I’ve just finished rereading Velma Wallis’s Two Old Women, a heartwarming Alaskan tale, one of many told by her Gwich’in mother, of survival against all odds. Abandoned by their group in the middle of a very harsh winter and considered of no further use at their advanced age, the two nevertheless triumph by reviving their long-known skills of hunting, trapping and preserving food and crafting warm clothing from animal fur. A lovely, short and entertaining read.
The other book I’ve also just read is Peter Tremayne’s religious historical whodunnit, Absolution by Murder, set in the 7th century AD in the British isles. It introduces Sister Fidelma, an Irish advocate of the courts, a dálaigh, who is also a member of a religious community. It was just before the Roman church traditions superseded the Irish one in Christian England, and I found myself wanting to get to know more about Sister Fidelma’s adventures.
Reading about Sister Fidelma brought to mind my favourite religious historical detective, Brother Cadfael, brought to life by the English historical fiction writer and translator, Ellis Peters. Cadfael, a former Crusader, returns to England to practise as a Benedictine monk and apothecary. There are, I believe, 20 or more books in the Cadfael series that chronicle life in 13th century England. What I love about Ellis Peters’ books on Cadfael is her rich lyrical prose whose cadence and syntax appear to mirror the language of that time. What made the Cadfael stories additionally enjoyable for me is the herbal lore that Ellis Peters shared — the knowledge of growing a variety of herbs and their many uses for healing.
My family and I went to visit Shrewsbury Abbey, where Ellis Peters set the Cadfael stories and for whose restoration she donated the proceeds of her books. In the grounds of the Abbey, there was a beautiful herbal garden with paths covered by a sturdy wooden arbour, as well as a reproduction of Cadfael’s work room, complete with hanging herbs and other apothecary equipment. I half expected Cadfael to pop out any minute. The books have been made into a television series starring Derek Jacobi, who makes a brilliant Cadfael. There is a lovely pink scented rose, called Brother Cadfael, that looks as sumptuous as a peony, created by the famous rose breeder David Austin. A neighbour in England had this in her front garden. Interestingly, her husband, Robin Whiteman, wrote a compendium of all the characters and plants and herbs, as well as medieval terms mentioned in the Cadfael series — The Cadfael Companion — and he very kindly gave me a copy. What a marvellous coincidence that we would get to live near dedicated admirers of Ellis Peters and her Cadfael series!
I am truly grateful for being able to read and liking to read. I am additionally thankful that there are so many types of books that a bookworm like me can enjoy. For the gifted writers whose imagination and creativity result in these wonderful other worlds between the covers of these books, I am deeply grateful. Considering that I developed a liking for reading books only in fifth grade, I am thankful indeed to have discovered what a joy there is in reading!