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I’m always a little sad when I realize the end of summer is coming. Well today it is here, since it is October first, but the sun is shining today (after an awful, cold, rainy Friday) and I can hear the birds through my open window. And…it is quiet. Or still quiet, I should say, since Saturdays in a small city never stay that way.

I plan to take a walk down by the river and check out the locks close and personal. I love the sound of the water coursing over the dam, the call of the gulls, the peaceful, meditative nature of it. But for now, I am thinking about the Regency and considering what would be different…or the same.

Birds. Crickets. A distant baby’s cry. The sound of the river… There is no traffic at the moment, but if there was, it would be the clop-clopping of horses’ hooves up the street on cobblestone, or perhaps it would be a more muffled thudding in dirt or mud. I would hear the jingling of harness and the occasional call of the drivers to their team (I say occasional, as I am trying to keep it as peaceful as it is now!). There would be the smell of horse instead of exhaust, whiffs of coal or wood smoke, perhaps the hot metal smell from a nearby blacksmith’s forge.

My heroine might well be gazing out the window and thinking of a walk, just as I am. She would have a book in her hand, or be writing a letter, but the warm day has called to her. Since this is a small city, she’d don a proper walking dress, but if she were like me she would choose to wear what was comfortable over fashion and seek a walk to satisfy her soul rather than to be seen.

Times change. People, not so much. Not at their center. Surroundings, attitudes, fashion, beliefs, laws, and habits change. Not hearts.

When we write, we rely on what has not changed…and we try our best to understand what has. Unlike writing contemporary novels, we cannot speak to witnesses to gather information. We cannot visit the places where the characters dwelt. Oh, we can go to the geographic location, certainly, and it will yield clues–but it will not be the same. Roads have changed or gone out of use and grown over. Buildings have vanished, and something new may or may not be standing in their steads. Erosion and war has altered the landscape. New flora will be growing that did not exist at the time of the story, and old varieties will have vanished.

I think of roses and the many beautiful varieties that exist now, the hybrid teas, tall and straight-stemmed with those artfully folded petals of such substance…and then think of the old roses, the ones on short, weak and bending stems, the blossoms a soft ball of delicate petals in unformed arrangement, exuding an intoxicatingly sweet scent. They were beautiful…beautiful in their own way, bending their lovely wild faces toward the earth, heavy with dew.

But we can understand the beauty of the rose of whatever form. We can understand human nature. We understand the human heart.

Not much of substance in this today, I am afraid. But this is what I am thinking on this lovely day at the end of summer, as the last roses fade.


Posted in Writing | Tagged | 4 Replies

It’s an interesting phenomenon that the closer you live to a historic site, the less likely you are to visit it. I had dinner last night with Diane and Amanda and our conversation included a joint confession from me and Diane about all the places we hadn’t been to in the Washington DC area. We also exchanged ideas on time management but I fear we only encouraged each other on new ways to procrastinate.

Last Saturday I took time off from writing by visiting Tudor Place with my friend and fieldtrip companion Kate Dolan. I’d never visited (of course), although it has a family connection via the Custis and Calvert families to Riversdale House Museum (which I visit fairly often as I’m a docent). Also I wanted to check it out as the Beau Monde field trip on July 15 includes visits to both locations. And if you’re a member of the Beau Monde, you’ll hear about it soon. Honest!

So, the house. Absolutely gorgeous. It was built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter and her husband, Martha Custis Peter and Thomas Peter, on land acquired in 1805, and designed by Dr. William Thornton, architect of the US Capitol. Construction ended in 1816 and the Peter family lived in the house until 1983. Consequently it is a house filled with almost two centuries’ worth of art and artefacts collected by the family, several of whom were amateur artists (quite good ones). It also has a superb garden.

This palm tree outside the house is one of several that are third-generation descendants of trees acquired by the Peters almost two centuries ago.

The house isn’t built of stone, as you might think, but stucco scored to look like it over brick construction. Photography was not allowed inside the house, but one of the highlights for me was seeing the original 1920s kitchen with original fittings including a mighty iron range and hot water heater. There’s also a very lovely butler’s pantry with many sets of china–because the family were in the house so long each new bride brought new china to the house.

The house is also particularly rich in items owned by George Washington, including china and silver. Moreover, since this was a family who didn’t throw anything away, ever, there’s a terrific amount of documentation in the form of bills, letters and so on. Many major historical figures were entertained at the house including Lafayette and Daniel Webster.

I was lucky enough to visit at peak rose blooming season, which was spectacular this year because it’s been cool and wet. The garden has many varieties of heirloom roses, many beautifully scented; and with a wide variety of scents, too–peppery, spicey and so on. The roses on the left are from the early nineteenth century–early varieties tend to be rather straggly with small blooms, and this one is unusual in that it blooms all summer (or as long as it can stand to in DC). The one on the right–oh, it’s a nice (if off-center) picture. I think it’s probably a variety from later in the century. By July most of these roses will probably have given up the fight against the heat so I was glad to see them and take these pics.

Here’s an overview of the gardens and a closeup of some foxgloves, which to my surprise grew in full sun among the roses and seemed quite happy there.

Here’s a very lovely rose arbor and a close up of the roses growing on it. On the left you can also see some of the gigantic boxwoods in the garden. There were also some huge trees that may have been original to the garden and although I briefly met the garden specialist I didn’t have time to bombard her with as many questions as I would have liked.

So this seems as good a time as any to ask the question: What are you doing this summer? Are you coming to the RWA National Conference in Washington, DC?–and I’ve just heard that I’ll be signing A Most Lamentable Comedy at the July 15 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing, which I’m very excited about. Are you planning a vacation? Where? What will your beach reads be?

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