Picture
"Sharing colors" from Frederick, by Leo Lionni
A friend reminded me of a delightful children's book yesterday. Frederick, written by Leo Lionni, tells the story of a mouse who, while the rest of the mice gather seeds for the winter, sits by himself in the sun. Accused of daydreaming, he informs the other mice that he is gathering sun rays for the cold, dark days. And that's not all. As the harvesting continues, the little mouse adds words and colors to his store. And in the long, dark months underground, it is Frederic with his endless stories and vibrant memories who offers nourishment for the other mice until winter is finally at an end.

My friend is like Frederick. She notices and collects experiences and images, making sense of them, and, much like Mary, the mother of Jesus, ponders them in her heart. There they rest until, engaging in conversations with her friends or spiritual directees, she brings those ponderings out from her treasure chest, nurturing the souls of those she is with.

The process of gathering and storing is also present when I read When On a Summer's Morn, by William Davies, a Welsh poet who spent a significant part of his life as a hobo. It is birdsong that awakens his senses on a summer morning, the "clear, born-singing rills" invite his bird-like spirit out into the sunlit day. Here is a largesses of sound; some of it, like the common leaves humming all day, may even require a different sort of listening. As the day ends, the author returns, heart full of music. I wonder if, like Frederick, the memory of this day, the theme of his own composition, will continue to gladden his heart (perhaps the hearts of others) when the summer has faded.

When on a Summer's Morn
William Henry Davies

When on a summer's morn I wake,
And open my two eyes,
Out to the clear, born-singing rills
My bird-like spirit flies.

To hear the Blackbird, Cuckoo, Thrush,
Or any bird in song;
And common leaves that hum all day 
Without a throat or tongue.

And when Time strikes the hour for sleep, 
Back in my room alone,
My heart has many a sweet bird's song -
And one that's all my own.

 
Picture
Sound of the Shofar by Peter John Voormeij

After typing out my zucchini recipes on Thursday, I spent a few minutes googling for some poetry that might add a bit of zest to the post. I did indeed find a poem where zucchini showed up, but as it opened into much deeper images than I had envisioned, it begged for a post all its own.

In Zucchini Shofar, Sarah Lindsay explores questions of meaning and permanence; its odd title lets us know from the beginning we're in for unusual fare. Shofars are typically fashioned from a ram's horn. Integral to Jewish feast days (most notably Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur) they function similar to clarion trumpets, their blast signaling the beginning of a holy day. Digging around on the web I discovered that they can also be a part of a wedding celebration. (For an interesting story on that and more background on shofars in general, you can check out this website here.)

While a shofar may not be unusual at a wedding, a zucchini shofar seems a bit ludicrous. Fashioned out of material that will last for days at most, it seems a meager substitute for its model, whose bone-like density assures the horn will stay intact for centuries. The impermanence of this shofar, whose notes bless the backyard ceremony, is the motif around which the poem is composed. Are we to measure a blessing by its duration? The garden, the wedding, even the names of the couple taking their vows,  will not last for more than several decades; in the long history of humanity, each seem as fragile as the freshly-picked zucchini.  

If endurance dictates the worth of an action, if we let time and posterity judge our choices, what does that say about most  of the life we now lead? Lindsay's response is that some goodness is only appreciated in the moment. Butter is not meant to be eternal, but to be eaten now and savored. Such is also the case with paper cuttings, walks in the woods, and mustard-green soup. Much of life has no meaning outside of the present. "Nothing I do will last," says the gardener, and in some sense he is true.
 
But the momentary is not all there is. Many activities we engage in can lead to a greater joy - those trumpet lessons might have a payoff in future years, for instance -  and there are some refrains that we continue to sound, much as the rhythmic notes of the shofar repeat over time. For a marriage to be successful, each partner continually plays the same melodies of kindness, patience and understanding. Such layering creates a strong pattern, an energetic permanence, I believe, that outlasts the physical bodies we inhabit. 

Still, I love how the poem pulls me strongly into the celebration of the ephemeral, much as the shofar calls the faithful to stop and participate in something significant. I'm compelled to value -and receive - the blessing, the sacramental meaning in what is fleeting. Too much concern about the long-term worth of my activity can keep me from taking hold of the joy offered only now, only here. Keep me from those spontaneous moments of lightness, invitations to improvise my own ram's blast, and set the house a-singing.



 Zucchini Shofar
Sarah Lindsay

No animals were harmed in the making of this joyful noise:
A thick, twisted stem from the garden 
is the wedding couple's ceremonial ram's horn.
Its substance will not survive one thousand years, 
nor will the garden, which is today their temple, 
nor will their names, nor their union now announced 
with  ritual blasts upon the zucchini shofar. 
Shall we measure blessings by their duration? 
Through the narrow organic channel fuzzily come
the prescribed sustained notes, short notes, rests. 
All that rhythm requires. Among their talents, 
the newlyweds excel at making
and serving mustard-green soup and molasses cookies, 
and taking nieces and nephews for walks in the woods. 
The gardener dyes eggs with onion skins, 
wraps presents, tells stories, finds the best seashells; 
his friends adore his paper-cuttings— 
"Nothing I do will last," he says.
What is this future approval we think we need; 
who made passing time our judge? 
Do we want butter that endures for ages, 
or butter that melts into homemade cornbread now? 
—the note that rings in my deaf ear without ceasing, 
or two voices abashed by the vows they undertake? 
This moment's chord of earthly commotion 
will never be struck exactly so again— 
though love does love to repeat its favorite lines. 
So let the shofar splutter its slow notes and quick notes,
let the nieces and nephews practice their flutes and trombones, 
let living room pianos invite unwashed hands, 
let glasses of different fullness be tapped for their different notes, 
let everyone learn how to whistle, 
let the girl dawdling home from her trumpet lesson 
pause at the half-built house on the corner, 
where the newly installed maze of plumbing comes down 
to one little pipe whose open end she can reach, 
so she takes a deep breath and makes the whole house sound.

from Poetry 2008



 
Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion fame, regularly includes homespun stories of Lake Wobegone on his weekly radio program. As summer wanes, so the yarn goes, gardens burst out of neatly contained plots to overtake back yards, giving rise to a curious phenomenon. Bags of zucchinis show up on porches, left surreptitiously in the middle of the night by desperate housewives, unwilling to let any produce go to ruin.

In case you come upon a surplus of zucchinis (I actually go looking for friends and neighbors who are in this quandary), here are two of my favorite recipes, both shared by good friends.

Vegetarian Chili

4 medium zucchini, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c olive or canola oil
2 cans (28 oz each) Italian stewed tomatoes, chopped
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 c each minced cilantro and parsley (These are what make this exceptionally good)
2 T chili powder
1 t salt
1 t ground cumin

In Dutch oven, saute zucchini, onions, peppers and garlic in oil until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 16 servings.

This may also be made in the crockpot. If so, I throw in everything raw and put on low for 8 hours.

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cake

Cream well:
1/2 c butter
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c oil
2 eggs

Mix separately:
3 1/2 c flour
4 T cocoa
1/2 t b powder
1 t b soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves (I usually don't add these as I'm not a big cloves fan)

Add dry ingredients alternately with
1 t vanilla in
1/2 c buttermilk.

When mixed, add:
2 c zucchini
1/2 c walnuts

Pour in greased and floured 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips (I use 1/2 cup)

Bake at 325 for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.


 
 
Picture
Bicycle and Fruit by Montse Pares Farre (Spanish painter)

Perhaps it's been hard to get to the blog this summer because it is the one season of the year when I cheerfully let my mind go on vacation and lean into the sensory experiences that summer so adamantly invites. It's the weather, or the orchard, or the scenery that orders my day, not my list of things to accomplish. Like a child who dashes cheerfully around the yard, seeking to still a moving butterly, I'm out to grab those things that only summer affords. 

There's fresh basil, and zucchinis (next week a yummy recipe for chocolate chip zucchini cake!) and cucumbers so crisp they deserve a category all to themselves. What's ripe now? Is it blueberries or cherries or watermelon? When will the sweet corn finally arrive on the farmstands and the orchard down the road open its barn doors with bushels of sweet peaches, one large enough to share over breakfast, topped with yogurt and granola?

It's a season where distractability can be a virtue. Driving by a field of zinnias on the way to DC reminds me to grab a friend and pick a bouquet at a neighboring farm.  Hot summer afternoons insist that I grab a tube and head to the Yellow Breeches to cool off on a natural "Lazy River" that includes its own small rapids. And should I mention ice cream stands?

I remind my analytical brain (closely connected to my type A self) which gets a bit put out during the summer, that it won't be long until the crisp autumn air will just as persistently encourage me to dig into the book pile that's been collecting dust since June, and get back to the blog in a "serious" way. But until then, the rest of me is enjoying thinking of nothing, accepting what is, indulging my happy tongue. 

August
Mary Oliver

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

Another poem of Oliver's, The Plum Trees, can be found here on a previous
blog. 

 
 
Have been enjoying time off with family these past few weeks; back on the blog this weekend. See you then.