summer’s dalliances and a hodgepodge of other curiosities
some thoughts on summer attention:
carrying a tray of napkins, forks, and knives out to the summer porch the other night, i noticed a silence. a new silence. the cicada, my favorite understory of sound signaling summer starting to close, had gone quiet. instead there were crickets, only crickets, relatively placid compared to the frenetic energies of the cicada, who are mortally pressed for time with only 24 hours to wake, procreate, and succumb.
summer’s waning, i thought. and, darn, i missed the last chirr.
(turns out the day it was quiet was a day less than 80 degrees, and the next day when it warmed up, they were back again. makes the pair of amateur entomologists who dwell in this old house think that maybe the ‘cadas had snuggled under their blankets, put their fiddles and strings in a case, awaiting a day with a little more burn in the air.)
straight off, it made me think of a glorious essay i’d read some months ago about paying exquisite attention, paying such exquisite and fine-grained attention that one is attuned to even the moment the cicadas cease their clattering, silence their love song. i’ve searched and searched all week for that misplaced essay, and can’t find it anywhere (maybe i too should call in the FBI for a search of my basement storage room).
but even without the essay in hand, it still made me pause to think hard about those barely perceptible miracles that constitute the whole of each day. and made me construct my own litany of things worthy of my attentions:
the moment in spring when the grass sheds its winter brown and slips on its verdant green.
the moment the nestling takes flight.
the moment the monarch emerges from his cocoon.
the moment the wedge of moon fades away in the dawn.
what if we were to notice? what if instead of numbly whirring through time we slowed to adagio and drank in even a half (or a teaspoon) of the everyday dose of miracles and wonders? what if even once a day we counted one thing we’d otherwise not see, not hear, not sense? what if we awoke to the mystery that’s animating every minute of every hour, day after day, year upon year?
isn’t to see, isn’t attention, the first step to devotion? wouldn’t our life be infinite unfurling prayer if, as often as we breathe, we were awake to blessing?
have you noticed the day when the tomato turns just the right red for plucking?
have you heard the first or last note of the cardinal at the dawn or at nightfall? the moment when silence gives way to sound, or sound to silence?
have you noticed the firefly turn off its blink for the night?
have you noticed the someone who’s hoping you’ll sit down and listen to one of his or her stories?
the summer is fleeting, it’s begging we notice….
summer dalliance: i’ve a thing for little bouquets; always have (ever since my mama taught me to pick lily of the valley or daffodils for the teacher, wrap them in wet paper towel and then a sheaf of aluminum foil wrapped tight into a baton). i love to pluck blooms from wherever i traipse in the garden or alley, and tuck them loosely into jars or pitchers or wee tiny vases. i find the gatherings of color and form, petal and leaf, tickle my fancy. so i pluck and i tuck with abandon. and then i scatter my abandonments all over the house.
book news: hardest task of the summer for me, far harder than scanning pages for blips and bloops, was sending off queries to authors whose work makes me tremble it’s so dang good. i was instructed to ask these legends to read my book, and send back a few words of kindness, a thing in the book world called “blurbs.” it was an instruction that trembled me. but the task, now completed and turned in to my editor, might have taught me a thing or two about being brave. and the kindness of pure strangers. i can’t pull back the covers on what they wrote (not yet anyway), but i can tell you to whom i will forever be grateful; most especially to: Pádraig Ó Tuama (the poet, peacemaker, and host of Poetry Unbound from OnBeing Studios), Scott Weidensaul (ornithologist and best-selling author of Living on the Wind and, more recently, A World on the Wing), Bill McKibben (environmental activist and legendary author), Rabbi Rami Shapiro (poet and podcast host who wrote skeins of prayer in our synagogue’s prayer book), and Mallory McDuff (another environmental activist and author of Love Your Mother: 50 States, 50 Stories, and 50 Women United for Climate Justice). equally kind, though they wrote back to say their plates were too jammed, include terry tempest williams (brilliant essayist and conservationist), susannah heschel (scholar and daughter of the late great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and margaret renkl (a New York Times columnist who often writes about things i’ve been thinking), belden lane (theology professor emeritus and esteemed author), and fred bahnson (brilliant essayist). a few, who shall remain unnamed, never wrote back. oh well. the kindness of those who did is what will glow into the evermore…..
technically, i’m between rounds of page proofs which gives me time to indulge in my rabbit-hole school of reading, which this week has lured me into the writings and poetries of molly mcCully brown, a brilliant essayist and poet born with cerebral palsy who writes unforgettably about her intractable and ever-changing body, and who makes us think hard of the miracle of mobility, something we might take for granted unless we too were faced with a flight of stairs or an ancient cobblestone lane that kept us from the places we so longed to enter. somehow i’d never before known of sigurd olson, called “one of the great environmentalists of the twentieth century,” who wrote of the boundary waters, the northwoods, and the surrounds of lake superior. he won the john burroughs medal (the most esteemed prize in the world of nature writing) and made me think i just need to read my way through the lifetime list of winners. i’m beginning with The Singing Wilderness, described as the most poetic of his nine published books. on its back cover, it’s described as “an essential antidote to the trials of modern life.”
i find myself dizzy with summery sides from the vegetable patch this summer: corn, tomatoes, cukes, purple onions, frondy fennel (the crunch with a tassle), basil, basil, more basil. doused with vinegars, olivey oil, lemons, limes, oranges, and now a curious new douser: chili crisp, a sauce that’s sweeping the country, straight from the kitchen of Tao Hubi, owner of a popular Guizhou province noodle shop in China, who began selling her famed homemade chili sauce under the name Lao Gan Ma (found at whole foods, and, yes, on amazon). apparently the summer’s salady hit is nothing more complicated than tomatoes tossed with a splash of rice vinegar, a glug of olive oil, a pinch of flaky salt, and a generous spoonful of the magic sauce. it’s the gist of height-of-august deliciousness. and it’s called chili crisp tomato salad.
here’s an amazing twist on plain old green beans…
Side of Beans (Green):
from The Cordony Kitchen (Amanda Cordony is an Australian food stylist and recipe inventor, and she’s amazing!)Cook time: 4 mins | Prep time: 5 mins | Serves: 3 (as a side)
2/3 cup green beans – top and tailed
3 Tbsp + 1 tsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves – minced
1 orange – zest and juice
1/4 cup of raw almonds – roughly chopped
pinch of chili flakes
Mint leaves, olive oil
1. Get a frying pan on medium to high heat with olive oil. Place your beans, garlic, orange zest, orange juice and sea salt. Stir for 2 minutes.
2. Take off the heat and sprinkle in the almonds and chili flakes.
3. Serve and add mint leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
so those are the curiosities of the week, as i get back to proofing later this morning. thanks for indulging my gazetteian tendencies these past few friday mornings. i believe only one more week and then i send off the proofs to the printing presses, where they will whir off the presses and onto real pages….
what are the curiosities and wonders that strike you at august’s peak? and what will you notice that you’d otherwise miss?
p.s. happy height-of-august birthday to our very own hardshell aficionado and keeper of wisdoms, karen the wonder woman, whose birthday is any day now, though i don’t know which….
Mary Schmich, former long time columnist at the Chicago Tribune, celebrated the abundant beauty
of prairie flowers in a photo on her Facebook page. And she contends that August is not the end of summer – it is the PEAK of summertime! I have carried that thought all week, in case I find myself in conversation with an Eeyore/glass-half-empty person more focused on the sadness of the end of summer (those folks also hate autumn “because everything is dying.” They miss the beauty! 🍁) My blessings upon those respected and revered blurb contributors! Wow! And well deserved! ❤️
oh, i love that mary schmich, and her wisdoms aplenty. i did see her mention of summer at its peak. i love everything about august, from the parade of birthdays, to the black-eyed susans, to the slightest shift in the sunlight……
Oh! Oh! Oh! Thank you, bam! I am touched and honored–by all your kind words. (The exact date is the 16th–smack dab in the middle of the month.) Whew, what a surprise at the end of this jam- (or salad-) packed, absolutely whirlwind edition! Seldom have I made so many notes on your weekly wisdoms to put into action, from the tiny bouquets (our moms must have come up in the same etiquette school regarding teachers) to two, count ’em two, must-make veggie (and tomato-y fruity) recipes, to more books to put on the to-read stack (while we all wait agog for yours). That tomato salad is doing the rounds, including with halved Sungolds and a fresh mozzarella foundation. But not with the secret sauce! Thank you–it’s on my list. As is a reread of The Singing Wilderness. Imagine an antidote needed for the trials of modern life in 1956. (Then again, McCarthyism, hostilities with Russia, Jim Crow, a polio pandemic are not-so-unfamiliar malignancies.) Thank you for neutralizing some of the current Sturm und Drang with that little zinger about your basement storage room! Worthy of Colbert when he’s in top form. On all counts, in all formats, at all times, bam, you are a treasure.
ah, doll! thanks for the great reveal. you had said smack dab in the middle of the month, so i was going with 15.5, wondering if you were born at noon on that day. but now we know. SOOOOOOO many leos among us. and careful reader, you, for catching the FBI aside. (i couldn’t help it….) i am finding it rather a joy to collect and assemble a bevy of bits. and speaking of colbert, i found it necessary to stay up late almost every night this week to see how he’d spin the avalanche of news, and he’s not disappointed, not one single night. if i don’t bump into at the farmer’s market, happy blessed blessed birthday. xoxox from all of us at the chair. xox
Prompted by a text from our beloved chair sister, Nan, Jeff and I slipped into our car last evening and drove out to witness the splendid Sturgeon Moon, which was only partially visible through our neighborhood canopy. (The moon was magnificent. Thank you for the sweet reminder, Nan!!) While we were out, we made a point of driving to Morgan Park, a nearby residential area accessed by a road that meanders like an ox bow through a series of extensively wooded ravines. Jeff and I had a single purpose in mind, driving through Morgan Park last night, and that was to hear the katydids. We were not disappointed! As we slowed to an idle, moon roof open, windows down, we were treated to a full choral fortissimo. It was magical! Whether intoned by bold cicada, gentle cricket, or confident katydid, nothing else on earth comforts my midwestern soul like these late summer nocturnes… xx
ahhhh, beautiful beautiful! i got a moon ping too! and promptly scurried out to my front walk, which is neither oxbow nor katydid accompanied. your tale of katydidding is a heavenly one. and the moon — oh, the moon! all i could think is can you even imagine the ancients, beholding such lunar astonishment?!?!?! thank you for leaving your lovely moon story here on the table. xoxox
BAM, pulling up a chair with you always leads me to greater awareness and appreciation. Today it even led me to action.
Our about-to-head-off-to-college grandson and his grandad, my Steve, have planted zinnias in our garden for a dozen or more years together. Just now, I headed outside and gratefully selected them for 3 rooms in our house 🙂 One ‘vase’ is a cherished Dijon mustard jar from a treasured trip to that region.
And kudos to you for getting such distinguised folks to write ‘blurbs’ for you!
i love that! i LOVE zinnias!!! and i love the crazy assemblage of jars that find their second life as vases, especially jars that travel home from faraway places. i love the provenance of those zinnias too. you have the most special heart ties to those grand babies (even the no longer babies….) xoxox