Life With A Five-Year-Old Princess

princess2Princess at Teter Rock, Kansas ~ 2013

When the lovely, straw-colored Toyota came into my life, friends giggled at my choice of name. “Princess?” they asked. “Aren’t you afraid naming it ‘Princess’ is going to cause trouble down the road? What if it ends up expecting to be pampered, and demands new parts and service every other month?”

Politely but firmly, I corrected them. “She. Princess is a ‘she’, not an ‘it.’ And she’s going to be just fine.” 

In fact, she has been fine. We’ve shared five years without any mechanical difficulties, and the rock-shattered windshields and dent from the flying ice chest were easily enough repaired. Two nearly-destroyed rocker panels — chewed up by squirrels, or rats, or El Chupacabra — had to be replaced, but the insurance adjuster wasn’t curious. “It happens more often than you’d think,” she said. “There are weird things going on out there.”Finding Princess was less weird than serendipitous. While traveling to Iowa in 2011, I nearly missed what appeared to be a child’s playhouse tucked into a bend of the highway just outside Coalgate, Oklahoma. Its red stone walls flickered in the rising light, complementing the hand-lettered sign.

For rent?  I thought as I passed by. Furnished?

princesshouse The Coalgate, Oklahoma cottage ~ 2011

I turned around, headed back, and parked in an open patch of dirt. A house to the east appeared vacant, though an air conditioner hummed in a slightly larger brick cabin to the west. 

Camera in hand, I walked around the car for a better look at the cottage, and found myself startled by an unexpected detail.

Above the battered door, a carved stone lintel betokened human presence; friendship and welcome; affection; familial bonds.  Beautiful in its simplicity, it brought tears to my eyes and unexpected longing to my heart. Instantly, I wanted that cabin.

Common sense suggested it wouldn’t be the best place to live. The highway passed only fifty feet from the front door, and it did lack a few amenities, like window glass and a floor. But the roof looked solid, and the thick, compacted vines covering the walls would help keep the stones in place as the mortar crumbled away.

Walking around the building, I pondered. No, I thought, not a home. But maybe a fine place to write.

Under the spell of those clasped hands I imagined a table, chairs, and a coffee pot. In the silence I dreamed the burble of vine-wrens and the soughing of tires on pavement. Sniffing the air, I caught the swirling dust and dessication of early autumn drought, the fragrance of leather-bound farm sale books,  and the scent of freshly-mown hay.

In a space so perfect, thoughts would heap up like roiling summer clouds and words stream down like rain. Or so I imagined.


Later, back on my real-world highway but still entranced by a vision of perfection, I remembered Annie Dillard’s words on writing spaces:

Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view. When I furnished this study seven years ago, I pushed the long desk against a blank wall, so I could not see from either window.
Once, fifteen years ago, I wrote in a cinder-block cell over a parking lot. It overlooked a tar-and-gravel roof. This pine shed under trees is not quite so good as the cinder-block study, but it will do.

Clearly, her cinder-block cell served Dillard well, but not everyone requires — or delights in — such a spartan environment. Harper Lee moved to New York. Flannery O’Connor gravitated toward writers colonies, but thrived after returning to her family’s farm in Georgia. T.S. Eliot embedded himself into the literary life of England, while Wendell Berry returned to Kentucky and contented himself with wielding both a plow and a pen.

No doubt each of us functions best in a particular environment, and the places we choose can encourage productive work as much as any dictionary or thesaurus. Some favor cafés; some seek out libraries. Some prefer isolation; others find the bustle of open, public spaces stimulating.

As for the act of writing itself, Claire Tomalin, biographer of Jane Austen, once said, “All you need if you are a writer is a desk, a pencil and, of course, a great brain.” I presume she’d allow for a little paper, too. But different approaches to the writing process are as natural as preference in matters of place.

Some compose by hand, while others depend exclusively on computers. Some enjoy the sensory experience of inked words flowing across leather-bound pages, but at least one poet in the world contents himself with a cheap ruled tablet and a clutch of number 2 pencils.

Whatever our preferences, we can’t help but hope that, once satisfied, they will move us toward writing satisfaction: keeping our imaginations lively, our spirits enriched, and our words flowing.

paintingThe Coalgate cottage ~ June White, 2012

Today, I’m entirely satisfied with my own writing space: a desk, a computer, piles of reference books, and a window. And, despite having had to move on from fantasies about my Oklahoma writing cottage, the cottage now hangs on my wall.

When reader June White saw its photo in 2012, she decided to paint it for me. After the painting arrived, I was amused to see that she’d eliminated the “For Rent” sign, and asked her about it. “Well,” she said, “even if someone else moves in, or the forces of progress bulldoze the place, it still will be yours — at least, in a way. So, you don’t need the sign.” 

When I passed through Coalgate in 2011, I’d been driving the automotive equivalent of that red stone cottage for more years than I care to remember. Perfectly acceptable for in-town driving, the car had begun to feel as though the wheels might fall off. Repairs were becoming more frequent and more expensive. Strange noises erupted, accompanied by inexplicable vibrations.

Eventually, I was forced to confront an unfortunate truth. No longer a care-giver, freed to indulge my appetite for travel, I had no dependable means of transportation. Humph, I said to no one in particular. I’ll have to think about that.

Home again from Iowa and distracted by the return to work and routine, I gave no more thought to a new car until, in an inexplicable frenzy of certitude, I acted. I knew what I wanted, and I knew where to find it. When I brought Princess home and left her to bask in the sunlight, I was certain we’d be happy. I was right.

princess1Princess in western Kansas, 2016

For some, a dependable car might not seem a neccesary writing tool. Some would call it a distraction, or even a means of escape from the demands of paper and pen. But for a history-lover, a curiosity-seeker, and a wanderer at heart, the roads of the world beckon as surely as the pages of an open book.  With Princess, I’m able to read those pages, and enjoy the stories they contain.

Much of what piques my interest demands research, and much of my research stirs a deeper curiosity. Sometimes, satisfying that curiosity requires more than books. It requires replacing search engines with a real engine; that is, it requires travel.

Beyond that, I’ve always found my own best answer to writers’ block is a good engine block. Freedom to run the roads with confidence, hearing the music of life and sensing its rhythms around me, is an experience like no other. 

And if, one day, I should happen upon Space and Time holding hands and hitch-hiking together across the country? So much the better. I’ll happily offer them a ride.

princess3Princess on the high Plains, 2016

Comments always are welcome.

113 thoughts on “Life With A Five-Year-Old Princess

  1. Oh, my gosh I love that Coalgate cottage and the painting that your friend made of it! It would be the perfect writer’s cottage. I can dream about furnishing and fixing up places like that by the hour. When my husband and I traveled we never passed by places like that without stopping to photograph them.

    I didn’t name my Chevy Trax but I do think of her as a female. If you’re going to have wanderlust as much as you do, traveling with a Princess seems entirety appropriate. And her color blends perfectly with the natural landscapes that call your name.

    1. The place certainly had a good bit of quirky appeal. Honestly? I’m not sure it could have qualified as a fixer-upper. It was farther gone than that. By the time you got done making it habitable, it would have lost its charm. Still, it jump-started my imagination, and who’s going to quibble about that? There were a number of interesting buildings in the area, including what appeared to be an old-fashioned garage with a big metal Gold Bond Stamps sign on one end. I hadn’t seen one of those in decades.

      I’d taken those photos only to indicate scale, but she does fit into the landscape rather nicely, doesn’t she?

  2. Nice, nice story! What a sweet reader to have painted your dream writing cottage as a gift, though it seems to me that you’re doing just fine on the writing bit where you sit. Or stand? We name our cars: Gary Trooper (of long ago), Bossa Nova, Scooter the Honda Civic, Dori the blue Toyota Van.

    1. Thanks, Tina. I don’t name every car. Some seem to demand it, while others don’t. Long, long ago there was a forest green VW bug called Mephistopheles who was, of course, a very devil of a car. And there was the Golden Girl (known familiarly as GG) who was murdered on a Houston freeway one night: a different sort of tale.

      I once had a Scooter in my life, too, but he was a prairie dog.

  3. At first glance the cabin looked like a potting shed — a place for grass seed rather than Leaves of Grass. But the lintel does makes it very intriguing, a place with a story. I do think buildings, places, spaces, views, even the proportions of a room and height of the ceiling all influence the way we think. You seem to have plenty of unexpected thoughts roiling around your Toyota

    1. I’m pretty sure that lintel came from a broken gravestone. Since I’ve begun spending more time wandering around graveyards, I’ve seen a good many clasped hands among the doves and angels.

      I wouldn’t have thought of a potting shed, but you’re right. It would fit well into a more traditional landscape, and be perfect for the purpose. There were a few other buildings like it, stretched out over a distance of perhaps a city block. I’m pretty sure they were part of an old motor court, but none of the others had nearly the personality of this one.

    1. I wonder if the dust of ages comes from an eroding rock of ages?

      The painting was quite a surprise, and a real delight to receive. I thought it was wonderful that she took down the “for rent” sign. I found two other photos of the place online. One shows the sign; the other doesn’t. Unfortunately, there’s no date attached to either photo.

      Princess does pretty well. The story of getting up to Teter Rock will come along later — for that trip, she became very much the little-Toyota-that-could. On the other hand, it’s time to add a tow strap to my box of accessories in the trunk. We learned a little lesson about mud last weekend.

    1. It is a pretty little place, isn’t it? And I suspect Princess and I will be together now until I’m no longer able to drive — barring any unfortunate incidents, of course.

  4. Linda, I have wondered about your vehicle as you often write about your trips. And for some reason I pictured a Toyota or Nissan, or VW. I find this story fascinating and dare I say that you take excellent care of any vehicle that you own.

    I am not so hot on remembering to get the oil changed or have everything checked under the hood. But once a year I manage to get all those things done when it’s Texas tag time. In the past I kept track of and had the pleasure of driving 4 vehicles. Mind you though that one is a 78 Bronco, another a 92 Explorer.. But after retiring I did not have the money to keep up all those vehicles and now I drive two good trucks. But I still have the old vehicles. I get attached. :-)

    Anyhow, would it not be interesting to know the background of that little cottage and now I am curious if it still stands. As for your writing, I think that you would be able to write in any nook and cranny no matter the time of day or the weather outside. You were born gifted and extremely intelligent and, I might add more than self sufficient and resilient.

    1. My dad made sure I understood the importance of oil changes every 3,000 miles. In fact, he implanted the idea so firmly I’m always being corrected by the service people at Toyota. I show up asking for an oil change, and they remind me that synthetic oil requires a change every 5,000 miles. How times have changed. The days of the shade-tree mechanic is just about gone, except for people with older vehicles.

      I’m pretty sure the cottage is still standing. I found a couple of photos online, and although they aren’t dated, in one of the photos the place has been cleaned up a bit. It actually was part of a group of similar buildings, which I suspect was one of those old-fashioned tourist courts from the 40s or 50s, but none of the other buildings had this one’s charm. It was fun to see.

      As for writing, it’s true that place doesn’t much matter to me — as long as it’s quiet. I can do research with instrumental music in the background, but otherwise I prefer silence. That pretty much rules out Starbucks.

  5. Hemingway’s home on the edge of Havana has a tower built for his writing studio. It looks out over the sea to the north. We were told he did not write there. Perhaps it was too comfortable, too beautiful.

    As for Princess, it seems she’s been a great partner in your adventures over the last few years. How many miles have you logged together? I bought a new Camry in 2000 and figured I’d drive it until it hit 150,000 miles. Though it was close to that mark when I left the bank in 2009, it seemed wiser to just hold onto it awhile longer. In 2012 we gave it to Son. The other day he texted a photo of the odometer: 215,000. He replaced the tires a couple of years ago and told us he didn’t plan to get rid of the car until he needed new tires again. That might be a while.

    1. You’ve reminded me of one of my favorite videos: a combination of Hemingway and Buffett.

      Princess is just north of 65K at this point, and nearly ready for the next big maintenance, although everything still is looking good. I put new tires on before the trip last fall, and of course I’ve replaced air filters and such, but she’s been trouble-free.

      I sold my last Toyota when it reached 356,000 miles. At the time, Mom still was alive, and we used her 1988 Oldsmobile when I took her somewhere. It seemed reasonable to get rid of the Toyota before it fell apart, and use her car. That’s the one I still was driving after she died in 2011, when I decided it was time to move on. In another bit of serendipity, I donated her car to a charity here in town, and was a couple years later, I discovered a mechanic at an independent garage driving it. Whether I could have kept it going as well as he has is open to question — but I clearly made the right decision.

  6. Princess in Kansas served up a delightful picture. I’m glad she has been so good to deliver you to your adventurous destination points. I’m glad you resolved the issue of the cottage without moving in; window panes and floors are actually considered among the necessities of life.

    1. You’re right about floors and windows being necessities, but they certainly take many forms. Your comment reminded me of pioneers’ oiled paper windows (Laura Ingalls Wilder talked about them in “On the Banks of Plum Creek”) and I’ve been in homes with dirt floors. I’ve always wondered how the western Nebraska soddy some of my ancestors lived in was furnished. I’ll bet they would have loved this little cottage — especially the roof.

  7. What a delightful cottage, I too would have stopped for a closer look. It was nice of your friend to paint it for you.
    Princess looks to fit you. I nearly cried when I sold Bessie, as Dad had gotten me a newer ride. It was a wonderful thing for him to do, but I spent years with Bessie the Explorer and she never let me down.

    1. Isn’t it funny how attached we can become to our vehicles? If you wanted to see true car love, you should have seen my dad when he got one of the first Mustangs to come off the line. Cobalt blue, it was, with a white interior. Mom always swore he was sneaking off to the garage in the middle of the night to talk to it.

      I was doing a little reading about Coalgate. It turns out to be a very old town, going back to Indian Territory — and it had brick streets. Can’t you just imagine the little cottage with a brick street in front of it?

  8. I love that cottage – better for artists than writers. I once went to visit The Boathouse in Laugharne, South Wales where Dylan Thomas wrote lots of his work. It was so beautiful. I moved to a fisherman’s cottage on The Algarve in Portugal thinking it would inspire me – despite the damp, I loved it but neither wrote nor painted anything. A blank minimalist space is much better. “Boredom is the Mother of Creation” I think the saying is.

    1. I think fans of the tiny house movement would love it — the concept, at least. When I peeked in, I couldn’t see much, but it seemed to have as much room as the cabin I used to enjoy up in the hill country: somewhere around 200-250 square feet.

      I’m not sure about boredom giving rise to creativity, but I tend toward a simple environment myself. The best thing about my desk’s placement is that I can see both the living room and the kitchen from it. That means they stay tidy, because if they’re messy, I can’t write a word.

        1. I’m long past that. I do like things uncluttered and tidy — and the dishes done — but I can live with dust forever. I can’t even make myself feel guilty about undone housework any more. Need proof? Check out the bedroom. It’s behind me, and I can’t see it!

    1. Now, that would be something. I suspect this one would have to be disassembled rather than moved whole, but I’ve seen enough houses disassembled and put back together in new locations that I know it could be done. Number those stones, diagram their placement, and you’re good to go. Let me know when the cottage-warming is!

  9. I have a red one of the same model. It is 12 years old. Melanie had a larger 2000 model and gave it to our son when she upgraded 4 years ago. The other day he texted a picture to us with no words. It was of the odometer showing 215,000.

    Sometimes you find or receive something that seems to be a perfect fit for what you want to do.

    1. This actually is my fourth Toyota. The first was demolished on a Houston freeway by a hit-and-run driver; the second was t-boned in my parking lot at 2 in the morning by a drunk; the third rolled up the 356,000 miles; and now I have Princess. So far, so good. She gets good gas mileage, has a great sound system, and well-placed drink holders. What more could I want?

  10. Princess is a lovely colour! Looks great in the rocky landscapes! I like the little house / studio too. I need lots of time outside for inspiration and a good desk to write at.

    1. That’s the combination that works for me, Juliet — plenty of time outdoors, and a comfortable desk. It’s one reason I haven’t yet considered giving up boat varnishing. I like the outdoor time, with plenty of solitude and time to think.

      Princess is a pretty thing. In this hot climate, I wanted a light car, but I really didn’t want white. This seemed to be a good compromise, and she does fit into the landscape nicely.

  11. oooh, sweet cottage. My family has shacks in Ontario, Canada and now I have my tree house, to escape and dream in. And I have a black scion car that is named “Shoebox”.

    1. Shoebox? That’s great — but now I have to know: does your Shoebox have a shoehorn?

      Escaping and dreaming: that’s what these places are for. Yours are especially sweet. Your use of the term “shack” makes me think of some of the beach houses and fishing camps farther down the coast. Some have stood for years, and if a storm doesn’t get them, they’ll stand for many more.

      1. ….now I am lusting for a shoehorn for the scion….actually I have a shoehorn. It was my grandmother’s. From Africa, made of horn and with an Egyptian style head at the upper end….

  12. The other day my new neighbor told me about the woman she sold her house to. She said the house is feet away from one of the best views in the city: Wide open, across Lake Monona to a view of the city and capitol building.

    My neighbor commented that for some odd reason this person kept every single window covered that was facing the lovely view. I commented that she must be a writer. Yes, yes she is. And she paid a premium for a view she doesn’t want!

    I have not had a love affair with my car for many years now. I’ve missed that. While I appreciate the car I have, love it for the durability and ability, I don’t have that certain feeling. I’ve been pining for a used Mini. One of the used ones that doesn’t have a transmission problem. Chances are about 99% I won’t get that car, but I keep hope. There are so many other issues to tackle before that one.

    Princess is a pretty thing. Unimposing in the landscape. Or should I say “on” the landscape. I named my first car Boris, after the chess player Spasky. Don’t ask me why. I never played chess. Never named another car (or scooter) after that. I get attached to too many things as it is, but cars are our trusty steeds and protectors and companions on these journeys, pilgrimages. They do deserve some acknowledgement.

    1. I have such a hard time imagining that. It’s the view I have over the water that I’ll miss most if (when?) I ever have to move. I like the spaciousness of the view, and I love being able to open the windows when the weather is right to hear the night birds and the fish.

      It’s funny how some cars have that special something, and others don’t. We never formally named Mom’s car, but there’s no question it was The Tank. A 1988 Olds was made of all steel, and in her latter years I had to open the door for her all the time — not only to be polite, but also because it was so heavy she barely could open it.

      I’m surprised you never named your scooter. On the other hand, my prairie dog was named Scooter — I swear he was the fastest prairie dog in the west.

      1. This house I spoke of, where the reclusive writer lives, has a very busy 4 lane street about 30 feet in front of it. Then there’s a large open park and then the big lake and big views and sunsets. So, a window open would be a nightmare of soot and whatever else. However, I think the shutting out of the view is extremely unhealthy and very sad. Fabulous resale, tho…

  13. Years ago, I built a cabin in my woods. It was to become a place to write, and while I learned to write there (well, at least somewhat), we eventually moved away and though I had regrets about leaving my writing place behind, I realized that the true joy of it was in the building of it and that is what I learned writing is all about, the joy of creating something.

    1. That’s it, exactly. It’s the process — and the product — that counts, not the place. I still held a bit of a romantic view of writing seven years ago. Now, I understand that the value of a place doesn’t lie in its ability to inspire as much as in its ability to hold distraction at bay. Habit’s a part of it too, I think. A good place can support lagging intention: and we all know about that.

  14. i name all our cars with beautiful women’s names. with the places i see you’ve photographed her, you definitely need a dependable friend in your automobile. i have to agree with the idea of not having anything to look at while trying to write. when i’m able to write, it’s as if i see the thoughts, but the outside world robs me of those those thoughts before i can capture them and commit them to paper.

    1. You’re right, sherri. A dependable car is a must. I have to be a little more careful than if I had something more robust (getting up to Teter Rock after rain would be impossible) but a AAA membership with 200 mile towing adds a certain confidence. I still remember some of your wonderful photos of your cars: artful, and appealing.

      The experience you describe of having your thoughts robbed is what I experience with conversation or music in the background. It distracts, and refocuses my attention in a way that the changing light from the window or the sound of birds doesn’t.

  15. It does look like a perfect place to write. We all do have some sort of sense of what kind of spot we need to be in to compose and concentrate. I am definitely the type to look out the window and daydream for an inordinate period of time. So maybe I get that blank wall thing. I think if your job is writing that you have to rise above a mood setting place into the regularity of a writing schedule and train that writing muscle I guess. This is why I am so slow about these things…I have to be in the “mood.” I used to think I could never create without pencil and paper, then typewriter, never a computer…how can you compose in front an electronic thing. Well, that has changed for me, now I love sitting in front of the electronic thing and letting my fingers keep up with stream of consciousness better than with a pencil. But, still, it is nice to visualize ourselves in the perfect place, at the perfect desk, with the perfect ambient light….a writer’s portrait to be sure!!

    I love the little cottage….and the absence of For Rent!!

    1. Your comment about daydreaming reminded me of a favorite quotation from Billy Collins: “While the novelist is banging on his typewriter, the poet is watching a fly in the windowpane.” In another place he added, “To the left and right there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”

      I absolutely agree that a “mood-setting place” is beside the point. Whatever the place, it’s the discipline, the habit, that counts. One of the interesting distinctions I’ve learned to make is between people who love the idea of being a writer, and people who love to write. It’s the second group whose advice I pay attention to.

      As for being in the mood? I’ve come to think about that much as I think about inspiration. The mood and the inspiration often come after I’ve begun. That’s one reason that I try so hard to keep to my once-a-week schedule, no matter what. It forces me to move on, to re-start, to get going again. I think Jack London was right when he said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
      I hear it’s a thing for people to go out clubbing these days, but I’m not sure they mean the same thing.

      1. Well, today’s “clubbers” are going for inebriation not inspiration I am afraid and hopefully not expiration.

        Always liked Jack London and I think he is correct. As for me I can get hung up on the fly in the windowpane, its lovely faceted eyes & shadows of wing patterns on the casement.

        I think it was Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’ that enforced the idea of discipline…go sit at your desk from such hour to such hour and do your job of writing. At least as I recall now.

  16. You know, Linda, my late dad always advised me to have a dependable mode of transportation, so I applaud your choice of Princess (and yes, I, too, name my cars!)

    I love how you’ve made the connection between a car and writing tools. I feel certain I could *never* write holed up without being able to look outside, hear Mother Nature whispering, and feel the occasional sunbeam! I’ve long wondered if a tiny cabin might prove the best writing site — yours looks ideal, even if it’s just hanging on the wall (and what a good friend, to know you needed just that kind of inspiration!) There’s a balance to be struck between finding a place that satisfies our sensory needs yet supports our yen for solitude. Not easy to find, and every creative person is different. I suspect a lot of trial and error goes into the acquisition — but what fun in the search!

    1. Well, as I said in my previous post, sometimes what is, is good enough. Besides, once I get started, my surroundings fade away, and I could be anywhere. So the setting, the routine, the tools, primarily are ways to get us to begin: they signal “now I am here — now I am going to write.” I’m sure you’ve seen the hashtag #amwriting on Twitter. You may even have used it. It always amuses me, just a bit. I wonder, “If you’re writing, what are you doing on Twitter?”

      One of the best tips I’ve received came from programmer Paul Graham. In an essay called “Disconnecting Distraction,” he offered his solution to the problem: two computers. He kept one computer solely for writing. Disconnected from the internet, it made it far more difficult to check email, browse news sites, and so on. When he sat down to that writing computer, writing was all he did. I’ve never given that particular solution a try, but I am much better now at ignoring notifications, new emails, and such, until it’s time to pay attention to them.

      1. I’ve considered the idea of two computers, too, Linda. Problem is, what I write tends to require plenty of research (enter the Internet!), and once I’m in that wasteland, I’ve completely lost track of time. Maybe I need a good old-fashioned typewriter again, ha!

        1. I’ve thought about a typewriter, too. I used to be a fast, accurate typist, but these days handwriting is tiring because of arthritis in my hands. When it really flares, I can’t hand-write for more than a few minutes, and I expect it would be the same with typing. So, I’m glad for the ease of the computer keyboard. (On the other hand, when I think “typewriter,” I’m remembering manual typewriters. It is true that the IBM Selectric and such came along, and that might be fine.)

  17. Your search engine indeed! I completely agree and I love the play on words. The photo of the car in front of those golden cliffs is fantastic – really just brilliant. And I enjoy the story about the cottage. So many of us long for Virginia’s room of ones’ own and never get there, but Annie Dillard puts another perspective on it, a good reminder that space (and time) for art making, of whatever kind you do, can take many forms. I think for me, for several years it was a moss garden in the back of my house outside of New York. Didn’t actually create too much art there, but I was building the sensibility. All the time.

    1. It occurs to me that photographers have need of transportation, too: perhaps even more than writers. It’s would be difficult to do landscape photography without being able to get to the landscape. Even most of favorite more-or-less local spots are as much as an hour away, and none is close enough to walk to. It’s an interesting twist, and another reason Princess is so valuable.

      “Building the sensibility” is the perfect phrase. My work on the docks certainly provides time for that. In fact, I have so much time for thought during the day, I’m ready to research or write when I sit down at the desk. It’s a reminder that shaping our days is as important as shaping our writing (or painting, or photo processing) time.

      1. I think the basic fact of working outdoors, no matter what you do, is already a leg up on shaping one’s days to make space for creative work. And I don’t get out enough! Maybe I will get out more soon….

        1. I think of you often, and hope things are progressing well. Creativity apart, time in nature is restorative in itself — we all need a little restoration from time to time.

  18. “In a space so perfect, thoughts would heap up like roiling summer clouds and words stream down like rain”.

    The Princess alone could not have been the inspiration, Linda. The perfect cottage that we all dream about might have. In any case, wonderful writing.

    It just came about and the best words and works are created when we hardly know what we are doing.

    1. I love that sentence, Gerard. I’m glad you do, too. It was one of those sentences that just appeared (although the heaping involved whipped cream at first). Often, the trick is getting out of our own way: not trying harder, exercising more control, but just letting the words come out to play.

  19. A study: a place to work and write. In our old house that we left 15 months ago, I commandeered one of the three main downstairs rooms – it was really a dining room that we never used. I dreamed of having a ‘study’ where I could create my own mess. Finally when we moved to where we are now, I got my wish. Twice. Upstairs the smallest bedroom is now home to my iMac where all my photographic work gets done. Downstairs is my second study – the room that was identified as ‘study’ in the Agent’s brochure. That’s where the finances get sorted and all the other writing happens and where paper is stored in filing cabinets. And yet, to my wife’s annoyance, I still end up sitting at the table in the big kitchen/breakfast room working on my laptop as I am doing now. There I sit oblivious of all around me to even greater annoyance. I appear to be able to concentrate so well, that all extraneous sounds are blocked out – the TV and particularly my wife’s attempts at conversations pass me by completely. I call it a gift. My wife calls it something different!

    1. My father had the same gift, much to my mother’s chagrin. But your presence at that big table reminds me of a saying that used hang in a multitude of kitchens when I was growing up: “No matter where I serve my guests, they seem to like my kitchen best.”

      It sounds as though the new place is working out well. It does take time to settle in, of course, but you seem quite at home — and how great to have a dedicated spot for your photography. I hope you have some of your favorites framed and on the walls.

  20. You and Princess are a compatible pair, and that first photo of her up there is quite the glam shot. I remember when you first named her. I’m so glad you put her to good use, and that you’ve enjoyed her. Your readers certainly have benefited from your road trips.

    My writing space has a computer, one window and a ceiling fan. I’m comfortable in it, even in the middle of the night.

    I wish you and Princess many more years together and many more adventures. Happy trails to you.

    1. I laughed at your “glam shot” comment. You have to remember — she was younger then, and more than willing to turn a tire for the camera.

      We have had some good times together, but she’s just as happy to carry me to work and wait patiently in the parking lot. In return for her faithfulness, she gets regular washes, isn’t innundated with trash, and gets to see the car doc for those inevitable boo-boos. Who knows where we’ll go next? Wherever it is, you’ll hear about it!

      Where has your computer ended up in the new place? I just realized I still see the arrangement you and H had at the old house. Are you in that new section you fancied up with the French doors and such? That would be nice.

      1. I am in the new room that we closed in. We call it the office or computer room. It was an open space, and it was supposed to be the dining room, but we sold all of our dining furniture before we moved. I don’t do fancy anymore. We have a large table in the kitchen that holds all of us when the kids are here.

        1. That’s right. I went back and found your blog entry about the project. It was in November, 2015!. How can that be? But isn’t it nice that we have the archives to help us remembe what happened, when? What a nice place to spend the middle of the night…

  21. I’m glad you have a reliable car, er, Princess – we wouldn’t want you to break down on your travels! I remember deciding to replace my Saturn (never named) – when the repairs started seeming like a car payment we decided it was time. And now I have Daisy!

    1. Daisy?!? Well, now I have to know: do you sing this song while you’re driving?

      I’m such a sentimental sort, I drove Mom’s car a little longer than the old cost-benefit analysis would have suggested. But the benefits of finally making the move were cosiderable — especially when it came to peace of mind. Of course anything can happen, any time, but my odds of problem-free trips improved considerably once Princess came into my life.

      You’ve been logging some miles, too. Happy — and safe — travels in the upcoming days!

  22. The best part of this delightful blog post is Princess and your stark photos of her defining shape and size, adding context to the plains and the rocks. The fact that she is gold and unpretentious makes the photos even better, but…what I want to know is if Princess has gas.

  23. Her color and modest but graceful shape are befitting a princess. It must have been like canonizing a saint: you don’t decide, you acknowledge what is already there.

    I have named my last several cars, always boys’ names. One of my favorites was a Chevy Astrovan that I felt needed the name of a star, so I searched long through lists of stars that had been named, and chose “Rigel.” I wish I still had him – he had a major defect that made him fail at an early age.

    My current vehicle’s color was listed as “blue” in the specs, which made me laugh, as it is closer to green in my mind. Eventually I named him “Billy Bluesage,” after children’s book we owned. Yes, our vehicles are tools for sure – I’m so glad I have a good one.

    1. Canonization: what a wonderful analogy. And how it happened was almost miraculous. I knew what I wanted, and some unlikely circumstances allowed me to walk into the dealership with my wishes already known. All I had to do was pick her up — after they added window tinting and I crossed their palm with silver, of course.

      I like “Rigel.” It’s too bad that his life was cut short, but “Billy Bluesage” sounds like a fine successor. I was intrigued to see that the book involves the Santa Fe trail, too: a nice connection. Here’s a photo of some blue sage that I took not far from the trail. I wouldn’t mind bearing a name that reflected such a beautiful plant.

  24. I haven’t completely disappeared, and simply HAD to take time out to read this :-) You’ve given my heart a much needed hug, so thank you. Your writing always delicious, this time SO nourishing!

    1. If I were there, I’d give you a real hug, too. I hope all’s well in your own “wanderings.” I’m so glad you stopped by, and I’m glad you found the post to your liking. Throw up one of your own occasionally, so we don’t worry!

  25. You have a Princes, I have a prince. Of course you know that my Toyota is silver, and will only be 3 years old in November of this year, but we’ve had our share of travels, even so. There are times when I think along the lines of my maternal grandmother, who would only have black dogs and called them each and all “Coaly,” in that I think should call this one “The Crayola” the same as I called the last one, which I had for 27 years. Then there was a time when I thought he should be the “Silver Beetil.” Another time I vacillate between “Silver” (after the masked man’s mighty steed) and “Beetil” whom Christopher Robin kept in a matchbox. Maybe he’ll be like the denizens of Old Possum’s Book and have three names, only two of which are known to anyone else. Names are important. A fellow named Will had some rather pithy things to say on the subject. Then again “Greymalkin” might work . . .

    1. I think “Greymalkin” would work. The first phrase that came to mind was, “Greymalkin’s Stalkin’.” It not only alliterates, it makes sense. If a vote were taken, that’s what I’d go with. But of course, voting on a name isn’t very wise — as Eliot knew. It’s one reason some of my cars have been named and some haven’t. I wait for them to let me know what they should be called, and some never have. Princess, on the other hand, was named immediately.

      Your grandmother’s name for her dogs reminds me of George Foreman, who famously named all his sons George. There are some advantages, for sure. I have a friend who slips every now and then and calls her dog by her previous dog’s name. At that point, the pup clearly assumes she’s not speaking to him, and goes right ahead with whatever he’s doing.

  26. Cool to have found your “perfect” writing cottage, even if it only hangs as a painting over your writing desk. As to cars, if some one thinks of a car as “it” it says more about this person than about the car. Of course, one should find a car with a soul and as such a soul that matches the driver. Seems like you have done exactly that.

    1. Princess has such verve and personality she’s even received a Christmas gift or two from my friends. My favorite of her gifts included a little Matchbox car — a bright yellow Chevy Camaro with her name on the side. People talk about having an inner child; Princess has an inner sports car. I keep the toy car on my desk, and every time I notice it, I grin.

  27. I’m not sure what I love most in this post — discovering the cottage, the fact that a friend would paint this for you or that you have had Princess forever. I relate to this as my Toyota has been my pal since 2001. It has bumps and dents and only a tape deck, it’s never clean (but after I had to replace two cam shafts on my first car, a Chevette, because of lack of oil change, I’m pretty good with the oil). There’s a crack in the windshield from a truck that passed and it has 150,000 miles. And I will drive it till I drop (though I think I may be cautious if I’m more than six hours from home alone!). By all accounts it is a junker, the front bumper held on with duct tape, which really doesn’t look so bad, since it’s a silver car. But it’s mine. It’s seen a lot of miles, a lot of Gyppy hurl and still, we ride.

    Your friend is a good one and her painting is lovely. Yes, the for rent sign is gone. You have permanent rental in your heart.

    1. Right now, all of my friends and I are driving around with chips or cracks in our windshields. Around here, there’s so much debris on the roads that it’s almost not worth getting one fixed unless it’s really bad, or dangerous. It will only go smash-o-crack-o again. Sometimes, it happens within a few weeks.

      I do think Princess will be my last new car. It’s a horror to think of, but the day will come when I can’t drive any more, and I truly expect her to still have plenty of good miles in her when that day comes. But be careful with yours. She’s ten years older than Princess, and even though yours only has 150K miles, there does come that point where the cost of repairs can’t be justified any longer. I hated to get rid of Mom’s, because it was nice to be driving that all-steel body on Houston freeways. Not only that, the finish had deteriorated, and it looked pretty bad. I told Mom that was our anti-theft device. There wasn’t a self-respecting car thief in greater Houston who would have taken that thing.

  28. I remember when you found that cottage! As a lover of old things, it tickled my fancy, as well as yours.

    How lovely that one of your readers painted you a memento to keep.

    I know you’ll treasure it as much a I treasure a painting of my paternal grandparents’ farmhouse. Sadly, it burned down a some years after Dad and my uncles sold the old homeplace. The new owner’s electrician evidently missed some old knob-and-tube wiring in the attic while the house was being renovated after the sale.

    I have old black and white photos, of course, but the painting is in glorious full color and brings back so many memories of family gatherings and front porch sitting.

    1. Isn’t it fun to share a history with online friends? Surgeries, cats, cars — even good recipes from the old folks have passed among us.

      It’s a shame that the old farmhouse burned. On the other hand, when I went back to my childhood home and my grandparents’ home in 2011, they had changed nearly beyond recognition. The basic shape of both remained, but it was a little startling to see, for example, the drive into the below-ground garage completely filled in and covered with grass. It makes sense — no one ever parked down there in winter because of the problems associated with getting out — but it still made me a little sad. More than a few knees got skinned going down that drive on roller skates and a dare.

      Isn’t it interesting how a painting can sometimes capture a place better than a photo? The porch was one thing removed from my grandparents’ house by some new owner. As go the front porches, so goes society: or so it sometimes seems to me.

  29. “Scent of fresh mowed hay” – that would be perfect conditions for writing.

    I had a painting instructor who believed serious artists would only wear non distracting grey colors and often had us working in almost total darkness ( so we would not be influenced by colors around us)
    My second floor studio only had 3 giant windows for decor – but the framed outdoors offered the prettiest scenery.

    Now for writing, I like my little collected items and a plain oak table by a window ( preferably open, but with these summers….)
    I love that Princess escorts you to adventures and is your partner in word /world gathering. Love this “With Princess, I’m able to read those pages, and enjoy the stories they contain.”
    Engine block solves writer’s block – perfect!
    Go Princess, go. You belong together!

    1. I’m not sure what I think about your painting instructor’s advice, but what I know about how-to-paint is almost nothing. Still — who would want to wear all gray and work in the dark? That sounds more like something out of a 1950s dystopian novel: “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” comes to mind. If those second-story windows were part of life at the same time as that instructor — well, “thank goodness!” is all I have to say.

      I have the same inclinations when it comes to desk decor. On the left are the piled papers, sribbled notes, unpaid bills, and all that. But on the right? A hill country fossil, a sundial from Bryan beach, a tiny framed piece of needlework Mom did, and a Homer Laughlin brush vase that I use as a pen holder. Oh — and a little piece of Kansas flint from the gravesite that could have done me in.

      And I wholly agree about the open windows. We need to make use of this season while it’s here. One of these days, we’re going to open the doors and find the blast furnace has arrived. Then, it will be time to outfit Princess for the quick escape that hasn’t been necessary for a few years. And, no: I am not about to utter “that” word. Why tempt the weather gods?

      1. She was instructing people far below her ability. Recognized that one of the biggest barriers to creation is the person who has been taught what a “good” drawing/painting should look like. Especially those who have had a bit of success in public school – those tend to stay in the previous safe zone – and stall out as far as their creative development.

        Only semi darkness in life drawing classes usually with bright lights on models. Helped to keep the mental guardian from looking at the paper and insisting the drawing be done there in formula fashion rather than looking at the actual still life/model in front of you. Also kept people from feeling self conscious with others in the class looking around and looking/judging/comparing work.

        When painting under her method, the puddles of oil paint were put in specific positions on the pallet so you didn’t have to look and see what color you were getting (don’t break eye contact with subject matter – distracting) We also did a great deal of underpainting covered by glazing later. It wasn’t totally dark…except once in a while…like that time we had clay in paper bags and had to sculpt by hands in paper bags without looking. She did prefer natural light, but the university liked people in rooms – and university students oddly felt weird doing art outdoors/too regimented and uncertain in unexpected circumstances…products of the public school system who totally missed the creative point? She was quite brilliant (well known in Europe and Albuquerque area. Some students never did figure her out)

        Glad you grabbed the flint for your desk

        1. All of this is so interesting. My formal art instruction ended at about 6th grade. At that point, my oeuvre consisted of a couple of coiled-clay pieces, a papier-mâché puppet, paintings of a madonna and a Japanese lady (with a darned good willow tree), and my best-ever work: a squirrel carved from a bar of Ivory soap. Sigh.

          But this really resonated, and brought some clarity: “one of the biggest barriers to creation is the person who has been taught what a “good” drawing/painting should look like.” It reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe’s snarky comments about “the men” who once commended her for finally producing a drab, dismally-toned painting. The joke was that she’d done it just to prove that she could. Then, she went back to her flowers. They may not have looked like “good” paintings to some of her contemporaries, but I think history has been fairly kind to her.

  30. Your photo of Princess in Kansas is amazing. And when I read the first few paragraph, I quickly thought of Jane Austen’s tiny tiny small round desk more like a side table. I thought of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Jane didn’t even have a room of her own to write. Consider all our modern amenities and luxuries, my hats off to talents and toilers of ancient days.

    1. “Room” is an infinitely expandable concept, I think. At least in Virginia’s sense, it is. Long before I had Princess, I’d learned enough to write this on my bio page:

      “Living a quiet life, a hidden life — anchored to my dock like a barnacle to a piling — I varnish boats for a living. My dock provides both things Virginia Woolf recommended for a woman who writes: money, from the labor, and a room of my own — space and solitude for thought, remembrance, and creative reflection on the truths and mysteries of life.”

      I think that’s one reason I haven’t really been tempted toward retirement. The money is important, but equally important to my writing are those hours every day for thoughtful reflection or simple musing. I’d hate to have to give that up.

      Your point is well taken, though. I suspect that Jane had to learn some new skills to cope with writing in the midst of the household life. On the other hand, I know people who gravitate toward bustling cafés and coffee houses to write. “Oh” was one of them. She often talked about writing in such places, or even at the kitchen table in the midst of life swirling around her. I suppose the trick is discovering — and then accepting — what works for us as individuals. Once we’ve found our “perfect spot,” the writing can commence.

    1. The good news is, I’m not holding it for ransom. :-) Seriously, I’m glad you enjoyed the little story — one that might have a few more chapters. At least, I hope it does.

  31. We’re back in the world of coincidences. Your Princess parallels a car I bought for a few hundred dollars in 1978 while visiting Oregon. It was a 1964 Valiant, and the woman I bought it from called it Prince Valiant. I traded in my return plane ticket and drove my purchase back to Austin. In the summer of 1981 I drove to San Francisco and back to Austin. The car eventually got up to 185,000 miles and I was hoping to make 200,000, but one day in around 1983 an oncoming car abruptly turned across my path and that was the end of my Valiant.

    That picture of western Kansas could fool anyone into thinking it was Arizona or Utah.

    1. The valiant Prince and the Princess aren’t the only coincidence. In the summer of 1981, I was driving one of my previous Toyotas from San Francisco back to Houston. As a matter of fact, that was the car that got taken out on a Houston freeway. It’s nice that we’re both still around, even if the cars aren’t.

      That western Kansas photo was taken at Monument Rocks. As soon as I can get some of the research done, I’ll be putting up more photos. Both monument rocks and the white cliffs of Dover were formed during the Cretaceous period, and both are chalk. They’re not part of the same formation, of course, and the composition is slightly different, but it’s still fascinating to think about.

  32. A lovely tribute to Princess — surely she is basking in her role of enabling your writing.
    And that painting of your cottage is just lovely. What a thoughtful gift :-) Much easier on upkeep than the real thing which, however charming, will need a few basics like a floor.

    1. I’m not sure Princess cares much about the writing. She’s just happy when the key turns and it’s time to go again. Of course, that’s true for both of us.

      Isn’t the painting nice? I think June really enjoyed doing it, which makes it even better. I like small, rustic places, but it is true that even the hill country cabin I enjoyed so much had a floor — as well as a wood-burning stove, gravity-fed water, and lots of screened windows. In its own way, it was luxurious.

  33. This is a very humorous post. I know how you feel about your car and these are beautiful images. Toyotas are also extremely reliable. It’s funny how you call her “straw-colored.” I think this color is also called “champagne” by some people, at least that’s how I remember it (if it has that yellow tinge to it).

    1. I’m glad you caught the humor, Maria. I love the unexpected, the serendipitous, and the incongruous, and that’s exactly where so much humor is rooted. There certainly was plenty of all three swirling around the little cottage.

      I think you’re right about the color sometimes being called “champagne.” I’ve heard it described as “honey,” but that doesn’t seem quite right. Out of curiosity, I checked the Toyota site and discovered their 2011 name for Princess’s color is “Sandy Beach.” That doesn’t seem right, either, but maybe they’ve spent time on different beaches.

  34. Great pictures of Princess on a few of the fun adventures you’ve had with her! I love the picture that June White did of Coalgate Cottage. It sure would be a fun place to write – though, like you, I’m satisfied with my current writing space.

    1. We have had some good times, but she’s been just as sturdy and dependable for the daily routine. Now and then someone suggests that I should buy a truck for work, but I don’t need a truck. It doesn’t require a lot of space to carry sandpaper and varnish, even if I have to throw in a heat gun or orbital sander from time to time. After five years, the trunk still is as clean and neat as it was on day one, so I think we have the routine down.

      As for writing: the truth is that when I’m writing, I’m not aware of my surroundings anyway. I do wonder from time to time what will happen if/when I’m forced to move and lose my view. I’ve been in this same spot since I started my blog, so a move might disrupt things. Or not. As spontaneous as I can be, I’m also a creature of habit. But that sort of disruptive change probably is some years away, so it’s only an idle curiosity at this point.

    1. That lintel is one of my favorite details, too. It’s fun to have the painting. Photos are great, but they tend to get put in a drawer or (today) left on a hard drive, and we forget about them. Being able to see the painting every day is great. And, yes — there’s a lot of fun that can be had with a good car!

  35. What a delightfully woven reflection on writing and what drives (!) it. The cottage looks delightful, and I am glad to hear that someone else demurs on Dillard’s advice. I once spent a week in a shut away dorm and felt like I was in hell. But then again, I don’t have Dillard’s mind to amuse me! Congrats on 5 years of car bliss. We try to keep our cars for 12 years or more, but we now own one of those verboten VW diesels, which will likely need to be replaced. This saddens us, since we both really enjoy driving it. Maybe it is time to check out Toyotas?

    1. Allen! What a wonderful play on words (that “driving” of the writing process). Given the solid walls and the roof, I do think the cottage would be fixable. Of course, many things are “fixable” if you have the budget to do it, and I’m quite sure my budget wouldn’t allow for much more than a new screen door and some geraniums in a window box. Still, even if a cinder block cell was offered to me for free, I’d pass it by, for the same reasons I’d always take a sailboat over a cruise ship.

      You’ll never get an unbiased, objective opinion from me on Toyotas: at least, when it comes to the Corolla. I’ve never had a problem with any of my four, and even the one that was totalled on the freeway did a lovely job of holding together through the chaos. The one I sold at 356K miles is still running, though I don’t know how many miles it’s added. Amazing, really.

  36. For some reason I was unable to post a comment. It must have just been a glitch, so I am back. Princess looks like a very nice traveling companion. I loved reading about the cottage and the painting is sweet.

    1. I had the same problem recently on a blog or two. When I refreshed my browser, all was well, so I think you’re right that it was some kind of glitch. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and you’re right about the painting. It’s one of my favorite possessions — a nice memento of a place, and a reminder of the unexpected joys of blogging.

    1. Isn’t it a pretty thing? And there were so many birds around. I’m sure some were wrens, and I know there were cardinals and chickadees. I’d put the bird feeder right out there where the “for rent” sign was.

    1. Here’s another little coincidence. On my trip last fall, one of my specific destinations was Malvern, Arkansas. It’s interesting that both Coalgate and Malvern have “twins” in your country.

      So, I see that “He motokā kiwikiwi” is a gray car. When I looked up the phrase, one of the links the venerable Google provided me was of your 2012 trip to the Waterford Reserve, where you used the phrase in your post.

      Your last sentence reminded me of a phrase which certainly could be used with our cars: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”!

      1. Ah, Malvern in common too! My father who like your father was diligent in the care of his car, really did think of a car as a good and faithful servant. At times, though, we, the kids, thought the car was more master than servant. Woe betide us if we got into the car with dirty feet, or sand in our shoes. And if the car ever got rained upon, we were put to work drying off the car as soon as we reached home. Rust was an enemy to be avoided at all costs.

        1. For us, the demon was road salt, put down in the winters to clear the snow. Once I got to the Texas coast, I found demon salt had followed me, and every trip to the beach had to be followed by a good washing.

          Princess needs a bit of a wash and detail now. I’ve been making weekly trips down to a burned prairie, and there’s been no way to keep the ash out. Even my muddy boots, contained in a plastic bin in the trunk, seem to have spread their joy here and there. Of course, if I weren’t mucking about in the prairie, I’d have a clean car, but what fun would that be? I did get her muddy undercarriage cleaned up right away after getting stuck in the mud. I know what hardened mud is like, and it doesn’t come off as easily as salt.

  37. Another oh, so appealing post. And as to this: “Much of what piques my interest demands research, and much of my research stirs a deeper curiosity. Sometimes, satisfying that curiosity requires more than books. It requires replacing search engines with a real engine; that is, it requires travel,” I’m amused to think on it and realize that sometimes, for me, the converse has been true. That is, after having traveled, my curiosity is piqued, and cyber travel, not to mention ordering up some relevant library books, becomes essential to learn more.

    1. Of course, “much of what piques my interest” also comes from travel. There were examples galore during my trip last fall. Those beautiful piles of milo come to mind. After seeing them, I came home, ended up reading “The Corn and Soybean Journal,” and learned how to calculate the volume of a cone. None of that was expected.

      The dynamic you point to sometimes leads me to return to an already-visited place. There’s a post coming about Teter Rock, shown at the top of this page. It took two visits, three years apart, to answer a question that had nagged at me since my first visit. I found the answer, but couldn’t have done so without a return trip. Sometimes, we get lucky.

      Of course, every weekend foray into the wilds of southeast Texas leaves me shaking my head over some little mystery. The world’s a strange and wonderful place!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s