Swallowdale is the second book in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons novels and lives up to the first novel’s excitement. The Swallows find themselves shipwrecked—while the Amazons are trapped at home by the visit of an overbearing Great Aunt—and are forced to become explorers on foot and mountain climbers. I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

What I love most about the series is how the books capture so beautifully the rich interior world of the child. Even though there are no wish-granting talismans no wardrobe doorways to secret worlds, no talking animal or spells or potions, there is a certain magic in them. It’s the magic that indwells the fertile imaginations of four children in a sailing dinghy on an English lake who at the same time are exploring the Amazonian wilds, farmer’s wives who are also native savages, and the discovery of uncharted territories in what to other eyes might be the tamest of landscapes.

Recently Amy Welborn wrote about that glimpse into the imaginative world of the child:

Leaps are amazing. Leaps in development, that is. A month ago, Joseph struggled so hard with his bicycle. Now he speeds off ahead of us, exploring, imagining. There is this point in the path we travel in which we cross a little stream. It is really nothing – not even a bridge. Just a crossing. He said to me the other day, �Did you see my Double Dragon Dare Move?� – meaning, he explained, how he stays clear of the water on either side, imaging, I suppose, raging rapids which he, using all of his new-found powers, can now avoid. Do we respect our children�s inner lives? Do we even remember that they have one?

What makes Arthur Ransome so magical, I suppose is a certain parallax. He doesn’t just remember that inner life, he writes from within it without any grown-up condescension and yet at the same time he has an adult’s insight and humor. This double vision gives his work a richness and depth that many children’s authors lack.

And yet for all their rich interior life, the Walker children and Ransome’s other heroes are not airy dreamers like fanciful the poet-children Emily of New Moon, Anne of Green Gables or the Little Princess Sarah Crewe.  Imagine Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy exploring our world with the same blend of matter-of-fact competency and exploratory fervor with which the Pevensie’s explore Narnia. Ransome’s child heroes live in a here-and-now real world that mostly parallels the adult world, though they occasionally intersect (I know, I know, bad geometry!) They have a wonderful independence and are allowed a degree of freedom to explore their environment that belongs to a different universe than the hyper-protective, media-driven paranoia of today’s helicopter parents. I simply cannot imagine many parents today allowing their children to camp out by themselves for weeks with only a loose supervision of having to check in once a day to pick up milk from a local farm.

The children also have an amazing technical competence in many areas that I find myself envying: in the books I’ve read so far they have mastered sailing and navigation, surveying and map-making, assaying and geology, and of course they can build a fire, set up camp and cook and clean and pack and plan expeditions. They are not doomed when they are stranded in an uncharted wilderness or swept out to sea with no adult supervision.

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  • Thank you, Elizabeth and Enbrethiliel, both of you have shared such insights with me and helped me to put things in a much better context and perspective.

    Yes, we make do with what we have. And we thank God for the blessings he has given us. As I wrote this piece I began with a hole and as I wrote I found myself counting up my blessings. As you said, Elizabeth, I have been so richly blessed with family who nurture and cherish me. I truly have not lacked in my times of greatest need.

    If I began with a hole, I ended by feeling how rich I really am. Our good Father gives us what we need when we need it. Our daily bread. No more and no less. And perhaps God allows these holes, this emptiness in our lives so that we can learn to trust in him to fill up what people cannot. If I had friends and family to fill every lack in my life, what would drive me to turn to Him? I will never find a perfect balance because, as Augustine said, we are restless until we rest in Him. But I can strive as best I can to hear his call and to live out my vocation, using all the tools he gives me as best as I am able.

    God bless both of you and fill your lives with love. We introverts need to stick together.

  • Melanie,
    I understand and know that pain too; though I’m single and somewhat social and occupied with friendships of varying degrees, I never lose that desire for just one soulmate, one person I can call on and unburden myself too without reserve and caution. When I’m really at a loss to deal with that desire and the sadness that comes with straining for that I always remember what Julia tells Charles in Brideshead Revisted: “perhaps I am only a forerunner, too.” (like Sebastian) 

    “Perhaps, I thought [Mr. Rider thinking here], while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke—a though to fade and vanish like smoke without a trace—perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are only types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.”

    Thank you for sharing this. I lurk here and feel like I take the benefit of your rich interior and intellectual life and wish I could give something back to you. You are in my prayers today.

  • The only time I’ve “lived away” (meaning in a different area than where I was born) was when I was at college.  After a semester of terrible homesickness, I settled in and made great friends who sustained me throughout the remainder of the 4 years.  But I’ve never started over—as a full-fledged adult— in a new state.  I admire those, such as yourself, who have done that.  I am single and childless, so I can’t offer advice on how to meet women who share your particular life situation.  I know that my friends have often met other mothers through playgroups and such.  But if you would ever like to meet for coffee and conversation sometime, I would love that.  I’d be happy to come to your area (I live just outside Boston). 

  • Hi Melanie,

    Boy, can I relate to this post. When I converted to Catholicism I lost pretty much all of my friends. The next 8 years were spent pretty much friendless. I had a couple of girlfriends and we would go out occasionally but I certainly didn’t have a soulmate. Not even close. I sometimes longed for friendships like I had in my youth. But, like you, I have been blessed with a husband who is my best friend in the world. Those eight years were filled with marriage and babies and bonding and I am so grateful for them. I am, again like you, so very shy and introverted. Sometimes it feels like it takes more energy, and vulnerability, than it’s worth to forge new friendships.

    It’s interesting though. Seasons come and go and God has surprises in store that you would never have seen coming. I kind of expected I would be “friend-less” for my entire life. I figured it was just my nature. But ever since moving to Texas God has brought new friend after new friend into my life. Friends that you can call on the hard days, friends that don’t hesitate to watch children and bring food and commiserate. It’s an incredible blessing but no more so than those days when it was just Dan and I and our growing family.

    The interesting thing is, that for me, the Internet was the source of these new friendships, every one. They started as online friendships but quickly developed into “real life” friendships so I would never tell anyone to forego online relationships for “real life” ones because one can change into another. You can meet people online and then eventually in “real life” or you can meet in “real life” and then, due to a move perhaps, have to become online friends. Both have their place and value. And, I must say, that if you ever move back to Austin I can assure you that you have a whole bunch of built in “real life” friends waiting for you! smile

    So I understand and can relate to every word you have written. I suspect friends will come dancing into your life when you least expect it much the same way they did in mine. E-mail me anytime if you want to chat more about this. Or call! Or move! wink

  • Melanie, I can relate to your post as well.  We moved to the town we currently live in six years ago, and I have just in the past year developed a good network of friends.  I didn’t have a kindred spirit friend when my children were wee; I have two friends who have stuck with me through the dramatic changes in my life (from work to home, then to homeschooling, then to a new town), but like your friends, they are far away.  Now I have one dear friend in much the same place in life, and what a blessing she is.  But it took lots of time, and grace to get here.  I am praying for you.  grin 

  • I can sympathize with not feeling like you know a whole lot of “kindred spirits” in person (though I know several locally, for whom I’m very grateful), and my parents also live far away.  But don’t discount the value of acquaintances—most people are ready and willing to help out if asked.  I have a friend with whom I wouldn’t discuss anything related to the life of the mind for fear of getting a blank stare, but to whom I automatically turn in an emergency because her gifts are hospitality and generosity and getting things put together.  Conversely, not all my intellectual friends are so practical!  There are some people I turn to for help and support in some situations, and some who are more “useful” in other ways.

    I know you aren’t discounting the value of acquaintances, but sometimes I find it good to remind myself of the real benefit I derive from the people God has surrounded me with, even if they don’t always live up to my standards of “kindred spirit”.

  • Melanie, I think God has provided friends where I had no family willing to love. I read your Dad’s piece with tears rolling down my face. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have parents like that. When I had my babies, my parents didn’t come to help. My sister didn’t even call. When I had cancer, my husband held my hand and my friends filled the big, huge hole where I wished a mother would have been and did so as well as one could hope. The friends I wrote about can be counted on one hand and I only knew one of them when I was at your stage of motherhood. I don’t do girls’ nights out, either, and I never have. My husband’s work schedule won’t allow for it. Besides, I’m very shy and I don’t like big groups. What I’ve learned is that I don’t like big groups online either. I’ve also learned, particularly over the last year, that online friendships leave me very vulnerable. I tend to assume too much about someone. I assume they are as invested as I am and as loyal. And I have been unpleasantly surprised to find out that often isn’t so. I don’t think you should unplug. I don’t think I should unplug. But now, I look at my time online differently. And I don’t expect that someone who is connected over a fiber optic network is necessarily going to fill that hole we all feel when there is not kindred spirit in our lives. It’s much, much more difficult to know a “whole person” online than it is in real life. In real life, you watch her with her children, you sit in her kitchen, you see her with her husband, you eat donuts together after Mass. Online, you miss much of that depth. Admittedly, I wrote out of hurt over disappointing online friendships. And certainly, there are disappointing IRL friendships too. Like you, I’m quite the introvert and I know I’m much less likely to be hurt by an IRL friendship because it would take much more “knowing” before I’d warm up and share IRL. Does that make any sense? I’m praying for a friend for you!

  • Melanie,

    I completely understand too. When I read Elizabeth’s post over the weekend, I had a couple reactions. One, like yours, was the recognition that I don’t have those friends either. I certainly have a couple neighbors who I can (and have) called in real emergencies (like come sleep on our couch while the kids sleep because I have to go to the hospital)!  We chat once in a while and even (maybe 3 times in the 7 years I’ve lived here) have had a glass of wine together in the evening. BUT, we don’t share so much else— certainly not in faith. One is a fundamentalist Christian and one is completely nonreligious of any sort. I really haven’t had any nearby day-to-day friends since we moved here (southern NJ).

    But reading your post, I envy some of your connections too! I wish I had more geographically close family of any sort. Yes, my parents would be here in emergencies and were here for the birth of the children. But they are several hours away (I know further than yours), and we don’t have a regular get together time. My sister and her growing family live in NC and my brother and his family are in GA. So we’re lucky if the cousins see each other once a year. It also makes me sad to be so out of my nieces and nephews’ lives. I was blessed with close aunts and uncles when I was growing up.

    Sorry for the ramble. But I do understand—I don’t know anyone who shares my faith that I am close to in other ways—someone with whom I could share interests in children, books, movies, or cooking. My kids are older, so I do have acquaintances through school and scouts. But our schedules and priorities don’t often mesh well enough to lead to close friendship.

    I came to the blog world fairly recently as a reader and I’ve been blessed and uplifted merely by being able to share thoughts, insights, and little glimpses of home with so many wonderful Catholic moms. So, thank you Melanie for sharing your blog with us. With at least the online connections with women with whom I do have something in common, I believe I am a better mom. I have more moments of reflections (albeit brief) on faith, family, and the world in my day.

  • +JMJ+

    I feel a hole in my life when I read it, an imaginary girlfriend—or girlfriends—who doesn’t exist. . . And until she appears I’ll probably continue to be out of balance, spending too much time haunting the internet, seeking more than it might be able to give.

    Melanie, what you’ve written hits home for me because I, too, don’t have many nurturing “kindred spirits.” My best friends, the ones I would like to share the milestones of my life with, live thousands of miles away. (That’s what I get for going to uni in another country! Yet I wouldn’t give up having known them for that short time!) The friends from high school I came back to did a lot of growing themselves while I was gone, and we don’t seem to connect as easily as before. It feels very lonely, especially to someone who is not good at making new friends. A sea of acquaintances can really make one feel like an island.

    There are many holes in my life that I’m using my “blog friends” to fill. Yet since all of them seem to have rich lives offline, they can’t give me everything I’m needy for. There’s that imbalance. Then again, they wouldn’t be able to anyway, even if they spent as much time online as I do: what I really want is someone whose house I can drop by, whose kitchen I can raid, whose birthday parties I can attend . . . and maybe even whose baby showers I can plan in secret. Yet one must make do with what one has, aye?

  • Steph,

    Great quote from BR! Perfectly apt. Thank you so much. (and for the prayers too!)


    After our meeting in January, I know very well that if we are ever to move back to Austin, I would have a great group of friends to turn to. That’s one of God’s great ironies, I think, that so many bloggy friends are living in my hometown area.

    Mrs D.

    It is good to remember that acquaintances and friends with whom I don’t have that deep soul-connection are still very valuable. It is easy to take such friends for granted instead of recognizing that they too are gifts from God.

    I find myself not taking advantage of open invitations from many of them simply because it seldom occurs to my introverted self to pick up the phone and make a solid date. I’m not very good at being proactive, though I frequently jump to accept invitations once they are given. I’m think, though, I must often come across as stand-offish to many of them (all of them seem to be extroverted as are all of Dom’s family and they just don’t get it sometimes.) and so they give up making the effort, which I understand from their perspective, but then it makes it even harder for me. 

  • I think that no-one knows yet what will come of these Internet friendships.  I read about the gathering in Texas of bloggers and that it was scary and wonderful.  It takes years in real life work out friendships and I think it’ll take years to understand where the on-line world will take them.  Or how it will change the ebb and flow of interactions.  But I think it is a wonderful thing for young mothers to be not so alone with their babies.  People who work and then go home and stop working aren’t the right model for those whose work is 24/7 and need the minutes of help.  People have always found ways to avoid their work.  Time on the Internet may not be time alone but it’s surely just like hiding in the bathroom with a magazine…?  Or am I the only one who ever did that since my oldest is 19 and there was no internet….  Jane M

  • Jane,

    I do hide in the bathroom with magazines and books too.

    In fact, so prevalent is my habit of grabbing a book before retreating to the bathroom that one night Bella grabbed a book and announced, “I’m going to the bafroom.”

    I have found that when I’ve met bloggy friends in “real life” it has been a wonderful thing. It’s very unlike meeting someone for the first time because you’ve already got a common language and a shared past as well as a pool of topics you know you see eye to eye on. Thus you tend to jump past all the usual chit chat and move straight to real conversation. But at the same time that conversation is punctuated with all sort of personal questions you would never dream of asking online so there is also a “getting to know you” feel to the encounter. And afterwards when you go back to the online relationship you can fill in the voice and the facial expressions and it feels more “real”.

    You are right, though, that it will take time before we really understand how these relationships work. They are similar to epistolatory relationships of the past, but there is a different feel to the instant communication. For one thing, there is much more temptation to dash off a quick reply rather than to compose one’s thoughts at leisure. That can lead to rash words which cannot be easily revoked and all sorts of misunderstandings.

  • Well, I was going to write a comment but Hallie pretty much said it: I’ve definitely been there, especially after I converted to Catholicism, but now things have changed. I think that the number and quality of friendships you have is definitely seasonal—who knows what God might have in store for next year.

    And, yes, you guys should totally move back here to Austin. smile

  • Melanie,
    I believe internet friendships have their place in our lives. I think it all comes down to BALANCE.  I was a mother with young children before the internet living for a few years in a predominant Protestant-antiCatholic community.  What a blessing it would have been to have had a community of like minded people to talk with.

  • Well, Melanie, at least you know now you are not alone in this!

    I was reading and envying your family connections.  I have no female in-laws at all, and my mother, who lives 20 minutes away, came to help for exactly one afternoon after my 1st child was born.  That’s it. For the whole first year of his life. Oh, and she brought us dinner one night after child #3. 

    I felt like you for a lonnng time after my first was born.  (and sometimes, still do – I agree that friendships are seasonal.)

    I wanted to tell you though, that I did meet a couple of those kindred spirits when I started homeschooling. (by meeting them through various homeschoolers’ groups.)  And then I met a few more when my children started school (I know, not in your plans, but then, it wasn’t in mine either.)  smile  But in both cases, there were a few women who shared some deeper interests, as well as the obvious surface ones.  (for instance, we had chosen the school for some of the same reasons.)  So maybe, as you start to do more with other homeschoolers, you’ll have the same experience.  My difficulty was in finding homeschoolers who didn’t live 20+ minutes away, but I am hoping that isn’t quite the same problem in urban Massachusetts. HTH, I always feel comforted knowing someone else has had the same problem, even if no one’s problem is fixed yet!

  • Martha,

    I know I could start doing stuff with the local homeschooling group. My sister-in-law actually made a very good friend who lives just down the street from her when she started homeschooling my niece.

    Unfortunately, people actually tend to be fairly spread out in urban MA, not so much in terms of distance but in terms of how long it takes to get anywhere. Boston is only 15 miles away from here but it takes at least 45 minutes to drive there when it’s not rush hour. 

    Even that closest sister in law lives almost ten minutes away and we see them on average once or twice a month. The others live more than an hour away. So the homeschooling group events are a bit of a hike and the incentive is low for me since we aren’t homeschooling yet and I’ve got that whole introvert’s inability to get out working against me.

    But maybe when we move we’ll be closer to some people. Who knows. I’m sure God’s got a plan.