Tag Archives: abundance

Here’s to Fall and Feasting

Abundance by Julie Paschkis

One fall day many years ago, when the wind was gusting and leaves, golden and red, cartwheeled across the street, I suddenly felt inspired to write an ode to the season. I was thinking of the kind of fulsome, simple poem that my father sometimes read to us. (When he wasn’t baffling us with things like The Love Song of  J. Alfred Prufrock.)  I went home and wrote The Harvest in Our Hearts and it’s been part of my family’s Thanksgiving tradition ever since.

I’d like to share it with you along with a new painting that Julie Paschkis generously gave me permission to use. It’s a piece for a two-person show at the Seattle Art Museum’s café, TASTE, in May. Keep your eyes open for it!

Thanks to my fellow bloggers Julie Paschkis, Julie Larios, Margaret Chodos-Irvine and Laura Kvasnosky, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all who read our blog. You are all part of the harvest in my own heart.

The Harvest in Our Hearts

by Bonny Becker

It was the dawn of winter
and the table was set for feasting.
The silver was polished, the fire ablaze.
The turkey at last done with roasting.

We had just then raised a glass to toast
the harvest and the day,
when there came a knock at the door,
and a stranger blew in and seated himself saying,
“Room for one more?”

He wasn’t the kind to argue with. He was wide and tall and brawny.
His robes were worked in the richest threads
of brown and red and tawny.
His head was wreathed with an herbal crown;
He smelled of smoke and cold, and it seemed when he sat
that leaves fell down in a whirl of red and gold.

“Who are you?”  I dared to ask, but he merely smiled
and demanded a glass of his own.

He surveyed our board and seemed to judge, weighing its merit,
assessing the richness of each dish, the quality of the claret.
Beneath his gaze it was odd to note our table grew more rich.
The silver gleamed more deep; the candles burned more bright.
Our fire stood more securely against the winter night.

He nodded. This god approved.

“Be warm, eat well, be gay.
Each season has its moment;
Each moment slips away.”

Thus saying, he, too, began to fade like smoke in the autumn wind,
but his words still lingered as we raised our glasses again.

“Here’s to friends and harvest
 to winter days and rain.
Here’s to those who are with us
and to those we’ll not see again.
Here’s to fall and feasting,
to good wine and good cheer.
Here’s to the harvest in our hearts
in the winter of the year.”

DESIRE

Ah, Spring. Everywhere I look it’s the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. Nature has sensed the void she’s said to abhor and is filling her incompleteness with trilliums and trout lilies, spidery maple leaves and daphne odora variegata. Bare branches fizzle with chartreuse fuzzies and soft blossoms.

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It seems a feeling of incompleteness is part of the human condition, as well. And like Nature, we attempt to fill this void. We fall in love, create children’s books, play with a dog, watch a sunset. All these solutions work to some degree. Other times we try to fill the inner void with music or religion, or running, or drugs, alcohol, sex, or chocolate. Stories even. Yet the void persists.

The open palm of desire wants everything. It wants everything.
It wants soil as soft as summer and the strength to push like spring.

– Paul Simon, ‘Further to Fly’

I think it’s this incompleteness that beloved writer Norma Fox Mazer pointed to as a main character’s necessary “deprivation.” As sure as Velcro hooks grab Velcro fuzz, characters hook readers through their incompleteness. Because we feel a lack in ourselves, we have a ready place to hold a character’s longings and out-of-balancedness. “Deprivation” has many guises. For example, the children in Sarah Plain and Tall’s yearning for a mother, or Peter Rabbit’s need to get into the vegetable patch, or even Olivia’s out-sized dream to be the Queen of the Trampoline – all incompleteness and desire.

I’ve heard it said that 90% of children’s literature is about belonging or searching for home. Maybe that’s what our own incompleteness is about, too.

What a ramble. But it’s spring and the garden calls. And if I may paraphrase what Rene Zellweger said to Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire, the garden completes me. At least for awhile.

p.s. Here’s the Dylan Thomas poem referred to above:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Abundance

When I was almost 7, my family moved from the Seattle area down to the Santa Clara Valley, about an hour south of San Francisco. Before it became “Silicon Valley,”  it looked like this:

Old Photo Postcard of Santa Clara Valley's Cherry Orchards

Old Photo Postcard of Santa Clara Valley’s Cherry Orchards

It actually did look like that – it’s not just nostalgia playing tricks with my mind. It was so beautiful, such a generous landscape. Of course, we moved into a house that was part of a development that was one of dozens of developments that would eventually wipe out the orchards and pave over the farmland and replace it with freeways and suburbs.  But my family got there before too much had been destroyed – 1956 – there were still great fields of garlic and artichokes to the south of us, with cherries orchards surrounding my neighborhood

Each spring, walking home, we watched the cherries ripen. Mustard plants grew at the base of the trees in late spring, and if you wandered far enough into the orchard, you could look in every direction and not see anything but mustard blooms and fruit trees.

Mustard and Cherry Trees in San Jose

Mustard and Cherry Trees in San Jose

Then, in June, the cherries were ready.  I picked them every day – we all did, everyone who headed home that way,  and we ate them until we couldn’t eat any more.  I like to think the farmer knew that the school kids would eat all the cherries from the row of trees nearest the road. We felt like there was enough for everyone, and then some.

Even a decade later there were still enough orchards in the valley that high school kids could make their summer money in the canneries. The heady smell of hot tomatoes and ripe fruit would drift out all summer from the Contadina and Del Monte canneries in the Bay Area.

Reading Laura’s post from last week, about the weddings of her son and her daughter, and the lovely poem by Li-Young Lee about peaches, I started thinking about those cherry trees, and the Santa Clara Valley. I thought about orchards and summer, and about happiness and abundance.

Rainier cherries from east of the mountains have gone on sale in the farmers markets, and I have been buying a lot of them. The person selling them lets you try one or two first:

Rainier Cherries - The Absolute Best Cherries in the World

Rainier Cherries – The Absolute Best Cherries in the World

So you buy some, but only a handful, because they cost a lot:

A Handful of Delicious Cherries

A Handful of Delicious Cherries

But before you go home you decide a handful is not nearly enough, and you wander back to buy more:

Yummers

A bowlful….

and the next day, when you can already see the bottom of the bowl, you go back for more:

...and a basketful.

…and a basketful.

What I’m really trying to do, of course, when I eat those cherries is to conjure up that delicious abundance I once experienced in the Santa Clara Valley. Not just conjure it up, but take it into me, cherry by cherry.

Northrop Frye once described the genres of literature according to the seasons. Fall, according to Frye, is tragedy – fatalism, the hero pushed toward ultimate failure. Winter is irony and satire – the final absurdity. Spring is comedy – new beginnings and light-hearted endings. But summer is romance – the season when belief is in full bloom. Summer is abundance.  No wonder that in the summertime, I want to write something wholehearted, something unrestrained. Not a sample-cherry story, not a handful-of-cherries story, not a bowlful-or-a-basketful-of-cherries story, but an orchardful-of-cherries story. A story that measures up to this:

Abundance, Summer, Belief, Cherries

Abundance, Summer, Belief, Cherries

So when it’s cherry season, I think about the Santa Clara Valley. If I’m in a writer-ish mood, I think of Frye. I strive to write something worthy of summer, something from the heart, full of belief.

If I’m feeling more like a teenager than a writer, I think (unbelievably) of George Carlin singing “Cherry…cherry pie…cherry…cherry pie….” Click here to listen to Carlin on YouTube. Less literary, but sweet, glorious and openly sensual. Like those fields of mustard, with the trees rising up out of them.

And since I’m talking cherries, and since I’m going for abundance, check out this George Gershwin song – Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries – sung by Dean Martin and Gisele MacKenzie. A little cherry to put on top of the sundae. Enjoy.

Leftovers

Leftovers….

It’s Leftover-Turkey Day, and I’m still thinking about things I’m grateful for, not the least of which is leftover turkey. I did some thinking about gratitude  yesterday, of course. I made a mental list of things I’m grateful for, and the list got quite long. Primarily I feel dumbfounded by how lucky I am to be loved by the people I love.  Most of yesterday, in fact, I thought I would write about that today – the mutual admiration society that reigns supreme in my family – for my Books Around the Table post.  I wanted to look at how strange it is that some writers write from the discontent brought on by a lack of love, and other writers (the lucky ones) write from the safety and  joy of an abundance of it.

Whether longing for love or nurtured by it, writers often create characters searching for some kind of love and acceptance. That longing is “the desire line” of a story. The need for love makes the world go round, and it’s certainly the engine of the carousel that literature spins around on.  So love – withheld or generously given –  was on my mind yesterday and lingers there today. And there’s no doubt those mirrored generative forces are an acceptable topic for a blog about writing and (tangentially) about where creativity comes from.

But I also spent a lot of time this last week thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt at a family Thanksgiving….

…and Eleanor Roosevelt voting, 1936

She’s been on my mind since the election – what an active, bright, caring, conscientious woman she was – and since seeing Ken Burn’s thought-provoking new documentary on PBS about the Dust Bowl.  Even before watching that, I had been turning over and over in my mind what Maria Popova quoted over at Brain Pickings from the book Roosevelt wrote titled You Learn by Living: 11 Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.  I especially like the line from Don Quixote which was a favorite of Roosevelt’s (“Until death it is all life”) and the long passage Popova quoted in which Roosevelt expresses her thoughts about happiness:

Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: ‘A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.’

But there is another basic requirement, and I can’t understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.

The problem is, I can’t quite figure out how to tie that in to writing, which is what this blog is all about, except to say that I believe everything we ponder makes us better writers. We are, after all, writers in the world. It is just as valuable to ponder honesty (well, actually, honesty makes us better writers) as it is to ponder point of view.  It’s valuable to thinki about doing our best (yes, again,  better writers) and about loving people (isn’t that what empathy is about? and doesn’t empathy make us better writers?) and a sense of usefulness (which gets us out of our heads, sends us out into the world, and makes us better people, which makes us better writers.)

Am I’m stretching to make a connection? Maybe I just wanted to write about Eleanor Roosevelt, no matter what. I tend to like adding a lot of ingredients into every soup I make.  I do know, on this day after Thanksgiving,  that I’m still revising my what-I’m-grateful-for list, making it just a bit longer. Today, I’m adding Eleanor Roosevelt, Ken Burns, Don Quixote, and Maria Popova to the list. I’m grateful to be list-inclined.  I’ll add that to the list.  I’m grateful I’m a writer – well, that was on my list already.  And not to bring the tone down, I hope, I will say I’m grateful there is both leftover gravy and leftover stuffing  – yumm. And when I eat my leftover-turkey-on-leftover-dinner-roll sandwich later today (and leftover turkey soup for weeks to come) I’ll probably still be adding to my list. I’ll have come up with a few more leftover things to be grateful about. Thanksgiving is just as much about leftovers as it is about the main course, because Thanksgiving is all about abundance, whether it’s food, or food for thought.

…and more leftovers!