Since getting myself a library card, I’ve continued reading my way through L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. I just finished the second book: Anne of Avonlea. This one follows Anne from ages 16 – 18, beginning with her teaching at the Avonlea school and ending with her heading off to college (with Gilbert Blythe – whoooah).
Besides her usual (mis)adventures, the most interesting part of this book was Anne’s involvement in starting up the Avonlea Village Improvement Society. Her experiences there remind me exactly of my own challenges with the Redwood Neighborhood Association – distrustful and stubborn old-timers, nonexistant funds, lack of interest in general…But it seems like things worked out for her in the end (as they usually do for Anne) due to her perseverance and unflagging sunny outlook. I guess I’ll see what I can do in that department…
Anyway, without further ado, my favorite parts of the book:
But an August afternoon, with blue hazes scarfing the harvest slopes, little winds whispering elfishly in the poplars, and a dancing splendor of red poppies outflaming against the dark coppice of young firs in a corner cherry orchard, was fitter for dreams than dead languages.
As if Paul’s words had been a spell of magic, discouragement and weariness passed from her spirit, and hope upwelled in her heart like a dancing fountain. She went through the Birch Path light-footedly, attended by the sweetness of her orchids as by a benediction. “Well, how did you get along?” Marilla wanted to know.”Ask me that a month later and I may be able to tell you. I can’t now…I don’t know myself…I’m too near it. My thoughts feel as if they had been all stirred up until they were thick and muddy.””Oh, this is a day left over from Eden, isn’t it, Diana?”…and Anne sighed for sheer happiness. “The air has magic in it. Look at the purple in the cup of the harvest valley, Diana. And oh, do smell the dying fir!…Bliss is it on such a day to be alive; but to smell dying fir is very heaven! That’s two thirds Wordsworth and one third Anne Shirley. It doesn’t seem possible that there should be dying fir in heaven, does it? And yet it doesn’t seem to me that heaven would be quite perfect if you couldn’t get a whiff of dead fir as you went through its woods. Perhaps we’ll have the odor there without the death.”
“I was just trying to write out some thoughts…but I couldn’t get them to please me. They seem so stiff and foolish directly there written down on white paper with black ink. Fancies are like shadows…you can’t cage them, they’re such wayward dancing things. But perhaps I’ll learn the secrets some day if I keep on trying.”
The mention of college gave a new direction to Gilbert’s thoughts, and they talked for a time of their plans and wishes…gravely, earnestly, hopefully, as youth love to talk, while the future is yet an untrodden path full of wonderful possibilities.
“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people know more…but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me…to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”…”I think you’re fulfilling that ambition every day,” said Gilbert admiringly…And he was right. Anne was one of the children of light by birthright. After she had passed through a life with a smile or a word thrown across it like a gleam of sunshine the owner of that life saw it, for the time being at least, as hopeful and lovely and of good report.*
Anne, walking home from school through the Birch Path one November afternoon, felt convinced afresh that life was a very wonderful thing… “What a nice month this November has been!” said Anne, who had never quite got over her childish habit of talking to herself…”We’ve had lovely days and delicious twilights…How quiet the woods are today…not a murmur except that soft wind purring in the treetops! It sounds like surf on a faraway shore. How dear the woods are! You beautiful trees! I love every one of you as a friend!”…Anne paused to throw her arm about a slim young birch and kiss its cream-white trunk.
Diana, rounding a curve in the path, saw her and laughed…”Anne Shirley, you’re only pretending to be a grown up. I believe when you’re alone you’re as much a little girl as you ever were.”…”Well one can’t get over the habit of being a little girl all at once,” said Anne gaily…”I’m sure I shall always feel like a child in the woods…Here in the woods…I’m a dryad living in an old pine, or a little brown wood-elf hiding under a crinkled leaf. That white birch you caught me kissing is a sister of mine. The only difference is, she’s a tree and I’m a girl, but that’s no real difference.”
She had a good sleep that night and awakened in the morning to find herself and the world transformed. It had snowed softly and thickly all through the hours of darkness and the beautiful whiteness, glittering in the frosty sunshine, looked like a mantle of charity cast over all the mistakes and humiliations of the past. “Every morn is a fresh beginning. Every morn is the world made new,” sang Anne, as she dressed.
Just before them, hemmed in by beeches and firs but open to the south, was a little corner and in it a garden…or what had once been a garden. A tumbledown stone dyke, overgrown with mosses and grass, surrounded it. Along the eastern side ran a row of garden cherry trees, white as a snowdrift. There were traces of old paths still and a double line of rosebushes through the middle; but all the rest of the space was a sheet of yellow and white narcissi, in their airiest, most lavish, wind-swayed bloom above the lush green grasses.
“I can’t understand how she could have wanted to live back here, away from everything,” said Jane…”Oh, I can easily understand that,” said Anne thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t want it for myself for a steady thing, because, although I love the fields and woods, I love people too. But I can understand it in Hester. She was tired to death of the noise of the big city and the crowds of people always coming and going and caring nothing for her. She just wanted to escape from it all to some still, green, friendly place where she could just rest. And she got just what she wanted, which is something very few people do, I believe.”
“We make our own lives wherever we are, after all…They are broad or narrow according to what we put into them, not what we get out. Life is rich and full here…everywhere…if we can only learn how to open our whole hearts to its richness and fullness.”
A great bowlful of snowballs overflowed on the polished table. The shining black mantlepiece was heaped with roses and ferns. Every shelf of the whatnot held a sheaf of bluebells; the dark corners on either side of the grate were lighted up with jars full of glowing crimson peonies, and the grate itself was aflame with yellow poppies. All this splendor and color, mingled with the sunshine falling through the honeysuckle vines at the windows in a leafy riot of dancing shadows over walls and floor, made the usually dismal little room the veritable “bower” of Anne’s imagination.
“I always thought it was too good to be true…that speech sounds so pessimistic…I’m ashamed of making it. After all, it was not too good to be true…things just as good and far better are coming true for me all the time.”
“I kept thinking thinking how much good the rain will do and how glad my garden must be for it, and imagining what the flowers and buds would think when the drops began to fall. I imagined out a most interesting dialogue between the asters and the sweet peas and the wild canaries in the lilac bush and the guardian spirit of the garden.”
“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
“That’s the worst…or the best…of real life, Anne. It won’t let you be miserable. It keeps on trying to make you comfortable…and succeeding…even when you’re determined to be unhappy.”
“I wish I could just be idle all day today,” Anne told a bluebird who was singing and swinging on a willow bough…”How sweet you are singing, little bird. You are just putting the feelings of my heart into song ever so much better than I could myself.”
Anne had a long meditation at her window that night. Joy and regret struggled together in her heart. She had come at last…to that bend in the road…with a hundred rainbow hopes and visions; but Anne realized as well that when she rounded that curve she must also leave many sweet things behind…”I’ve put out a lot of little roots these two years,” Anne told the moon, “and when I’m pulled up they’re going to hurt a great deal. But it’s best to go, I think…there’s no good reason why I shouldn’t. I must get out all my ambitions and dust them.”**
“I hope I shall make new friends,” said Anne thoughtfully. “The possibilities of making new friends help to make life very fascinating. But no matter how many new friends I make they’ll never be as dear to me as the old ones.”
While Anne was not beautiful in any strictly defined sense of the word she possessed a certain evasive charm and distinction of appearance that left beholders with a pleasurable sense of satisfaction…with all its strongly felt potentialities. Those who knew Anne best felt, without realizing they felt it, that her greatest attraction was the aura of possibility surrounding her…the power of future development that was in her. She seemed to walk in an atmosphere of things about to happen.
“Another chapter in my life has closed,” said Anne aloud…she really felt very sad over it; but the romance in the idea of that “closed chapter” did comfort her a little.
“Changes ain’t totally pleasant but they’re excellent things,” said Mr. Harrison philosophically. “Two years is about long enough for things to stay exactly the same. If they stayed put any longer they might grow mossy.”
“What I want to get out of my college course is some knowledge of the best way of living life and doing the most and best with it. I want to learn to understand and help other people and myself.”
Behind them in the garden the little stone house brooded among the shadows. It was lonely but not forsaken. It had not yet done with dreams and laughter and the joy of life; there were to be future summers for the little stone house; meanwhile it could wait. And over the river in purple durance the echoes bided their time.
*Can you imagine how nice that would be to be described like that by others? That is something to aspire to in itself.
**Reminds me of leaving the city to move up here…Big change can be hard, but it is best not to grow too mossy!
Book cover from Regular Rumination