Friday, October 14, 2011

A Bridge of Contemplation

Spiderwort in the front yard

"The short fall season, therefore, is a blend of both fatigue and melancholy, of final consolidation of the summer's gains and of preparation for the severity of approaching weather. It is a bridge of contemplation, of taking stock."  Michael Dorris, The Broken Cord

I have carried that quote in my commonplace book since 1989.  I know that only because I read The Broken Cord when it was first published. These days I try to remember to date my additions to my book, much like Ann Dillard's writing about wanting to plant a flag in time and say "now."

I stepped out on the deck early this morning, shortly after the day started to lighten. It had rained off and on throughout the night, so the air carried a pungent, wet tang of downed leaves and dead garden. I stood several minutes, watching the clouds scud to the east, hugging myself against the sharp breeze.

We are in our fall season. All over town, the trees are giving up their leaves in showers of red and yellow. Out front, the spiderwort is still blooming, grateful for the cooler, wet weather. It is a patch of purple-blue in an ever deepening puddle of leaves from the ornamental cherry.

Autumn is my favorite season, for the color, for the preparation for the oncoming winter, for the enticing blend of melancholy, fatigue, and contemplation. Yesterday I made a thick chili for our supper tonight. I awoke during the night to hear the rain brushing the windows and smell the chili threading its way through the house. When I came back inside this morning, its scent wrapped itself around me, replacing the raw smells from outside.

A walk to work these days is a walk with my nerves and senses scrubbed raw and laid open to the world. The poet Edna  St. Vincent Millay wrote of what I am feeling. The poem is God's World, the form is a sonnet.

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
      Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
      Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag         5
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,
      But never knew I this;
      Here such a passion is  10
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Like Millay, my soul is all but out of me. And there are many burning leaves yet to fall.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Beyond the Harvest

Sunday night, my mind was stuck on food. I was not hungry; supper was filling. But I thought of food all the same. I pulled a cookbook onto my lap and riffled through the pages.

I spent August, well into September in fact, canning and freezing food from our garden. I plugged the basement freezer back in (it was on summer break) and filled it with the sweet corn from Mrs. Hough, the beans from mom and dad, the apples from everywhere. Jars of green pepper relish and salsa filled the cabinet shelves. I pulled the onions: white, pearly globes; they are drying spread out on paper on the basement floor. Earlier in the summer, Kris had brought over bunches of garlic, now dried and stored in a mesh sack.

Food is plentiful and want is far from our door. All the same, my mind was stuck on food.

Sunday’s supper was excellent. We had bean soup that was a combination of the black bean soup from earlier in the week and some pinto bean soup from the freezer. I tossed in slivers of a red banana pepper I had just picked and one of our own onions, along with some of Kris’s garlic. There was a pan of fresh cornbread. As Warren and I ate, we marveled over the thick, savory concoction, spooning it up carefully to get every last bite. The smell of it hung into the air late into the evening.

I was not hungry Sunday night. All the same, I kept thinking of food. I kept looking at recipes.

Our garden has almost wound down for the year. There are still peppers. A few tomatoes still hang on the raggedy vines. They are all the more precious for being the last tomatoes. I will not taste their likes again until next July.

Our garden has been bountiful this season. But all the same, my mind was not quite at rest.

Sam recently emailed me from far away Oregon to ask me to send him certain recipes. He is working at a local farm market; his diet is changing. He wants to work on his baking, something we experimented with this summer. He is eager to see where his food interests take him. I miss Sam. I want him at our table. I want Ben and Alise there too. I am grateful for being able to eat with David and Elizabeth, not to mention Amy, but those opportunities are infrequent.  I miss sitting at the table with all my children, all our children, down one side and up the other.

Earlier in the day Sunday, I talked by phone with a longtime friend who is struggling with depression. Sometimes I am frustrated with my words as I offer them up, well aware of their inadequacy in touching the very real pain my friend is experiencing. It is like ladling air into a soup bowl. I would rather bring my friend to our table and pass to him our food – the thick soup, the humble cornbread – as we all eat together. I would like to serve my friend a slice of homemade apple pie and tell him to savor it slowly. There is community in coming together to eat; there is healing in sharing a meal. I believe that a week of sharing food at our table would feed my friend both body and soul.

I was not hungry in body Sunday night, but I was hungry in spirit. I was feeling the empty seats at the table, the emptiness my friend is trying to fill. I wanted to feed that emptiness: for family, for my friend struggling with depression, for myself.

It has taken me a few days to think through my food thoughts, days in which I have been sometimes hungry for something that is not food. I am rereading (for the 5th? - the 6th? - time) The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God by Leslie Leyland Fields and find myself moved, not for the first time, by the lines within. Sometimes I think I am being called - quietly, deliberately - to something involving food.

I don't know what that means or may mean. I only know that I am listening.