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A couple of years ago — or maybe it was even last spring? — I read Howards End for the first time. It blew. my. mind.

I had seen the movie many times and had always loved it. The movie is fantastic. One of the best movies I've ever seen. As great as the movie is, the book is even better. There's a section where Margaret can't figure out why Helen has been so distant, and as she thinks about it she comes to the wrong conclusion. I read that part while eating pad thai alone at Stickers cafe and I cried into my lunch at two o'clock in the afternoon. Unable to see the words on the page, I swiped at my face with my napkin — the brilliance and total fallibility of her conclusion moved me so much. She'd gotten it so right and was still so wrong. I looked up and was alone in the restaurant. I'd been there for a couple of hours. I paid, took the book, and headed down the road to the Reed College campus, needing an emergency tree to sit under to finish the book. I found a great tree but then pretty soon a guy came along on one of those riding lawnmower things and started mowing the enormous lawn right in front of me, slowly going back and forth and back and forth, getting ever closer to my tree and making me all nervous . . . plus it was extremely loud. I picked up and went across the street to Crystal Springs and found another tree at the water's edge. I finished the book there, sitting on a tree root in the dirt, late in the afternoon. I can't remember the last time I read (or made time to read) for that many hours in a single day. That was the best book. For me, at that time in my life, on that day, it was. I didn't want to let that one go.

The opening scene of the movie, where Vanessa Redgrave is walking around in the fields outside her house (the house is named Howards End) at dusk, dragging her long skirts through the long grass, and the rest of the family are seen through lighted windows playing a game inside the lovely house. That scene isn't in the book, I don't think — at least not that literally? But those first two minutes or so — the purple-gray evening light, the glowing Queen Anne's lace, the paned windows, her walking alone — they have always stuck with me. It's almost like certain visual moments make such an impression on you that you somehow internalize them, or memorize them, and then you might find, without your totally realizing it, that you're looking for a place like that, or trying to make a place like that. You're conjuring something. I remember another time, way back in River Forest, when I was sitting at the drive-through at the River Forest Bank, waiting for the money tube to come back. It was late summer, early evening, the light was golden, I was just waiting, and a bunch of seed pods and dandelion puffs floated past, and for a moment they were silhouetted black and silver against the sun. And I thought suddenly, "There. That. Like that." As if I'd somehow been waiting to see dandelion puffs and seed pods sail by. Like I recognized them, somehow.


Claudia Horner says: July 27, 2011 at 06:33 AM

Years ago, I was traveling in England with my parents and we stopped at a B&B to ask if they had any rooms available. I kept thinking, this house looks so familiar and lovely. We ended up staying there the night and it wasn't long before they told us it had just been filmed as the house in the movie, "Howard's End." I had just absorbed the movie through my pores a few months earlier -- I do love all those Merchant Ivory productions, which seem so lush and evocative. Yum! So, now I am loving the picture of you absorbing the book in a day at a cafe and under two trees. I think I must read it, too! Thanks for the inspiration dear heart!

Beautifully written. I saw the movie years ago but now I shall read the book.

Kathleen says: July 27, 2011 at 06:35 AM

The openeing scene in Howard's End has always stayed with me also. I miss Merchant & Ivory Films don't you? I look for moments like that its as if time slows down for a minute or seconds and you realize how wonderful life is. I have never read Howards End tho, will have to download it and enjoy it this summer.

How true. I had something happen to me the other day, an intense thought and then a flood of emotion. It was in the early evening hours, when the sun was beginning to set; when the golden light from its rays washes everything in an amber hue. I heard birds chattering and chirping and the thought was that they were doing so to call to the sun to come back again tomorrow morning. That the sun is what we are all working towards... in a way it is a kind of portal and the only time we have to enter is when it is rising or setting. That thought was so intense, so familiar and foreign at the same moment. I have learned in those moments to just let the feelings/thoughts wash over me and allow myself to cry, for sadness, for relief, for empathy, for happiness, for fear and for strength. I am convinced that is what life is about - searching for more things to experience like that in our lives. That is why we have senses. And then realizing that it is our duty to ensure that things like birds and dandelion puffs and sunsets continue.

When I don't read your blog for a bit, I miss you! I've just caught up, but I've realized that I think about you and what you've said or done so frequently in my everyday life, it would surprise you. We are thinking of relocating to Maine and the first thing I think of is that it is like the East coast sister to your area, and then Squam Lake is not too far... again, something you introduced to us. Now I have to read Howard's End because I could swear I've read it years ago but can't remember, but I love having another book to find at the library!

Hi Alicia,
Howard's End was my favorite movie for SO long. The opening scene was so well done, you can almost feel the cool evening air. Such an intimate beginning. Every time I see it I wish so badly that I lived in the country like that, with those long roads that lead to one house. Such a great film.
Also, I am loving the sampler! You did a beautiful design-it's so rewarding to work on each letter!

This was really lovely. I know exactly what you mean. Thank you.

I enjoyed your "stills"- your plants seem to have enjoyed the rainy summer more than you have (grin)- another book to add to my reading list-sounds good. I remember driving on my way to my father's funeral, an uncomfortable, hot, hazy summer afternoon in central Illinois, when suddenly time seemed to stand still as an enormous cloud of yellow butterflies flew across the road in front of my car. I've never seen anything like it before or since, but I can see it clearly still.

You are brilliant in all the many definitions of the word.

You are SO articulate! That post was perfection -- truly; and in several ways. Would that Merchant Ivory or E.M. Forster could read it; they would each be so pleased! I Wiki-ed Howard's End to check the author's initials (still drinking my morning coffee so all synapses not firing yet) and look what was said about the house...
"Forster based his description of Howards End on a house at Rooks Nest in Hertfordshire, his childhood home from 1883 to 1893. According to his description in an appendix to the novel, [2] Rooks Nest was a hamlet with a farm on the Weston Road just outside Stevenage. The house is marked on modern Ordnance Survey maps at grid reference TL244267. Since Forster's childhood, Stevenage has expanded beyond the house, now encompassing it." You can google map it and "drive" down Weston Road! I searched Weston Road, Herfordshire on the map site. Have a look-see!

Yes. Like that.

Just a couple of evenings ago I had a moment like that... Hiking at sunset with my husband we reached a meadow and found ourself only few feet away from a mother deer and her spotted fawn. We looked into each other eyes, me a mother and nana to a two year-old baby girl and she a young mother of the wild. My eyes filled with tears at her beauty and the beauty of the surrounding hills. Just a moment I will never forget!

Jo Harper says: July 27, 2011 at 08:06 AM

In Plato's "Phaedo," Socrates explains that when we have a breakthrough moment--ie, "Like THAT," or "AH HA!"--we are actually recollecting a moment of perfection that we encountered in the heavens before living our current embodied lives. He would say that you were remembering an encounter with Perfect Beauty, and the seed pods were simply a momentary reflection of something much much greater than themselves. I feel like his theory explains so much, such as being unexpectedly awestruck by simple floating seed pods!

This so so beautiful, and so so true. I've had that experience myself, walking past the wild roadside lilies at dusk; sitting on the porch in the early morning watching mist rise off the lake and listening to loons; happening on that one fantastic, beat up restaurant at the end of a weedy sidewalk with the rusted shutters and the Best. Pie. Ever. You just feel like...yeah. :)

Ack. You slay me. After I pick myself up I'm heading to the library to find Howard's End.

Julie G. in Iowa says: July 27, 2011 at 08:41 AM

Your photos.
Your garden.
Your words.
Just beautiful.
Thank you.

Loved the movie too, and now I think you have inspired me to read the book.

I think Anna Karenina did that for me. There were some "scenes" in the book that has stayed with me forever. Tolstoy was a master with detail.

Beautifully written as usual Alicia :)

Oh, I just love this! I know that feeling you describe. CS Lewis calls it the 'inconsolable longing', this desire for 'we know not what'. We happen upon a moment, a look, a feeling and suddenly realize it's exactly what we've been looking for all along.

Howard's End is one of my favourite books as well. "Only connect" will always stay with me

Lovely, lovely post, Alicia.

Thank you.

I never read Howards End. I am going to place an order now.

I love your gardening space and your writing.

Thank you for starting my day with quiet beauty. I can feel myself becoming calm and content.

wow, love this. almost tearing up. ahhhh.

that was really beautiful. thanks!

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at