journey through the mists

journey through the mists

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Given that this post’s title can be considered an homage to the superior fourth installment in the Land Before Time saga of my youth, I’m naturally overwhelmed by the vaguely prehistoric qualities of these rain-soaked forest landscapes. With that broad, bold Monstera leaf big enough to shelter a small child from the elements (holes notwithstanding!), the towering banyan trees that surely must host a neighborly Totoro or two, and the glistening plateaus of thick uluhe fern clusters, the plant life surrounding this waterfall trek seems magically monumental in scale.

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petal sunsets

petal sunsets

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I used to ride by Akatsuka Orchid Gardens nearly every day when I was a child – on the long way back from Hilo, I would see that cheerful orange orchid logo and know that home was just about ten minutes away.

Now, I’ve brought my fiancé to visit the Big Island for the first time, and to give him a sense of the local landmarks, we decided to spend an afternoon marveling over the many gorgeous blooms and scents in the greenhouses.

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tea in the garden

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Though I still can’t quite imagine feeling so bound to a place that I can begin the process of homeownership, I often fantasize about our future garden. I dream of fairy doors tucked under stumps, meandering flashes of moss, and strange overgrown sculptures emerging from every cluster of plants – as though some eccentric lost city lies beneath our herbs and flowers.

I experienced a similar cultivated wonder when visiting this tiny plot of teapots yesterday – and certainly found myself inspired to imagine how I might integrate some mismatched ceramics into a hypothetical garden of my own.

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aque[duck]ts

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The last time I visited Wales, crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct seemed an impossible venture – ice, cold, and wind might have complicated such a quest. I’m glad we didn’t even try, because the summer experience proved absolutely idyllic!

Clad in my standard uniform for British adventures – a Sophie Hatter-esque dotted blue dress and an enormous, SPF-strong sun hat – I stepped into the sky with a canal at my side!

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The aqueduct (a World Heritage site!) naturally appealed to my romantic sensibilities. That’s funny, considering that it constitutes an engineering highlight of the Industrial Revolution – probably the opposite of what would satisfy most actual Romantics – but in the twenty-first century, it possesses a distant historical aura that I adored. Imagine an alternate world in which such airborne canals became commonplace, and man-made rivers stretched like highways throughout all of New England!

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A flock of ducklings and their watchful mother crossed our paths near the edge of the canal. Make way!

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Of course, I most enjoyed the marbled, glimmering glimpses of the sky and trees in the water! On our way back, a few tourist-bearing canalboats sliced through the reflections, creating an even more dizzying pattern of colorful ripples. Now that I’m back in Massachusetts, I can’t help peeking into creeks with some disappointment…

back to north berwick

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When I lived in Edinburgh for a semester – five years ago, if you can believe that! – I arrived in the bleak midwinter and departed at the very end of May. Such a schedule prevented me from experiencing the Scottish summer: a simultaneously blustery and sunkissed time, when the evenings stay illuminated until long into the night.

As I planned my research trip, I knew that finding accommodations in Edinburgh itself would probably deplete my fellowship money all at once. In an attempt to be frugal, then, I decided to find lodging in my beloved North Berwick instead, commuting into the city each day via train to keep my appointments at various galleries and archives.

Saving money and staying by the seaside? I couldn’t be happier!

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Given the nature of my trip – intended as an investigative art historical learning opportunity, not a vacation! – my days proved both productive and exhausting. On a Friday, I had appointments at two branches of the National Gallery that happened to be located a good distance away from each other. My wrist-worn personal fitness robot informed me that I’d walked over 20,000 steps in the process! I’d return to North Berwick feeling as content in my new knowledge of fairy paintings as I was exhausted, and a leisurely evening stroll by the sea restored my energy.

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If you want to avoid the Edinburgh crowds by staying in North Berwick, I’d offer the following words of advice:

  • Buy off-peak day return tickets for the train if you can – you save so many pounds, and the “peak time” window during which you are not allowed to travel is surprisingly short. Ask a conductor or staff member on your train to confirm!
  • If you’re leaving on a Sunday, hire a taxi or car transfer to get you to the airport or the train station, because train schedules are reduced on that particular day.
  • The gelato place near the main street of town is open until 10 PM in the summer. Just saying!

(P.S. Remember the last time I visited North Berwick?)

“come away, o human child!” my victorian fairy painting investigation

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If you’d told my child-aged self that one day I would embark on an academically sponsored research trip to Scotland to investigate fairies [and their representation in three paintings by a particular Scottish artist], she…probably would have shrugged and said “well, it’s not as good as finding a portal to a fay kingdom, but it will do.

As someone who grew up fascinated by fairy lore, I find Victorian fairy painting such a compelling and strange epoch of modern artistic production. For one relatively brief nineteenth-century moment, winged creatures of fantasy held centerstage in the world of fine art – occupying monumental canvases typically reserved for history painting. I won’t reveal too much about my particular research angle yet, but through a number of museum and library visits in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I’ve discovered some truly fantastic archival material to help me on my journey.

The experience of seeing these three J. N. Paton paintings in person after studying them for so long, of course, may be as close to real magic as I’ll ever get.

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mending walls

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The past week swirled by in a chaotic frenzy of planning: coordinating a research trip, wedding organization, freelancing, endless overthinking…

Some peace, however, emerged after a weekend of plants and the past. Though my work requires that I spend most of my time preoccupied with the mid- and late nineteenth century, I enjoyed visiting a historic “village” from a slightly earlier period – a site that’s also imbued with my own history, as I found it entrancing as a child!

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

That wants it down. I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly…

– Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Though the restored buildings in this village attract the most attention, I took pleasure in observing the artifacts of countryside life — rugged stone walls layered with encroaching grass, simple fences formed of rough wood, and tall wildflowers hiding from sheep and rabbits.

The experience reminded me, in a synesthetic way, of the rolling tones of the Howl’s Moving Castle soundtrack.

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This dusty path stretched down to a covered bridge spanning a quiet river.

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As I learn more and more about the past, I delight in the constellation of knowledge that takes shape in my mind as I draw connections between people, places, and eras. Because of my travels, I won’t give any more tours until later in the summer – so in the meantime, I will take every opportunity to enrich my understanding of this particular period! (Starting by watching the gorgeous new Little Women adaptation…)