Around December first, the summer people All have gone. Some had stayed to see the fall And some for hunting season—all have gone.
We walk deserted roads. The first snows came But dried away to traces in the ditch And snowy patches on the forest floor.
In town the Christmas lights are blinking bright, The tourists few. The locals are subdued, At peace with what some still call Advent time.
It’s dark by four. We light a fireplace fire. We have a drink and share a meal and read Until it’s time to go to early bed.
Outdoors to fetch tomorrow’s wood, I stand Beneath the stars. It’s moonless, clear and cold. The constellations reach like outspread hands.
Star bright but not at all a silent night, There seems to be a constant trembling— Someone surely there, someone almost here. ~Steven Peterson “Advent”
During these quiet quarantined days when we no longer share meals meeting on screens rather than living rooms, there is a sense of trembling anticipation, waiting and watching for the world to feel safer again.
We wander, wondering, looking for Someone who is almost here but not quite yet. Born to die for poor ornery people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky That Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky
Even without family gathered around us this day, we do have each other and that is a blessing in and of itself. May we revel in our thanksgiving feast for two because, through thick and thin and COVID, we are still together.
I stop the car along the pasture edge, gather up bags of corncobs from the back, and get out. Two whistles, one for each, and familiar sounds draw close in darkness— cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland, twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared. They come deepened and muscular movements conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent heavy with earth, simple beyond communion, beyond the stretched-out hand from which they calmly take corncobs, pulling away as I hold until the mid-points snap. They are careful of my fingers, offering that animal-knowledge, the respect which is due to strangers; and in the night, their mares’ eyes shine, reflecting stars, the entire, outer light of the world here. ~Jane Hirshfield “After Work”from Of Gravity and Angels.
I’ve been picking up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for the Haflingers. These are apples that we humans wouldn’t take a second glance at in all our satiety and fussiness, but the Haflingers certainly don’t mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.
I’ve found over the years that our horses must be taught to eat apples–if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing–until they are cut in slices that is. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.
When I offer a whole apple to a young Haflinger who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I’ve yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they’ll pick up a section very gingerly, kind of hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I’ve seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream on a spoon and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and his mouth rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.
It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.
The Haflinger veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples, a “pregnant” belly of fruit, as it were. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.
There is the “bite a little bit at a time” approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the “bite it in half” technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy “take the whole thing at once” horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.
What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from someone’s hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing that it is a gift at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, and bypass them because they are unfamiliar?
Perhaps if the giver really cares enough to “teach” us to accept this communion meal, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed by the simple act of receiving.
We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time, making it last rather than greedily grab hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, thereby losing some in the process. Either way, it is a gracious gift, and it is how we receive it that makes all the difference.
The kitchen is sweet with the smell of apples, big yellow pie apples, light in the hand, their skins freckled, the stems knobby and thick with bark, as if the tree could not bear to let the apple go. Baskets of apples circle the back door, fill the porch, cover the kitchen table.
My mother and my grandmother are running the apple brigade. My mother, always better with machines, is standing at the apple peeler; my grandmother, more at home with a paring knife, faces her across the breadboard. My mother takes an apple in her hand,
She pushes it neatly onto the sharp prong and turns the handle that turns the apple that swivels the blade pressed tight against the apple’s side and peels the skin away in long curling strips that twist and fall to a bucket on the floor. The apples, coming off the peeler,
Are winding staircases, little accordions, slinky toys, jack-in-the-box fruit, until my grandmother’s paring knife goes slicing through the rings and they become apple pies, apple cakes, apple crisp. Soon they will be married to butter and live with cinnamon and sugar, happily ever after. ~Joyce Sutphen, “Apple Season” from Coming Back to the Body.
I liked how the starry blue lid of that saucepan lifted and puffed, then settled back on a thin hotpad of steam, and the way her kitchen filled with the warm, wet breath of apples, as if all the apples were talking at once, as if they’d come cold and sour from chores in the orchard, and were trying to shoulder in close to the fire. She was too busy to put in her two cents’ worth talking to apples. Squeezing her dentures with wrinkly lips, she had to jingle and stack the bright brass coins of the lids and thoughtfully count out the red rubber rings, then hold each jar, to see if it was clean, to a window that looked out through her back yard into Iowa. And with every third or fourth jar she wiped steam from her glasses, using the hem of her apron, printed with tiny red sailboats that dipped along with leaf-green banners snapping, under puffs of pale applesauce clouds scented with cinnamon and cloves, the only boats under sail for at least two thousand miles. ~Ted Kooser “Applesauce”
Politics is applesauce. ~Will Rogers
Yesterday was applesauce-making day on our farm. The number of windfall apples lying on the ground is exponentially increasing, so I could put off the task no longer. The apple trees in our orchard are primarily antique varieties rarely grown any longer. I selected Spitzenburgs, a favorite apple of Thomas Jefferson, a Baldwin or two, some Pippins, a few Kings, and some Dutch Mignons, a russet apple undistinguished in appearance, not at all pretty, and easy to pass by for something more showy.
It took no time at all to fill several large boxes. Sadly, some apples were beyond hope; they lay rotting, half consumed by hornets, slugs, deer, raccoons and other critters so I let them be.
The task of washing, peeling and coring organic apples is time consuming. They require a fair amount of preparation: the bruised spots must be cut out, as well as the worm holes and tracks. The apples are cut to the core and sliced into the simmering pot to be stirred and slowly cooked down to sauce. Before long, before my eyes, together they become a pale yellow mash, blending their varied flavors together. However the smooth sweetness of this wonderful sauce is owed to the Dutch Mignon. It is a sublime sauce apple despite its humble unassuming appearance. Used alone, it would lack the “stand out” flavors of the other apple varieties, but as it cooks down, it becomes a foundation allowing the other apples to blend their unique qualities.
If I’m feeling really homespun, I marry the sublime with cinnamon and sugar, to create something happily ever after.
So it should be with the fellowship of diverse people and so should it be after a painful political season. We are bruised, wormy, but salvageable. We are far better together than we are separate. And through the process, with perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon and sweetness, we are transformed into something far better than how we began.
Night and day seize the day, also the night — a handful of water to grasp. The moon shines off the mountain snow where grizzlies look for a place for the winter’s sleep and birth. I just ate the year’s last tomato in the year’s fatal whirl. This is mid-October, apple time. I picked them for years. One Mcintosh yielded sixty bushels.
Fifty years later we hold each other looking out the windows at birds, making dinner, a life to live day after day, a life of dogs and children and the far wide country out by rivers, rumpled by mountains. So far the days keep coming. Seize the day gently as if you loved her. ~Jim Harrison, from “Carpe Diem” from Dead Man’s Float.
Forty some years later, the days keep coming, a life to live day after day after day. I try not to take a single one for granted, each morning a gift to be seized gently and embraced with reverent gratitude.
Even knowing I am meant to cherish this gift, I squander it. I grumble, I grouse, I can be tough to live alongside. I know better than to give into an impulse toward discontent, yet still it happens. Something inside me whispers that things could be better than they are — more of this, less of that — I tend to dwell on whatever my heart yearns for rather than the riches right in front of me.
I’m not the first one to struggle with this nor will I be the last. It turned out rather badly when those before me gave into their discontent and took what was not theirs to have.
We are still living out the consequences of that fall from grace.
Yet, even in our state of disgrace, despite our grumbling and groaning, we have been seized – gently and without hesitation – and held closely by One who loves us at our most unloveable.
Though my troubles and yearnings may continue, I will be content in that embrace, knowing even if I loosen my grip, I will not be let go.
What if you slept And what if In your sleep You dreamed And what if In your dream You went to heaven And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower And what if When you awoke You had that flower in your hand Ah, what then? ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge “What if you slept…”
What do our dreams tell us of heaven?
The last few nights I have dreamed of those with whom I once had a warm friendship but no longer do. My dreams were of grace and reconciliation, of walking and talking together and rediscovering our common goals and beliefs rather than dwelling on estrangement and sadness as we’ve gone our separate ways.
Upon waking, I wonder what vision of heaven this could be: finding the lost treasure of connection that I allowed to let go. Restoring a friendship is a strange and beautiful flower plucked in a dream. I must hold it gently in my hand as the precious gem it is.
In the juggle of job, geography, child-rearing, art, sometimes the only quiet is at the kitchen table, a pot of tea, perhaps a bowl of custard, a visitor. The conversation—a fine visible thread one or the other occasionally pulls tight—stretches from Ireland to Alaska, culture to creature, mad experience to dizzy present. How to best sew the dream? The question follows the line we daily stitch: the journey inside. On the stove water steams. Another pot suffices. ~Ken Waldman,”Irish Tea” from The Secret Visitor’s Guide
Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone…
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last. Everything is waiting for you. ~David Whyte from “Everything is Waiting for You”
Many of us are feeling conversation-deficient right now. I know I am; even as a confirmed introvert, I struggle with the desire to stay comfortably internal when instead I need a good chat to discover through careful listening what others are thinking and saying.
Typed words on a screen or handwritten on a piece of paper, or confined to a muted box in a zoom meeting, or spontaneous telephone conversations just don’t do it.
We need a pot of tea, a mug of coffee, a scone or piece of fruit placed in front of us, and a couple of hours to trace the threads of our lives and see where they connect. We build a tapestry of friendship together, sorting through the colors and themes and blending what we can where we are able.
A conversation doesn’t have to be profound nor have an agenda. Sitting together with the patchwork of the world’s swirling events is reason enough. You choose the fabric, I’ll thread the needle and we’ll sew a dream of a better world.
When we stitch with our words, the good in you is sewn together with the good in me – a solid seam reinforced and everlasting.
Here we sit as evening falls Like old horses in their stalls. Thank you, Father, that you bless Us with food and an address And the comfort of your hand In this great and blessed land. Look around at each dear face, Keep each one in your good grace. We think of those who went before, And wish we could have loved them more. Grant to us a cheerful heart, Knowing we must soon depart To that far land to be with them. And now let’s eat. Praise God. Amen. ~Gary Johnson “Table Grace”
The world begins at a kitchen table. No Matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite. ~Joy Harjo “Perhaps the World Ends Here”
Our life revolves around the table, whether at home or at church.
This is where we hang out late into the evening, and begin the day before dawn.
This is where prayers happen, the meals happen, the arguments happen. This is where we listen to, understand and love each other.
This is where we share what we have and eat and are fed and this is where God provides for us daily.
One of the hardest parts of the pandemic is that the virus finds people who sing and talk together around a table, and who take off their masks to eat together. Truly this Enemy has found a way to keep people away from one another, caring for one another and being nourished together.
We think of those who went before and wish that we could have loved them more.
Let us love one another now, while we can, when we can, and we shall feast together later.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.