Tuesday, June 29, 2010


We went to Natchez with my dad this spring and saw the beautiful town houses of the planters. We actually got to tour the insides of two: the tragic Longwood (otherwise known as Nutt's Folly) and the gorgeous Stanton Hall.

The tour I most enjoyed, however, was a photographic tour through time, located in a church rather than a home. The 1st Presbyterian Church, a beauty itself in terms of architecture, houses a sizable collection of photographic art from the 19th and early 20th Century-- fashion, town and river life, families, homes and businesses. The photos personalized and brought reality to the fantastic buildings we were touring.

An organist was giving a lesson in the sanctuary while we were there, and, since Dad and Aravis and I were fascinated by the photos, the kids occupied themselves listening when they got tired. (I was so fascinated that I didn't even take any pictures of the building or the gallery.)

The people at the church were welcoming and kind, and even offered to let us help paint a couple of rooms they were working on downstairs. :) I might have taken them up on it, they were so friendly and the place so beautiful, but we were slated to drive up Natchez Trace and have a picnic, so we declined.

Our picnic with one of our friends along the Natchez Trace.

Henry C. Norman was an internationally recognized photographer from the early days of photography. There is a book I want, Norman's Natchez, that contains quite a few of his pictures. I think it is out of print. I am wishing for it on Paperback Swap.

The day before visiting the photo gallery, we travelled across the Mississippi River into Louisiana, where the wealthy of Natchez traditionally had their plantations. We visited Frogmore Plantation a working cotton plantation and gin that also contains historic slave cabins and other plantation buildings.

The outside of a slave cabin at Frogmore, with unplanted cotton fields in the background. Nowadays the cotton plantation is operated by only a few people and lots of machinery. When we went, they were waiting on one more rain before they put in the cotton.

The old Frogmore cotton gin. The new one is down the road and is completely mechanized and run by computer.

A bed in a slave cabin. Having toured several pioneer-type historical parks, I was struck by the similarity of these slave cabins to pioneer cabins in the Western wilderness.

After Emancipation, many former slaves were "upgraded" to sharecropper status. This was what a sharecropper's cabin might have looked like on the inside.

At Frogmore I purchased two books:

My Folks Don't Want Me To Talk About Slavery, a collection of accounts of slavery related by former slaves to writers in the Federal Writers Project of the 1930s. The interviewers followed a list of prescribed questions, and the interviewees' answers were candid. There are over 2000 of these interviews available for perusal at the Library of Congress website. I found the book intensely interesting.


The Plantation Mistress: A Woman's World in the Old South by Catherine Clinton, a history of planters' wives and their world. Despite the obvious radical feminist bias, I relished this book, especially because in the writing of it, Ms. Clinton accessed and quoted from over 500 manuscript collections containing many source documents previously unexamined. (What I would really like is a book containing all of those source documents!) Unfortunately, Ms. Clinton's determination to label these women "prisoners in disguise" is a distraction from the admirably detailed look at the social customs, health, morals and management of these amazing women.

We went to Frogmore first, because I wanted the girls to see where the wealth came from before we saw the town houses. By a strange coincidence, the two homes we chose to tour in Natchez were built by wealthy men who, like the rich fool in the parable (Luke 12), did not live to enjoy their wealth:


Longwood was built for Julia Nutt by her husband, Dr. Haller Nutt. A Northern sympathizer and incredibly bad prophet, Dr. Nutt did not think all the secession talk would amount to anything, and began building his lavish Oriental octagonal villa only months before the War of Northern Aggression (that's the Civil War to Northerners). When war was declared, the Northern workers dropped their tools where they were and fled the South, leaving Dr. Nutt and Miss Julia with a home finished on the outside and unfinished on the inside. They were living in the slave quarters while the building went on, so Dr. Nutt hired local craftsmen to finish out the basement of the mansion and the family moved in.

This would have been the entry hall on the first floor.

Julia would live in the basement of that mansion for decades.

Being a Northern sympathizer, Dr. Nutt gave General Grant permission to use his Louisiana plantation, Winter Quarters, for a military camp. When the soldiers left, they looted and destroyed the crops, leaving no means for supporting the people who lived on the plantation or across the river at Longwood. (However, Winter Quarters was the only plantation in that area left standing after Grant's men came through.)

Dr. Nutt passed away in 1864, leaving Julia and her several children with many slaves, no crops, and bills overdue for luxurious materials and furnishings that had not been received due to Northern blockades.

I mean, really, the man had no clue, did he?

Julia rose to the occasion, fought the federal government for damages after the war, won enough money to send her children to school, and raised her family. Eventually, the unfinished mansion was turned over to the Pilgrimage Garden Club (a group of ladies that caretake and provide tours of many Natchez town houses) with the stipulation that the Oriental villa never be completed. Until the 1960s, the tools lay on the upper floors exactly where the workers dropped them as they returned North.

The view from the first floor up through the center of the house-- when completed, it would have allowed light through the Byzantine-Moorish dome at the top down to all the floors below.

Look at the intricate detail on those pillars!

Longwood is located in what would have been the outskirts of Natchez at that time, while Stanton Hall was built on a city block in the downtown area. It was completely finished, and we got a private tour of the inside. No one else joined our group, so the kids and I asked every question we could think of and stretched what was supposed to be a thirty minute tour into over an hour.

Stanton Hall

Oh, goodness, that was a fancy house. And very symmetrical. The house had several stories, but we toured only the first two. Each level had a large hall in the middle that stretched from the front to the back of the house, with rooms on either side. There were gorgeously carved Carrera marble fireplaces (all I could think when I saw those was the poor parlormaid and the dusting she had to do), lavish cornices and draperies and moulding, Hudson River School artwork, and a beautiful little piano in one corner. I thought the most striking decorations were the ornate wrought-iron chandeliers adorned with a different theme in each room-- the dining room had Native American warriors; the drawing room had cherubs and fruit if I remember correctly; and Frederick Stanton's office had English soldiers from the 1600s-- you know, like Captain John Smith. I could go on and on about the ornamentation. There was a LOT. It was fatiguing on the eye after awhile.

Frederick Stanton, a cotton broker, died one month after his dream home was finished. Thankfully, he paid cash for materials as he went and did not leave his widow in debt.

On the second-floor back porch at Stanton Hall.

I haven't said much about Natchez Trace, or our climb up the ceremonial Native American mounds, or our visit to one of the roadside inns, or our treacherous and questionable journey on dirt roads of loess soil out to the ghost town of Rodney to see the church that was fired upon by the Union and still contains cannon balls in its facade, but I have really gone on too long, so I will save those for another day.

Monday, June 21, 2010


We are visiting friends in Missouri right now, and my friend was telling me a story she heard regarding the oaken beams in the dining hall at New College, Oxford. The beams were rotting, so they wanted to replace them, but the oaks had to be very tall in order to be made into beams for this particular building.

They asked the college forester if there might be some oak trees on college lands that were tall enough for the beams. He said there had been a grove of oaks planted for future provision. The administrators had some of the trees cut down and used for beams.

I love this story so much, although the folks at New College say it isn't true. It reminds me of one of my favorite Wendell Berry quotes:

Invest in the Millennium. Plant sequoias.

I want to plant sequoias. I want to teach my kids to plant sequoias. I want us to have a long-term view.

They are learning a lot about singing this summer. I majored in vocal performance in college. I was thoroughly trained to sing healthy (healthily?), and to resist poor technique. In the last year, I have come into conflict with my children over this issue. (I don't think they realize how very thoroughly I was trained to resist unhealthy singing.) They have figured out that they can get more volume with less work by belting out their songs, and naturally want to take the easy route. I have alternated between discussion and masterly inactivity in dealing with this issue. I feel so strongly about them learning to sing in a way that will preserve their beautiful voices, although the process is longer. In the end, they will have to decide whether to bloom quickly and fade, or grow slowly with a good foundation.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

And as I work on next year's plans, I, too, want to remember I am planting sequoias, that my profit is the forest I "will not live to harvest." I want to keep the long-term in view.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Guest Blogger: George Washington's Limits

(Written by Aravis)

George Washington started his career as a surveyor, measuring off how much land belonged to a certain person. As a teenager, he was already learning the value of limits and boundaries, which would later become important in his political career. He was a soldier for several years, participating in the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution, during which he rose to national attention. He helped to create the nation in the Constitutional Convention, where he was the head of the meetings.

Washington was what is now referred to as a “control freak”, but not in the usual meaning. He wanted complete control of himself, not others, and had set precise rules for himself since he was a child. This may have influenced him when he advocated a government with limited control over the individual – he believed people should be in charge of themselves, but knew that some civil government was necessary to deal with those who would not deal with themselves.

Technicalities for the role of President were still being hammered out when Washington assumed the position. If he had not been the right sort of “control freak”, the job of President could be drastically different today, because he was the one who shaped it. But he was aware of the human lust for power and also of the damage it could do, and kept himself from doing anything that was not for the good of his country. The limits he set for himself helped shape the entire nation.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Guest Blogger: Bread

(Guest post written by Mariel)

Bread is a chemical compound. Have you ever thought of it in this way? Neither had I until this exam question: Explain bread-making in a scientific way. So, here goes.

First you take the water and put it into the pan of the bread machine. The 2tsp butter, made up of pasteurized cream and salt, is melted and put into the pan. The 4 cups of flour goes in next. This Great Value All Purpose Flour is made of enriched bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, and thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. So then you put the sugar and salt in. They are made of sugar and salt. After all that, the yeast is put in. Now the yeast is a bacteria that makes the bread puff up. You have to measure it very carefully, or else you will have very puffy bread. I know, because I made bread once and I think that I put a little too much yeast in. But the yeast does not affect the flavor. The yeast is made up of yeast, sorbitan monostearate, and ascorbic acid. We keep the yeast in the freezer to keep it alive but dormant.

The funny thing about yeast is that it is a living thing that you eat, like chicken. Except it is not a meat. That is all that I know about bread-making. But remember, ‘Man cannot live on bread alone.’

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Guest Blogger: Full of Light

(A narration of Monet's "Women in the Garden", written by Aravis)

In Monet’s painting “Women in the Garden”, one woman sits underneath a tree reading a book, another stands slightly behind the tree, and a third walks along the path. The model for all three women was his wife, who posed in each different position so that her husband could paint it. On the face of the woman beneath the tree, Monet tried a new technique – he painted it slightly paler than ordinary to indicate the woman’s skirt reflecting light upwards. In the bottom left corner there are lilies and other flowers, leading up to the sitting woman. The tree is dark and shadowy and so is the woman standing behind it, providing an interesting comparison to the bright, hard shape of the woman walking on the garden path between two rows of black-green conifers. The women in their white dresses, the white lilies in the corner, the light-brown sandy gravel of the path and the pale sky with its white clouds contrast sharply with the almost navy-green trees and shadowy grass. But even the trees have slim white reflective glints on their glossy leaves. The painting is full of light.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Guest Blogger: Cricket on the Shore

A poem in blank verse written by Aravis

Beneath an overhanging cliff, the shore
Stood empty, quiet, and devoid of life.
A cricket chirped inside the nearby wood.
A boat slid onto crunching rocks and sand.
Another followed. Several men got out
And quietly conferred there on the beach.
Two men paced off a section of the shore.
The others took their places at the ends.
Two heavy, ornate pistols fiercely flashed
As they were loaded, and the duel began.
The cricket heard two shots, and then a crack.
A bullet struck an overhanging branch,
Which fell beside him. One man dropped his gun.
The first two helped him up. The cricket watched
As all four boarded boats again and rowed
To where they came from, leaving him alone –
A cricket on the narrow shore on which
Two great men – Hamilton and Aaron Burr –
Had fought their duel, and history was made.

Wrappin' It Up

The last few weeks, I've watched the kids' activities gradually vacate the calendar, until this week all we have are piano lessons and one audition. I keep mentally renaming the days of the week--

Monday- "The Day We Didn't Go To Violin"
Tuesday- "The Day We Won't Attend Orchestra Rehearsal"
Wednesday- "The Day We Don't Drive To Spanish Class"
Thursday- "The Day We Won't Drive to Biology"
Friday- "The Day We Don't Attend Drama Club"

Hee hee. I really like this week.

My grandparents are coming to visit later in the week, so that makes it extra-special-nice.