When we first moved here, and then often during lockdown, I walked the footpaths behind my house. Frequently frustrated or a little sad, and starving to be uninterrupted, I followed the farm road back through the barley fields to the small woods near the crossroads—just beyond the hedges where it turns to what I call the Fake Windswept Moors, just before the old abandoned RAF runway, just before the turn toward the bridge over the train tracks. The wind is intense at that spot. The crossroads are either dusty or muddy, and in the winter months (all 10 of them), it’s a bleak place. Every time I get there, I can’t help but say in my best 1983 production of Jane Eyre coachman’s voice, “Aye, that’ll getye t’Whitcross”. Every time. During lockdown I turned left, battled through the Fake Windswept Moors a ways, and then ducked into the shelter of the little woods. It was where I day-dreamt about the people in my made-up town of Pardonsburg, prayed, hummed to myself, and generally disappeared for a while.
November 24, 1834
The earliest diary paper, a joint effort by Emily and Anne, contains a list of everyday conversations, kitchen activity reports, and a single thrilling line “the Gondals are discovering the interior of Gaaldine.” Because, the world in Emily’s head was just as real as the one in which Sally Mosley was washing in the back of the house. It ends on wondering what they’ll all be doing in 1874, when they’re all in their 50s, and closes hoping they’ll be well.
Reading the innocent assumption they’ll live a further 15 years, let alone 40, is heartbreaking. It makes the hope that much more striking.
The Brontes were all reported to be “passable” artists which, having seen their work, I read as “pretty doggone good.” While Branwell used oils, the girls used watercolors. People love watercolors and tell me they are the most forgiving of paints. I find them more stressful than cutting an infant’s fingernails with those teeny tiny clippers: my shoulders tense and my hands shake even though I know the stakes are not terribly high and nobody is going to die. When I give up the delusion that I have any control, I start to have fun. When I had babies I thought I needed a detailed plan for raising them. I felt, and sometimes still feel, ultimately responsible for their future. Milestone delays like crawling, talking, and (oh freakish misery) toilet training later than “usual” kept me focused on timelines. What if he’s still in diapers four years from now… I have very little control over neurological and biological development. I have even less control over watercolors. So I let them win and watch what happens.
I acclimated quickly to my quiet childfree days once my youngest little cherub went to school (In underpants, Reader. Underpants!). I wasted no time in shutting out reality as soon as I dropped everyone off and returned home to clean the kitchen, write, or stare out the window while folding laundry. When school and home merged and mingled as the worst watercolor ever and everyone was back in “my world,” I took it all very personally. I was dangerously resentful of the very people I love most. So I went for walks. I went into the little woods I’d never thought to go through because I could see the other side from where I stood, and it really wasn’t a long enough way to justify the detour.
The little woods became a shelter from the wind, a haven for birds to rest and sing in the middle of a desolate set of unborn fields, and a magical little forest refuge in the center of my life that had suddenly distilled down to my kitchen where we all did our work now.
One day, I sought the woods, but couldn’t go in. There was a sign proclaiming it dangerous. Something about falling trees. About risk.
I still walk out there but it’s not the same. At the bleak crossroads (“Aye, that’ll getye t’Whitcross,”) I can’t factor in the magic, the shelter. It’s only: Train Bridge, Abandoned Runway, Fake Windswept Moors. I stand on the road and look at the opposite edge, imagining myself coming through the branches. To the other side.
Coming back home I see the road curve and I know my house is just beyond. When I used to run, (Laugh with me, Reader. Remember when I ran?) I’d feel encouraged that it was almost over. Now I take it as the countdown back to reality. The curve to the right is the hypnotist’s snap of the fingers: I return from Pardonsburg and find my way to the kitchen.
Emily and Anne loved being home. They loved the natural world around them. When they worried about the future it was mainly over the prospect of not being together. With all the horror that was to fall on the Bronte family, I’m so grateful that none of us knows fully what is ahead. Perhaps if they’d known how little time they had we might never have felt their joy in the “mundane” and imaginary world. It would be exhausting to be a genius pressed for time.
In painting this image repeatedly, I began to look forward to how the paints would ignore my wishes. Some roads are very clear. Some have more shadow. Some are blurry and dreamy.
Some take over the fields.
Some are taken over.
Painting this road was as much a lesson as walking it.
June 26, 1837
Perhaps the most famous visual of a diary paper, this one records the weather (“coolish thin grey cloudy but sunny”), the time (a bit past 4:00), the positions of the people in the house and those in the fictitious worlds of Gondal and Angria, plus the ascension to the throne by young Queen Victoria. It ends with wondering what sort of day it will be 4 years from then and hopes for the best. Then at the bottom of the page, beneath Emily’s sketch of the moment, she records an odd little mundane dialoge between herself, Anne, and their Aunt. And then the page turns on its side to make room for my favorite part: A reiteration of hope that I can’t resist typing out for you:
I guess that this day 4 years we shall all be in this drawing room comfortable
I hope it may be so
Anne guesses we shall all be gone somewhere together comfortable
We hope it may be either.
For all of my youth, going to Hilton Head was the highlight of our summer. Our year. We had grandparental figures, Sunny and Sally, who let us stay in their condo on the beach. Hilton Head Island would not have otherwise been for the likes of us.
There was nothing better than Hilton Head. The roadtrip was long. The Beach Boys were blasting. The Cracker Barrel stops were constant. And our made-up world of Babyland had a captive audience. Miss Neosporin. Sylvanian. The Great Boudini. Passway Johnson. The Baby Hunters. The Turtle Faces. Ram-Sub. We were all together. I had no thought about friends left behind for two weeks—unless it was to incorporate them as characters in my Ken Burns Civil War Soundtrack daydream that spanned at least 3 hours one year… I wish I’d written it down… The Point IS: I had Christopher and Charles. I had my parents. What on earth else did I need?
I sketched one of my favorite photos of us at the beach with the idea to make a stamp of it and thus a page for the Little Book. But as there was no Little Book now, I wondered how to use it–it being the single greatest sketch I’d ever done of actual humans, faceless as they were… When I decided on the 112x91mm diary papers, it seemed perfect. Best of all: no one needed a face.
My brothers and I started planning The Bluebell Project in December 2019. Charles was already in league with artist Lena Laub in Germany to produce an album cover and she and I had struck up a friendship over Instagram. My brothers and I communicate over WhatsApp. I want you all to know how very high tech I am of late, regardless of my kids’ deep and true knowledge that I am as useless in hooking up the Xbox as I would be defusing a bomb.
Over WhatsApp, my brothers and I planned our Bluebell collaboration as seamlessly as we shared hilarious memes, inside jokes, commentary on the dumpster fire world, and spiritual encouragement. I used bits of our message thread for the diary paper. We also plotted Haworth 2020. Charles had a tour coming up in Denmark and he scheduled a diversion to England for a few days, where Christopher planned to land with my parents so that they could keep my kids, while my husband worked, so that the Siblings Rauh could fall upon Haworth like a fine Yorkshire mist… or a Duplo Lego construction onto a tile floor…
In either case, it would be a pilgrimage. It would be BrontePalooza. It would be better than Hilton Head.
It would not happen.
At least not this year. We hope for next year. And if not Haworth, at least to see each other.
We hope it may be either.
*** Next Week: The story of Diary Papers 3 and 4. ***
Charlie Rauh’s album, The Bluebell, along with 30 sets of The Diary Papers Box, is available from Destiny Records HERE