Saturday, March 28, 2015

SATURDAY


Six-thirty
A.M., Saturday.
Birdsong and mist.
Crows call, and the village
sleeps on.  Somewhere
off in the hills
Coyote sniffs for prey
in the morning air.
With him, I celebrate
survival as I wake
to the day.

Friday, March 27, 2015

MAKING MARMALADE

We have this kumquat tree in a tub, out on the deck at our Los Angeles home.  It produced a spectacular crop of those delicious little citrus fruits this year--tart on the outside, bittersweet within.  I like to eat them from the tree, or slice them up and add them to the fruit in my cereal.  But a whole crop...?  What to do with so many of them?

Well, marmalade, of course.  After more than fifty years in the United States, I cling obstinately to two old English habits: a cup of tea in bed in the morning, and marmalade with the breakfast toast.  Nothing else will do--especially not the orange jam that too often masquerades as marmalade in this ill-informed country.  It's as bad as what passes for a cup of tea--a pathetic limp teabag immersed in tepid water.  To make tea, the water must be boiling, for heaven's sake.  And it's made in a pot.  The pot should be warmed before you pour the boiling water on the tea--and preferably the cups, too--or the tea will be cold before it can reach your lips.  And don't forget the milk and sugar.

Forgive my rant.  As for marmalade, it must be made with Seville oranges, the tart kind, and you can't buy them in your grocery store here.  Otherwise, made with regular oranges, you get the orange jam that I unabashedly despise.  Sweet stuff.  No tart edge to it, as marmalade requires.  So normally I buy imported marmalade: Keillor's or Dundee.  Or Robertson's, with the, ahem... golliwog logo.  (Is that still allowed in the UK?)  I prefer the thick cut variety, but Robertson's Golden Shred, though thin cut, is decent enough.  Silver Shred, I believe, is the marmalade Robertson's makes with lemons.

Anyway, kumquats.  Nice and tart.  Surely they'd make good marmalade, and I had a tree full of them.  Never having made marmalade before--nor jam, for that matter--I looked up the recipe online. It looked intimidating, particularly the part about sterilizing the jars and sealing them.  Still, I set myself the task.  I had to borrow from my friends the Joneses a pot big enough to do the sterilization part, and yesterday did the cutting and slicing of the kumquats--plus, as the recipe had it, a couple of oranges.  I was careful with those; and, fearful of their sweetness, substituted half a lemon for some of the orange.  Put the whole lot in a pot with the requisite amount of water--it seemed like an awful lot--and set the mixture aside to settle overnight.

This morning, I was up early.  Expecting a business call at 9:30, I thought to get the job easily finished and still leave time for breakfast.  Not so.  I was still munching hastily on my toast when the telephone rang...  Still, following the separate instructions for the sterilization and the cooking of the fruit, I got a good start.  Steeped in boiling water, the jars and their lids proved simple enough to prepare; and aside from a couple of minor scalds to hands and arms, I was ready to get them filled.

Trouble was, at this critical point, the fruit mixture was supposed to be gelling, and could see no sign of it.  I stirred and skimmed, and skimmed and stirred, but even after a half hour, the liquid seemed as watery as ever.  Was it supposed to take this long?  Was I simply being my usual impatient self?  I called Brian Jones for help, and he made reassuring sounds.  I noticed, soon, that the mixture was in fact gelling pretty nicely around the stirring spoon, where I set it down, so I decided it was time to go for broke, and started ladling the marmalade into the glass jars; and sealed them up, I thought, quite successfully with the metal rings.


I made five small jars; there was still some left over, so I put it in a spare jar that remained unsealed.  It gelled into a perfect marmalade-y texture, and Ellie and I tried some of it on toast for breakfast.  Delicious!  I was still enjoying it when the phone rang with my business call.  We'll see how well I managed to seal the other jars, and how well they'll be preserved.  All in all, I felt pretty pleased with my first experiment in marmalade-making.  Best of all, it does taste like marmalade, not jam!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EIGHT MINUTES

Such a dreadful event, yesterday's plane crash in the French Alps.  So many young lives lost...  Images from the site show nothing but small fragments left of what was once a jetliner.  The impact must have been one of unimaginable force.

I find myself fixating on those last eight minutes, from the time the plane started its "controlled descent" from 38,000 feet.  No word from the pilots.  No distress call.  What could have been happening in that cockpit?  And were the passengers aware, for those eight minutes, that their plane was headed for destruction?  They must have been wondering, at the very least, why they were headed so soon toward the ground.

Impossible to imagine how much they knew and what they felt as those 150 human beings hurtled toward their death.  I try to place myself in one of their seats, with full awareness, and use those minutes in meditation to prepare myself for the end of my own life on earth...

But it's a fantasy, of course.  Easy for me, sitting quietly, out of harm's way, in my living room.  Well, not easy, even so.  But relatively benign, without the terror I would surely have experienced in that circumstance, had I been aware of what was happening.

To say "my heart goes out" to the victims and their families seems an inadequate expression, but we have little more than this cliché.  To empathize, as I try to do in meditation, feels equally inadequate.  To try to rationalize... impossible.  There is no sense, no justice to be found in disasters of this kind.  Just human tragedy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

ON NOT-KNOWING


I hear myself
speak these words
so often:

I don't know.

The immensity
of my not-knowing
is boundless.

I marvel at it
as I marvel
at the restless
surface of the ocean
beyond the shift
of all horizons;

or at the great,
ever-expanding
and bewildering
mystery of the universe
escaping its own
limitless boundaries
at light-speed
on a starlit night.

On tiny Earth,
this speck of dust,
I contemplate
the endless reach
of my not-knowing,
repeating to myself
that one thing that
I know I know:

I don't know.



Saturday, March 21, 2015

POEM



A GRIM VIGIL

I dreamt the brother
(I don't have)
was to be executed.
It was a grim vigil.
I held his hand
and wept.