Sunday, October 21, 2012

Grateful for the Food, But Especially For The Hands That Prepared It

It had happened before -- a few years ago; a generosity evoked by a conversation earlier in that week.  So last evening, when instead of taking our order the server told us that -- if it would be alright -- the chef would like to cook for us, we humbly, happily, eagerly agreed.  Yes, it would definitely be alright!

This time we understood the invitation.  While in a sense the chef had been cooking for us all week, it had largely been through surrogates and within the confines of the menu.  This culinary excursion, inspired by the afternoon's co-mingling of the chef's hopes for an upcoming trip to Italy and the recollection of our own Italian experiences, would be an unscripted generosity from the chef's own hand.  It is, I have to believe, a diner's ultimate honor.

And so we sat back and waited...and gratefully received --
...from an Amuse-Bouche of seasonal ratatouille... appetizer trio of chorizo slices, tapenade, and sautéed almonds...
...through the layering courses of lime-marinated swordfish over sorrel garnished with celeriac slaw...
...slices of beef tenderloin with hen-of-the-woods mushroom, potatoes-2-ways and ricotta...
...roasted pheasant, with root vegetables, kale and a homey sauce...
...a cheese plate with local cheese, roasted grapes and shredded greens...
...and a dessert plate of chocolate soufflé, house-made fruit sorbet, chocolate, fresh cream, and a scattering of almonds to remind us where we had begun.

All prepared as an evocation of Italian memories for us, and anticipation for him.  As he presented each course and explained the preparation, he looked at us with a winsome blend of pride and humble hopefulness -- pride at sharing his own creativity, hedged by the risk that always accompanies vulnerability.  He needn't have worried.  We would willingly entrust our gastronomic selves to his culinary ministrations any day, any time.

He has become, after all, an inspiration,
a teacher,
a chef who has more than earned our trust,
but most of all -- best of all -- he has, over the course of countless courses, treasured conversations, exchanged values, visions and passionate aspirations,
become our friend.

However glorious was the dinner -- and it was glorious; however grateful for and humbled beyond expression we are for the generosity and care of the gift -- and we are grateful, and humbled -- it is this latter for which we are grateful most of all.

The friendship.  The kinship in a journey, though separated by miles, appreciatively and wondrously shared.

Mmmmmm.  Thanks Jason.  More than you can imagine.  Have a wonderful trip.  Ours already has been.

Back to the First Place

Who told these people they could change?  It's so selfish -- as if this world were all about them.  Don't they understand that they were put on this earth to steward our nostalgia?

OK, so I'm kidding.  But it has been disconcerting.  We arrive in Vermont each year with memories swelling and touchstones to revisit, favorite sights to see and meals to eat -- a kind of scenic/psychic womb where warm and inner rhythms are reborn.  All this time I thought it was simply the place -- "Vermont", as though Vermont was merely a locale.  And indeed, it is largely intact; the mountains and lanes and leaves and woods.  All that drew us here in the first place still surrounds us -- the color, the vistas, the crisp air and the cozy embrace of the stone fences snaking their way through the countryside.  But we arrived this year to be greeted by unfamiliar faces -- the Inn had been sold; the cheese maker in the village nearby had moved to a larger town down the road; a familiar shop had closed, the owners having retired and moved away; even the ice cream shop across the river had relocated a half-mile away.  We began to check our map to confirm that we had come to the right place.

What I had not credited was "the second place."  If Vermont drew us here in the first place, it turns out to have been the people and their particular pursuits that textured and animated our returns.  It wasn't merely the Inn, for example, but the Inn as it was conceived by the Innkeepers whose guiding values and vision shaped its special personality.  Seduced by the illusion of permanence, we forgot that they, too, were alive and growing and perhaps growing beyond the Inn.  With only the slightest flint of melancholy we bless them in their new endeavors -- along with the retired shopkeepers and reinvigorated cheese makers and all the other living, growing and changing locals who have added so much blessing to our lives.

So we have been trying new things, just to get back into practice -- new trails to hike, waterfalls we hadn't before hunted down, villages in which we'd never parked and walked around.  The kind of stuff we did in the first place.  The kind of delights that led to the enjoyments of the second place.

And no doubt will again.  It will be different, but that's OK, too.  We will continue to treasure the memories -- and be nourished by them -- but it is healthy to be nudged beyond the "aw's" at what we are missing and into the "ah's" at what we are discovering.

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's Never As Simple as All That

I shouldn't have been surprised.  After all, it is a well proclaimed phenomenon.  Perhaps I simply hadn't before seen it for myself.  Perhaps it still "feels"in my soul like the end of summer rather than the salad days of autumn and beyond.  Regardless of the explanation, it still stopped me when, turning the aisle in Target yesterday I was faced with the juxtaposition:  Halloween costumes on the right, lighted Christmas lawn ornaments straight ahead.    Goblins, spiders and spooks in bloody oranges and black, carousing retail with snowmen and Santa Clauses in all their twinkling glory.

I know, of course, that seasons aren't pure.  For a couple of weeks now we have alternated between killing frosts and sweat-filled afternoons.  Sunburn and frostbite side-by-side.  And the pattern will no doubt continue on into November.  Indian Summers that lull us into complacency, like last winter's early spring that seduced trees into premature budding, only to nip it all with a late freeze.  And in humans those epochal stages of maturation -- "childhood", "adolescence" and "adulthood" -- aren't closed and commenced with a calendar.  They gray from one to next -- dabblingly testing forward motions, then slipping backwards like the undulations of the sea.  Indeed, what adult has completely given up childhood, and what child doesn't every now and then flash a proleptic adulthood?  In my mind I am only recently out of high school, despite the evidence of my 56 years.  Internally I am still a youth, despite the external evidence of thickening waist and silvering hair.

Seasons don't change like the turning of a page.  Perhaps, then, Halloween and Christmas aren't really that far apart after all, but merely the contrasting expressions of fearfulness and grace.  Angels and ghosts, jack-o-lanterns and snowmen, scarecrows and wise men, a tombstone and a manger.  In fact, perhaps my earlier startlement, wheeling my cart around the aisle, is a good thing to experience -- a reorienting reminder that clarities are usually trumped by ambiguities.

I wonder if Target could be persuaded to leave some of both decorations up year-around?  As a reminder that life is more complicated than we might like to think.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

To See A Blessing in the Falling

With more than a stiff breeze blowing it's no surprise there are leaves surfacing the pond and the grassy shores surrounding.  It is the heart of autumn -- the season I recently saw a sign describing as "the year's last and loveliest smile" -- and the temperatures are dropping as the colors are warming.  The geese paddling the waters sweep the foliage shoreward with the rippling assistance of the fountain spray out near the center, but their's is increasingly a full time job as more and more leaves surrender their hold on all they have known to keep them steady and aloft.

One of the voices in a conversation this morning accounted for the resistance to certain changes and new directions in being and doing within the faith community as the form that active lament takes when, little by little, people experience the loss of one after another anchoring principle or understanding.  He wondered aloud if the resistance had less to do with the issue or direction itself than with the cumulative weight of loss that leaves one feeling tottering or naked.  I think he is on to something.  Our elastic capacities vary, I suppose, but most of us eventually find ourselves taut and endangered at the extent to which we are called upon to stretch, fearing that if we allow our hold to snap altogether all that is real will be lost.

I don't for a minute begin to understand what this means, but I wonder if the leaves might hold out to us a larger, alternative vision.  It is their role, after all, to serve the tree for a season, not for an eternity.  They absorb all they are able, converting and sharing what they can, while they can, then cede the future to subsequent generations.  And in their very falling -- whether on water or the ground beneath the boughs -- occasions the giving of a still deeper gift in the decaying transformation into the very soil itself.  New nourishment; new foundation.

On the one hand it isn't very pleasant to include myself conceptually in the composting circle of life.

But on the other hand, the notion of it is intensely satisfying.

To offer what I can for as long as I can, not begrudging what I can't, or what follows behind me.  And when it's time, to entrust what remains to the breadth of all there is.  And -- colorfully I can only hope -- rest, with the leaves, in peace.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Straight-Jackets Will Not Be A Problem

I recently heard an Ohio coal worker voice his community's fearful apprehension about the future of their jobs and the upcoming election.  They, he declared, will vote for whichever candidate has a "better" stance on coal -- meaning the candidate who will help support the coal mining/burning industry.

I completely understand the emotional resistance.  Environmental health -- specifically climate change -- is neither a sexy nor a happy subject; it sounds mystifyingly abstract and woefully distant and hypothetical.  The present is always more compelling -- and motivating -- than the future.  When viewed through a personalized lens, the choice between having a job (especially one at which I am already proficient and experienced) and not having one (or having to retrain for a new one in which I will have to start again at the bottom and work my way up) is a no-brainer.  Climate change is "out there." Today I have to feed my family.  That, and the broader nationalist concern over energy independence reinforces that coal miner's protectiveness.  The excitable polyvalence of the issues unfortunately intersect at the point of abdication (at best) and strident opposition (at worst).  Unfortunately it is a fool's crusade.  And a suicidal one.

It turns out that the atmosphere has a slow fuse.  There is a 30-year gap between human behaviors and environmental consequences -- sort of an invitation to procrastination.  As one scientist I heard over the weekend put it, what we are experiencing today -- drought, intense heat, catastrophic weather events -- are not the result of what we are doing right now.  They are the result of what we did 30 years ago.

30 years ago when the CO2 levels in the atmosphere were 340 parts per million -- 10 ppm below the 350 ppm scientists believe to be the maximum safe level.  Today's climatological issues represent the result of an average temperature rise of approximately 1.5-degrees.  Now 30 years after those 340 ppm "good old days", our current CO2 ppm is 392, and scientists are anticipating that those kinds of levels (that are rising unabated) will nudge the mercury upwards 4-6 degrees.  Given what we are seeing with a 1.5-degree rise, doesn't 4-6 sound fun?

So when will get around to talking about this in any meaningful way?  Why is this -- to the extent that it is a public issue at all -- somehow a partisan political issue and not a globally impassioned human issue?  Last night was the first Presidential debate.  Subject didn't come up.  Seldom does in churches, either, let alone households.  This isn't a crisis that we are goingnto avert with reusable grocery bags, as symbolically important as they may be.  When will we have the courage to look those honestly hard working coal miners in the eye, the same way we did to all those tobacco farmers several years ago, and frankly say, "Your job is obsolete.  The earth simply can't afford it any more"?

We  can no longer be so economically, politically short-sighted as to think that "any job will do," any more than we can intelligently kill ourselves in the name of security.

Didn't someone once define insanity as doing the same thing while expecting different results?

If that's the case, we're going to need a bigger asylum.  Hopefully it will be air-conditioned.  Solar powered.