Wooed by beauty and delight.

Just this morning I reread an old post in which I was musing on the Kasses’ research on young people who don’t fall in love the way previous generations did; I switched from there to my cup of tea and print copy of the current Touchstone Magazine, where Anthony Esolen happened to be exploring a related question in “Surprised by Delight: Divine Love and the Love of Man and Woman Surpass Mere Consent.” He skillfully brings together passages from Paradise Lost, John Donne, the Bible, and other sources to flesh out what he means by the delight of both types of love, and asks also, Why did our grandparents, in spite of hard lives full of suffering, retain a memory of delight in their relationships with the opposite sex? One excerpt, from a passage quoting Milton:

The “virgin majesty of Eve” needs no political program to protect or promote her. Virtue itself, embodied in distinctly feminine form, builds in her its lovely seat of authority, and guards her round about with awe. Eve, too, will acknowledge the superior power of Adam, when she describes her submission to his wooing, saying that from that moment on, she sees “how beauty is excelled by manly grace, / And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.”

So should we stress that each sex is for the other, raising boys and girls to be both separate from one another and destined to be united with one another; to use that separate development to endow each sex with peculiar gifts for the other, which the other will experience with surprise and gratitude. Common sense. Familiarity breeds contempt, and nobody ever said, “I love her, because I find nothing surprising in her.” We are swept away not by what we possess in ourselves, but by what we could never imagine in ourselves. If boys and girls are treated indifferently, should we expect them to treat one another as specifically members of the opposite sex with anything but indifference?

I’ve been wanting for a long time to post the poem below, trying and failing to find a painting to go with it. Maybe the descriptions from Esolen’s article (the whole article appears to be available: here) are better at placing the poem in a universal context of the delight of love and beauty and thankfulness, of which we all have our own concrete and sweet examples.

PART OF PLENTY

When she carries food to the table and stoops down
–Doing this out of love–and lays soup with its good
Tickling smell, or fry winking from the fire
And I look up, perhaps from a book I am reading
Or other work: there is an importance of beauty
Which can’t be accounted for by there and then,
And attacks me, but not separately from the welcome
Of the food, or the grace of her arms.
When she puts a sheaf of tulips in a jug
And pours in water and presses to one side
The upright stems and leaves that you hear creak,
Or loosens them, or holds them up to show me,
So that I see the tangle of their necks and cups
With the curls of her hair, and the body they are held
Against, and the stalk of the small waist rising
And flowering in the shape of breasts;
Whether in the bringing of the flowers or of the food
She offers plenty, and is part of plenty,
And whether I see her stooping, or leaning with the flowers,
What she does is ages old, and she is not simply,
No, but lovely in that way.

-Bernard Spencer

Beets in the farm box led to this!

It was a mildly wild evening with eight kids scampering upstairs and down around my house, playing the piano, building with Legos, occasionally squealing, being happy and good. They weren’t my grandchildren, but most of two young families from church who blessed me by coming to eat my soup.

Recently I had received cabbage and beets in my farm box, it being the season for such vegetables. Ah, borscht! Then I ate the red beets beforehand, and my borscht was made with golden beets, so it was not so exciting visually. But it was beefy and really yummy.

There was more of it than I could eat, and the obvious solution to that problem is dinner guests. I invited one family of seven to start with, but the afternoon of The Event, my goddaughter Mary’s siblings (we’ll call them Family B) were being cared for at Family of Seven’s house (call them Family W), and Mother B and Mary got held up and couldn’t retrieve them when planned; I drove 20 minutes and brought them to my house (Mom W’s car couldn’t fit any more bodies) so that they could eat with us and we could proceed as planned.

The dads B and A were nearby, too, one having arrived by train in the neighborhood – and somehow all three vehicles and two dads arrived at my house at 5:00, and we soon gathered around two tables for our soup and bread. I’ve been wanting to get to know Family W better, and it worked so well for their children to have B children around for their first visit to my house.

It occurred to me a little late, when I was halfway up the highway to do my part in the ferrying, that I could have just taken my soup to their house, and it would have been much easier for everyone. But not as much fun for me. In many ways, soup is useful and satisfying.

Don’t confuse the mane with the magpie.

I saw this strange fungus on the walking path last week, and wondered if it were a puffball type. My nephew saw the photo on Instagram and told me it looked like Shaggy Mane Fungus. I thought he might be joking, but Wikipedia gave me the straight scoop: It is indeed Shaggy Mane, a.k.a. Coprinus comatus. “This mushroom is unusual because it will turn black and dissolve itself in a matter of hours after being picked or depositing spores…” It grows “in places which are often unexpected, such as green areas in towns.” The ones I saw were just up the bank from the creek. You can cook and eat the Shaggy Mane — I guess if you do so before it “dissolves itself.”

We are warned not to confuse it with the magpie fungus, Coprinopsis picacea, which is poisonous, and looks like this one, at right.

Or with the common inkcap fungus, Coprinopsis atramentaria, whose botanical name also starts with Coprin-, but whose form is nothing similar.

I’ll be interested to see what condition my specimens are in next time I meet them.

Gardening in sunshine and breezes.

The picture below shows clearly how I’ve kept one of my Elephant Heart plum trees (far left) to about half the size of the other, by my prunings over the last few seasons. I don’t know why that is, but I seem to have continued the trend today. I pulled on my jeans and was out with the loppers before breakfast, because my gardener-helper was coming and would be able to clean up after me.

The north side of my garden is especially shady on this winter day, but it is a sunny and drying-out kind of day in any case, in the midst of a series of also welcome waterings. Everything is damp, and the sunshine drew out the scents of all the plants that we were trimming and cleaning up: a little bay tree in a pot, rose geranium, lemon. Alejandro said that even the fig branches gave off a pleasant smell where we sliced off a few branches in our team effort to shape that tree.

I found a flower on the fava beans, and buds on the azealea. The strawberry runners that I staked into the soil have taken firm root under the rice straw that is now so sodden that we threw it out. I hope it’s true, what those “old-timers” predicted when they saw the lizards last summer, that we will have a mild winter.

But the midwinter of 2018 was mild, prompting the fruit trees to bud early enough that they got frosted later on, ruining at least the plum crop — at least, that’s what Mr. Greenjeans, my youngest old-timer friend, told me.

I hated to stop my gardening this noon; I never get my fill of seeing the new buds, and pine boughs waving in the breeze – but A. and I both had tasks elsewhere to tend to. As the days grow longer there will be plenty more work to provide us with happy times in the dirt and leaves and fresh air. Every day in the garden reveals change and new beauty.