The orange blossoms beckoned, from my youth, from the Central Valley, from the treasury of olfactory memories in my mind, and from the image imprinted there the last time I visited my childhood home at this time of year. I didn’t remember the scent itself, but I remembered the ecstasy of inhaling it.
In response I made a little road trip last week, and spent time in Tulare, Kern and Fresno Counties, smelling citrus blooms and visiting with family and friends. I stayed with my sister Nancy, the farmer, who lives in the middle of the groves of trees that she and her husband care for. The Sumo mandarins that directly surround them were just about to bloom, so they had recently been covered with bee netting.
What? you ask. Yes, they are protecting the trees from the bees, because if the Sumos get cross-pollinated with other citrus such as lemons they may make seeds, and that is a no-no for seedless mandarins. It’s just one of the many sorts of special treatment that the trees and the harvest get, and an example of the extra work involved to grow this fruit that was developed in Japan. If you haven’t eaten a Sumo it may be because the costs add up quickly to make them expensive in the stores.
Nancy found a few Sumos remaining from this year’s harvest to give me. They are large for a mandarin orange, seedless, very tasty, and their loose rind makes them super easy to peel.
I came home with oranges from my father’s navel orange trees, too, which I didn’t expect. That fruit would normally be all picked and gone to market long before now, but this year the trees in the Valley are loaded with fruit, and it’s very small. That is a recipe for not being able to sell it, so the oranges fall on the ground eventually and the farmers take a loss. Farming is hard in many ways, and it’s not getting easier.
The next few photos below are from years past, taken at various times of year, of these country roads and places where I spent my childhood.
The view below of the Sierras with the sun rising behind reveals the profile of a formation that looks from there like a man lying on his back. We call it Homer’s Nose (though I didn’t remember “meeting” Homer until recently, and only heard about him from afar):
Since I was “so close,” one day I drove farther south an hour and a half to visit another Farm Girl, Kim of My Field of Dreams. After reading blog posts about each other’s gardens and families for many years, we enjoyed our first face-to-face meeting. We were like old friends or long-lost sisters (well, we are sisters in Christ, after all) and talked and talked, while I ate her delicious flourless muffins and got my wish of a spell of porch-sitting with Kim, looking out at the gardens that she was anticipating planting this week.
I didn’t want to leave, but I must. I got back on the two-lane highway with crazy tailgaters, and survived the ordeal again in reverse. When I arrived safe and sound back at Nancy’s it was the most relaxing thing to be able to sit outdoors before dinner and chat. Here we get chased indoors by fog or cold breezes very early, but there we were warmed by the rays of the sun on our backs and the air was still, and laden with orange scents. 🙂
I spent three days with my family. The last night we four siblings all were together, with some spouses and a few members of the younger generations, at the house where we grew up together, where my brother now lives. There again we ate our barbecue on the patio, and never went in, and it was the sweetest thing just to be together with those persons so fundamental to our psyches. My brother helped me pick a couple of bags of oranges from the same trees that have fed us for decades — they weren’t too tiny — and I’m confident that the eating of them will help me to prolong the savor of my brother and sisters and the whole family that I love.
After two cloudy days, one of which was a little drizzly “down here,” we woke this morning to bright blue skies. As I was sitting at the breakfast table I noticed that the mountains in the distance had snow on them, and were transformed. Their changed appearance added contrast and texture to the entire landscape. 🙂 I would go on the deck and take a picture of Pikes Peak as soon as I ate the last bites of scrambled egg.
I forgot to do it, but I did take a picture of my sourdough sponge that I had put to ferment the night before. There isn’t a large enough bowl here for it so I had put it in a casserole and then set the lid on. It was nice and bubbly this morning and I put the lid back on. In a couple of days it will be sour enough for me to want to make some kind of bread with it.
I forgot to take that mountain picture because I was so excited about my trip to the Denver area today to see blogger Pom Pom! She and I have known each other through our blogs for nearly ten years, but this was to be our first in-person encounter.
It took me 45 minutes to make the drive, in Soldier’s little Honda Fit with its stick shift. It makes me feel younger to drive a manual transmission; when my back is not out it is fun. The short trip was pretty nice, watching the sky and few clouds, and the fascinating and varied terrain, which I resolved to read more about. What is this — the high desert, the high prairie, a high mountain valley, or something else? I got more views of the snowy peaks on my drive there, and again late in the afternoon on my return. The topographic high point of the drive was Monument Hill, 7300 ft.
My time with Pom Pom was quite lovely. Of course she is a much fuller and whole person when encountered altogether and not just through words, and I already knew that I loved her. We did talk and talk, and we took a walk around her neighborhood that is very colorful with turning leaves. She gave me a yummy lunch, with the slenderest candles burning like sun rays out of apples decorating our table. I wanted to take pictures of everything in her house, but I didn’t take one picture, because she in her shining self commanded my interest — my very self-centered interest, it appears, because I do believe she got me to talk about me 80% of the time. Well, we will meet again and I hope again, when I visit Soldier and Joy in the future.
Here is something so surprising, that Pom Pom and I found out today. We talked about our book groups, and what we had been reading, etc., and discovered that the current selection for each of them is a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s stories. How unlikely is that? Her group is meeting before mine so she may help me prepare for a challenging discussion.
This evening I interrupted my dinner when I saw the sunset, already fading, and took its picture. Next week we may get some snow, before I return home. And one day maybe I’ll get an image of the snowy mountain view posted here. For now, to you, a Colorado evening turned to “Good-night!”
I still get a few spam comments on my blog, but they are usually pretty boring these days. In the past I began a collection of the interesting ones, including the purely delightful combinations of words that always made me wonder if chaos theory applies here, or was it just very poetic and sweet non-native robot speakers of English ? with their charming and childlike misspellings…
First, I enjoy the often-thankful comments from those who are philosophical like me:
**Thanks for this post. I undoubtedly agree with what you might be saying. I have been talking about this topic a good deal lately with my mother so hopefully this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!
**My wife and I have been very blessed in our lives. We have also lived troguhh very tight times ( I. E., blood donations.)
**Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: prceoius life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.
And there are the practical and encouraging tips and admonitions:
**When you have replied after 7 years, how do you except the reply immediately. Be Patient. Just wait for 7 more years to receive the reply. I use it every day.
**Paragraph writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with after that you can write if not it is complicated to write.
**Open cupboard doors if your drain pipe is frozen or slice into
your surfaces or ceilings allowing the heat from your home to get to the pipes.
**so-called light cooked dress is not necessarily going to formal, just a feeling, albeit obscure, unlikely uncertain. Do not follow the rules but the atmosphere of printing , is hit the color of a new pattern of it, A glyph When did you start to become so confident? Perhaps it is because of your confidence.
**If you are the kind of person who feels it’s important how a body of a loved one is disposed of, then I would recommend cemiatron most because it’s difficult to bury a body deep enough to protect it from scavengers. And if you had your cat euthanized, the scavengers could get sick from leftover euthanasia solution.
**I needed to csmoope you one very small remark
Lastly — and I need to get these out of the way so they don’t drag me down (actually I think the fathers say that down is up…?) with pride during Lent — are the compliments, which may be just flattery, I know 😦 A couple of these I’m not entirely certain which category they go in, but since this kind of feedback is rare anymore, I’ll count them as pats on the back:
**Ab fab my gooldy man.
**You have touched some fastidious points here.
**I am writing to let you be aware of what a beicfneial encounter my friend’s child encountered using your webblog. She even learned too many things
**Your individual stuffs outstanding. At all times care for it up!
**Right away I am ready to do my breakfast, later than having my breakfast coming over again to read more news.
**nice paragraph and pleasant urging
**You do such a good job for a dog without a tail.
My father and my father-in-law were unusual, in that after their wives died, they each lived another nine or more years. Many men die soon after their wives, and people speculate about why. It seems that women in general do better when they lose their spouses; I have read theories about why this is… probably a lot of things contribute. Here are my ideas, largely gleaned from other people. Please forgive the over-simplification and generalities – we are all probably exceptions at least sometimes:
1) Women are used to taking care of things and people, so they know how to take care of themselves. They at least get the necessary things done for survival during the period while they are learning to live without their husbands. But if men have been used to the women cooking for them and in various ways making the house a home, they would be at risk for becoming less healthy very fast when their wives are gone, to some degree reverting to the risky behavior characteristic of unmarried men.
2) If women are, in the words of author John Gray, like “waves” whose emotions periodically roll over people around them, perhaps they know instinctively to let that tide of grief flow as long as it must. Men, on the other hand, don’t know how to deal with things they can’t control, and they want to fix problems such as emotions. If we know that we will get through this, and that there is no going around it, we are able to survive.
3) Women often have support networks with other women, and these friends help them to not feel alone. They have someone to talk to, and/or go shopping with, etc. They have a pattern of activity with other people that they can continue in some fashion as widows so they don’t start from nothing when creating their new lives. Men are notorious (at least, among most of my women friends) for not having friends in the same way. They are more likely to become depressed.
About this last point, I know that you readers of my blog have been a important part of that network for me. I have never been in the habit of going out to lunch or taking walks with friends on a regular basis, being part of a knitting group, etc. I don’t even get helped by talking about my grief, but I am without a doubt helped by writing about it, especially if at least one person is reading-listening and affirming. So I thank all of you very much – you are extending my life span!
What sparked my thinking on these things recently was finding a quote by Donald Hall, the poet who was married to poet Jane Kenyon when she died in her 40’s. He wrote:
Poetry gives the griever not release from grief but companionship in grief. Poetry embodies the complexities of feeling at their most intense and entangled, and therefore offers (over centuries, or over no time at all) the company of tears.
Many years ago I enjoyed in The New Yorker an article that Hall wrote about his late wife. It was the first I knew of him, but several times over the years I’ve read more of his prose. He is still alive, though she died 20+ years ago, and he was almost 20 years older than she. Now he writes only prose, but I thought that if I were going to share that quote I ought to read some of the poetry he wrote after she died. So I borrowed the collection Without from the library.
I found most of the fresh-grief poems to be too fresh and overwrought, and I don’t know if that is only because I’m past that stage myself, or because of something to do with him being a man. Perhaps he was too distracted by mourning to be able to do his best work. I never did find one I loved; I like his prose so much better. But this later one serves well:
Letter After a Year
Here’s a story I never told you.
Living in a rented house
on South University in Ann Arbor
long before we met, I found
bundled letters in the attic room
where I took myself to work.
A young woman tenant of the attic
wrote these letters to her lover,
who had died in a plane crash.
In my thirtieth year, with tenure
and a new book coming out,
I read the letters in puzzlement.
“She’s writing to somebody dead?”
There’s one good thing
about April. Every day Gus and I
take a walk in the graveyard.
I’m the one who doesn’t
piss on your stone. All winter
when ice and snow kept me away
I worried that you missed me.
“Perkins! Where the hell
————-In hell. Every day
I play in repertory the same
script without you, without love,
without audience except for Gus,
who waits attentive
for cues: a walk, a biscuit,
bedtime. The year of days
without you and your body swept by
as quick as an afternoon;
but each afternoon took a year.
The poem goes on for many more stanzas – this first part was my favorite, especially the last four lines. (The poet intended for the phrase “In hell” to be indented with only white space in the gap, but I haven’t been able to teach WordPress about this aspect of poetry — hence the filler line.)
Ten years after his wife’s death Hall published The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon. I was surprised that the majority of the book is about their life after her diagnosis of leukemia. It does include the essay The Third Thing, in which he writes about their years as a whole and how the writing life figured into it. The story of how he brought Jane, not yet 30, to New Hampshire from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to his grandmother’s house where from a child he had always wanted to live, is very touching.
She fell in love with the place at Eagle Pond, but their joint realization of the strong desire to move there came in stages. It seemed preposterous for him to quit his reliable teaching job to do it.
“It was late October when Jane made the definitive announcement: She would chain herself to the walls of the rootcellar rather than leave New Hampshire. I was terrified; I was joyous.”
I wonder at my interest in a couple whose poetry I’ve barely read, with whom I might seem to share very little in common, unless you count, as I do heavily, their love for a secluded life at home by a lake, in the garden, reading and writing much of the day. They were part of a warm church community of which Donald’s relatives were also members. Donald loves baseball, and has been a lifelong smoker (Well, no, I don’t share that with him). They lived a life that perhaps the majority of the population would not be able to endure. In fact, some people asked, “What do you do?”
From “The Third Thing”: “What we did: we got up early in the morning. I brought Jane coffee in bed. She walked the dog as I started writing, then climbed the stairs to work at her own desk on her own poems. We had lunch. We lay down together. We rose and worked at secondary things. I read aloud to Jane; we played scoreless ping-pong; we read the mail; we worked again. We ate supper, talked, read books sitting across from each other in the living room, and went to sleep. If we were lucky the phone didn’t ring all day.”
I would probably find it easy to read about other couples also if they knew how to write as well about their everyday satisfactions – and sufferings. But I will have to move on, when I have finished this article, without learning everything that might be known about Donald and Jane, their life and their loves.
Though I might yet read more of their poetry. I have the fat Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon in the house right now, and will share with you this:
In the Grove: The Poet at Ten
She lay on her back in the timothy and gazed past the doddering auburn heads of sumac.
A cloud — huge, calm,
and dignified — covered the sun
but did not, could not, put it out.
The light surged back again.
Nothing could rouse her then
from that joy so violent
it was hard to distinguish from pain.
Donald Hall is 87 now. In a review of Essays After Eighty we read, “Jane Kenyon’s presence is everywhere in Essays After Eighty. The couple were married for 23 years, until her 1995 death from leukemia. Kenyon was 47 years old. Hall endured a period of intense pain, captured in two poetry collections and a memoir. Twenty years later, raw agony has become constant, aching loss: ‘I will mourn her forever.’”
Perhaps his writing is the support that has kept him going, even though he had cancer before Jane ever got sick, and last we heard, he was still smoking a pack a day.
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” — William Shakespeare, Macbeth