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Carroll County Times
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Cori Brown: Nature’s bits of joy keep me going

I am a news junkie.

I read at least eight sources of news and watch three different news sources on TV most days. In the midst of this global pandemic, however, I am reading and watching less right now.

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It is not because I don’t care, but in this time of crisis, fear of the unknown can do powerful things to your mind and spirit. We don’t really know where we are headed with COVID-19, but one thing I do know is that I’m headed out to the yard to smell the air, sit among the trees and listen to the birds.

These are the little bits of joy that I can rely on to steady my fears and slow my heart. They are my every day source of strength and I need them now more than ever.

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Today I watched my first bumblebee of the season cruise among the grape hyacinths and I was grateful. I normally don’t pay much attention to them but this time was different. There is a saying that “hope springs eternal.”

I would like to turn that around and say spring brings hope eternal, even if it is in the form of just a humble bumblebee.

Other things come into sharper focus as spring moves over us like a gentle wave. Numerous bird boxes in the yard are waiting for occupants. Already I’ve seen tree swallows checking out one and chickadees getting a head start in two others. Bluebirds are in the mix, too, and hopefully will lay claim to a few of them.

My neighbor’s magnolia tree is absolutely gorgeous this year and the timing could not be better. More frequently than not, frost nips the beautiful blossoms and brings them to the ground in a shower of forlorn petals, but not this time. What a blessing to see them thrive.

And then there are some truly unexpected surprises. My partner Jim has a side business restoring antique tools he purchases from auctions in England. They are pretty ho-hum to me (as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder), but a recent delivery wowed me.

It turned out the entire purchase was fishing gear: creels, flies, tools for fly tying, reels, etc. I’m not sure what possessed him to buy the lot but it didn’t matter. I started digging into everything before he even got home. What a goldmine!

The more packages I unwrapped, the more excited I got. The reels were OK, but the flies were wonderful. Brilliant colors and intricate ties made them spectacular. It was when I got to a large package that things really got interesting.

I am not a fly fisher person (Dad used worms and bread balls when he took me fishing way back when) but I know a lot of time and effort goes into fly tying. Imagine my surprise when I opened up a wicker creel box (I learned that it doubled as a seat, too) and found a bag full of fur bits and feathers.

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I love animals so I can’t imagine wearing them but there were dozens of small pieces of fur that, for the most part, appeared to be leftovers from clothing such as coats or collars. The feathers were just as numerous and some were even dyed bizarre bright colors.

It dawned on me that the person who owned all of the things Jim had bought was the same person who tied the flies. He had the tools, the wire, the hooks and all the trimmings to make his beautiful miniature masterpieces.

More closeups of Muriel’s artwork from Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary.

Best of all, though, was a book in the form of a diary. It was a 1980 reproduction of an original diary entitled “Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary.” The brown leatherette cover with gold lettering looked quite ordinary but when I opened it up, I instantly fell in love with it.

Muriel was quite the lady in her day. She grew up in a family of four girls and two boys in the 1880s in Victorian England. Her pursuits aligned much more with her brothers than her sisters, hence she took up fishing and fencing as two of her many interests.

The diary spans from 1913 to 1947 and details fishing trips to Scotland. When I say detail, this is an understatement. There are the usual statistics including the type, number, length and weight of the fish caught and rod and fly used. It’s the artwork, though, that makes the diary extraordinary.

Closeups of Muriel’s artwork from Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary.

Muriel was very talented in her observations. It shows in every page of the book. It is filled with colored illustrations of animal life, including many fish and birds, small landscape paintings, her fishing companions and her beloved dogs who accompanied her on her trips. She even depicted the flies and lures she used.

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When I look at the pictures, I feel like I am there with her. They fill me with peace and contentment. I can only imagine how wonderful it must have been for her to surround herself with such beauty while doing something she loved so much.

Pages from Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary sit on top of a recently acquired English fishing creel box that doubles as a seat. Muriel was not only a great fishing person, but an extremely talented artist, too.

Her diary has inspired me to consider taking a course on nature journaling. I know I don’t have the talent she did but now is a great time to immerse myself even more in what I see around me.

Muriel was a maverick and an inspiration for her time. She pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be a woman in those days.

What a great role model she was and still is for women like me.

Speaking of role models, we have many, many heroes out there right now on the frontlines of our fight against COVID-19. Our heartfelt thanks to them every day for all they do.

Be safe, stay well and watch nature from home, the best place to be right now.


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