Wistful: Children’s books vs. Reality

Sometimes, I wonder what God has in mind for me, since He gave me a heart to love the things I do, which are in mighty short supply in the desert:  water, flora, and fauna.

There is life here in the Sonoran Desert.  There are animals, a few.  And there are plants, hardy and prickly though they may be.  But there sure isn’t much water.

I’ve always longed for greener pastures, literally.

But, God gave me a husband who is a native of this hot, dry, brown Valley of the Sun, and I’ve adjusted my expectations of what might be lying just around the corner, waiting for me.

Acadia National Park is not.  Nor the Oregon coast.  Not even the Mississippi bluff area of western Illinois, where my maternal grandparents had their farm, and — which I recently heard with a yelp of joy — which my Uncle Allyn is farming a bit of, again, with his recovering health.

There are days as I look out at the landscape of 100+ days of 100°+  when I am tempted to despair, and my heart just longs for cooler, greener climes.

So, I pull out a picture book and read to one of my little girls.

Today, my oldest nephew’s girlfriend and I were having a mostly-joking Facebook conversation about her moving (or the two of us taking a road trip) to Maine.  She was up for just about anywhere on the upper reaches of the northeastern United States, but I steered her to Maine.

In this Caldecott Honor book, three- or four-year-old Sal picks blueberries with her mother and gets "all mixed up" with a mother bear and cub eating blueberries of their own.

In my possession, since before any of my children could read, have been three hardcovers, each of which I have loved since my own childhood.  Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and Time of Wonder, each written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey.  I freely admit that I can never refuse a sturdy two-year-old toddling with binky inserted, trailing her blankie, barely grasping a picture book, half her size, who pipes up with the hopeful query, “Mowneen i’ Maine??”

For those of you unfamiliar, please check out the books from your local library, or buy them.  Now.  Please.

Also a Caldecott Honor. In which 6yo Sal wishes upon a feather (instead of her first lost tooth, which fell into the muddy pebbles, digging clams with her father) and travels to quaint Buck's Harbor for groceries and the wish-fulfilling cone with her 2yo sister, Jane, and their father.

The books show the progression of the author’s family in the 1950s (when they were written) which spent summers in Maine.  They have beautiful illustrations and apt prose, which shows exactly how adept McCloskey was at thinking with a child’s mind, and seeing with a child’s eyes.

After the Facebook conversation, I read Time of Wonder to Fiala, before her nap.  Looked at the pictures, more than actually read, as Time of Wonder, the Caldecott Medal winner for 1957,  is told in second person, and has a more “grown up” prose than the first two books about Sal and Jane.  It shows both girls, aged about 12 and 8, “manning” their own rowboat and small sailboat (sans life jackets), jumping from rocks along the cove with a bevvy of other children, and weathering a hurricane with their parents, partly by sing-shouting The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The book mentions several specific place names, which — as I have done on several other occasions — I Googled, to find their location on a map, and pictures as lovely as the illustrations in the book.  And — yet again — I longed for a visit to Acadia National Park, which is in the same exact area as the setting for the trio of McCloskey books.  This time, I found myself especially taken with the sites at Duck Harbor Campground on the minuscule Isle au Hait, described as rugged, remote, inaccessible to automobiles, primitive…  combined with 18 miles of hiking trails, it seems like my kind of place, exactly.  McCloskey’s, too.  🙂

Out of curiosity, as I read

…through the fog you hear Harry Smith over at Blastow’s Cove start the engine of his lobster boat and go out to pull his traps.

I wondered if Harry Smith was a real man.  He was.  I found myself sad to read that one Harry Smith, of Little Deer Island, Maine, was buried in the Blastow’s Cove Cemetery in 1957.  It must have been not long after Time of Wonder was published.

Otter Cliff, Acadia NP

I found myself also remembering the incomparable Calico Bush, whose author, Rachel Field, often wrote poetry, apparent in her Newbery Honor prose.  Calico Bush is set off of the coast of Mount Desert Island, which is home to most of Acadia National Park.


Suddenly, this sounds very familiar.

[I do a little search on my own blog and come up with THIS POST from February of 2010.]


My memory is short, but at least I’m consistent, eh?

Dorr Mountain Trail, Acadia NP

I guess my point of this point — similar to the last one on the very same subject — is how I just don’t know how to sort all of these thoughts.  I mean, I know that allowing myself to indulge in discontentment is dangerous.  Letting it sit and percolate in my mind is unwise;  I can easily become really unhappy about just about anything, any situation, and anyone in my life if I allow myself to go there.  So, I don’t.  I don’t live in Maine, and can’t conceive of anything that would lead us to Maine, and I think it would 100% be a fruitless and frustrating endeavor to try to figure out how we could or why we don’t have a summer house on a private island in Maine, like McCloskey’s family did.

Precipice Trail, Acadia NP

But, on the other hand… my Father God created me with a love for that particular kind of beauty, and a wistful longing for that sort of slowed-down, simple life, living in community, surrounded with an achingly beautiful piece of His creation.  Did He do that for nothing?  I mean, did He make my heart to love that so, for no purpose, or just to teach me the Godly discipline of not allowing myself to become frustrated and discontented?  Possibly, but I don’t think so.  I hope not.

Last year about this time, I was dreaming of taking a trip there, someday soon, paid for by the thousands of dollars I’d make, writing.  I have made some, but, golly!  In order to MAKE money writing, you have to have the TIME to devote to it, and fit into someone else’s agenda.  That part was less successful.  I’ve had a few other offers for employment in writing, but it’s just not fair to any perspective client to hire me, then to have me perpetually be unavailable, even if that makes any Maine trip tarry.

My hubby works with a guy, though, who has a house in Maine…  Hmm…  Maybe I should find out where, exactly, that house is…  Thinking, thinking…  I don’t think my hubby would consider that appropriate.  I’m sure he’s right.

One way, though, or another…  but it has to be the right way, in the right time.  I *KNOW* that;  it’s just hard to adjust my thoughts on the matter, especially as these visions dance in my head.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on June 7, 2011, in Books for children, Character Development, Loving Nature!, Summer Plans, The Dear Hubby, The Kids, Travelling, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Acadia National Park is absolutely beautiful. There’s a lovely little place there where you can eat and the view is just amazing. I think it is perfectly normal to long for a place that is other than where we are.

    • Well, Dee Dee… In my observation and experience, “normal” is not always healthy, nor even Godly. Know what I mean? OTOH, I think we are also meant, as people, to have vision and to dream… It’s just that, with everything good, the enemy finds a way to pervert it, or to take it to a level or a place where God never intended for us. I’m still sorting that out in LOADS of areas in my life. I went from being super-dreamy to not allowing myself to have any dreams at all — largely because if I pursue a dream, it effects at a minimum six other people directly, and some of those pursuits would simply be selfish — to dipping my toe back in the water, so to speak, and trying to get some Godly order and wisdom into my dreaming. I have lived long enough to be assured that whatever it is that God wants for me is truly the thing that would best make me happy and be a blessing to EVERYONE, not just my own soul… So, it’s more like, “OK, God. Are you in this dream?” I just want to be healthy and live the life He wants for me, lived to the fullest… not be off chasing my own “normal” desires and unhappy with the life He’s placed in my hands, because I could really easily go there, if I let myself. Doug’s message on Sunday really spoke to me, especially the part where he said that often the very thing that God has intended to be the vehicle to our wholeness is what we so often reject. I’ve seen that play out in my life time and again. The grass too often looks greener elsewhere… I want to find the balance between having vision for something greater — from His hand and with His blessing — than where I’m at, yet not be angst-ridden and bitter with the lot I have now. KWIM?

  2. As soon as I started reading your post, I was like, “Hey, that sounds awfully familiar…” And then you mentioned your previous posting from last year, haha. (I actually bought Calico Bush after that post… I liked it pretty well, though it bothered me that they seemed to not be so affected by the burning death of the little baby). But this whole visiting Maine thing really does seem to be something that has been on your heart for a long time. I hope that it is able to come true for you at some point. I really like what you had to say in your post and also in your reply to Dee Dee about dreams and doing what God wants us to and basically about flourishing where we are and not wasting time wishing that things that can’t be changed were different. It’s something that I really needed to hear…

    Then again, if you were to visit Maine right at this time of year or maybe a few weeks ago, you would probably get the whole Maine thing out of your head forever and be content with your desert… The black flies and mosquitoes and sand flies are really something else!!! 😀

    • About children dying: It has always seemed to me that in most stories (true and fictional) about American settlers is that it was more expected that some of one’s children just wouldn’t make it out of childhood alive. I think our mindset has changed radically in the last 100 years; we expect that SOMETHING will come along and save our ill children from death, and by the grace of God and the invention of antibiotics and other helpful medical practices, something usually does! I’m certain that no one was blase about the death of a child, but it wasn’t quite the surprise then, as it would be now. No one was saying, “Why me? Why my child?” because it happened to everyone, every family around them.

      About insects: We do have our share of them, but you’re right: There are WAY more in the summer and spring in greener climates than here. My uncle, from Indiana, remarked on his trip here last week about how, on his several-miles’ morning walks back home, he’d come home with dozens of bugs stuck to his skin. I think I could adjust, though. I hate the searing heat here, but others gladly live with it, in exchange for the absence of humidity (or earthquakes, or hurricanes, or floods, et al). Bless God for making so many different climates, because everyone loves different sorts. 🙂

      • *Spoiler Alert!!* Yeah, I knew the mindset was really different in regards to children “back in the day” but for some reason it was still really shocking when I read that book. I think part of it may have been the fact that I so strongly disagreed with the one person who suggested that the mother (sorry, I can’t remember any names right now!) burn her girl deliberately so that she would stay away from the fire. So it kind of made me mad that that’s why she died, haha… I taught my daughter to be careful with woodstoves and oven without actually burning her.

        But… now that my son is coming up to that into everything stage, I have a feeling that he may be a different story.

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