Some people, especially as they approach the second half of their lives, make “bucket lists”. I, too, have a running list of aspirations – things I’d like to find, see, experience, accomplish, but they’re not particularly grandiose. No travelling to exotic lands, skydiving or climbing Mount Everest for me, oh no! Instead of a highfalutin bucket list, I keep what I like to call a Basket List (wicker, preferably), brimming with small whimsies, little hopes and dreams which are apt to change frequently. Right now, it goes something like this:
1. Holey Stone
Also known as hag or adder stones, these small river or beach rocks have naturally-occurring holes made by wave action or friction with smaller pebbles. They are considered lucky and can be carried or worn as amulets for protection. A holey stone features in one of my favourite novels, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, and ever since I read it, I’ve been on the lookout for one of my own. Sadly, our local waterways don’t seem to produce the kind of motion necessary to create such holes, but every time I’m on a bank or shore, you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye out!
2. Witch Window
I might have a tough time seeing a witch window, unless I take myself off to New England. Also known as Vermont or coffin windows, these narrow windows are placed on the diagonal in a gabled wall. They are found mostly in 19th century farmhouses, almost exclusively in the state of Vermont. These windows were supposed to protect homes against witches, as it was thought they couldn’t fly their broomsticks through crooked windows. (Because, you know … they couldn’t simply use a doorway!) It’s also believed they may have been used to remove coffins from upper floors, thus avoiding narrow or winding staircases. A more realistic reason for these odd constructions is that they allow light and ventilation in upper storeys where there may not be enough wall space for conventional windows.
3. French Macarons
The sheer elegance of these smooth, delicately-hued meringue and buttercream confections (not to be confused with coconut macaroons) are something to admire, but I’ve yet to taste one. They come in such dreamy pastel colours of sunshine yellow, pink, lavender, pistachio, even chocolate! As soon as someone presents me with a small white box, tied neatly with baker’s twine, I’ll be having one … or two … or three of these for high tea!
No, I have no wish to enlist in a society or become an army cadet. What I’m talking about is the technique known as Join-Up®, in which a rider learns the body cues of her horse and teaches it to accept gentle authority, thus establishing a strong trust bond. I first saw it demonstrated by Monty Roberts, who developed this humane “breaking” process, in the television series, Martin Clunes: Horsepower. It was done so sweetly, I was enchanted. There’s just one small problem with this plan: I have to learn how to ride first.
These adorable wee creatures aren’t native to North America, so I’d have to get myself to England or Europe to see Mrs. Tiggywinkle in her natural environment. I might even join up with one. And it would give me the opportunity to see #6.
6. Snickelways of York
I’ve been to York, England – once, long ago. My sister, a friend and I had planned our 3-week itinerary, focused mainly on ancient or medieval sites in England and Wales, for months in advance. Our visit to York did include the Jorvik Viking Centre, which was fabulous, and The Shambles, a picturesque medieval street of 14th century buildings. Oh, how I wish I’d known then about snickelways, those narrow passages winding through the city’s heart! Several of them are accessed by The Shambles; we must have walked right by them. If I ever return, I’ll be using my autographed copy of the comprehensive guidebook, The Complete Snickelways of York by Mark W. Jones, who coined the term “snickelway”.
7. Dig It
One of my favourite programs is Time Team. I just love Sir Tony, Phil Harding and his hat, and the sound of trowels scraping against stone. I’ve always wanted to participate in an archaeological dig. My husband has done it – sort of; for a university Physics & Archaeology course, he took some magnetometer and resistivity readings at old Fort York, where they found a buried sewer system. Geo Fizz!
This desire to dig up the past and find stuff is closely related to my fascination with beachcombing and my desire to take up metal detecting.
8. Magic Mushrooms
The fairy ring is a circle of mushrooms, sometimes over 10 m (33 ft) across, caused by the underground spreading of their mycelium, the fungus’ vegetative, fibre-like growth. Legend has it that these circles are the site of moonlit elven dances, and that they’re dangerous to enter and thus best avoided. Once inside, mortals will be enthralled by the Wee Folk and transported to their realm, where time passes very slowly. If they escape, they’ll find they have not aged, yet everything and everyone they once knew has long since faded away. I’ve found partial fairy rings but never a complete one. If I do, you betcha I’ll be investigating – but, according to folk wisdom, I must run around it nine times, deosil (clockwise), to make it safe!
I also yearn to find bioluminescent fungi, which means I’ll have to venture out along with hordes of mosquito vampires into the night forest to look for their greenish glow. There are only about 80 known species of these light-emitting wonders, and some of them grow here, such as the bitter oyster (Panellus stipticus) and jack-o’lantern (Omphalotus illudens). Sadly, the glow is usually pretty faint and only happens for a short period of time under the right conditions, so the chances of actually finding one are about as great as being carried off to marry a Fairy King.