Monday, February 19, 2018

"Hand Me Down the Dawn" by Mary Harwell Sayler

It’s 1895. Catherine Caldwell, known as “Cat,” is 19 years old. She’s digging her father’s grave; her mother died some years before. She hasn’t had much education. The people of the town she lives near think of her as rather odd. With no other family, she decides to fulfill a kind of promise to her mother and heath south to Florida, specifically to Siloam Springs on the St. John’s River, a place she’s never visited but which holds the promise of a better life.

She disguises herself as a boy, wearing her father’s dungarees and boots. She hops a freight train headed south, and after she’s discovered and rather painfully thrown off the train, she meets Raff Jordan. Jordan is clearly a man of the gentleman class, and he is piloting his raft of goods to Siloam Springs with the help of a young local man named Wyatt Tate. For several weeks, the three make their way together on the St. John’s River from Jacksonville. Cat discovers that Jordan is a preservationist – someone deeply concerned by the destruction of Florida’s natural habitats by phosphate ore miners and others.

Cat discovers herself liking Jordan, a liking that grows stronger. But their relationship often seems like oil and water. Once they reach Siloam Springs and the big steamboat docked there, Jordan deposits Cat with the Tate family and takes off. Ma Tate isn’t fooled for a moment – she knows Cat is no young boy. And she helps her get a job working as kitchen help at the local hotel and establishing a double life – kitchen boy cleaning pots and pans and beautiful singer at the hotel.

Mary Harwell Sayler
Cat’s story is told in Hand Me Down the Dawn by Mary Harwell Sayler, first published in 1985 and now updated and republished. Sayler is a poet, editor, and writer whose published books include Living in the Nature Poem, Faces in a Crowd, Outside Eden, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes: Poems for Children, Christian Writer’s Guide, Praise: Poems, and What the Bible Says About Love, among many others. She lives in Florida.

Hand Me Down the Dawn is a historical romance, and Sayler has done her historical and environmental homework in telling Cat’s story. And it is a sweet, winsome story, including enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing if Cat will find the life and the love she’s looking for.


Top photograph: Lucas New Lines operated steamboats on the Ocklawaha and St. John’s rivers in Florida in the 1890s.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

He heard the voice

After Genesis 12

He heard the voice
the command to leave
and that was sufficient
to pack up his life and
leave for a land he’d
never seen. The command
was accepted in faith
obeyed in faith
implemented in faith
not only a step
but a journey into the unknown
with families and animals
and responsibilities trailing
behind him in faith.
They didn’t hear the voice
but they heard him when
he said it was the time
to leave, to leave in faith.

Photograph by NASA via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday Good Reads

I finished reading a book about Brexit this week. In fact, it was a novel by Anthony Cartwright called The Cut, and specially commissioned by the publisher. The idea was to understand why a majority of British voters said they wanted to leave the EU. One of the key themes is how easy it is to see the prejudice in others and completely overlook the prejudices in ourselves. It has lessons for people in the United States. I’ll be writing more about it next month.

Tessa Carman at Mere Orthodoxy reads The Gospel in George Macdonald and considers the reality of creeks. Fred Sanders talks about the Biblical paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner. An anti-slavery campaigner you may never have heard of is Benjamin Lay, and it’s a fascinating story.

A lot of good poetry this week, including a story from The Guardian on T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and how it remains one of the finest reflections ever written on mental illness.

And the video is a song we sing often at our church.

Life and Culture

Earning the Tradition – Glenn Arbery at The Imaginative Conservative.

The Death of Newsweek – Jonathan Alter at The Atlantic.

How to Stay Informed Without Staying Glued to the News – Scott Slayton at One Degree to Another.

Art and Photography

Ferns and Poinsettias and Snow Day – Tim Good.

Achieving a Luminosity: Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Biblical Paintings – Fred Sanders at The Scriptorium Daily.

Hiking Northbrook Gorge – Neil Ennis at Musings.


Relic – Matthew Thorburn at Image Journal.

Annabelle Moseley – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

The cause – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.

The Language of the Dead – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

The Eleventh of January – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Headlong into Light – Jason Ramsey at Altarwork.


The Factitude of Creeks, or, Loving the Real – Tessa Carman at Mere Orthodoxy.

Tears of Hope – Kayla Hodges at Literary Life.

Christendom in 1200 Words (Give or Take) – Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.

Faith & Reason vs. Mush – Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

A Blessed Lent – Martha Orlando at Meditations of My Heart.

American Stuff

Benjamin Lay: The Quaker dwarf who fought slavery – Nic Rigby at BBC (Hat tip: J of India).

British Stuff

How to do things – David Warren at Essays in Idleness.

Writing and Literature

Behold Our God – Praise and Harmony Singers

Painting: A Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Jean Francoise de Troy (1679-1752).