Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome


And then, the next moment, that was the time which seemed real, and she could not believe it was the same Titty who had had such awful troubles with her French verbs who was now once more the able-seaman, sitting in Swallow with the parrot cage and the knapsacks and the stores, looking back at the Peak of Darien from which she had first seen Wild Cat Island, and looking down the lake at the island itself, sketches of which with its tall lighthouse tree had filled, almost without her knowing how they came there, the two blank pages at the end of her French Grammar.


Yesterday I helped, ahem, “process” 50 or so chickens. It was a morning of blood, slime, guts, and that golden feeling that comes from knowing you are having an experience few of your peers can match.

I did very little actual work this time. Several years ago I was much more of an integral part of the procedure–I sliced, I dipped, I plucked, I bagged. This time, mostly I acted as quality control and check writer. I’m fine with that. There were several burly men there to do the gross stuff and while it might be sacrilegious to admit this on the anniversary of the passing of the nineteenth amendment, I don’t mind when there are burly men around to do the gross stuff, like de-gut chickens and open the cover of the septic tank. Burly women would be just fine, too. I’m an equal opportunity slacker.

Part of processing chickens is having conversations to distract you from reality. One of the burly men had just heard a radio program on VPR about Paul Coelho, and his ideas on life as a pilgrimage. So we talked about that for a while, about what a pilgrimage really is, what are the requirements of a pilgrimage, is life as a pilgrimage a metaphor or a realistic description. I think that viewing life through pilgrimage glasses means not looking forever at the end result of all you do but considering the process, the journey, as part of the result and deserving of just as much scrutiny.

An apt conversation to hold over a chicken carcass.

Our librarian, Nancy, is loaning me the Swallows and Amazons series, book by book. I have to hurry up, though, because she retires this fall. These books are about children who are allowed—encouraged!—to live their summers on their own terms, which means they set sail, alone, across the lake to make camp on an island where they pitch their own tents, cook their own food, put themselves to bed, and handle any emergencies that arise, such as a pirates, sprained ankles, and shipwrecks.

These children instinctively live their lives as pilgrimages. Maybe all children do. My own children are pretty good at slipping into feral states every summer. They ride their bikes down the road and disappear into the woods for hours, returning with tales of battles, mayhem, and raucous survival. Saturday, Barnaby was the lone boy and so I was his playmate. We rode bikes and pretended we were explorers on a journey to rescue black cats. From what, I never quite figured out. But we made a decent pilgrimage, and afterward I felt better about the dishes left unwashed, the laundry left undone, the bills left unpaid. There will be plenty of time on the pilgrimage for that, later.

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