Cinders, saints, and a pillow.

Before I returned home from my travels,
a little rain had washed the ashes off much of my garden.

lemon balm with echeveria (hens & chicks)

I had turned off the fountain before my departure, and the rainwater that was left in the bowl had cinders at the bottom. It occurred to me that they might be bits of my goddaughter’s house that burned to the ground and released some of itself into the wind during the incineration.

Thank God, almost all of the northern California fires are contained. We no longer have smoke burning our eyes and lungs, and roads and neighborhoods have opened up daily, but thousands of people lost their homes and/or jobs and businesses and many are still looking for a place to live.

When we talk to our friends or even strangers, we start by finding out how they were affected. Everyone has stories of that morning of October 9th, and every day still I think of someone new that I need to check on with an email or text message.

 

dwarf pomegranate fruit

 

 

In the whole of California, a thousand firefighters are still on task, and at the peak of the season 11,000 were fighting. They came from as far away as New York, Florida and Australia, bless their souls. We’ve had 6400 fires in the state this season, which burned 556,000 acres, much more than last year.

But my neighborhood did not burn, and I haven’t seen the destruction close-up yet. I’m walking my creek paths as before.

I’ve also jumped back into parish life:

Last weekend I cooked our Sunday Agape Meal for 100 people. You might remember that I did this twice before as a memorial for my husband; this time it was not for any special occasion. It consisted of 10 gallons of meaty chili with lots of vegetables, served over squares of creamy polenta, with tossed green salad on the side; sour cream and fresh cilantro for garnish.

I had a few helpers to do prep work for me on Saturday, and a few others to help me serve Sunday after the service. This combination was a hit, so maybe I will do it again. Each time I’ve cooked like this has been a little easier, so maybe I can start doing it more often.

Sunday evening we held a Celebration of the Saints party for which children could dress up and tell the stories of the saint they were representing. We had crafts and a soup dinner and it was so low-key and relaxing, with none of the hype and over-stimulation that always makes me wince on behalf of the little ones. I was privileged to help a little boy named Marcus work out his idea for a needle-felted pumpkin with fried-egg eyes that morphed into even thicker stars.

When we communion bread bakers showed up for duty on Tuesday morning we soon realized it was the feast day of our patron saints! Saints Spryidon and Nikodim are communion bread bakers from way back who watch over our baking from their icon each week, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the honor of baking prosphora, the bread of offering, on their day. It was very special, and we arranged an informal photo-shoot for the occasion.

Icons and saints graced my day today, also, thanks to my housemate Kit. I think I told you she is moving back to Oregon from where she came two years ago to live with me and be a blessing. Before she takes her final load of stuff north in a few days she wanted to visit San Francisco once more, and invited me.

St. John

We visited Holy Virgin Cathedral and the relics of St. John Maximovitch, and also walked to the chapel and house where he lived, where one can sit in a little room with the icons and desk and chair that were his own, where he prayed. That my young friend and I could share this last holy experience together is just one more cord that binds us in the Holy Spirit.

We enjoyed just being in the city and not trying to accomplish too much. Visited the Wells Fargo History Museum which is wonderfully free and fascinating. Craned our necks to see the sky when walking downtown; and ate dim sum for the first time, with exquisite fried mochi sesame buns.

Driving in traffic to and in San Francisco is normally a trial, but today’s outing was relaxing and soul-nourishing. I drove and Kit navigated, and we were compatible sight-seers in every way. The next week will be just as busy as the last one has been, so I’ll be glad to sleep soon on the pillow of peace.

I eat bread and take naps.

Last week I took a nap three days in a row, something I’m sure I hadn’t done since I was three years old! What it was about my condition or the environment that facilitated that, I am still pondering….

I’d flown from my daughter’s new home in Wisconsin to Tucson, Arizona, to visit friends Martin and Mabel. Those are nicknames, of course. If I didn’t care about preserving their privacy I’d use their real names, which are more beautiful and carry for me some of the flavor of who they are. These people are dear to me because of what we have shared over several decades: joys and sorrows and homeschooling, food and gardens, chickens and laughing and lots of babies. And over all and in all, the love of God.

Mabel confessed to me once that she just wanted “to make bread and babies,” and I always wished I had thought to say that first. But no one could hope to match her turns of phrase, songs that spring up from her good heart ready to bless and teach, and her amazing metaphors. On this visit she described Martin and herself as being a heavy stone on the end of a string, keeping a helium balloon with a happy face on it from floating away. I don’t remember who was symbolized by the balloon (It wasn’t me!)

The temperature was mostly in the 80’s while I was there, maybe the low 90’s, but as their house is about 2500′ elevation and the desert air is so dry, I never felt uncomfortably warm. Their spirit was peaceful, no air conditioning spoiled the mild October atmosphere, Mabel and Martin both cooked healthy food for me, and the bed was firm. I took the cure.

We talked and talked, drank tea, and walked a little  –  then I strolled alone Sunday morning in the cool air, and admired the mesquite trees, ocotillos, purple cactuses and palo verde trees. I attended Divine Liturgy at the elegant and evidently new Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church.

Mabel has not stopped making bread, and she fed me two kinds — first a hearty no-knead oatmeal stout bread baked during my visit. Then sourdough rye from a Tassajara Bread Book recipe; she sliced a good portion of that loaf into a ziploc for me to take on my journey home. I can’t remember ever eating anything like that bread, each fat slice sustaining enough to the body and soul that a single one would have done for a meal — but orange zest, caraway and other seeds combined in a flavor whirl that made me unwilling to wait for the next meal to have that experience again.

I think God knew that it would be hard to come back home where the fires were still burning, to a ravaged land full of sad stories, so He provided these friends to remind me of and lavish on me His everlasting Love, to shore me up beforehand. And He surprised me with naps!

I hadn’t cracked open my own copy of the Tassajara Bread Book in a very long time — my book that I bought because of Mabel in the first place. But I came home determined to revive once again my old sourdough habits, at least long enough to bake up a batch of that Sourdough Rye. It’s not as easy to turn out a homey metaphor or proverb that pleases, or to make pizza dough like Martin does, but I guess that just means I’ll have to visit again soon.

 

 

Brick and stone and blue skies.

The second half of my week in Wisconsin the weather was blue skies and perfect Autumn. Pearl took me to downtown Milwaukee for a brief tour of a few places. We saw the new skyscrapers and the tall old buildings, which seem to blend well stylistically with each other. They made me want to take a virtual tour of the architecture of Milwaukee, or even better, to come back another day for an on-the-ground tour.

We walked along the Milwaukee River a bit, and bought cheese and sausages.

And saw these sidewalk tiles evoking Paddle-to-the-Sea, perhaps?

Pearl’s husband Nate works at Marquette University now. We walked on campus…

…and headed for the little chapel that Nate had told me about many months ago when he first encountered it; he knew I would want to visit it, too.

It’s the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, dating from 15th century France, which has twice been taken apart stone by stone and reassembled. In the 20th century it was given to the University where it has been a house of worship on the Marquette campus since 1966.

Many years ago I read Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc, which he considered to be his best book. It is completely serious, and fascinating. Joan’s story is so compelling and strange — I would love to read that book again. Just being in this chapel, decorated with some artifacts that are older than the building itself, and are there for the touching, made me feel that I must surely have at least a few drops of French blood in my veins!

My dear daughter and I wrapped up my stay with a hike in the woods. After the rains, the leaves had taken on more color, and many were drifting down through the forest, which would have been deeply quiet had we not been crunching along and chatting. During my stay the weather had been ten degrees warmer than average for this time of year. All in all, it was a happy introduction to Pearl’s new home. The next day I would fly away and be gone.