Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bacon, My Favorite Health Food

If you are a health-conscious almost-vegetarian but share your table with a devout carnivore, bacon is a gift from the gods.  

It is the one food that will allow you to satisfy your partner's perennial longing for the muscle tissue of animals while assuaging your own concerns about preserving health, eating low on the food scale, living frugally, and saving the planet.

This is possible because bacon has an extremely strong taste.  One tablespoon of bacon fat can make an entire vat of kale not just tolerable but irresistible to even the most determined vegephobe.

To keep my conscience at a dull roar, I buy bacon from a nearby farm where pigs live out their lives on pasture, under the same sky and breathing the same air as I.  Yes, it's more expensive than supermarket bacon, but because a mere whisper of it goes such a long way, it is not expensive compared to other meats.


 I cook a pound of bacon at a time, then drain and blot it, wrap it in paper towels and store it in a plastic bag in the fridge, where it feeds us for a long, long time.  (The fat goes into the fridge as well, in case I should have a vat of kale to deal with, but mostly to flavor the dogs' food and give zest to their lives.)

The stuff is so strongly flavored that the slightest soupcon (why can't Blogger give us cedillas when we need them?) turns a too-healthy-tasting vegetable into a main dish with gravitas. That pound of bacon in my fridge gets doled out a slice at a time, chopped into tiny bits and stirred into rice, lentils, pasta, soup, chard, kale, green beans or  potatoes, all of which it magically deepens and enhances with its sweet, salty, earthy, bacony flavor.  

One thing I never serve bacon with is...eggs.  That is simply overkill, dietary excess, and living high on the hog.  Besides, the egg by itself is so delicate, so subtle, that to clobber it with a couple of slices of bacon is a kind of sin.

Otherwise, bacon is the answer to the contemporary cook's nutritional, economic, and ecological dilemmas.  And all because it is one of the few foods (along with, maybe, heavy cream) where moderation tastes like extravagance. 



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Feeling Green

Went to the dump today, and please bear with me while I show off a bit.

In these rural parts, there is no municipal trash collection.  There is a private company that picks up trash, but it's very expensive, so most everybody goes to the dump.

Going to the dump is a big deal, which is why we don't do it often.  The nearest dump is over the line in New York.  The New York recycling handbook, which tells you how to classify your household waste,  is six pages long.

There are three categories of glass--clear, green, and brown;  two categories of cans--tin and aluminum;  three kinds of plastic containers;  and no fewer than seven categories of paper:  newspaper, newspaper inserts, magazines, books, office paper, corrugated cardboard, and boxboard.  And then there is sheer "refuse," the dregs of our daily lives, the stuff for which no redeemable use can be found.  

You don't have to pay for recyclables, no matter how many tons you cart to the dump.  But you have to pay for your refuse by affixing $1.50 stamps (which you have to buy at the Town Office) to your  garbage bags.  The dump attendants--surprisingly cheerful,  easygoing men--take a look at your bags and tell you how many stamps to put on each.

On dump day, my husband--who saw Alice's Restaurant at an impressionable age--goes over every single scrap of paper we have generated over the last month and meticulously rips out every allusion to our name, address, and SSN, and assigns each scrap to one of the seven categories.

Meanwhile, I collect the garbage, bottles, cans and plastic and carry them to the garage.  I do not collect the deposit bottles or the plastic bags, which go back to the supermarket on a separate trip.  The black plastic pots that nursery plants come in go back to a nursery that reuses them.

My husband's next job, and one at which he excels, is to compress the refuse bags to their absolute minimum, so that we will incur the smallest possible charge.  Which brings me to today's triumph:  our month's worth of refuse, after compression, filled about half of a tall kitchen garbage bag.

Credit for this goes mostly to the chickens, who consume whatever we don't eat, and to the rural nature of this place, which keeps us close to home and away from stores.

I am usually more than glad to be living in the Green Mountains, but there are some exceptions:  days when it rains on top of snow and then freezes;  days when I have to drive thirty minutes to find a spool of brown thread;  and dump days.  

Thinking about it, though, I realize that these are the very days that keep our mountains green.  The difficult weather keeps the flatlanders away;  the paucity of malls and box stores keeps the landscape bucolic and the traffic light;  and the dump--well, when you have to handle and classify and remove from your house every single piece of waste you have generated you can't help berating yourself for your consuming ways, and vowing to live more greenly.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Zucchini Vs. Bear

Last summer I wrote about some defensive uses of zucchini here.

Now I hear that zucchini is not only useful against dragons, but against bears as well.  A couple of nights ago a woman in Montana let her dogs out into the backyard and a black bear came barreling down the hill and attacked one of them.  She yelled and waved her arms and finally kicked the bear in the neck.  The bear then went after her, and after clawing her thigh tried to push its way into the house.  The woman grabbed a 14" zucchini that was providentially within reach on the kitchen counter and threw it at the bear.  The bear ran away.

 Which proves that everybody runs away from zucchini at this time of year.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Harvester's Complaint

Today I pulled up the tomato vines and removed their wire cages.  There were still green tomatoes on the vines, but I needed to get rid of the plants so we could install another of the raised beds that my husband made early in the summer.   

Now five of the nine beds are in, but only three have been filled.  It takes a huge amount of dirt and compost to fill a 4'x4'x2' box.  We are using the dirt that was removed during the making of the patio and fish pond, and left in piles at the edge of the woods.  We cannot transport it in the garden cart because we would have to lift the loaded cart over the 2' walls of the beds.  Instead, we use a large plastic tub with a handle on each side, my husband holding one and I the other.  Those tubs of dirt are terribly heavy--far worse than boxes of books--and, keeping our backs in mind, I only let us do a few tubfuls at a time.  Which means that it is taking forever to fill those beds.


Meanwhile, the garden is still going great guns.  Guarded by squadrons of daddy long legs, the beans are maturing so fast that by the time I get to them, many are as thick as fingers.  Fortunately Wolfie and Bisou find them almost as tasty as chicken legs, so I am saved from the great sin of letting a single bean go to waste.


After the bean picking, I realized that the banana peppers think that we are still in August.  I relieved the plants of all but the smallest fruit, and went into the kitchen.  I filled the blanching pot with water and set it on the stove.  While the water heated (which, as those of you know who have an electric stove, takes eons), I seeded and sliced the peppers and put them in the dehydrator.  By the time I was done with that, the water was boiling, and I put the beans in it to blanch.  Then I cooled them in ice water, put them in bags, and took them down to the freezer.

I stuffed the beans into the freezer, and then had trouble closing the door.  If this Indian summer doesn't go away soon, we'll have to buy another freezer.  Did I mention that the pepper plants are full of blooms, that the chard and kale are flourishing, that the bean plants are loaded with baby beans?  In fact, I should probably be out there picking those little beans right now, before they get so big they're only good for the dogs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Googling The Granny Square

While I was carving my piece of stone one day last week, the thought of granny squares flitted through my brain.

You remember granny squares--if you were a child in the 1970s, your mother made you something, probably a vest, out of granny squares.  If you were a grown woman, you crocheted granny squares during consciousness-raising sessions, and while watching The Smothers Brothers on TV.

Thinking about crocheting granny squares while whaling away with a mallet and chisel felt a little crazy.  Could there be any two more contrasting activities than stone carving and crocheting--one hard, the other soft;  one where every stroke is irreparable, the other where every stitch can be undone;  one high art and the other about as low as you can get on the scale of humble crafts.

When my arms gave out and I couldn't carve anymore, I dusted myself off and went upstairs to Google "granny squares."


I'm never prepared for this kind of thing.  I Google something that I think is hopelessly recondite--like pictures of hortus conclusus or recipes for kale pesto--and come up with hundreds of listings.  Invariably I am amazed, and grateful to live in such an age, and worried about what this instant access to everything in the universe is doing to the human brain.


But I have never been as amazed as when I Googled "granny squares."  To look at the results, you'd think that three quarters of the human race was out there crocheting granny squares day and night.  There is even a site where you can see an infinite number of granny-square designs and granny-square afghans, baby blankets, purses, hats, shawls and shoes. 

If, like me, your memories are of stiff polyester granny-square afghans in shades of orange and avocado green, you are in for a surprise.  In the last four decades, the granny square has undergone a magical transformation.  

The granny square need no longer be a square--it can be a circle, or a hexagon, or a triangle.The old basic square can be filled in, or ornamented with flowers and stars and rising suns.  You can still find plenty of dreary polyester confections, but the new granny square is being made in delicious shades of wools and cottons.  And the squares--or circles, hexagons or triangles--are joined in unexpected combinations of patterns and sizes, some as beautiful and intricate as quilts.


Fortunately, this cornucopia of inspirations is complemented by a collection of YouTube videos, in which ladies with quick fingers and patient voices demonstrate how to make every possible variety of granny square to those who want to learn.


Now that I officially qualify for grannyhood (though my grandchildren, I'm glad to say, call me "Lili"), I wonder, is it time for me to revisit the granny square?  After all, here I am, forty years later, gardening and raising chickens,  sort of living off the land again.  

I have a stash of lovely wool, from real Vermont sheep, that's been on my conscience lately.








Saturday, September 18, 2010

In Which Common Sense Prevails

"In creative work, time should not and cannot be taken into consideration," said William Zorach.  He was one of the best American sculptors of the last century, so he must have known what he was talking about (you can see his work here ).

My stone-carving marathon--five days in a row, 2+ hours/day--angered the gods of chronic fatigue, and yesterday I was laid low.  That red block of sandstone will remain unfinished for the foreseeable future, and thus will not be entered into the juried show I had been racing towards.  I can't imagine what I was thinking, trying to carve such a big block in such a short time.

From now on, I will carve by the stone's clock--which runs on geologic time--rather than mine.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Red Sandstone Blues

Today I'm thinking that it may not be possible to get it done by Wednesday after all.

That confounded sandstone dulls the tooth and the flat chisels in less than five minutes.  I do have a couple of carbide-tipped chisels, which keep their edge longer, but they are tiny, and it will take me forever to smooth that big piece of red stone with those. 

I could give up on chisels and try to smooth the thing with a rasp--normally you work in the order:  point chisel, tooth chisel, flat chisel, rasp--but the sandstone will probably do a job on that too.

Meanwhile, I have a big bruise on my left-hand where I have hit myself with the mallet, and a feeling of weariness in my heart.

As I said when I started this whole thing, one should never rush, when carving stone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sandstone Countdown

A week from today, it will all be over:  I'll either have finished the stone piece, and submitted it for jurying, or not.

Today, the fourth day, started out badly.  Too much stone, not enough muscle.  Too much sheer volume to be hacked away before I could even contemplate matters of shape.  "Help, I need help," I kept muttering.  I mean, old-time sculptors had apprentices--whole shops of them--for the heavy work and the boring parts, like polishing.

And then it occurred to me:  I could use some help sharpening my tools.  Sandstone, you see, is terribly hard on tools.  After half an hour of carving, a chisel is as dull and ineffective as a slice of Wonder bread.  No matter how hard you whale away with your mallet and wear out your sinews,  nothing much happens on the stone.

I am a terrible tool sharpener.  If things are going well, if I've got some momentum going, stopping to sharpen tools is the last thing on my mind.  If things aren't going well, I'm too upset to even think of sharpening chisels. And when I do condescend to sharpen a tool, it feels my aggravation and remains stubbornly blunt.

I am, however, married to a man who excels at tool sharpening.  Not until I married him did I experience the bliss of slicing an apple with a truly sharp knife.  Until then, my family had always sort of hacked/smashed meats and fruits and vegetables into submission, and bloodshed was a standard part of cooking.  But once you've known the bliss of a sharp blade, you never forget it.

My breakthrough today was to realize that I could, without compromising my creativity, ask Ed to sharpen my tools.  So I did.  And  he agreed. 

I handed him a pile of chisels--point, tooth, flat,  carbide, and steel, and before I'd even put my dust mask and gloves and carving shirt and shoes on, he handed them back with knife-sharp edges.  I went to work with the point chisel, and the stone just flew--it felt like power steering, and so good that I whaled away for two and a half hours without stopping...at the end of which my two point chisels were blunt again.  So I handed them back to  him and he sharpened them once more, and now they're sitting on my workbench, shiny and pointy, waiting for tomorrow's session.

I suspect that by next Wednesday my chisels will be worn down to stubs, but I'm beginning to think that finishing the piece by then just might--Inshallah--be a possibility.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Red Sandstone

There is a big hunk of red sandstone in my basement that has been bothering me.  Years ago I started to carve a figure out of it, then realized that it was all wrong, and abandoned it.

But if you're a stone carver, you don't abandon a stone just because it's been badly carved.  Stone is hard to find and heavy to carry, so sculptors try put to use even pieces that have been messed up.  Michelangelo made the David from a block of marble that had been partially carved and then abandoned by two sculptors before him.

Sunday in a fit of insanity I went into the basement and hefted the piece of sandstone, which weighs around 70 lbs, onto the carving stand.  I have not carved in the round for three years.  It's highly physical work, and I wasn't sure that I was up to it.  But I decided that if I could lift the stone, it would be a sign that I should carve it.

I looked at the stone from one side, and then the other, trying to figure out how I could salvage it.  I don't have an abstract bone in my body, so my choices were considerably fewer than if I had just set out to make a nice shape. I looked at that stone for a long time.

Finally I picked up a mallet (I couldn't believe how heavy my old five-pound mallet felt in my hand) and started whaling away.  This is what is known, in sculpture parlance, as "direct carving," and I may, one of these days, if I have enough strength left in my hands, write here about why I do it.

I should mention that a local arts organization is putting on a juried show, and the deadline is next Wednesday.  And I want to enter my piece of sandstone. 

If there is one thing one should never do, when carving stone, and especially when carving stone by hand, it's be in a hurry.  I may not be posting at my usual frequency in the coming days:  I'm carving with just a mallet and a chisel and my God-given muscles, and I'm in a big hurry.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Goldfinch On Sunflower

Watched a goldfinch perch on a sunflower seed head and gorge.  Even in the westering sun, it looked olive-drab rather than yellow, so was either a female or a juvenile.  (Shakespeare wouldn't have cared which it was, so why should I?)

It was wrenching out seeds with hyena-like ferocity, shaking its head from side to side until they came loose.

With every peck, bits of stuff went flying.  If those bits were hulls, and he was getting the kernel, he'll be in great shape to last out the coming winter.  If, on the other hand, those were intact seeds falling to the ground, I can look forward to quite a sunflower harvest next year.

Either way, it's good.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beautiful Bodies

I bought a shirt online recently and was promptly punished for it by being sent a catalog in the mail.  I was leafing through it while waiting on the phone for a sales representative to take me off the mailing list when it struck me that the models in the photographs seemed not only skeletally thin, but abnormally tall.

I thought this might be because, having spent the last five years in Vermont, I had forgotten what fashion and fashion models look like.  Just to make sure, I took out a ruler and started measuring.

Greek sculptors of the Classical period made the male figure seven "heads" tall.  Today, thanks to all the protein we eat, the average male body is closer to eight heads tall, and the female a little less.

The shortest model I could find  in the catalog was nine heads tall, not counting the high heels.  Most were taller than that, and one measured an amazing ten heads.  These were not, I remind you, fashion illustrations, but photographs of real human beings.  And the weird thing is that most of that exaggerated length was in the legs, especially the thighs.

These grasshopper-like appendages were suspended from hips so slender that it occurred to me that, like certain breeds of dogs, models must only be able to give birth by cesarean.  Their ribcages were also narrow, so that every one of the women featured--whether at rest or in motion--was forced to breathe through her open mouth.

But back to those legs.  I don't think they were real.  Either those women had had pins inserted in their femurs, or the photographs were doctored to make the legs look longer.  In either case, I wondered, is there a point at which leg length hits diminishing returns?

I realize that the intent is to achieve a coltish, pre-pubertal look, but if we regress much further we'll end up idealizing the toddler body, in which case the models of the future will have big heads, round bellies, and little fat legs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Incredible Eleven-Foot-Tall Sunflower

Several times in my gardening career I bought packets of sunflower seeds and planted them carefully in fertile, loose, well-watered soil.  None of those seeds ever came to anything.  On the other hand, I have had amazing luck with sunflowers planted by the birds.

Whether they drop the seeds by accident or by design, before or after passing them through their tiny digestive tracts, is a mystery to me.  All I know is that every summer a forest of sunflowers springs up around the bird feeder.  This year's crop was exceptional, but it is almost over by now.  I have pulled up the dead stalks and the empty flowers and thrown them away, with one exception:  the eleven-foot-tall sunflower.

This amazing specimen, planted by the birds in the narrow flower bed between the patio and the back porch, suffered heavy damage in a summer windstorm, which bent its stem about a foot from the ground.  I assumed that it would die then, or at least ripen and wither on schedule with its peers.  But even now, when all the other sunflowers are resting in peace on the compost heap, this one is still going strong.
                                                                                                                         
Today, before clearing out the flower bed of its summer detritus, I intended to dispose of  the bent-over marvel.  But as I put the pruning shears against the inch-thick stem, something held me back.  Not only did the plant have a number of ripening brown flower heads, but no fewer than seventeen Van Gogh-bright blooms. It would have been a crime against Nature to rip it out.

In its bent-over condition, however, it was impeding my access to the flower bed.  I called my husband, and he dragged a ladder out of the garage, and I handed him a length of green baling twine and pointed upwards, and he fastened the sunflower to the porch's rain gutter.

Now it stands in solitary splendor at the end of the denuded flower bed, calling to the chickadees who planted it to come and feast on its ripening seeds.

I never knew that chickadees were farmers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Posted"

Never thought I'd say this, but Hallelujah!  it was cool and cloudy in Vermont today.  It rained just enough last night to keep the final phase of the Vermont-to-Arizona conversion from taking place.

To celebrate, this evening I took the dogs for a walk in the woods.  Wolfie thundered ahead, followed by a close-to-the-ground red projectile:  Bisou.  Lexi, who in former years was the first to disappear from view, now keeps close to me.  On these outings I carry a treat bag full of mozzarella chunks as insurance against disobedience and disappearance.  Periodically, I call the dogs and give each of them a piece of cheese when they come to me.  Lexi is always there first.

Entering the woods this evening was like diving into green water--dreamy and silent except for the waving and rustling of the trees.  The ground is covered in reddish-brown leaves, the result of the drought.  Against this background, it is getting harder to see Bisou.  By October, she will blend perfectly into the reddish-orange leaf fall.

Unfortunately, by October we won't be able to walk in the woods.  In one of the most beautiful times of the year, the dogs and I will be confined to the yard, for fear of hunters.  It's not that I'm against hunting.  In fact, I would like nothing better than to get our protein from wild sources.  But I don't hunt, and neither does my husband, and the idea of people with guns tromping through our woods alarms me.

Hunting is a long-standing tradition in Vermont, and locals bemoan the proliferation of "Posted" signs over former hunting grounds.  These signs are put up by flatlanders like us, not born to a hunting tradition and reluctant to put our pets and ourselves in jeopardy to maintain it.

Last spring, as we were laying out the trail in the woods, we found an alarming number of spent cartridges on the ground.  Soon we'll have to go to the hardware store and buy a couple dozen yellow "Posted" signs.  Then we'll  take one last hike through the yellowing woods, and staple the signs on our trees, and hope they work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Apple Trees

My two little apple trees are the apple of my eye.  They are small, and young, and live just a few steps from my back door.  I've kept my eye on them winter and summer, ever since I planted them fall-before-last. 

Coincidentally, one is called "Freedom" and the other "Liberty."  Naturally I prefer the Latin-derived name, but I love both trees as a mother loves her twins.

Last fall, a year after they were planted and had their bottom branches sheared off by an early ice storm, both Liberty and Freedom surprised me with a harvest of several apples each.  This spring they were covered in blooms and, because they stand close to the house's south-facing wall, the late frost that decimated apple crops all around barely touched my little trees.

There were no bees on our land this spring.  Still, enough wasps and ants and bumble bees showed up to ensure that the majority of flowers swelled into fruit.  Consulting the books rather than my emotions, I plucked and discarded most of those baby apples. 

The ones that remained grew as fat as the surviving pups in a litter.  A couple dropped off last month, but now, just before harvest, Freedom has eleven apples, Liberty ten.  They are round and shiny, and they glow red in the setting sun. 

Because I spray neither organically nor inorganically, my apples are bound to be imperfect.  Freedom's apples are larger, but they have a soft, round, brown spot each, which means they will spoil right after I pick them.  I'll have to dry them or freeze them or slice them carefully for eating raw.  Liberty's apples are smaller, with no visible blemishes, but I'm sure some living thing--worm, fungus or bacterium--has made its home in their core and is racing me to the finish.  I'll have to harvest the apples at their relative best, and do my best to make some use of them.

I'll let you know how it all turns out.  

Monday, September 6, 2010

Green Bean Time

What with the drought and everything, the beans have been slow coming in this year.  But today, after a weekend away, I found my drought-stressed plants nevertheless in full swing.

I like picking beans, but it's a delicate task.  The plants are fragile.  The hairy heart-shaped leaves are as thin as batiste handkerchiefs.  You brush against one and, unlike, say, a pepper leaf, it doesn't spring back, but stays looking crumpled and resentful.  The stems are knobby and turgid, ready to break off in your hand at the merest tug. And the early beans grow low in the plant, so that you have to swish the foliage around to get to them.

I hate it that, when I'm through picking, the entire patch is left looking harassed and upset.  But bean plants are drama queens.  I know that by tomorrow morning, revived by the dew, they will once again resemble a miniature jungle, the dark, impenetrable habitat of that fearsome predator, the daddy longlegs.

I pick my beans as young as I can get them, aiming for a maximum diameter of two-eighths of an inch.  But in every basketful I find some that already show the swelling of early pregnancy, while others, pre-pubertal, are about as thick as one of Wolfie's whiskers.  That means that after I wash them and snap them and give the stem ends to the chickens, my beans will--horrors!--cook to different levels of doneness.  They would never pass muster in a green-bean-processing plant.

But my beans, some fat, some thin, all born from seeds that I personally pushed into the ground with my planting stick, melt in the mouth and taste like the food of the gods even to people like me, who don't really like green beans.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Burnt Offerings

I have been ireading Mary Renault's retelling of the Theseus legend, The King Must Die and The Bull From The Sea.  I am not a classicist of either the historical or literary kind, but I'm enjoying these books a lot.  For one thing, it's fun meeting again, in different circumstances, characters I remember from 16th and 17th French literature (that girl, Ariadne's little sister, must be Phaedra, Theseus's future wife, who is going to fall in love with her stepson...).Also, Renault weaves the light, the smells, the landscape, the flora and fauna so tightly into her story, that there is never that moment when you know you're in for an injection of "local color," as happens with many historical novels.

I am struck by the interactive quality of the human characters' relationship with the gods. Like a college student texting his parents at the drop of a hat, Theseus constantly begs favors of Neptune, asks his advice, complains that he is being badly treated.  And he knows how to get on the god's good side, something he and his fellow Hellenes do by offering sacrifices. 

The sacrifices are of living beings, and the best ones are highly valued living beings.  If a Hellene was feeling guilty, he might kill a chicken--or if he was very guilty, a goat--and feel much better.  If he was grateful for a military victory, a bull would be the thing to slaughter.  To save the harvest he might offer a favorite wolfhound, or the best stallion of the herd.  For luck in battle, a virgin princess.  And just on general principles, some tribes annually sacrificed their king.

As our drought persists, and no rain is forecast, I realize that to the Ancients this situation would have had an obvious answer:  I should sacrifice something--rather, someone--to appease the gods and save my garden.  If I were a 4th century BCE Hellene, I would be looking around right now, thinking, a hen?  Maybe one of the older ones that aren't laying much?  But the gods would turn up their noses at that.  They know a spent layer when they see one.

For the Olympians, a chicken is small change.  If I really want rain, I should get serious.  So, who else is there?  Other than my husband (who should be saved for something like a Martian invasion, in which case I'd sacrifice myself right along with him), that leaves the dogs.  Which one could I stand to part with, and most importantly, which one would appease the gods, and bring rain?  Would Lexi be too old, or would she please the Goddess in her Crone aspect?  Artemis, I know, would like swift-footed Wolfie, but Bisou would have to go to Aphrodite (not that I would trust Aphrodite to remember to send rain).

Where am I going with this, besides getting myself upset?  I am not a 4th century BCE Hellene.  I am not sacrificing my dogs.  And if the garden fails, there is always the supermarket. 

Even so, I do envy those old Hellenes their familiar day-to-day relationship with the gods.  How nice to have somebody who would send you signs, who would get angry but then forgive you, and whom you could ask for stuff.  Somebody to give you permission to go into battle with  no second thoughts ("If God be with us," as another tribe put it, "who can be against us?").

Yes, I know, it's dangerous, listening to gods.  That's why we don't listen to them anymore.  Now instead we listen to Reason, that other dicey voice.  But at least I get to keep my dogs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Making Things

I have been reading A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book for book group.  It is a novel about many things (probably too many things), but it is mainly about people--a potter, a writer, a jeweler, a puppeteer--who make things.  There are delicious bits where Byatt writes about the potter seeing the world in terms of glazes, the writer examining the events of her daily life, even as they are happening, for their potential as stories. 

You can tell that Byatt loves to make things (she thinks of writing as something she constructs).  In an interview, she says:
I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It's the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things....Who I am, is the person that has the project of making a thing.

Ah, the project of making a thing!  First, for me, there is the itch in the fingers, then the project, then the thing itself.  A thing--a piece of writing, a picture, a sculpture, a  tablecloth made into a dress--that wasn't there before.  It is only when I am making something that I feel affection for myself, and that then allows me, like Byatt, to love others in a better way.

What things--art, gardens, rugs, dinner--do you make that make you who you are?