Tuesday, 23 July 2013

At the Wayside

Britta Hill

I found a little present at the wayside. Husband also, another one. At our evening stroll we passed a heap of large trash. An old wardrobe, a few cheerless empty drawers, two big blue bin bags, one of them already torn open – and a cardbox with books.
When Husband sees books nothing can stop him. He climbed down the rampart to join another couple that already rummaged busily through the books. I stood in loftily distance on the rampart. But when Husband merrily waved a thick volume about “Women at Goethe’s Time”, I faltered. Curiosity won and I climbed down, wondering why they hadn't given these book to a jumble sale?
And then I became a bit melancholy, because these were evidently the last remaining possessions of a deaconess. It is not much that we leave behind when we go forever… 
When my glance fell on a small volume with white-green stripes and I saw the first part of the title, “Flowers”, that was enough to turn me into a hunter too. I reached out for the small Inselbändchen, No 281. Inside stood a name and a date, “Strasbourg, June 6, 1941”. Apparently a relative had ripped out the adornment page with a dedication – but otherwise it was as good as new. Inside were quite delicate drawings of  a whole year of wildflowers – snowdrops, daisies, anemones, march violets and others. Drawn very naturalistic, yet representing the style of its origin period, theThirties. Beneath its title “The Little Flower Book” was proudly typed: “In many colours”. And down to the present day the colours are as fresh as morning dew. They were used sparingly, yet expressive. Two sorts of green for the stem and leaves of a marguerite, and the petals not just white but shaded delicately by soft blue.
Some little flowers I welcomed like dear old acquaintances: the pink Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) that I loved so much as a child! (At the same time shuddering when “spit of cuckoo” stuck on it – which is the foam wrapper of a little cicada).
Most of those flowers I still know from growing wild in nature - then, but I can't show them to son...  
But lately one can find again some of the field-flowers at the edges of wheatfields: thick rows of corn poppy, and crown-of-the field (Agrostemma githado), and cornflowers, too. Which makes me very happy – though formerly the farmers hated it. The field-flowers belonged to the “Schabab” – the ‘herbs in a basket’ – and to these three (German) K’s (Klatschmohn, Kornrade and Kornblume) was added the chicory, common yarrow, ragwort and drug eyebright too. When a young man got these herbs from his Adored, he knew that he was rejected (in Germany we say: “To give someone a basket” if we refuse to see him).
Superstition warns not to bring cornflowers (accused to make bread mouldy) nor crowns-of-the-field (make the roof struck by lightning) into the house, and no Englishman will bring hawthorn over his threshold. A colleague put the fear of God into me when she explained that the little bunch of heather I had brought into our flat would bring us early death.
But that was many, many years ago, and nothing happened, Thank God!
But then: one day Death will come, after all, and then such a flower book lies at the wayside.
                                            And delights somebody else


  1. I never understand how anyone could throw away books. I have a hard time even donating mine! Most people sell their textbooks after they are finished with their university classes to make money back...couldn't even do that lol

  2. Such a lovely post, Britta. What a marvelous find, this little book. I always enjoy being reminded of the names and lore behind these flowers. Chicory, Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, loosestrife, and Joe-Pye Weed are all blooming or coming into bloom here. Aggressive invaders that they may be, they make a most stunning bouquet in the wild.

  3. Dear Britta, What an absolutely fascinating find. The books you illustrate and the one numbered 281 that you mention look to me to be very much like the King Penguin series published in the UK from 1939 but with dust wrappers from 1949. I have several of these titles, I believe that there were only about 70 of them published, and they were all totally captivating. Wonderful woodcuts and, as you say, lovely coloured pictures.

    On further research I find that the King Penguins were modelled on a German Insel-Verlag series, could this be the ones you mention here?

    Whatever, how anyone could throw them away I have no idea. The KIng Penguins are now extremely collectable in the UK with rare titles fetching dizzying sums!!

  4. Britta, what a lovely read, and the names of flowers that dragged me back to greener times in Devon,England (am I still allowed to say 'England?) may actually have changed my life, for the good. Nothing quite evokes nostalgia for me like country flowers and their names.

    I am reminded in a character in an old English film listing flowers - Rose Bay and Willow Herb were 2! of them, but really if you can advise me how to use the web to identify flowers, which I am determined to photograph and identify more (and better), I shall be grateful.

    Everyones nightmare aunt, who you have just sworn to follow, like me, is going to be a good read despite her being Welsh! Ha ha, the Englishman has spoken........

    Edith, I'ma coming to see you, and Kyna, I have the same thing with books; if I had a big house you would find a collection of 1950s telephone directories there. Once my ex made me throw away my old Amateur Photographers from the 50s, and I guess the old books that started this conversation were reminders of a sick relationship to someone........

  5. Dear Kyna,
    I can understand you so well! I've joined Bookcrossing (you put your book somewhere, another person sees: Ah, a present! and can take it). But often I'm too lazy to mark the book or write in the Internet where to find it - then I take a few books I'll never read again and bring them to Oxfam - they are always happy.

  6. Dear Raining Acorn,
    thank you! I love little flower bouquets (should I write: bucket?) of wild flowers - draped wild, or in a simple Biedermeier design (one flower in the middle, then another colour around - always rounds, and very close, and nice leaves as a "cuff" (?) around - looks really stunning. Though, come to think of it: I prefer them wild.

  7. Dear Edith Hope,
    as ever you are absolutely right about the King Penguins: this is The Insel Verlag - even nowadays very lovely designed little books. And there are a lot of collectors, too - won't find them by chance on a boot market anymore. (They have Internet too, and google, so very seldom you can find a treasure - although Husband sometimes does - and I, with something else, did too, shortly before Edinburgh - I only followed my heart, I only liked it, didn't know that it was valuable (to a certain degree) - and then... but what it was I will tell in a post soon :-)

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  9. ... because I misspelled your name. So, again:
    Dear Corfubob,
    thank you for writing! Does your name indicate that you are living in Corfu now? Flower-named characters in English films (BBC, DVD)- beside the Scarlet Pimpernell - I do know only two: "Rosemary & Thyme", a MUST for every garden lover who also loves detective stories - real solid, not worldshaking entertainment.(starring Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris)
    In Scotland I learned to carefully distinguish between British and Scottish people - now I see: life is even more complicated (as we all know - though: that's the fun of it, I think) ...

  10. Hi Britta, congratulations you were one of 5 winners of the competition I've been running on my blog. Can you email me your address and I'll send the voucher and seeds to you? Regards, Damo.

  11. Dear Damo,
    thank you for this surprise! I would appreciate it if you use the voucher for your beautiful little daughter - I think Land's End has some childwear now - and maybe she can grow the nasturtiums, too - I think posting is too laboriously for you.
    But I'll think of you when I fetch the next inside - love them, and they are always on the birthday table of our son, 3rd October, and sometimes one has to look in the garden to still find some. Thank you!

  12. I always think that if you find a book, it is for a purpose. Many years ago I found a book about a train journey through Burma. It had been left in a telephone box. I took it home, read it, and then it was only a case of time. A year later we spent a month in Burma. It was all because I found that book!

  13. Dear IG,
    what you write is what I experience with many other findings too. Sometimes I am drawn 'without a reason' to a special book, a special building or read a line on a poster - and then something interesting will happen!
    "Why Edinburgh?", everybody chirped when I told them that I go - and I had no answer - only "a feeling". Which was right. I like intuition - (without seeing "a sign" in everything - though I think the whole world and each existence is a miracle) and of course I am grateful for tips, too, but not for "you must do this and that".
    And: did you enjoy Burma? Did you go by train?
    Telephone boxes are rare in our country now - maybe blog hints are a very fine nudge too :-)

  14. If those books had been donated to a jumble sale, what would have been the chances of them coming into your possession, perhaps very slight.
    So it is good reward for taking that walk and whenever you go past that place again you will remember the find!

  15. Dear Heron,
    to see it this way is convincing - I think I wouldn't have found it (though husband is looking in these places too - he is a real Aficionado).

  16. I'd have been right down in the ditch, looking through the bag of books with you. How sad that the executors of an estate couldn't find a better destination for what must have been a treasured library.

  17. Dear Pondside,
    I wondered too. It is the same sad feeling one has when seeing photo albums on a flea market. Hopefully our diaries etc will have a better fate.

  18. That is what I want my field to look like!! Love the colors. What fun to read about the stories behind flower lore. Very sweet.

  19. Dear Janet,
    isn't it georgous? Yes, superstition is interesting to read about - especially in flowers. I like the secret language of flowers too, that they used in former time.

  20. Britta.. So funny that you mention loving Ragged Robins as a child, so did I! Even little girls on different continents, an ocean apart, can appreciate the simple beauty of flowers. Enjoy your books... Seems that providence intended those books to find you and your husband! Lovely photo ... Smiles ... Susan

  21. Dear Susan,
    it is an edndearing little flower, isn't it? Yes, books are great companions - to sit in such a meadow and read - bliss!