poor, cancer research, head injuries, or mental illness.  Thelma and Kathy, Hospice Shop volunteers, saw us trying on Queen Mum hats and took it upon themselves to outfit us.  Each time Kathy handed a new outfit into the fitting room, she said,  “My talents are wasted in the office!”  And we had to agree.

Our Channel Island adventure actually began with last month’s trip to Belgium.  My sister Constance and I had both enjoyed reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  While we were on that side of The Pond, we decided to visit at least one of the Channel Islands.

Jersey Island is home to the famous Jersey Cow…

…home to the famous Jersey Royal Potato…

…and home to author Roy McCarthy, who has written several books set on Jersey.  He is an expert on Jersey history, a blogging buddy of mine, and he offered to show us around.  Who wouldn’t pick Jersey?

But first, you may ask, how does Jersey, which is spitting distance from France, come to be so very English?

Back in 1066, after William the Duke of Normandy conquered England he changed his name to William the Conqueror and expanded his job description to include ‘King of England.’

The Channel Islands were a possession of Normandy long before England was, and remained so until 1214, when King John of England (aptly nicknamed ‘John Lackland’) lost Normandy to France.  The islanders picked up their marbles, cast their lot with England rather than France, and were rewarded for their loyalty with privileges other English possessions did not enjoy.  To this day they are “bailiwicks’ of England, possessions of the crown, but separate from Britain, with their own financial, legal, and judicial systems.  This, BTW, is why financial business is Jersey’s main industry, and the per capita income is much higher than in most countries.  And why, Thelma explained, the thrift stores have such great merchandise.  They can afford to wear it once to a wedding and give it away!

Roy started our tour here.  On June 28th, 1940, the Nazis preceded their occupation of the Channel Islands by bombing this harbor.  He showed us bullet holes in the stone wall from machine gun strafing and, sadly, a memorial to the dead.

Signs of the German occupation remain all over the island.  It was one of the most fortified German holdings in Europe, far out of proportion to its strategic value.  Hitler, disappointed at his failure to conquer England, took particular satisfaction in occupying the Channel Islands, and he meant to keep them at all costs.

The Jersey War Tunnels are a huge complex of underground tunnels built by the Germans during the occupation, using slave labor.  The Germans maintained a hospital there for wounded German soldiers.

The tunnels, like the history, seem to go on and on forever.  The museum established in the tunnels echoes with footsteps and voices from the past.

They pull no punches, telling both the good and the bad that occurred on the island.

At first there were only a few hundred Germans, who were told to keep relations with the natives civil.  Being stationed on Jersey was like a picnic to the Germans, with merchandise on the shop shelves to send home to their families, no bullets or bombs to dodge, and little resistance.

Below are just two of the museum mannequins that came to life and spoke in English with German accents, trying to engage us as they might have done to islanders in 1940.  He was the enemy, the occupying army, and had the power of life and death over you, and then there were the stories of Nazi brutality that had preceded the soldiers.  With all that in mind, would you respond to a German soldier if he shouted a cheery greeting to you, or could you ignore him?

Would you do his laundry if he offered you extra food rations?  What if he said your child looked like his little boy at home and offered to buy him an ice cream?

As the war proceeded, conditions worsened.  Thousands more soldiers came, as many as one German soldier for every two islanders.  Rules tightened, food and supplies grew scarce, civility waned.  Owning a radio was a crime punishable by death.  One woman was shot for rejecting the advances of a German soldier.  Other women had affairs with them, were judged harshly and called “Jerry bags” by the islanders.  Some escapes were attempted, but few were successful; those apprehended were shot or deported to Auschwitz, where most perished.  Some people sheltered fugitive slaves, shared their resources, or found other ways to resist the Nazis.   Also on exhibit were letters sent anonymously by islanders to Nazi commanders betraying their neighbors’ transgressions.  Why?  To settle old scores or to curry favor or simply for financial gain.  It happened all over Europe, but it was still sobering and sad.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that a woman is like a teabag–she never knows how strong she is until she gets into hot water.  I think that’s true, and it is in times of war and desperation when your true colors show.

The occupation of Jersey is the subject of Roy’s book, Tess of Portelet Manor.  

“In pre-war Jersey, Tess Picot is young and in love.  Living with her mother in a cottage on idyllic Portelet Common, the days are sunny and long.  But can it last? Soon the clouds of war approach and the Channel Islands are occupied by Hitler’s Nazi troops.  Tess’s heart has been broken, maybe beyond repair.  But like the cottage on the common Tess grows stronger as the long years go by.Follow Tess Picot as she battles through the harsh Occupation years, loses friends and tries to love again. Will she succeed? The journey is a remarkable one with an unexpected ending.”

We took a hike…

…and saw the raw beauty of the island.

…with stories to be discovered everywhere, from many different periods in history,

…or legends based on natural features, such as The Devil’s Hole.

All of it was pure gold.

Roy pointed out the places we had read about in his book. This was the beach Tess walked on, until the Germans mined it.

Here was the hotel where the Nazis set up their headquarters.

And here it is today, just around the corner from where my sister and I were staying.

I can’t remember whether Tess and her mum came to this pub for a pint, but we did.  It was the perfect way to top off an incredibly full day.

As our ferry pulled away,  Jersey faded into the fog, but the island’s stories and histories remain vivid, colorful, and compelling.

c2013Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue of You.

Bumbershots

In my hometown of Seattle, there are two kinds of people.  Those who carry “bumbershoots”…

…and those who don’t.

I always regarded carriers as sissies, but before we left for Europe, my sister Constance talked me into buying an umbrella, and I’m glad she did.  We had one day to explore the city of Liege…

…and one day in Paris.

It rained both days.

What are you gonna do?  As the sign says, “You are here.”

You can’t make hay while the sun don’t shine, but there’s no better time to snap bumbershots.

We decided to just relax and enjoy it, from the bus stop in front of the Guillemins train station in Liege

…to the citadel park overlooking Liege.

By the end of the day, even with our umbrellas…

…we were so saturated that we had to find our way home by map wad.

In Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the go-to place for pond sailing.

Just as we got there, the last boat was hauled out of the water…

…and wheeled off into dry dock.

But it was still perfect weather for dads…

…ducks, and little children.

Not to mention friends…

..and lovers.

After all, this was Paris.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for The Weekly Travel Theme: Relaxing.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Saturated.

You Can’t Change That

Like a brilliant sunset, it’s here and then gone.

As fleet as a bird on the wing…

Passing as unnoticed as the morning dew…

…even as it goes speeding down the track of no return.

From here.

To here.

Like a river, it flows, with its twists and turns, its highs and lows.

But mostly highs.

But it’s just as they say.

 Time…

…and tides wait for no one.

Childhood, theirs–not ours–slips away like water through our fingers.

 

Or a kite caught up in a strong wind.

As warm and wonderful as a hug, but just as fleeting.

Suddenly they’re all grown up; intelligent, creative, compassionate human beings, ready to make their contributions to the world.  Which is the whole point, isn’t it?

Their childhood is a gift…

…we gave to each other.

It has its season, and then it’s gone…

Off they go to seek their fortunes.

Dang!  And just when they learned how to cook!

But here’s something they won’t know until they have children of their own.  Long after our kids are parents, long after they’ve gone gray, long after they are elderly orphans…they will still be our babies.

 photo e44fa7f6-b8ce-4182-b007-8bfc3bce5a47_zpsee121352.jpg
Neither time nor tides can ever change that.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgia.

A Celebration of Fenestration

The Latin word for window is “fenestra.”  The old English word for window, “eagbyrl,” means “eye-door.”   Just like a door, it can be used for peeking out…

…or peeking in.

Whether you are looking in or out, there are so many things to see, just behind the glass.

The earliest windows were holes in a wall.

Narrow slits, to let in a bit of light with the cold air or to shoot an arrow through.

The ancient Romans were the first to use glass.

Then came windows of animal horn or hides, cloth, and in the Far East, even paper.

The Inuit people say, “Don’t let the window of your home be so small that the light of the sun cannot enter.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said people are like stained glass windows.   They sparkle and shine when the sun is out…

…but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed.

In the Ukraine they say you don’t really see the world, if you look only through your own window.

And what a world there is out there to see!


There is another old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

…and one that says a smile is a window on your face to show your heart is at home.

The world on either side of your window can be sad…

…distant…

…daunting…

…and scary.

All the more reason to let the light in.

Let your window’s light shine like a beacon…

…and reflect upon the beauty of our world.

All the windows of the world!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Narrow.

When We Come to It

So many  bridges.

Bridges of concrete…

…iron…

…and steel.

Ancient ones of stone…

…brick…

…mortar….

…and wood.

 

Some are famous…

…celebrated in story…

…and song.

Some draw pilgrims from all over the world.

So different…


…yet they serve the same purpose.

To span distance…

…to connect…

 

…to deliver us from troubled waters.

There’s an old saying…it is better to build bridges than walls.

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s Photo a Week: Bridges.

Click here for more interpretations of Jake’s Sunday Post: Bridges.

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Click here for more interpretations of Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme: Bridges.

All images and words c2013 Naomi Baltuck

Fly With It!

When my daughter Bea was a little girl, she found a seed in a seedless Satsuma, and planted it in a paper cup.  Our little Satsuma tree has lived on our kitchen windowsill for years now, as a reminder that with a little faith, anything can grow.   Creativity is like that too.

Sometimes we see beauty in the ordinary.

Or, upon reflection, we take the ordinary and transform it.

Sometimes inspiration comes to us in a flood.

Sometimes in a flash.

Or even in hindsight.

More often,  it comes in disguise.

Or as a creative response to something we feel passionate about.

Perhaps we are inspired by another artist…as in Bea’s sculpture, The Ice Scream.

I love working with a creative team…

Sometimes it’s a process.

…but the end result is worth it.

However it comes to you, wherever you find your inspiration, you are never too young…

Or too old….

…To fly with it!

May all your ideas and inspirations be fruitful!

All images and words Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of A Word a Week Photographic Challenge.

Editing Monet’s Garden

Last May, while traveling in France, my sister and I went to Giverny to visit Monet’s Garden.  The line to enter was horrendous, and once we got past the ticket booth, we became part of the swarm of tourists overrunning his house and garden.  We must have heard a dozen different languages spoken, people from all over the globe had come to see for themselves the inspiration for Monet’s most famous paintings.

It was eye candy, a stunning profusion of color!   But instead of the rare and exotic flora I expected, all the flowers were, well, your regular garden variety.  Irises, roses, tulips, pansies, alyssum, forget-me-nots…nothing I don’t grow in my own garden.  Yet they were artfully arranged by height, texture, and color to maximize the effect.  And after all, they were in Monet’s Garden.

I wanted to capture at least the illusion of solitude and serenity, and to photograph the garden as I thought it must have been back in Monet’s day.  I waited for lulls in tourist traffic to get my shots.  But while waiting, I watched hoards of humanity shuffling by, and I caught glimpses of peoples’ lives that I found as moving as anything I saw in those historic gardens. Mothers and children, old couples holding hands, a little boy with eyes only for the baby chicks, an awkward teenaged boy who had eyes only for the teenaged chicks, and a family with four generations of women all sharing a park bench.

While we writers strive to capture a mood or feeling or effect, we should also observe the stories happening all around us.

The first  is like a very pretty still life, or a posed portrait of Mother Nature.  The other is a vibrant, sometimes messy picture of the world, brimming with humanity, and all the joy and heartbreak that life and love have to offer.

There is beauty in it all.

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All images and words © NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Plants.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant