|Cathleen Miller: The Birdhouse Chronicles|
Press (Hardcover), ISBN 1-58574-469-7
Cathleen Miller belongs
to a writing group called the Wild Writing Women, which supports and mentors
its members. They encourage one another along the road to publication
and even collaborate on joint ventures, such as a group anthology of travel
writings. In addition, the Wild Writing Women share resources and present
writing related events and workshops for the general public, too. (Check
out their website at
Miller, together with her husband Kerby, bought a dilapidated old farmhouse and spent three years enjoying the adventures of country living and of restoring their new home to its former glory. Her memoir, The Birdhouse Chronicles rambles charmingly, rather like a country road, in and out of the various bits of Cathy Miller's life that come to mind as she recounts this story of their stay in a small Pennsylvanian village.
So the tale of how
her new study got to be painted in a bold valentine red becomes interwoven
with the tragic history of the previous occupant of the room and with
memories of Cathy and Kerby's courtship. The excitement of planting the
seeds for their first vegetable patch calls to mind their fondness for
the rabbits that visit their garden and to a sharing of how fraught with
danger life can be if one must live it as a bunny. Miller's account of
how she so rewardingly managed to harvest and preserve the produce from
her vegetable garden meanders back to childhood remembrances of helping
her grandparents with the same tasks and to a reflection of how for them,
"Canning wasn't a hobby; it was a survival tactic."
The Birdhouse Chronicles describes life in the countryside with the fresh eyesight of a woman who spent too many years earning a living in a big city. Details of her erstwhile fast-paced and luxurious lifestyle contrast with the immediate reality of having to coax into life a wood-burning furnace very early every morning of a country winter. Miller's book also narrates a city woman's experiences of country life from the point of view of a city dweller who lived her earliest years as a farmer's daughter. Her observations not only show the differences between rural and city living, but also provide rich reflections on how country life changed (and in some ways, did not change) in forty or so years.
But the country cannot sustain Cathleen Miller's lifestyle, as it couldn't sustain that of her father -- nor barely that of her grandparents. Even her Amish neighbors must struggle more and more each passing year just to retain the very simple agricultural way of life that they chose for themselves so long ago. And eventually, one autumn day as the birds flock together in preparation to migrate south, Miller reflects on the inevitability that her stay in the country must come to an end, and that she too may soon be flying away to more sustainable climes.
to share your views.