Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Love Affair With Ducks

An excerpt from my nonfiction book about gardening and country life, Shenandoah Watercolors, available at Amazon in kindle and print with lovely images of the valley and mountains. (A 2012 EPIC eBook Finalist)
~When the world was new and I was young, I ordered a dozen Rouen ducklings (resemble large mallards) from a game farm and began my love affair with ducks, blessed by its moments of joy and cursed with inevitable tragedy.  The box of downy babies was delivered directly to my door much earlier in the day than our mail normally comes as the mailman had wearied of their incessant peeping.  I took the new arrivals from the grateful carrier and transferred them to a corner of the family room under a warm light bulb.  My two oldest children, in grade school then, were delighted with their new playmates, but soon joined me in the discovery that these tiny creatures were incredibly messy.
The ducklings reveled in their food, spewing a mixture of feed and water on themselves, the box, and the walls.  This led to their speedy removal to an unoccupied rabbit hutch in an outbuilding.  Here they grew in sheltered bliss until we deemed them ready for life on the pond, unaware that our charges needed parental guidance.  The unchaperoned youngsters soon slipped under the fence and lost themselves in the neighbor’s grassy meadow.  We tracked their frantic quacks and carried them home, only to have them forget and stray again and again.
Sadly, unwary ducklings do not know to be on guard against snapping turtles, something their mama would have taught them.  By summer’s end, just two grown ducks remained and were fondly named Daphne and Darlene.  They were inseparable and divided their day between the cows and geese in the barnyard and forays to the pond.
(*Our farm pond, calm on this day but often filled with ducks and geese)
The next spring Daphne and Darlene built a mutual nest inside a clump of gold-button tansy at the edge of the garden and patiently sat on the eggs that would never hatch.  It was time to find them a suitable spouse.  One fall evening “Don” arrived in my hubby’s pickup truck.
(*Little creek that meanders through our meadow and under the fence to the neighbors)

The girls took an instant liking to the handsome drake, and he to them, though he showed a slight preference for Darlene.  As spring neared again, we noticed a wild mallard drake observing our little band.  He would dash forward for a bite of grain at feeding time, only to be driven away by Don.  We pitied Dwayne, as he soon became known, and tossed a handful far to the side for him.  Besides the free lunch, it seemed that Dwayne was attracted to our Daphne, much to Don’s strong disapproval.
The small male was undeterred and eventually won acceptance, amusing us by his attempts to mate with Daphne, twice his size.  Persistence won out though.  That year the girls had separate nests, Darlene at the base of a bittersweet vine, while Daphne went back to the tansy.  Don and Dwayne bonded, swapping stories as they awaited imminent fatherhood.
The ducklings hatched in late spring and grew quickly.  All survived with excellent care from their mothers.  By fall we could see Dwayne’s influence on the flock.  His offspring were considerably smaller. It was a golden, happy time. Late afternoons we quacked loudly, calling our ducks for feeding.  Heads popped up from the seeding grass and they answered back then waddled single file behind Don, their noble leader.  If we were late with dinner, they gathered to complain about the lack of service and were not averse to heading up to the house to fetch us if necessary.
Autumn in all its’ splendor passed into a winter that was our most severe in years.  We tromped faithfully through the deep snow every day to scatter feed on the frozen pond.  Then one morning after fresh snowfall we could not find a single duck.  Our anxious calls came back to us empty on the wind…searching revealed spatters of blood and dog tracks in the snow, the silent witness to their grim fate.   Still, we hoped that some birds had escaped the attack and combed the neighborhood, finally locating a pair of Dwayne’s offspring.  Only the smaller ducks could fly well.  We had unwittingly fed the others up to be “sitting ducks,” an expression I understand too well now.  A week later Dwayne returned on his own, but it was a bleak time.  How empty the pond seemed without the gang.
That May, Betty, our lone remaining female, hatched a fuzzy brood.  Familiar quacks again filled the air and gladdened our spirits.  It just isn’t spring without ducklings.  ~
All of this took place eons ago, but we still have ducks on our pond and an ample flock fussy barnyard geese who make daily visits down to the water.  The small town of Dayton, Virginia, not far from us, has a lovely body of water called Silver Lake (the size of a large pond) and a stream that attracts so many ducks the town has installed a duck crossing sign.
*Pics of our farm and ducks, also my mom and dad’s ducks…it’s a family thing this love of ducks. *Images by my mom, Pat Churchman.  *The one of the creek by daughter Elise.
*This story about ducklings is the one that really got me started in writing. It was ‘almost’ published in Southern Living Magazine and that editor gave me much encouragement about my writing, then she referred me to an editor at Progressive Farmer who accepted it and several more nonfiction pieces about rural life, but their free lance column got axed before publication

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Soft Spring in the Shenandoah Valley

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”  ~Rainer Maria RilkeLetters of Rainer Maria Rilke
This normally precarious, wildly unsettled month is unbelievably mild.   Crocus, Daffodils,hyacinths,  early tulips…are in full flower with the promise of more blooms on the way.  A cloud of blossoms envelop the apricot tree, the pears up by the old red barn are snowy white, the peach is pink…apples will be in flower next.  Our spirits are so buoyed we planted two new heritage apple trees, one peach, and a sour cherry.  If the frost holds off, we’ll have loads of fruit this year to can, freeze, make into jam and fruit butters.  Most of last year’s crop froze.
I’m already hard at work clearing away the vegetable garden,  spreading compost, planting early vegetable seeds….   The flower beds need cleaning of all the overwintering weeds so I’m busying myself in them, pruning roses, and generally tidying everything.  I’ve ordered new herbs and perennials that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  Some of the varieties I wanted are already sold out.  
It’s only March 19th and I’m scrambling around like a demented bunny to keep up with the advancing season.  And the extended forecast shows more of the same unusually balmy weather.
All of a sudden it’s full-blown, bursting out all over, spring– like mid-late April, not March.  Will the weather hold, or will we be hit with a freeze?
I’m savoring all the beauty while wondering if it will suddenly be snatched away.  It’s mighty early to hope frost will pass us by, but last fall I found a solid brown woolly bear caterpillar with no black markings at all which means an unbelievably mild winter.  And thus it has been.  I’m putting my trust in the woolly bear as my prognosticator.   So much for Phil the Groundhog.
“Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer.”  ~Geoffrey B. Charlesworth
“Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations.  It is not much matter if things do not turn out well.”  ~Charles Dudley Warner
But I really hope they do.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Out in Print with Lovely Images--Shenandoah Watercolors!

At long last Shenandoah Watercolors is out in print!   My talented daughter Elise labored hours and hours to design the layout and incorporate her and my mom, Pat Churchman, and husband Dennis's beautiful photographs of the Shenandoah Valley and mountains.  Also a few vintage images from times past.  
A lovely coffee table sized book, Shenandoah Watercolors should be a joy to those who want to savor the images and linger with me in my beloved valley.
The book is available at Amazon, and I authorized other outlets for it as well but am not sure where it many show up for sale.  The cost is as inexpensive as we could possibly make it for a book of this size with so many colored images.  We won't get rich, that's for sure, but hope to share our love of the country, of our valley and the mountains, of family and all that's good.  And God bless those who join us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My English Historical Romance

A Top Pick from The Romance Reviews
Book Reviewed by Erinne (author,reviewer)

"I simply adored INTO THE LION'S HEART by Beth Trissel. I'm not an avid reader of historical romances or even the simply sweet romances, but this tale kissed a delicate smile on my face and I have to admit, my heart melted. Not only was the writing superb and in context with the time and place, but the plot itself was very well done."

The connection I feel to the past and those who’ve gone before me is the ongoing inspiration behind my historical romances, including the time travels in my ‘Somewhere’ series.  

I’ve done a great deal of research into family genealogy and come from well-documented English/Scots-Irish folk with a smidgen of French in the meld, a Norman knight who sailed with William the Conqueror. One family line goes directly back to Geoffrey Chaucer. And there’s a puritan line with involvement in the Salem Witch Trials—my apologies to Susannah Martin’s descendants–but that’s another story.  Which I hope one day to write.

With Into the Lion’s Heart, I more deeply explored my British ancestry.  This rich ancestry has me traveling all over the place like a vagrant spirit.

Back to the story: Set in 1789 England, Into the Lion's Heart opens with the hero, Captain Dalton Evans (fought in the American Revolution) journeying to Dover to meet the ship carrying a distant cousin, Mademoiselle Sophia Devereux, who’s fleeing the French Revolution.  *Pause here to note all the research the revolution took, not to mention Georgian England in general, Cornwall in particular, rum smuggling, stage-coach travel and sailing in the late 18th century….you get the idea. But I digress. Back to Dalton who’s irked with his mission, not only because he finds it tedious, but he resents the French, partly as a result of their aid to the Americans during the war and some of the Frenchmen he fought during that lost cause.  Plus he thinks French aristocrats are arrogant.  However, the young woman he rescues from the sinking ship is nothing like he expects and rocks his world.

During all the copious research, I discovered this is a fascinating time period on both sides of the channel.  I’m already hooked on The Scarlet Pimpernel, having read all the books in that series several times and watched every film version (ask about my favorites) and am drawn to other novels and productions set in this era, such as the rich epic series, Poldark–read the books and own the Masterpiece Theater production.

As to the language ‘thing,’ my youngest daughter, Elise, who recently graduated summa cum laude with a double major in art and French, was a huge help with the sprinkling of French words and phrases.  And she can debate with anyone who begs to differ with her translation, why she chose a particular verb or whatever.  My French is weak, so I’m going with her and will just say it’s a beautiful language.  I hope you enjoy the story.

Blurb: As the French Revolution rages, the English nobility offer sanctuary to many a refugee. Captain Dalton Evans arrives in Dover to meet a distant cousin, expecting to see a spoiled aristocrat. Instead, he’s conquered by the simplicity of his new charge. And his best friend Thomas Archer isn’t immune to her artless charm, either.

Cecile Beaumont didn’t choose to travel across the Channel. And she certainly didn’t expect that impersonating her own mistress would introduce her to a most mesmerizing man. Now she must play out the masquerade, or risk life, freedom – and her heart.~

Into the Lion’s Heart is available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In All Things of Nature There Is Something of the Marvelous.~Aristotle

Some lovely thoughts and images on this fine spring day~

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kind.” William Shakespeare

“I remember a hundred lovely lakes, and recall the fragrant breath of pine and fir and cedar and poplar trees.  The trail has strung upon it, as upon a thread of silk, opalescent dawns and saffron sunsets.

It has given me blessed release from care and worry and the troubled thinking of our modern day.  It has been a return to the primitive and the peaceful.  Whenever the pressure of our complex city life thins my blood and benumbs my brain, I seek relief in the trail; and when I hear the coyote wailing to the yellow dawn, my cares fall from me – I am happy.”  
~Hamlin GarlandMcClure’s, February 1899

“You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.”
~Hal BorlandSundial of the Seasons, 1964
“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church, I keep it staying at Home -With a bobolink for a Chorister, And an Orchard, for a Dome.” 
“Joy all creatures drink At nature’s bosoms…”  ~Friedrich von Schiller, “Ode to Joy,” 1785
“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.”  ~Jane Austen
“I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods.  Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”  ~Wendell Berry
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.”
~George Gordon, Lord ByronChilde Harold’s Pilgrimage
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.  This is not done by jostling in the street.”  ~William Blake
“To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”  ~Helen Keller
“To one who has been long in city pent,
‘Tis very sweet to look into the fair
And open face of heaven, – to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.”
~John Keats, Sonnet XIV
“Fieldes have eies and woods have eares.”  ~John Heywood, 1565
“You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness – perhaps ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things…”  
~Walt WhitmanSpecimen Days, “Birds – And a Caution”  (Thanks, Corinne)
“Butterflies are self propelled flowers.”  ~R.H. Heinlein
“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.”  ~Author Unknown
*Images of the green-gold trees, the baby goose and kitten, the Shenandoah Valley in early spring and the nesting duck are by my mom, Pat Churchman.  The black swallowtail butterfly is by my daughter Elise.  Dark Hollow Falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a royalty free pic.
***For gardeners, nature lovers, anyone who thinks fondly of country life, or is just plain human…you might enjoy my nonfiction book out in kindle now, in nookbook by April, and soon out in print with beautiful pics, a 2012 EPIC eBOOK FINALIST, Shenandoah Watercolors.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daughter of the Stars: A Sweet Deal for A Sweet Romance

Daughter of the Stars: A Sweet Deal for A Sweet Romance: “Love Is The Beauty of the Soul”~Saint Augustine Excerpt from light paranormal romance novel Somewhere My Love: FREE March 7th at ...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

If You Love American Historicals--Free Read

My new historical romance short, The Lady and the Warrior, is FREE at Amazon March 4th–8th

Excerpt from The Lady and the Warrior

May, 1783, the Virginia Frontier, the Allegheny Mountains 
That terrified cry came from the stream.  Zane didn’t have much time to reach her.  And he was so close!

He slid the musket strap from his shoulder.  Grasping the long firearm, he raced over the misty path.  Like a buck taking flight, he dodged stones and sprang over fallen limbs.  He skirted an enormous downed trunk capped with toadstools.  Shouldering the musket again, he pushed through the underbrush.

Branches snagged his brown hunting shirt.  Briars snatched at his leather breeches and wool leggings.  He tore free.  A tangle of vines lay between him and the woman.  Taking the tomahawk slung at his side, he chopped his way through.  Chest pounding, he arrived at the engorged stream.

With eyes honed to detect the barest hint of man or beast, he scanned the swift current.  Woodland debris bobbed in the brown flood.  No woman.  She must be farther downstream.

He sprinted along the edge of the bank.  Whoever this unfortunate female was, she was about to drown.  Even without knowing her, it goaded him.  And the urge to save her swelled inside like the muddy water overflowing its banks.

There!  Zane spotted the young woman clinging to a branch as the torrent did its damnedest to rip her away.

“Hold on!  I’m coming!”

Her head swiveled toward him, face white with fear and fatigue.

“Hold on!”

She managed the barest nod.

He laid his musket on the ground.  Wedging his moccasins against the stones and roots, he sidestepped down the slick earth.  Then reached out and grasped the branch she held to—testing its strength.  The wood was firm beneath his hand.

So far, so good.

He leaned over the swirling water.  Careful.  One misstep and they’d both be swept away to a watery grave.

Desperate eyes met his, the hue of summer leaves and marbled with brown like the forest.   Her fingers slipped.

Quick!   He snagged her shoulder, digging in his fingers so her cloak wouldn’t come away in his hand.  “I’ve got you!”

She clutched at him.
“Don’t!  You’ll pull us both in!”

A look of misgiving flitted through her panicked gaze.
“Trust me.  I’ll not you let go.”

*Images of stream and old family musket, powder horn, and hunting pouch by my mom, Pat Churchman