The book Plant Dreaming Deep, published in 1968, is an old favourite. May Sarton writes about her decision to buy a farmhouse in rural New Hampshire, to put down roots somewhere and to enjoy a quieter, more contemplative life. She chronicles the restoration of the farmhouse. The relocation of family heirlooms from Belgium and England to NH, via Cambridge, MA. Gardening by the seasons. Becoming a member of a small community. And, of course, her writing. Sarton was not much older than than I am now, and in a life filled with busyness and obligations, it is a hugely appealing story. I particularly love how it chronicles a world and a time that I remember from my own childhood but which has almost entirely disappeared.
It needs to be read, though, with the 1973 follow-up book, Journal of a Solitude. In it, Sarton tells us about the reader response to Plant Dreaming Deep, how many women in particular sent her letters filled with yearning, longing to leave behind their husbands and children in order to find a little farmhouse of their own. Just to find some quiet and their own chance to ‘dream deep’. Sarton feels obliged to tell these women the whole truth, the bits and pieces left out of the original book. The loneliness, the isolation, the demons. How she never quite fit into the community, and how she eventually sold the house and moved instead to a house on the coast of Maine.
Reading the two together remind me that busyness also means a life filled with purpose. Obligations mean a life filled with friends and family and colleagues. The trick isn’t to leave everything behind and run away somewhere, but instead to find a way to better ‘dream deep’ within my own life.