Carolyn Porter

The moon is a sliver of ice melting in the sky when Papa wakes me for work. So begins Barn Savers, a simple story of a young boy coming to understand the labor that his father does and the value of a hard day's work, a job well done.

The boy accompanies his father to work for the first time and learns his trade. They rise before dawn, pack their lunches and tools, and drive as the sun comes up over the hills. Their destination is a fading red barn in the middle of a wheat field. Their job is to save the barn from the bulldozers, and they save everything from the actual boards and windows to the date stone that reads 1893. Even an old pig trough is important enough to keep. The boy and his father salvage these seemingly mundane things for the sake of preserving the past and honoring history.

The illustrations play a vital role they paint the setting in soft splashes of pastels and in bolder primary colors. The rich red of the barn contrasts with the blue of the sky, and yellow drops of sunlight filter through the holes in the barn roof. These colors enhance the pastoral world the author creates the world of passing rural life, of a slower pace, that father and son are struggling to hold onto.

Yet there is a deeper level on which to read the story, a deeper truth to be learned, as there almost always is. Beauty is found within an object, not on the outside. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, What is essential is invisible to the eye. The father in this tale does not save the barns for the monetary value of the boards; he saves them for their sentimental value, for the charm of something old. He says, This barn will live for another hundred years, in a hundred different places. And he passes that legacy on to his son. The boy saves a part of the old barn, a rusty old weather vane, for his own bedroom. He too has learned to appreciate the character that comes with age.

The moon is a sliver of ice melting in the sky when Papa wakes me for work. So begins Barn Savers, a simple story of a young boy coming to understand the labor that his father does and the value of a hard day's work, a job well done. The boy accompanies his father to […]

Letters from Yellowstone By Diane Smith Viking, $23.95 ISBN 0670886319 Review by Carolyn Porter Constructed as a series of letters and set in the majestic surroundings of the American West with its big open sky of opportunity, Letters from Yellowstone tells the story of a young medical student, Alexandria Bartram. Mistakenly assumed to be a boy by the professor in charge of a scientific expedition, she sets off for Mammoth Hot Springs, Montana, to aid the expedition and follow her passion for botany. Once the scientists learn to accept a feminine presence in camp, Alex begins to form relationships and connections with people and nature that further her self-worth and individuality.

Yet this is not simply the trite tale of a girl striking off on a journey who, in the process, grows up. It is a coming of age novel, but since it is told from many perspectives, a unique voice emerges to show what it means to be human, to grow up. At first Alex is overcome by the beauty of the landscape. She observes upon first viewing Yellowstone, It is as though I have traveled back in time, to the very edge of the universe, where the earth, still in its most primordial stage, sputters and bubbles and spews out the very origins of life. This childlike wonder soon turns to respect for the amazing splendor of this natural world, respect for the soul of man, and in turn respect for whatever force Alex believes created it all.

Colorful characters pepper this first novel. Professor Howard Merriam, a gentle, flustered man with spectacles; Joseph, a Crow Indian; the misogynistic driver; Dr. Rutherford and his pet raven; wise Mrs. Eversman, the birdwatcher all add spice to Alex's adventure. She learns something from each of them, and above all learns to be open-minded to all perspectives of life.

Smith concludes with a rather existential theme: People should follow their own unique purpose in life, whatever that may be according to their world view. We must each take charge of our own beliefs, yet always accept the opinions of others. In the end, Alex remarks, I am beginning to see that I need to learn how to recognize what is good and kind and true in each individual's view of the world. And with this realization, she is grown-up.

Letters from Yellowstone By Diane Smith Viking, $23.95 ISBN 0670886319 Review by Carolyn Porter Constructed as a series of letters and set in the majestic surroundings of the American West with its big open sky of opportunity, Letters from Yellowstone tells the story of a young medical student, Alexandria Bartram. Mistakenly assumed to be a […]

Who doesn't remember, as a child, sitting still in the gray summer twilight, watching fireflies float aimlessly through the sticky heat, listening to cricket music and simply absorbing the peace around you? This is the soothing, familiar scene set by Lee Posey in Night Rabbits, a tender story of young Elizabeth's special relationship with graceful nighttime creatures, and with her own father.

Elizabeth finds comfort in the playful dances of the rabbits in the moonshadows. They help her to fall asleep. She says, When it's so hot that I can't sleep, I get out of bed and go out on the porch. I swing quietly in the hammock and watch the rabbits. They leap onto the lawn, then back into the trees, a dance of lighter shadows. Their leaps are soft as shyness. But when the rabbits begin to eat her father's new lawn, Elizabeth becomes discouraged. She loves the rabbits, yet she knows how hard her father has worked to keep the yard pretty. She has an idea she carefully places some lettuce on the lawn after dark, hoping the rabbits prefer that to the green grass but her father says there's no telling with rabbits . . . they'll probably still eat the grass. So father and daughter reach a compromise by sharing the lawn with their animal friends and working together to preserve it.

Night Rabbits is a touching story that celebrates our connection with nature and the peace that such a connection brings. Michael Montgomery's luminous pictures gently capture the mystery and magic of night a land of stars, dancing rabbits, and faerie secrets hidden deep within the faded forest beside the summer house.

Carolyn Porter lives and writes in Nashville.

Who doesn't remember, as a child, sitting still in the gray summer twilight, watching fireflies float aimlessly through the sticky heat, listening to cricket music and simply absorbing the peace around you? This is the soothing, familiar scene set by Lee Posey in Night Rabbits, a tender story of young Elizabeth's special relationship with graceful […]

Frances Mayes, the Peter Mayle of Italy, has done a difficult thing. Bella Tuscany, her second book is even better than her best-selling first. After seven summers of restoration, Mayes's beloved villa, Bramasole, needs only a few finishing touches and she can spend more time pondering The Sweet Life in Italy. Mayes looks at the world with an artist's eye and writes with a poet's lyricism; you see the verdant spring green that so enchants her, smell the lush roses, taste the fava beans fresh from the garden. As before, Mayes reads, and her Georgia-accented voice, now familiar, is a pleasure to hear again. If this doesn't make you yearn for an Italian idyll, nothing will.

Frances Mayes is, first and foremost, a poet. She once said, "When I wrote the last line of Under the Tuscan Sun, I wrote the first line of Bella Tuscany. I knew I was not through writing about Italy." She writes about the Tuscan countryside with such powerful description and sensuality, the reader is transported to the slow pace of Cortona, Italy, where one simply breathes, notices, and appreciates life's small pleasures.

Bella Tuscany continues the story of Frances and Ed's restoration of Bramasole, a 200-year-old Italian farmhouse, and their subsequent awakening to Italian culture. Every day holds a new adventure whether it be pruning olive trees, cooking mushroom ravioli, hosting house guests, traveling to Venice or Sicily, or browsing an antique market. Though Mayes is in Italy, the lesson to be learned here is that anyone, anywhere, can find amazement in the smallest object or in the most mundane place.

Mayes covers almost every aspect of Italian culture art, landscape, food, language, and history. She visits museums and reflects on the meaning and beauty of art. She buys old monogrammed linens and imagines who made them. She uncovers frescoes on the walls, wondering whose rough hands painted them. When she visits ancient monasteries she finds a spiritual kinship with those people who came before her. The sights and sounds of Tuscany often trigger Mayes's remembrance of her Southern roots, where she first realized this sense of place. The smell of lilacs or lavender in Italy take her back to her childhood in Fitzgerald, Georgia.

Bella Tuscany urges the reader to form an appreciation for the sometimes overlooked enjoyments of life from dipping weary feet in a cool Etruscan fountain on an August day, to sipping an afternoon cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe. The book evokes a series of images, paintings that capture the essence of the green, sweet, slow life in Italy. It is for anyone who has ever desired the romance of a faraway place or longed for a season of renewed possibility.

Frances Mayes, the Peter Mayle of Italy, has done a difficult thing. Bella Tuscany, her second book is even better than her best-selling first. After seven summers of restoration, Mayes's beloved villa, Bramasole, needs only a few finishing touches and she can spend more time pondering The Sweet Life in Italy. Mayes looks at the […]

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