The Only Treasure There Is

An extremely rare pic of Alan (snapped on the sly) with his friends Winnie and Piglet. He greatly enjoys the company of both, but has an especially tender spot in his heart for little Piglet. Whenever Alan sees him “he is always smiling right back,” and “looking at him makes me happy,” says he.

As I’ve mentioned before, Alan is a huge fan of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and especially Piglet. So I tend to keep an eye out for them as I bounce about the Internet in my occasional rambling searches for the next Great Image.

So I was charmed to come upon a photograph of the original toys loved first and so well by a young Christopher Robin Milne in the Chelsea section of London, England. Here were Pooh bear, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore, and Piglet, all having somehow come to rest far from the Hundred Acre Wood (but not far from Central Park!) in New York City, in the central Children’s Room at the Donnell Library Center on 53rd Street:

Thanks to WallyG on Flickr,

When my brothers and sister were all children (and we were, honestly!) long, long ago, we grew up on A.A. Milne’s The House on Pooh Corner, and When We Were Very Young, brought to life in a wonderful way by the amazingly suitable illustrations of E. H. Shepherd.

More recently, I gave the books to my niece and nephew, the one-of-a-kind Alianne and her unstoppable brother Thompson.

Remember this?

Us Two

Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
“Where are you going today?” says Pooh:
“Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too.
Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he.
“Let’s go together,” says Pooh.

“What’s twice eleven?” I said to Pooh.
(“Twice what?” said Pooh to Me.)
“I think it ought to be twenty-two.”
“Just what I think myself,” said Pooh.
“It wasn’t an easy sum to do,
But that’s what it is,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what it is,” said Pooh.

“Let’s look for dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“Yes, let’s,” said Pooh to Me.
We crossed the river and found a few-
“Yes, those are dragons all right,” said Pooh.
“As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.
That’s what they are,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what they are,” said Pooh.

“Let’s frighten the dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“That’s right,” said Pooh to Me.
“I’m not afraid,” I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted “Shoo!
Silly old dragons!”- and off they flew.

“I wasn’t afraid,” said Pooh, said he,
“I’m never afraid with you.”

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
“What would I do?” I said to Pooh,
“If it wasn’t for you,” and Pooh said: “True,
It isn’t much fun for One, but Two,
Can stick together, says Pooh, says he.
“That’s how it is,” says Pooh.

— A. A. Milne

Here is the author with his son Christopher Robin, and Pooh. The bear, back when it was only a stuffed toy, was made by England’s Farnell & Co., bought at Harrod’s Department store, and given to the boy in celebration of his first birthday.

With Edward Bear (a/k/a Winnie the Pooh)

And though their working relationship was apparently not the smoothest, the wisdom of entrusting Ernest Howard Shepherd to give Pooh and his friends form, and bring them visually to life, is far beyond doubt.

Pooh and Piglet send regrets, as forwarded by Ernest Shepherd.

As I looked at these rather worn, tattered old toys, I couldn’t help but wonder “What makes these things much more valuable than gold or any kind of precious stone, no matter how vast in quantity, exquisite, or rare? Why might these tiny figures well be considered national treasures, belonging not alone to the Americas, or to their native England, but to the world? What can begin to explain the number of people that must make the trek to the Children’s Room in that particularLibrary, often with children of their own? And then just stand there, quietly, or whisper in hushed and reverent undertone to their loved one?”

“What first breathed such life into these humble toys (see how very small Piglet stands?) those many years ago, when even the oldest now among us ‘were all very young?’

Piglet, close up, on the small side but confident with Eeyore at his back.

And what is it about them exactly that touches people so, and always has, each new generation after the next? How can they remain so perenially fresh when everything else is always changing?”

And the answer that occurred to me, with a singular clarity, was simply this: Love.

One of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strips, October 1993. (To view larger, just click on image and return to browser using back arrow.) It says so much. The great Bill Watterston, as his idol Charles Schultz years before him, undertook a long and bruising struggle in fighting to get a strip into the newspapers. He says it was the talking tiger that finally opened up that door. The rest is history.

Which in turn got me to thinking: Did you know that, without the gift of that vision you carry in your heart for those that you love, they might feel themselves more as these tattered old dolls than truly alive and filled with potential? In a sense, it is your love that fills their sails and sets them on course for each day’s journey.

Yes, you. You don’t have to be perfect to give good love. Look into their eyes, you’ll see. The important thing is to never give up. Love is never just for others, though that toxic notion is indeed commonplace.

And: are you consciously aware of the ones in your life that are giving you life, perhaps imperfectly, but as best as they can?

Just some food for thought. The problem with the word “love,” in probably every language, is that it means so many different things that it can come to mean nothing at all. And, it’s often reduced to the simply romantic, or even sentimental.

Yet these simple stuffed animals helped bring home to me, once again, the greater force, energy, and pure power behind that mystery we call, in shorthand and because we must call it something, love. There is nothing known in all of Heaven and Earth, nothing even close, to be called its equal. As poetically expressed by ee cummings:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

“This is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.” Now, that is an immense physical force, none the less ancient or reflective of sublime rhythms because it might be reduced to theoretical calculations and equations in Physics.

And the real wonder of it is, it’s inside you right now. With every beat of your heart, every breath you take. It extends outward through your voice, and spreads with your touch. Why? Who knows?

But what of it? Well, that is very much up to you. Why not celebrate it, yes, even now?


I wound up creating for Alan a desktop wallpaper, and called it “Love Gives Them Life”:

Please feel free to download and enjoy it, if you like. I’ve also added a variety of other images there, because I enjoy facing a new image on my computer quite often (as long as I’m going to have to be sitting in front of the damned thing, anyway!):

Thank you. I know it’s not easy, sometimes. So, again,

Thank you.


2 Responses to The Only Treasure There Is

  1. Leslie says:

    I’m so grateful to have stumbled on this blog in my quest for new illustrations for children I know who can’t get enough of the Shepard illustrations. I have become increasingly fascinated by how even very young children are entranced by even the black and white prints among the paperback additions of When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Yesterday I was looking after a three year old who insists on choosing which poems are read aloud by illustration. She stares at them for half an hour before she takes a nap. I know it can’t be the delightful way they conjure the 1920s, or any number of other associations that captivate me about the drawings. There is something sincere and un-precious about these depictions of childhood, they capture a wonder that reminds me of Wordsworth’s Intimations on Immortality, in which he discusses the difference in childhood’s perceptions to those of adulthood: “At length the Man perceives it die away/And fade into the light of common day.” So thank you for writing this little essay on how much the original toys meant as well. And to have found an actual photo of the real Christopher Robin and his bear!

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