About Farksolia, part 2

Barbara painted several watercolors depicting her imaginary world.

Continued from About Farksolia, part 1.

The Farksolians were great people for inventions. Almost every one of their thirty-six hour days they invented something. One of the most important days was when one invented the marvelous mail system that they had. In the middle of the city was an electric mail station. From it ran underground passages to each house in the city. The person that wished to send a letter or a message, writes it out, puts it in the passage, pushes an electric button, and off shoots the box through the passage, to the mail station. The man which receives the letter takes it out of the passage and sends it along the underground passage which leads to the house to whom the letter or package is addressed. In the mail system there is a great closet full of cabinets in which are piles of boxes, so that if one was lost it was easy to replace it, and at the station the men were manufacturing them all the time, for they were lost very often. The envelopes to the letters were very varied indeed. For letters containing valuable things the envelopes were sometimes of metal. Though this precaution was not necessary, considering the fact that none of the men at the mail station were cheats, for they were thoroughly tried out by the queen before they were allowed to go into the business. For notes containing less valuable things are made out of hard beautiful wood, and for notes containing hardly anything valuable the envelopes are made simply of the papery substance that the notes are written on.

The wires of the mail system run along the ground and people walking very often come upon little boxes running along the wires. You usually step over six or seven wires in a single step. The boxes are made of metal. In the winter, when the snow blocks up the passage of the boxes the wires are hoisted from the ground by means of poles.

Another important invention was that of the writing instrument, which, of course, came before the mail system. The invention of the writing instrument was like this: It was a hollow piece of wood sharpened down to a point, and filled with thick, green sap of a certain tree, which is used for ink. Up on the end of this pen that you hold there is a small rubber button, and to wet the sharpened end of the pen you press this button a little and the ink trickles down over the  point by means of a little hole just above it. Then when the point gets dry again just press the button again. Sometimes these pens are made of metal but that is quite rare.

The snows of Farksolia have many peculiarities. To begin with snow cannot rest on the trees, and the reason for this is because the sap of the trees is unusually warm and the snow melts away from the warmth of it when it touches the branches through which the sap flows. Also the snow cannot rest under the trees for the outspreading branches throw down a great heat to the ground. Therefore the mountains look much greener in winter than they would otherwise though of course not as green as they do in summer. The leaves of the trees do not fall much in winter and this is another reason for making the trees greener in summer, and even then where they fall vines which grow green in winter twin around the trunks and limbs and take the place of the true leaves of the trees. Though on the great plain the snow level sometimes rises to twenty feet and the Farksolians from Sheheritzade start when the first snow falls and go across the great ocean to the plain in the same machine that they use for coming to the earth, for the sake of the snow. Then when the snows stop falling the Farksolians take a machine which they have hidden on the plain and fly back over the ocean to the city. This journey they can take in about two days.

The Farksolian trees are very peculiar, as I said before most of them are warm-sapped. Nature has planed quite definitely for a green winter. Then there is a special variety of warm-sapped tree and it is this that has the thick dark sap which is used for writing. Though, of course, it has to be cooled before it is used for that purpose. Then there is danger of getting it hard, and when this is done there are two ways to cure it. One is to heat it up and melt it, after which you have to be careful again, about not letting it get hard when it is cooled, and two is to put a bit of water in it, fresh water. Of course, this thins it out more or less, and it is then not so good for writing purposes. But when it is put in a vial with a tight metal cork it stays in the same condition. Then there is another kind of tree whose sap, after going through many processes serves as salt, being rather bitter. It is warm at first, then it is hardened and ground into fine powder. Then a certain food is dipped into it to be eaten.

The foot described is a plant with a stalk almost an inch in diameter. When it is peeled and appears on the food board, anybody would say, “This is the same old food,” and it does look much like celery. Then you dip it in the “salt” from the trees, bite into it, and instead of its being like celery as you supposed it has a funnel down the middle full of red sweet juice, delicious. One of the favorite foods in Farksolia was a fruit. The Farksolians loved fruit. One of the fruits, their favorite, was grown on a beautiful tree with pink and white blossoms, very delicate looking. Then in the fall the blossoms drop off and a beautiful fruit appeared in their place. At first they are green, then turn to a beautiful frosty colour. And the rind looks much like frost, for when you look at it carefully you see all sorts of delicate little patterns all worked in silver. Then when the silver rind is peeled carefully off it revealed silver pulp, and little boxes of the core which are filled with purple and red juices, of all flavors and all sweet. The silver rind is cooked and drunk. Then another food, is a rough brown nut which is very common in the district of Sheheritzade, with a white kernel very sweet. Something like our Brazil Nut. They have a fruit with a yellow soft rind, inside of which is the juiciest pulp of any other fruit. Then there also is a fruit in a green rind with a little pale hard stone, inside of which is a sweet white kernel.

To be continued in About Farksolia, part 3.

In Defense of Butterflies

Published in the February, 1933, issue of The Horn Book Magazine

In Defense of Butterflies
by Barbara Newhall Follett

A flash of black and orange outside the upstairs window; I sprang up, leaving arithmetic problems to solve themselves. “Butterfly!” I yelled, for the information of anyone who wanted to know. I grabbed my net and raced outdoors. A butterfly as lustrous as the one that had just sailed by was a tremendous adventure. Ever so much more exciting than arithmetic! what did anyone care about stodgy old numbers when the sun was shining and there were butterflies about?

I chased the shining wings over to a big red rhododendron bush. He hovered at the top of it, sampling flowers ruminatively, then swooped off toward the wide green field, I after him, net in hand, with all the energy of any healthy nine-year-old who wants very badly to capture a large black and orange butterfly.

My collection! Sheets and sheets of paper, a good-sized manuscript. But where were the butterflies? They were all safe and free, playing out in the field in the sunlight, communing subtly with buttercups. This butterfly collection did not consist of dry, faded wings. I had typewritten long, detailed descriptions of these iridescent friends, not couched in entomological terms, because I knew none, but in the prettiest words I could conjure up. While I was writing one of these portraits, the butterfly itself would flutter under a sieve placed beside my typewriter. When the last shining spot or stripe had been carefully recorded I would set him free once more.

By this time I was able to typewrite fast and accurately enough so that I enjoyed it immensely. It seemed to me a very efficient, logical, and delightful way of getting things said. Furthermore, at that time I was beginning to find a good deal that I wanted to talk about. When I discovered beauty in bird-songs, apple-blossoms, music, sunsets (but chiefly butterflies), I yearned to put it into tangible form so that I could keep it, hold it, understand it. I wrote masses of stuff, about everything under the sun, just for the pleasure and relief it gave me. This relief I could not have had in any other way. Handwriting would have been out of the question at that time, except for an occasional painfully scrawled line or two.

My little battered “portable” grew to be my best friend–with the possible exception of the butterflies. It was a constant companion, and the most important thing in my life. When I was happy or sad, ecstatic or anxious, I flew to the typewriter and poured my heart to it. It produced thousands of letters for me. It ticked off small stories and snatches of verse. A good many yards of its black ribbon went for purely fanciful purposes–a prodigious waste of time, if one believes that time spent happily is ever wasted.

It gave me hours of good practice in descriptive writing. Beside the butterflies, I kept a collection of sunsets. I would sit ensconced at a west window with the typewriter, feeling very much in touch with cosmic affairs, and write about the changes in color and cloud shapes as they took place. New Hampshire woods in the summer were full of things to be described. No sooner did I see light breaking silver on wet leaves, a smooth little red lizard in green moss, or some of Mr. de la Mare’s fairies ducketing among wild flowers, than I could write–write joyously about it all. And I was very happy.

Eventually daydreams took the form of a story, which grew into a small book, “The House without Windows.” This was the first more or less permanent result of the thousands of words I had typed since I was four years old. I don’t know anything about the importance of this story, in a literary sense; but it was important to me in that I had a great deal of fun writing it, editing, reading it in actual, honest-to-goodness galley proof, and eventually seeing it bound and sent out mysteriously into the world. (All this was in the happy, happy days before I awoke to learn that good writing does not flow like a singing brook, but must be hammered and beaten drop by drop from the heart’s blood!)

But beside daydreams and butterflies, the typewriter recorded faithfully actual events, such as mountain trips, canoe trips–thus taking the place of drawing or photography. From a ten-day voyage in a three-masted schooner, another small book was created, “The Voyage of the Norman D.” And of course, when my mother and I sailed on our very romantic roamings about the West Indies and the South Seas, our typewriters were our most important articles of baggage. As a matter of fact, they took the place of pocket-books!

I do not mean to imply that these two books were the most important result of my having learned to typewrite, or of my desire to write intensely about whatever entered my head. I should feel the same about the importance of the typewriter even if I had never written as much as a single word that would be permanent.

Too many people have for too long thought of the typewriter as an instrument or purely commercial value. I want to stress the point that for me that was the least of its values. It was not until after twelve years of intimate association with it that i made any use of its commercial value in an office. And this seemed decidedly a more tawdry use of its magic. Its beauty for me lay in the fact that it gave me a way to talk, to describe butterflies fluently and neatly–a way to keep my butterflies without putting pins through their shimmering wings.

I was gloriously free to talk about whatever I wished, whatever I considered important or beautiful. So I began to explore fare and wide in search of still more beauty which I could set down and make my own. I thought about flowers, and learned their names. I watched leaves and light, water and clouds more carefully. I listened for familiar bird-songs. I became acquainted with ferns and mosses, small flickering fishes in the lake, squirrels and chipmunks rustling the leaves. My typewriter was the efficient medium through which I poured out a young adoration of nature.

And then, somehow, the whole thing broke. I no longer could rattle off pages about anything that interested me. Writing began to involve an anguish of concentration, word by word production, revision, much rewriting and rearranging. The spontaneity and fluency were lost for me on the day I longed for sentences to be more perfect, words better chosen, paragraphs more artistically put together. I set for myself a standard which I was never able to reach. I should never again be able to sit down casually and innocently beside a sieve to describe a butterfly. I was gradually growing up, and it wasn’t much fun. It made the writing problem all of a sudden strangely complex and difficult.

But even now the typewriter did not fail me. It patiently limped back and forth across the pages with me. It was made to retrace its steps, to cross out words it had labored over, two write between the lines. Often an unfinished page would be torn from it impatiently, and we would have to start all over. And it very seldom lost its temper!

Sometimes, when I am in the throes of wrestling some beastly paragraph, I stop and sigh for the days when I could put words together as fast as my fingers could tap the keys. And I’m ore and more positive that having a typewriter during all that time was the best thing that could have happened to me. I have often wondered what would happen if every child of four were given a typewriter to work and play with. Knowing nothing about education or psychology or children of four, I couldn’t even venture a guess. Perhaps there would simply be a terrific wholesale destruction of typewriters. An effort would have to be made to impress upon children that a typewriter is magic, and a thing to be handled with gentle reverence. But seriously, I wonder if any child in the world would  not find his life more full of meaning and of beauty, if he could have at his command a means of setting down the things he feels and enjoys.

Once I attended for a short time an up-to-date business school. I was rather dismayed when I saw how typewriting was being taught. It was terrifying to look at rows and rows of big belligerent business typewriters, without a single letter on a single key–blank, mute, expressionless. You knew, theoretically, where the letters were. You didn’t look at the keyboard anyhow. This, along with many charts on the wall, dreary exercise books, etc., constituted the modern “touch” system. Learning to typewrite was a matter of hard work and deadly earnest.

I smiled as I remembered how I had learned to typewrite. I hadn’t even known the letters of the alphabet for very long at that time. I could spell only a few simple words. Hands were so very insignificant that only the forefingers were strong enough to stand the strain of tapping typewriter keys. I began by writing my favorite words, notable “butterfly” and “clock.” Gradually, of course, I learned the proper fingering, and developed familiarity with the keyboard. But at no time was the typewriter a matter of dull, deadly drudgery and practice; it was never less than sheer delightful magic.

I should think, then, that the earlier a child can learn to handle a typewriter, the better. At seven or eight years old, the enchantment of butterflies (using the word now as a symbol of anything and everything) begins to come with a wild rush. With a typewriter, something can be done about it. Those first young appreciations of beauty can be cared for and made to grow, instead of being forced to fend for themselves in silence and perhaps to grow dim or fade out altogether.

Just what use now are all those pages of nature-worship I wrote long ago? I cannot answer that for sure, but I venture the suspicion that such things as leaves and flowers, mountains and rivers, and especially butterflies, mean very much more to me know that they would have meant if I had been forced, through lack of a proper tool, into mere passive acceptance. I should not, perhaps, been lured out over the fields in pursuit of brighter and rarer butterflies, had I not known that it was in my power to make them forever my own–immortal, as it were. And I imagine that the same holds true for many other things. This seems to hint at the rather momentous conclusion that perhaps all of life has for me been subtly affected, brightened, because it was never dammed up and forgotten, but given a constant outlet and stimulation through that little old “portable” or mine. Life was a running brook, instead of a tranquil pool. And if this is true of me, why not of others?

Perhaps this is a mere fanciful theory, which any educational expert would at once disprove. Anyway, I still like butterflies. And–but don’t tell anyone–I still don’t know their Latin names. I doubt very much if they need Latin names.