What is Poetry? Who knows?
Not a rose, but the scent of the rose;
Not the sky, but the light in the sky;
Not the fly, but the gleam of the fly;
Not the sea, but the sound of the sea;
Not myself, but what makes me
See, hear, and feel something that prose
Cannot: and what it is who knows?
While my son “Soldier” was away for a few weeks, his wife whom I call Joy brought all four children to California to see the grandparents. They came by train, the California Zephyr line, which gave me an excuse to tell them stories about my yearly summer train trips as a child to see my grandmother. The images that my mind retains through the decades related to those journeys are vivid. Many railway experiences of the current Amtrak era are worlds apart from what I knew, but I’m happy that the children had a new adventure, and even slept overnight on the train, which I never did.
Their lively group stayed with me five nights, and visited Joy’s family nearby as well. We were so busy all those days, I barely remembered to take any pictures, much less write about our fun.
We went to church, to the beach, to the cemetery — bringing along yarrow, zinnias, snapdragons and sunflowers for the children to lay on their grandpa’s grave. They are too young to remember him, so when we got home I showed them a photo slide show on the computer.
We took walks along the creek and to the neighborhood school’s playground. I read from Eleanor Farjeon’s The Little Bookroom as I had read to their cousins last month, and laughed hilariously over “The King’s Daughter Who Cried for the Moon.”
The children combed my garden to find everything I would confirm as edible. They gathered hundreds of manzanita berries from under that little tree and chewed on them, spitting out the several rock-hard seeds in each. The strawberry tree fruits are ripening now, but the tree has grown so tall that they needed a ladder and a broom to knock them down.
These children are, as we say, “good eaters.” No matter what strange concoction Grandma has made, they want to try it — even my ultra-spicy pudding that I make with the pulp left over from making ginger broth. When oatmeal or buckwheat porridge was on the breakfast menu, they loved having a smorgasbord of toppings, everything from peanut butter and milk to chopped dried apricots and this seed mix.
I was given a dozen homegrown peaches recently and I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen to make a cobbler, half of which we ate for dessert one night, and the remainder next morning for the third course of our breakfast, after grapefruit and scrambled eggs.
It was delectable. Where the recipe called for vanilla or almond extract I used almond. I think if I make it again I will increase the amount of fruit, and use a little less cream or butter in the scone topping, with confidence of still being able to call it Plenty Rich. And I would like to try it with plums — or any fruit!
My dear people are headed back home to Colorado now, and the cobbler is gone…. The taste of scones and peaches is already fading, but Joy and her young joys made a big deposit of sweetness in my heart, to flavor many days to come.
I forgot to show you the summer “bugs” I saw on my trip last week. I know you wouldn’t want to miss them, so I’ll put them at top here. Also so that I can have a flower or something more traditionally pretty at the bottom.
They were all the large size of insects that I only ever see when camping or in the forest, and Pippin does live in the forest. As soon as I would step outside in the early morning my senses took me to mountain camping trips, where the air at the beginning of the day is cool and dry and piney.
One 95-degree midday Ivy called me over to see a creature resting in the shade on the tree swing. It was a surprisingly still subject, which enabled me to identify it as a Robber Fly. And the morning that I departed, a huge Western Sculpted Pine Borer landed on Pippin’s arm. She brushed it off and then collected it on a paper, where it sat, possibly stunned, and posed.
My first morning we found a chipmunk on the front doorstep, which a cat had brought as an offering. The second day the sliding door would not shut, and the children and I finally figured out that a dead mouse was jammed between the two doors. I could not access it to get it out, but when she got home Pippin managed after laboring with a yardstick. The next morning another mouse was left at that back doorstep, which I disposed of. Four cats live with the family and at least two are hunters.
We watched “My Octopus Teacher” one night. Have I already mentioned that movie? I also saw it with my Colorado children last summer, and like it very much. I’ve heard a couple of people say that they wish there were less of the narrator and more of the octopus, but if it weren’t for the narrator-photographer, who visited the octopus nearly every day for a year, there would be no story. He had to tell it in his way.
As it about how whole experience of interacting with the octopus helped him move into a healthier life and frame of mind, I have to take it as it is, take the human subject as he is. Without agreeing with all of his presuppositions about nature, I very much appreciate that his relationship with the creature was thrilling and healing. Ivy declared that it is her favorite nature movie. Over the next several days she drew one picture after another of ocean landscapes.
Often the children would draw while I read to them, and I read for at least an hour every evening before bed. Mostly this time I read from The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon. I gave this book to my grandchildren a few years ago, thinking it was an anthology she had compiled of others’ works. But no, all the stories are by Farjeon herself.
They are the most unusual children’s stories I’ve ever read, a combination of fairy tale style with more realistic everyday happenings, and silly stories that make us laugh and laugh. But all happy hearted, and many brimming with pure Goodness. If Scout had not been away at Boy Scout Camp, he would have insisted that we read “The Princess Who Cried for the Moon,” a very long story about a whole kingdom of people who don’t have their thinking caps on.
I still haven’t read the whole lot, but I did notice that the last entry in this edition is not a story by Eleanor but a piece titled, “Tea with Eleanor Farjeon,” by my beloved Rumer Godden. I read that one aloud, too, and Ivy was interested but Jamie drifted away. Eleanor sounds like the sort of old lady I would like to be. I wanted to quote from Godden’s article, but I can’t find my own copy of the storybook at the moment.
I spent six nights last week at Pippin’s Mountain Homestead, longer than any other visit. That gave me time to go with the children to the library and to have a breakfast picnic in their favorite park that features a tiny waterfall and “jungle.” Ivy made her dragon to fly over the creek, and I discovered chicory and more.
There was lots of water play in the back yard, resulting in burned shoulders. And a big batch of gingerbread for cutting out with my new tiny animal cutters.
I suppose it’s because Pippin’s garden in the middle of the forest gets extra water, that the ferns constantly encroach. I was watering the new zinnia and dahlia sprouts and wondering at the robust ferns still popping up everywhere. They push against the deer fence that surrounds the vegetable and dahlia enclosure, and try to colonize the whole inside space, too.
Where I pulled out a few fronds to let sunlight on to a strawberry bed, we saw that frogs had been living among them. And while I aimed the hose at small flower plants, Duncan cat lay nearby in his cool and ferny hideaway and begged me to leave that colony as is. And for now it remains, another corner of the estate hospitable to critters.
This Christmas carol with words by Eleanor Farjeon came into my life only a few years ago. I can see why it’s not as favored as some that have a fuller theology of the Incarnation, but there is so much that could be said about the significance of God taking on human flesh, I want to make use of all that has been written about this event.
This one is lovely in the way it captures some of the anticipation I feel as I also try to “make my house as fair as I am able.” It’s comforting to have the wisdom of a woman combined with the upbeat melody, a different tone altogether from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” — but it is in sync with that joy of preparation of the material aspects of our Christmas feast. And after all, we are celebrating the mystery of God becoming material.
As St. John of Damascus said, “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter.” God entered His creation of seed, stars, birds, and dirt, and because He did, they are made glorious. Now, we give them back to him in celebration.
PEOPLE, LOOK EAST
People, look east. The time is near Of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today: Love, the guest, is on the way.
Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare, One more seed is planted there: Give up your strength the seed to nourish, That in course the flower may flourish. People, look east and sing today: Love, the rose, is on the way.
Birds, though you long have ceased to build, Guard the nest that must be filled. Even the hour when wings are frozen God for fledging time has chosen. People, look east and sing today: Love, the bird, is on the way.
Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim One more light the bowl shall brim, Shining beyond the frosty weather, Bright as sun and moon together. People, look east and sing today: Love, the star, is on the way.
Angels, announce with shouts of mirth Christ who brings new life to earth. Set every peak and valley humming With the word, the Lord is coming. People, look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.
If I from California look east across the globe, I might come eventually to Ukraine, where these monks are singing carols. I don’t understand the words, but I know well what they are singing about. We are singing all over the earth about the pivotal event of history.