Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

So much got done last night and today that it’s hard to think how much got done. Sometimes I just blink at the sky and am amazed. I wonder how people do this every day and then I try to forget that and just enjoy what I can do.

Last night I 1. made dinner. It’s been weeks. The last dinner I made was a bean and tortilla casserole that did not live up to my expectations. I had eaten lentils for lunch and when I tried to eat bean tortilla casserole for dinner…it was hard to swallow. Too many beans in one day. The next day didn’t improve my feelings on it. Or the next. In the end, I gave most of it to the family on the farm. So this dinner was the one to overcome my despondency about cooking. I got Mark Bittman’s book “How to Cook Everything: Easy Weekend Cooking.” The book delivered. I made the “Best Scrambled Eggs” (I don’t like eggs but these were to die for), Blueberry Muffins and Home-Fried Potatoes. It was a scramble for everything to be done together at the same time and the potatoes were boiled too long but everything was still very edible and still very good. And today for lunch, I took those potatoes with a bit of olive oil and fried them up. Yummy with muffins.

Last night I 2. baked my first cake. This is a Tasha Tudor recipe called “Washington Pie.” It’s a really a layered cake with raspberry jam filling. Not just raspberry jam. Raspberry jam mixed with cherry brandy. That’s right. Oh, it turned out great and so pretty. I like baking rather then cooking. It’s restful with those breaks in between while the cake bakes and then cools. My next cake will be chocolate cake with white frosting- but I need a double boiler for that. I’ve been trying to think of a good excuse for making this chocolate cake. No one’s birthday around, no holidays (the double boiler is coming at the end of this month- pay day) so how about life? To life. L’chaim. The excuse for my raspberry cake was for life and for Jan coming by to visit today! Yay! We had a lovely time, talked about writing and I think she enjoyed the spiked cake!

Last night I 3. Finally worked on my fiction. Its been so long due to being sick and then being busy and getting caught up with cleaning. I didn’t write for too long since it was late but I sat down and did it. That’s the hardest part, getting started again after a break. Finally.

Today I…today was gardening. Today was hauling up sod, turning over clods, breaking them up and then mixing in mushroom compost. Ugh. This work means another day without going to the gym because who needs to? My back is a little sore from it all but nothing unbearable. I did that and then planted. I planted astillbe (Elisabeth Van Veen), I split up and planted the hostas Dad gave me. I planted the Japanese painted fern he gave me. I moved yet another delphinium over to the other delphiniums. I planted my herbs, my geranium, the nasturtium. I moved the lavenders over to the rose bed and the sage over where the herbs are. I dug big holes and put in Oriental lilies- Stargazer, Muscadet and a freebie that I got that I didn’t realize was a freebie …till I opened up the bag and realized…crap, which are Tom Pouce freebies and which are the Muscadet? No one knew then or now. They are buried in trenches in that square of the garden. I raked soil back into the beds, I raked the beds, I watered.

Then Jan came and we had a terrific chat, drank Stillwater Iced Tea and ate some cake. And now I am here, considering about taking pictures of cupolas but a little nervous that someone might run out and ask me why I’m taking pictures of their house. Maybe that’s for tomorrow in the morning when people are (mostly) at work.

Well, here’s the unlooked for bonus of Tom Pouce lilies. I hope you’re nice and work with the colors of the others. Cause if you ain't, its farm time for you!

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I Have Wine and Moon and Flowers: Reading Su Tung-P’o During a Pandemic

As we watch spring growth overtake last year’s dead bracken and grasses, there is both consolation and brutality. This year’s greenery melds with disease: the emergence of flowers entangles with the blossoming of a pandemic.

While the novel coronavirus rages through communities, our lives have shrunk down to fit the small rooms and little neighborhoods that we must now be still in. What do we do in this diminished space? What do we see?

 

6th Moon, 27th Sun: Sipping Wine at Lake-View Tower

 

1

 

Black clouds, soaring ink, nearly blot out these mountains.

White raindrops, skipping pearls, skitter wildly into the boat,

 

Then wind comes across furling earth, scatters them away,

And below Lake-View Tower, lakewater suddenly turns to sky.

 

2

 

Setting animals loose—fish and turtles—I’m an exile out here,

but no one owns waterlilies everywhere blooming, blooming.

 

This lake pillow mountains, starts them glancing up and down,

And my breezy boat wander free, drifts with an aimless moon.

 

Su Tung-P’o (trans. David Hinton)

 

As the great poet Su Tung-P’o knew so well, we see our own natures in everything. The outside world becomes a reflection of our own states; though if we can still ourselves enough as we gaze out, a depth opens and time becomes immaterial.

A master of reflection and stillness, Su Tung-P’o 苏童 lived nearly one thousand years ago and is considered one of great poets of the Song Dynasty. He led a brilliant and varied career as poet, politician, writer, calligrapher, painter and aesthetic theorist. Due to his outspoken and opposing views on the government, he was jailed and sent into exile on three separate occasions.

After his experience in jail and subsequent exile, his poetry evolved and deepen and his surviving work reflect his delicate, painful relationship with loneliness and desolation.

 

Moon, Flowers, Man

 

I raise my cup and invite

The moon to come down from the

Sky.  I hope she will accept

Me. I raise my cup and ask

The branches, heavy with flowers,

To drink with me.  I wish them

Long life and promise never

To pick them.  In company

With the moon and the flowers,

I get drunk, and none of us

Ever worries about good

Or bad.  How many people

Can comprehend our joy? I

Have wine and moon and flowers.

Who else do I want for drinking companions?

(trans. Kenneth Rexroth)

 

To help alleviate the sufferings of a difficult life, he became the devotee of Zen Buddhism and his poetics reflects the practice of the “beginner’s mind,” the ability to meet each experience with equilibrium and a “spontaneous and crystalline responsiveness.”

 

At Seven-Mile Rapids

 

A light boat one loan leaf,

a startled swan two oars—

 

water and sky are pure clarity

reflecting deep. Waves smooth,

 

fish roil this duckweed mirror

and egrets dot misty shorelines.

 

We breeze past sandy streams,

frostfall streams cold,

moonlit streams aglow.

 

ridge above ridge like a painting,

bend beyond bend like a screen.

 

Here I think back to

Yen Tzu-ling’s empty old age,

 

lord and recluse one dream.

Renown’s empty then as now,

 

just mountains stretching away:

cloud mountains erratic,

dawn mountains green.

 

Out of his poetry emerges a beautiful balance, the ability to look at both joy and sorrow with gentle tranquility and wry amusement.

 

At Brahma-Heaven Monastery, Rhymed with a Short Poem of Crystalline Beauty by the Monk Acumen-Hoard

 

You can only hear a bell out beyond the mist:

the monastery deep in mist is lost to sight.

 

Straw sandals wet with the dew of grasses,

a recluse wanders. Never coming to rest,

 

he’s simply an echo of mountaintop moon—

light coming and going night after night.

 

(trans. David Hinton)

 

Su Tung-P’o’s poetry illuminates the beauty and loneliness running throughout ourselves and Nature. His work becomes a sort of map for this strange new world we find ourselves in: isolated yet surrounded, weary but still observing, cut off but yet deeply involved.

 

After T’ao Ch’ien’s “Drinking Wine”

 

3

 

This little boat of mine, truly a lone leaf,

and beneath it, the sound of dark swells:

 

I keep paddling in the depths of night, drunk,

pleasures of home, bed, and desk forgotten.

 

At dawn, when I ask about the road ahead,

I’ve already past a thousand ridges rising

 

beyond ridges. O where am I going here,

this Way forever leaving ever returning?

 

Never arriving, what can we understand,

and always leaving, what’s left to explain?

 

(trans. David Hinton)

 

Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.