All posts by Sonja Hakala

I have been a professional writer since 1987. I've written for newspapers, magazines, worked in the book publishing industry, and published novels and non-fiction books. In addition, I've guided numerous authors through the process of independent publishing, and offer workshops in that same vein. I'm the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Project and over the course of six years, we gathered and gave away over 500 handmade quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

The Twice Warmed

Continuing my 40-gratitudes series, I want to talk about wood. Specifically, wood heat.

For those of you unfortunates who live by furnace alone, let me explain about wood heat. If you are chilled—as in cold down to your bone marrow—nothing warms you better than wood heat. If you have a wood stove with a glass front, you can indulge yourself in the ancient ritual of fire-watching. In fact, fire circles have inspired more stories than any other natural phenomenon used by humankind.

Then there’s the scent of woodsmoke on a cold morning as you walk to the end of the driveway to get the morning paper.

Nearly everything about wood heat involves ritual from the cutting and splitting of trees to the meditative state you can achieve while stacking to opening up the top of a wood stove to see the pulsing orange glow of the embers inside.

Yep, I do concede it’s work intensive, and you end up vacuuming around the stoves a lot. But I love wood heat, and when the power goes out, I am reminded once again of the fragility of fossil fuels and the benevolence of trees.

Dear Jane

Not long after we got hit by Hurricane Irene, a friend of my son’s sent me an article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the healing balm to be found in classic literature.

When we are under stress, the article stated, we find comfort in the familiar. And for readers, that comfort is most often found in classic literature.

When Marie sent me the article, I was re-reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, one of my all-time favorites. But as much as I enjoy Edith, it’s Jane Austen who rules my heart when it comes to comfort books.

For years, my collection of Janes was a rather dilapidated mess of old paperbacks, a couple of which had failed bindings. I once sighed over this, and told my husband that “someday, I am going to buy myself a full set of Jane in hardcover so I can read and re-read them to my heart’s content.” That year, for my birthday, he presented me with this wonderful set of Jane Austen done by the Oxford University Press from the earliest print editions of her work. They are a treasure of historical and literary pleasure.

The comfort of familiar books is powerful. It’s the reason why young children want to “read” the same book over and over because what Bartholomew does with the Oobleck on page 10 is exactly what he did on page 10 the last time the book was opened. Books are rational in that way, behaving as expected again and again.

And for me, when my whole life has been turned upside down by a hurricane or illness, there’s nothing better than Jane.

Today, I’m restarting my quest for Irene recovery funds to stabilize the bank on which our house sits. Please pass the Pride and Prejudice.

Un-Still Life with Birds

I love birds. Love to watch them. Love to collect their left-behind feathers when I find them on a trail. Love to find nests of eggs that we can watch hatch.

And I feed them. In fact, I would say that feeding the birds is a lifelong habit with me. One year when I was seven or eight, I asked for a bird feeder for Christmas. My Grampa Hakala kept three large feeders in his backyard every winter, and anything Grampa did was something I wanted to do too.

Anyway, my Uncle Don—handy guy that he was—made me a feeder that attached to the outside wall of our house so that the feeder itself was level with my bedroom window. We filled it with seed, and waited for the birds to show up.

They did. Chickadees first. They’re always the first to spy a new food source. And then the gray squirrels. Actually, I liked watching them too.

This winter, my two feeders are attracting flocks of wintering-over goldfinch. I’ve never seen so many goldfinches during the winter. And now their feathers are starting to change from their seasonal olive green to their brilliant yellow.

And then, three weeks early, a flock of redwing blackbirds showed up, eating seed on the snow before roosting in our big ash tree to trade gossip in their screeing voices.

Endlessly fascinating, these little critters. I’m so glad they’re a part of my world.

THE Book Sale

As winter begins to wane (and this year, it’s hard to tell because it never actually arrived), I look forward to one of my favorite annual events here in the greater UV. (Upper Valley, for the uninitiated.) For those of us in love with print media, this is THE book event of the year.

Folks from all over the region (and often beyond), strip their shelves of unwanted reading material and donate it to this fundraiser. Behind the scenes, dozens of volunteers cull the books based on their condition (no moldies need apply), price them, and then on the third weekend of April, everything gets sold.

I started volunteering to sort books about ten years ago, and last year, I wrote a long story about the sale for Upper Valley Life magazine to celebrate 5CBS’s 50th anniversary.

I just got the email yesterday—this year’s sorting site is ready, volunteers are revving up, and you’ll find my hands deep in the innards of a bag or box of books on March 3.

The best part is this: volunteers get first dibs on great reads. Just look at what I scored last year.

For my fellow book lovers, this year’s sale is on April 21 and 22 (half price day) at Lebanon High School just off exit 18 from I-89. Be there—or I get all your books.