A return to my roots

Prairie Lights, my favorite independent bookstore in Iowa City, recently informed me that this week, May 1 – 7, is Children’s Book Week.

The words, “children’s books” contain the exact number of syllables as the words, “treasure trove”, and to me, these word pairs are synonymous and interchangeable. What marvelous magic a children’s book wields! I keep a running tally of many favorite things, but I’m quite certain children’s books rank among my topmost five.

I can’t let Children’s Book Week slip by without mentioning a book I adored as a child, a book whose wisdom set me on a path that shaped me into the person I am today. When I was small, not only was I certain the book I mention was written just for me, I felt I was its main character – a lonely little girl who lived by a pond and wandered through nature in search of someone, anyone, to play with. I was that child, right down to the light cotton dress and white anklets. Allow me to introduce to you this beloved book: Play with Me, by Marie Hall Ets, The Viking Press, 1955.

Reading about Marie Hall Ets in Wikipedia, I learned that she won the Caldecott Medal in 1960 for her book, Nine Days to Christmas. I also learned that between 1945 and 1966, she was a runner-up five times for the Caldecott, an impressive feat exceeded only by Maurice Sendak, who had seven titles which nearly won the prize. (Books that almost were awarded the Caldecott are today heralded as Caldecott Honor Books.)

In Play with Me, text and illustration weave a beguiling tale. A little girl goes off to the meadow in search of a friend. One after another, she asks the creatures she meets, “Will you play with me?” But each one leaps or flies or bounds or slithers away, and she’s left alone to console herself by sitting quietly on a stone to watch bugs making trails in the pond. She is too preoccupied to notice the tender presence of a benevolent sun.

As she sits without moving, her sadness turns to joy as one by one, the meadow creatures quietly return. She realizes that now, all of them are “playing” with her. By becoming observant and unobtrusive, she accumulates a rich circle of friends.

How many thousands of times did I turn the pages of Play with Me, poring over every detail? Young sapling that I was, I absorbed the book’s simple wisdom and carried it with me to the woods surrounding my home. I learned to sit noiselessly among the trees to better observe squirrels and birds. If I didn’t move a muscle, I was rewarded with chances to watch frogs and turtles and ducks by the pond. Sitting quietly, waiting to catch a glimpse of woodland creatures, I spent entire mornings and afternoons studying spring ephemerals while learning to distinguish the songs of many birds. I discovered that a lonely heart is curiously not lonely in the woods: feathery ferns reached out to caress me, violets and spring beauties smiled up at me, oaks and maples waved with glad hands, birds welcomed me with song. I was rich in friendships, there on my wooded hill… (Years later, not surprisingly, another book that captivated me was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I, too, was a dreamer who lived in the woods by a quiet pond.)

It’s really no wonder I grew up to be an introvert. My mother was a poet, and I was raised in her airy home; I spent most of my waking hours in nature, and when inclement weather kept me indoors, I’d page through books or draw flowers or listen to my favorite records. (When I was small, the soundtrack of Bambi was my special favorite.)

For quite a few years now, I’ve described myself as a Hobbit. I vastly prefer nature and the comforts of home and hearth to adventures. I almost always choose solitude over society. Given my inclination to prefer quiet, the terrible accident in October of 2015 that hobbled me for a year and a half was not perhaps as punitive for me, the introvert, as it might have been for an extrovert. Nevertheless, being confined day and night to a chair with a painful, shattered ankle was a trial for me. Once again I was that lonesome child who wished someone, anyone, would come and keep me company…

When one is badly hurt, one can tend to grow quiet, shrink inward. My inner survival mode caused me to withdraw deep into my own roots to wait, to hope, to dream. Just after Christmas of 2015, I decided that since I had to sit day after day in a chair to elevate a throbbing ankle, I might as well put my time to good use. I decided to study my mother’s embroidery books. And that’s just what I did. I spent the early months of 2016 reading about and practicing every single stitch in those books. And in the process, I discovered that all those tiny stitches had become for me a new lexicon, a language I could use to express myself.

At that time, I couldn’t go to the meadow or wander by the river. I couldn’t even get out of the house without a wheelchair. But with needle and thread for a magic carpet, I was no longer chair-bound. I was free to lose myself in a world of my own imagining, a comforting place filled with beauty and peace.

I’m able to get around on my own again, thanks to a pair of custom orthotics, a pair of sturdy, if unfashionable, shoes, and the great good help of my wonderful physical therapists, Laura and Shari. I’m able to walk by the river or visit the woods. I can spend time in the garden. But I continue to spend hours filling hoops and fabric with the things I knew and loved best as a child: flowers and trees and meadows, birds and butterflies. Having grown accustomed to the deep solitude and isolation of an overwhelming injury, I’m less inclined to talk. I’d much rather speak with needle and thread. Whereas writing is often laborious for me, I find that embroidery is light and pleasant and marvelously meditative. When I take up my needle, I’m not only deep in my roots, I’m growing. I’m creating. I’m happy!

These musings bring me back to Children’s Book Week and the charming book that set my feet on a path which led to the quiet joy of making friends with nature. To celebrate Children’s Book Week 2017, I’m going to order a copy of Play with Me and donate it to my local library. There are lonely children everywhere who long for a companion. What better companion than a wonderful book?

(All embroideries shown here are my original designs, © My Path with Stars Bestrewn.)

23 thoughts on “A return to my roots

    • Ron, thank you so very much for reading and for taking a moment to share such kind words. They are greatly appreciated. All the best to you~

  1. Amy, your words, images, and embroidery are all exquisite, as are you. Loved this story. Can completely see you in it (as well as my introverted self). Thank you for this deep breath of beauty. xoxoxo

  2. Beautifully written, Amy! I loved this story…it’s inspiring to see how your early experiences helped shape your personality and prepare you to overcome future trials with grace and creativity! Thank you so much for sharing this glimpse into your soul and for creating such gorgeous embroidery. I’m so glad to hear that you’re able to walk and get outside again!

    • I love knowing you enjoyed reading this post, Courtney. I so appreciate your kind remarks. It’s a joy to share my creative work with a friend as lovely as you. Learning to design my own embroidery has definitely been the silver lining to a difficult experience. Much love to you~ xoxo

  3. Lovely post! I never read the child’s book you mentioned, so that is now on my “must do” list. Loved seeing your embroidery, too. I’m intrigued by your books in the background…I have many of the same ones…Diary of an Edwardian Lady, Hal Borland, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek ( one of my all time favorites!) , and others. So nice to see someone with similar tastes in books. ( I’m in my 60s now, but still buy children’s books, mainly for the inspiring illustrations).

    • Linda, I hope you will look up Play with Me. It’s completely charming. Thank you for your kind words about my embroidery. I love knowing you and I share many common titles on our library shelves. I love my nature shelf, which is filled with the genius of many extraordinary writers. As a former teacher, I, too, have never stopped collecting children’s books. My children’s book collection forms the heart of our library. Lovely to hear from you! Blessings~ xo

  4. oh, my gracious, this is so breathtaking, and is as close to unfurling the essence of who you are, and how you came to be so blessed, so fairy-like, so rich in imagination, as any unspooling of the soul ever could be. and when i got to the end, to the discovery that you were buying the book and donating it to your library, so another sweet quiet soul might some day pull it off the shelf, and find HER playmate (or his), and find her or his path into the woodlands, into the spring ephemerals, into a deep understanding of the world, i let out a gasp of pure surprise and wonder and delight and marvel.
    peeking into the pages i can see how the little girl enchanted you, became your playmate. she would have been mine, too, had i had someone hand me “Play With Me.”
    and, i can’t sign off without noting the beauty of your own return to your deep roots in the dark shadow of your terrible shattering. that you have spent these months making beauty, making your own magnificent woodland wonders, well, it’s exquisite, and so deeply blessed. you take our breath away, you miracle heart. thank you for being you and bringing your rarest of gifts into this world…..xoxoxo

    • Your kindness knows no limit, my lovely, loving friend. You and I share similar beginnings. Would that we could have been playmates. Imagine what adventures we would have had, exploring nature hand in hand. As it stands, I’m beyond blessed to walk this star-strewn path with you. Much love to you, my dear, dear B. xxxooo

  5. Delightful to see your stories soar in written songs again. Glad that you’ve continued to verbalize them to me in conversation as your extrovert friend, yet anam cara where books and soaring imaginations are concerned. Your roots grow deep, but new shoots grow and new blossoms unfold.

    • You are anam cara in more than soaring imaginations and books, dear friend. I love that place, our place, where introvert and extrovert intermingle. Thank you for your unfailing kindness and fidelity. xxoo

  6. This is amazing and wonderful in so many ways. Loved the description of feeling a book was written just for you. And I loved reading about the importance of your introspection, with wisdom, appreciation, beauty and insights leveraged against the unfortunate things that sometimes occur. Your perspectives are uniquely you yet oh so powerful and vital for us all to consider. Thanks so much for this.

    • Kathy, I so appreciate your thoughtful remarks here. Thank you for them. One must sometimes dig deep to find peace and equilibrium when overwhelmed by difficult circumstances. I am as much a child of nature as a little squirrel, or a flicker, or a fawn. Like them, when the world seems harsh, I retreat to the protective arms of the woods. I am grateful to hold within me a quiet place of peace and refuge. xoxo

  7. Lovely…and resilient, which is what I think we learn from our beloved books as children. It was my resource when the adult world around me just could not meet my needs. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Miss Hickory, Alice, Little Women are just a few that I still have tucked into a book shelf and have traveled with me through my years. I now have the books that I read to my children tucked along side and waiting for the grandchild. Your reminder of our past stories, both our own and other, is powerful as are you in your awareness. Thanks for sharing a new treasure to share with my next generation of little ones.

    • We do indeed draw beauty, strength, and wisdom from the vast resource of children’s literature. Thank goodness for the gifts bestowed by our most beloved authors and illustrators. I love knowing your favorite children’s books have journeyed with you through life. What a joy it will be for you, one day, to share these treasures with your grandchildren! I am more than happy to share with you a new title to add to your library. Thank you so much for visiting with me here, Joan! Blessings~ xo

  8. Pingback: among the inanities of life, a knock at the door will anchor you firmly | pull up a chair

  9. Amy, I loved this! Play With Me was one of my all time favorite books too! Being shy and an introvert myself, nature has always been my comfort, my blanket. Every word of your piece speaks to me, but these words especially resonate with me: “I discovered that a lonely heart is curiously not lonely in the woods: feathery ferns reached out to caress me, violets and spring beauties smiled up at me, oaks and maples waved with glad hands, birds welcomed me with song. I was rich in friendships, there on my wooded hill…” You say writing is a struggle for you but your words do not feel that way coming back to me. They sing. As do the enchanting stories you create with your needle and thread. I hate that you had to have that bad accident, but the silver lining is apparent in your art work. There are so many reasons why your written stories and your hand-stitched stories speak to me. It’s an honor to witness them in all the lovely ways you tell them. Had I, as a little girl, wandered near your woods, I think we would have found friendship back then sharing our love of nature. Even though separated by miles and states, you are my friend now and someday I’d love to walk with you into those woods, hand in hand, heart in heart.

    • I love how you describe nature as your blanket, my dear, dear Maude. Yes, I agree! Nature is a comforter in more ways than one. I’m delighted that you also read and loved Play with Me! You and I would have been inseparable as children, I’m sure, had we been fortunate enough to live near one another. I think of you often when I am out in nature or when I wander in my gardens. Miles can’t separate kindred spirits, you know! My heart is right next to yours. Your loving support and encouragement mean a great deal to me. Thank you so much. xxxooo

  10. Oh, I love this post. First off, I’m ashamed I’ve not reached out! It’s been too long. Second, your embroidery is truly so gorgeous. I soak it in like I do a field of wildflowers or a rippling lake at sunset. And third, your best loved book as a child sounds like one I should have read! I’m surprised I did not, as I thought I’d read just about everything out there:). You brought back memories of my childhood bookshelves and the world I turned to because this one always seemed far too loud and scary:). Thank you, friend. XXOO

    • How is the book you sent when I first injured myself not reaching out? You’ve been lovely and I am grateful. Thank you for the compliments on my embroidery. It’s my escape! And you should definitely look for Play with Me. Such a gentle, peaceful book… xxoo

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