The Hearthling #000

Welcome to the not-quite-first issue of The Hearthling, a weekly newsletter exploring what a hearthling is and ways to be one. Please note that hearthling rhymes with earthling rather than darthling and is not related to halflings, except that the author of the newsletter did, in part, name her son after Sam Gamgee.

Hearth = heart + art + earth

People come together around a hearth to nourish themselves, their families, a community, and a culture. It is a place for bringing together heart (a choice to care for), art (the skill and tools for caring) and earth (the living/material world from which everything is built).

I don’t intend for this newsletter to have an especially solemn tone, but today’s note has a solemn feel because it is a beginning — the setting out of a mystery seed that will grow in a way I cannot predict.

I also had no intention of writing about hobbits and the Shire here on day one (though it was bound to happen sooner or later). But as I sat, wanting some kind of invitation or statement of intent at this beginning, I felt drawn to pick up four volumes of Tolkien on the hunch I would be reminded of something.

The trees were the worst loss and damage, for at Sharkey’s bidding they had been cut down recklessly far and wide over the Shire; and Sam grieved over this more than anything else. For one thing, this hurt would take long to heal, and only his great-grandchildren, he thought, would see the Shire as it ought to be.

Then suddenly one day, for he had been too busy for weeks to give a thought to his adventures, he remembered the gift of Galadriel. He brought the box out and showed it to the other Travellers (for so they were now called by everyone), and asked their advice.

‘I wondered when you would think of it,’ said Frodo. ‘Open it!’

Inside it was filled with a grey dust, soft and fine, in the middle of which was a seed, like a small nut with a silver shale. ‘What can I do with this?’ said Sam.

‘Throw it in the air on a breezy day and let it do its work!’ said Pippin.

‘On what?’ said Sam.

‘Choose one spot as a nursery, and see what happens to the plants there,’ said Merry.

‘But I’m sure the Lady would not like me to keep it all for my own garden, now so many folk have suffered,’ said Sam.

‘Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘and then use the gift to help your work and better it. And use it sparingly. There is not much here, and I expect every grain has a value.’

So Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each. He went up and down the Shire in this labour; but if he paid special attention to Hobbiton and Bywater no one blamed him. And at the end he found that he still had a little of the dust left; so he went to the Three-Farthing Stone, which is as near the centre of the Shire as no matter, and cast it in the air with his blessing. The little silver nut he planted in the Party Field where the tree had once been; and he wondered what would come of it. All through the winter he remained as patient as he could, and tried to restrain himself from going round constantly to see if anything was happening.

The invocation

How it turned out for Sam

Spring surpassed his wildest hopes. His tree began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty. In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.

Altogether 1420 in the Shire was a marvellous year. Not only was there wonderful sunshine and delicious rain, in due times and perfect measure, but there seemed something more: an air of richness and growth, and a gleam of beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass upon this Middle-Earth…The fruit was so plentiful that young hobbits very nearly bathed in strawberries and cream; and later they sat on the lawns under the plum-trees and ate, until they had made piles of stones like pyramids or the heaped skulls of a conqueror, and then they moved on. And no one was ill, and everyone was pleased, except those who had to mow the grass.

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King