Jonathan and I took advantage of a sun-drenched Saturday in April to make our first 2021 trip out to The Field House on Sutton Island. No spring opening has ever held more import for me than this one, here on the threshold of launching Rachel Field’s book at last. The house survived the winter well, aided by the cloak of a new roof last fall.
The interior, however, suffered the inevitable showers of debris that come with roof jobs in an open-frame house. Despite our attempts at draping, everything is carpeted in shards of wood, bits of shingle, roofing nails, and 100-year-old dust. No matter. You can’t take away the view, or the ocean’s deep springtime blue, or the layers of history adorning the walls and shelves. Rachel is still there, and I think she might have winked at me in the shine of this ancient, well-used ceramic bowl that I’m sure she used for biscuit-making or cranberry muffins long ago. I like to think she’s saying, “Here we go, Robin; Let’s do this thing.”
courtesy of Portland (Maine) Public Library, Special Collections
Rachel Field and I shared love for more than just an island house in Maine. We both adored our dog companions. Spriggin was Rachel's first Scotch Terrier and her iconic sidekick for an all-too-brief five years. Her second Scotty dog, Trotty, lived eleven years, until the summer of 1941. If death hadn't taken Rachel so precipitously the following spring, I suspect there would have been a third.
One of my favorite Field poems is called, "For a Dog Chasing Fireflies," from her collection, Branches Green. In the poem, she wonders about the grasping aspirations of people. Who are we to mock a dog's pursuits? The poem finishes with these lines:
By what sure power do we place
Ourselves above such futile chase,
Who seek more fleeting lights than these
That glitter under darkening trees?
I'll close with this beautiful painting by my daughter Anna (check out her website below), a scene with me and two of my dearest furry friends, now gone. The title is "looking at the stars with best friends." She captured so much that moves me about having dogs in the family: love, devotion, grounding. They also provide a plentiful supply of comedy.
Find Anna's and others' artwork here, including piano hats by Tessa Wood and handmade picture frames by R. Ramaswamy: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ThreadNWater)
scene from Time Out of Mind, 1947
In April of 1935 Rachel Field published Time Out of Mind, a dramatic novel set on the Maine coast about unrequited love, crossing class boundaries, the end of the era of wooden ships, and perseverance. The book won several awards in the ensuing months, including the National Book Award. Field also sold the movie rights, a financial boon that freed her and Arthur Pederson to marry at last.
In April of 1947, five years after Rachel Field's untimely death, the film Time Out of Mind was made at last. An earlier book-to-film by Field, All This and Heaven Too, had been nominated for best picture in 1939, but Time Out of Mind did not do as well. Some say it was because Rachel wasn't there to offer her artist's guidance.
I have never been able to find a copy of the film, Time Out of Mind. I'd love to watch it some day. There is third Rachel Field Film, And Now Tomorrow. That too, has eluded me. Does anyone out there know how I can acquire copies of these old films, or even watch the films streaming online?
This is a gap in my Rachel Field experience. As the author of her biography about to be released, I feel it's my duty to try and fill all the gaps.
Thanks for any insights you have to offer!
Spring Signs - by Rachel Field
In honor of poetry month and the soon-to-be-released biography of Rachel Field, I will share some of Field's poetry during the last few weeks of April. This one was published in the Conning Tower in 1932. In Rachel's private scrapbooks, she cut out and pasted in copies of her work. In this case, she had also done quite a bit of editing with her pencil on the published scrap of newsprint. Thanks to the archives of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, I have a photograph of her edited version, which I have transcribed below:
Now is the time that hills put on
A smoky blue, untinged with green;
When sorel-red and cinnamon
In brief possession hold the scene;
When robins, orange breasted, shiver,
And wrens and burnished grackles scold;
When every brook is a rushing river,
And crocus companies brave the cold;
When freshly painted cars speed by,
And dogs and children skip and caper; --
Now is the time when such as I
Must set down rhymes on sheets of paper!
Robin Clifford Wood is a writer and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband and dogs, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her grown children and their multi-species families.