Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage (Part 3)

The hummingbird hovers, the goldfinch alights
A leafy green path ’neath the lofty pine beckons:
“Come ye to the woods, seek their earthen delights
where oaks count the hours and bright toadstools, the seconds.”Willow basket in hand, she heeds sylvan call
and wanders past foamflower and lowbush blueberry,
whispers welcome to trees, with a silent footfall,
she soaks up the magick of old forest Faerie.A lighthouse stands guard on the point, giving warning:
Wave-lapped rocks – sailors’ bane! – warmed by midsummer heat.
Her throne a moss pillow bedewed from the morning,
she rests, breathes in pine-scented air, soft and sweet.How wondrous the isle where the woods are enchanted!
How sparkles the sun on the diamond-like water!
How blessed is she in her sturdy white cabin,
where secrets are passed from wise mother to daughter!

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage, Part 3
© 2017, Valerie Barrett



20161005_135718-5You may not be celebrating a national holiday like Thanksgiving today, as we here in Canada are doing, but I would like to wish each and every one of you a beautiful day, wherever you are. Hopefully you’re spending it doing something you love, and taking a moment to appreciate the wonders – however big or small – that we’ve been given.

I’m heading up to Muskoka today to help close up the family cottage for the winter. It’s a bittersweet time as we say goodbye to a wonderful summer and hunker down for the long wait until we can be there again in the spring. But it’s not all bad: in between chores, I’ll be taking lots of photos of autumn colours, as well as gathering woodsy bits and pieces to use in upcoming craft projects.

I’d like to thank my readers and fellow bloggers for taking the time to visit my site. Your wonderful comments and support have been truly inspiring, and I’ve loved reading your blogs, too. Thank you. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving from Canada!


Favourite Things

For my entire life, DSC_9584 (6)I’ve known and loved this charming rocking chair. It lives at the family cottage and, like so much of the house’s early 20th century furnishings and trim, was originally painted deep burgundy-red. This was a popular colour of the time, and the paint – common and cheap – contained lead. Trouble was (aside from the health hazard, which no one knew about back then), all that darkness made the house seem very gloomy indeed, especially at night. My mother recalls evenings as a youngster, before the installation of electricity, reading by the feeble light of a coal-oil lamp. The room’s wood-panelled corners were shrouded in mysterious shadow; who knew what lurked there? How her youthful imagination must have taken flight – and set the gooseflesh to rising!

Those summer nights, perched cross-legged on that chair, my mom read and re-read one of her all-time favourite books, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. This novel was written in 1908 by John Fox, Jr. Billed as a “western romance”, it involves the encroachment of modern industrialism on a traditional Appalachian coal mining town, two feuding clans, and a good ol’, darn tootin’ Eliza Doolittle/Professor Higgins-style romance. Wildly popular, Lonesome Pine inspired a 1913 song and numerous subsequent stage and screen adaptations. My mother’s copy, which had graced the cottage bookshelf for decades, disappeared one summer, but about 20 years ago, she found a replacement (shown here) at a local antiques shop. I sheepishly admit that, in all my summers at the lake, I haven’t yet read this wonderful volume. But its yellowing pages are calling me now, and I know I’ll read it settled into the seat of that welcoming old rocker.

My grandfather, with the assistance of his then ten-year-old daughter, installed the chair’s rope seat when the original rushes wore out. My mom remembers helping to hold the ropes taut as he worked. They did an excellent job, because for more than seventy years, it’s stoically withstood summers on an open-air porch, mouse infestations, uninsulated winters and generations of soggy, bathing-suited bottoms.

As for all that dark red décor, it eventually fell out of fashion; light, creamy white was now in. But by then it was known that stripping lead paint was DSC_9455 (6)dangerous, so the red was simply covered over. And over. And over. Many years and layers of paint later, that deep burgundy still shows up where the white layers have chipped, or bleeds through in patches of pale pink. It’s as if the old finish – once desired and au courant – is part of the very lifeblood of the place, reminding us of our favourite things, and willfully refusing to be forgotten.

The Beauty of Ordinary Things

DSC_1311 (4)We’ve passed them by a thousand times, those everyday objects – humble, utilitarian things which serve and make our lives more convenient. And yet we usually take these objects for granted; in fact, we never really notice them.

And that’s a shame, because, if you take the time to look a little more closely, a bit of beauty can usually be found in the most ordinary of things. My interest in macro nature photography has taught me this. I find wonder in the spiral of a common snail’s shell. A minuscule mushroom’s delicate gills demand closer inspection. And the subtle rosy shade of a lady’s-slipper makes me stop to take just one more photo, even though I’ve already captured dozens of images of the same flower.

I will always photograph wild things, but recently my focus has settled on human-made objects. I spend time each summer at an island cottage, the house my grandfather built in the early 1900s. Like many rustic cabins, it was filled over the years with cast-offs and hand-me-downs, those utensils and furnishings that were no longer wanted at home but were “too good” to throw away. In our case, some of these pieces date back to the Victorian and Edwardian periods, when objects, no matter how humble, were manufactured with attention to detail and made to last. The first generation to come here, more than a hundred years ago now, used them; the next relegated them to a high shelf or fireplace mantel; those generations which followed (including my own) now largely ignore these finely-wrought things, dismissing them as quaint yet unremarkable relics of a bygone age.

Lately, my interest in these neglected antiques has been sparked in part by the knowledge that we may not be able to hold on to the cottage much longer. So, I took the cracked milk pitchers and kerosene lamps and rusty flat irons out of dark cabinets and down from dusty shelves and began documenting them in photographs. As I did so, I started to truly appreciate their utilitarian yet lovely lines or worn, hand-applied paint, the meticulous workmanship, the scratches, grooves and chips which whisper of long-ago lives. And I began to wonder at the history of each piece: where was it made? Who brought it here? What was it used for?

My mother is the oldest surviving member of our cottaging clan and has spent every summer of her life on her beloved island. When we’re at the house, gathered around the sturdy pine dining table – also crafted by her father – she reminisces about the early days and her youth here. She loves this place and all its quaint bits and quirky bobs dearly. One day soon, before time has run out, I’ll sit down with her to record on paper the stories behind these humble, beautiful ordinary things.

Weekend Presents

The women in my family have a tradition of giving each other “weekend presents”:  small, ad hoc, just-because gifts; tokens bestowed for no other reason than to lift each other’s soul. These prezzies are modest and never expensive, perhaps spotted at a local shop or farmer’s market, brought back from a trip, or handcrafted with that special someone in mind.

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Yarrow and thyme

During vacation time at the family cottage, before each member arrives from her own part of the world, we might leave a welcoming bouquet on her bedroom dresser. Nothing fancy; just a small vase chosen from amongst the house’s mishmash of hand-me-downs, and filled with a few sprigs of wildflowers. Our tiny island doesn’t have a lot of flora, so we pick judiciously, filling the arrangement out with bracken and what most people would consider weeds. The gesture is a small one, but it’s lovingly done and always appreciated by the new arrival, whose journey up through heavy traffic has left her frazzled and more than ready for a little R and R.

I was the last one to arrive this time, so I was touched by the sweet little arrangement left in my room by my mother, who, like most moms, always thinks of others before she takes care of herself. Thank you, Mom.