Strolling throughthe Park of Roses, fall’s arrival was the big picture. Straggling branches, limp in the unseasonable heat, created a scene of tangled decay. The up-close view was quite different and surprisingly fresh and beautiful. Here and there could be found the most perfect of rose blooms, exuberant in their beauty, even on the last Monday of September. (Yes, this one—–)
With concernsfor the future of American civility and fear of nuclear war as world leaders exchange threats, the big picture is grim and unsettling. But up close, there is a walk in the park with Alicia and Leo, applesauce in the slow cooker perfuming the afternoon house, and an evening rehearsal of Haydn’s Mass No. 3 in D Minor.
So. I’m going with roses and goodness today. And what better way to celebrate late roses and right-on-time apples than with Bourbon Butter Apple Skillet. Sauce is adapted from Sherry McKenney’s maple pecan cake recipe, found in her cookbook, A Taste of the Murphin Inn. Thanks, Sherry!
Bourbon Butter Sauce: Combine all ingredients and stir until heated through.
1 Cup sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp bourbon (with lots of spill-over)
Thinly slice a few apples (leave on the skins) and toss them in a skillet with some of the prepared sauce. Use medium heat until apples are cooked through but not soggy. (5-10 minutes or so) Serve in dessert bowls with a small pitcher of cream for drizzling.
9:07 p.m. Friday, June 9, 2017. It’s showtime and we are standing on the crest of the hill, facing east. Where’s the full moon? The sky has that summer haze, and the horizon is looking cloudy. So we wait.
How to Wait for Moonrise:
Feel the grass prickle your bare ankles.
Wrap your arms around your beloved and inhale his summer-rich scent.
Hear the swallows chortle as they ride the evening breeze.
Notice the cooling air on nape of neck.
Continue returning to the moment and practice patience.
The best things in life are free. There it is, whole and entire, now visible in the dusky sky. It travels quickly, changing from white to an orange-mauve hue, gaining in brilliance with every minute. Yes, I could be in the city indulging in any number of entertainments, but this is where I want to be. On the hill.
May you find a place, a moment, of beauty today. It’s worth waiting for.
Humid, sunny, no breeze, no water, no hat. A horse-fly repeatedly dive-bombs, then burrows into my hair with an angry buzz. Waving walking poles at it, I whack myself in the head. Good Lord. Did I mention 7 ticks on my person? S-E-V-E-N.
Trudging up the final crest, a litany of complaints was in rehearsal, performance scheduled for an audience of one (my husband). With gaze fixed glumly on the ground, I happen upon a pair of tiger swallowtails. Returned to the present moment by astonishing and surprising beauty, I stop in my tracks.
And you know what comes next. This stopping of whatever you are doing Mr. Alexander termed ‘Inhibition’. Having stopped usual habits (i.e.–trudging, mental rehearsals, downward pull compressing my spine, etc.), I then have the opportunity for something else. Usually something much better.
Please note: optimal conditions are not required for choosing optimal Use. In other words, you can, in the most unpleasant of circumstances, stop and receive whatever is right in front of you. This provides greater ease and comfort in the physical body, and a lightness of mind as well.
That performance of complaints? Never happened. The swallowtails stole the show.
Glory be.It’s a fine morning on the hill. Bird chorus was a cacophony, and early. Sighted a Baltimore Oriole! A flash of brilliant orange and there he was, singing in a meadow bush. On lifting from his perch, he flew straight toward me, veering off to land in the nearest oak. Oh, my.
To enhance your birding experience, add some Alexander Technique thinking. Begin by simply noting and observing your usual patterns of use. Mine: 1. In the excitement of a closer view, I plop the binocs right up against my face, blurring my vision. 2. In a mis-directed attempt to obtain the best look, I scrunch down into the binocs, often not noticing this until my neck begins to hurt. 3. Arms get pulled tightly in toward torso in an effort to keep the binocs steady.
Next, having observed Habits (patterns of Use), ask yourself the question, ‘What if?’ ‘What if I didn’t ram the binocs against my face?’ The body’s inherent wisdom asserts itself when we get out of its way. We get to find out what the body would like to do instead. Instead of plopping, ramming, scrunching, pulling, there is now the option of lightness, lengthening, widening; all choices that make for more comfortable birding in a happier body.
In 1988, my father died suddenly of a heart attack, and having lost my mother 10 years earlier, I was officially orphaned. Often I found myself in a one-sided conversation with my parents, and once in a while, imagined hearing back from them.
One of those times a ditty began to sing itself in my mind’s ear, and although the melody has been lost, I do remember the lyric: Make a little beauty each day….It’s all that’s asked, all that’s required, just make a little beauty each day.
Yes. Making beauty. A roast chicken, a song, an Alexander Technique lesson, a pleasing arrangement of pottery and pictures on the mantle, a linen napkin under the sterling silver at dinner. A kind word, a lavish party. A photograph. A friendship. A marriage. A life you can love. It’s enough.
In this spring season, when the natural world is wild with making, may you be inspired to make a little beauty too. It’s all that’s required——
Stand in the middle of a hill meadow on a late April morning. Clutch in your left hand a bag of feathers. With the right hand, hold high one of those feathers and wait.
The swallows will begin to notice you. Heads will jut out from a few birdhouses and others will swoop around you with their liquid chittering. Release the feather. Watch as a swallow dives and angles and deftly maneuvers to catch the feather in its beak. When this happens mere inches from your head, listen to the snap of its bill. Say, ‘You are welcome,’ as the swallow flies directly to its box, disappearing inside.
Repeat.Many times. Those nests will be veritable featherbeds and your heart will be full.
Postscript: This is the second April assisting the swallows in feathering their nests. At last year’s nesting season close, a swallow saw me standing on the back porch and flitted into his box, emerging with a single feather. With it he flew straight to me, releasing the feather before my startled face. I kid you not. Befriend a bird today and prepare for wonder.
Nocturnal visitsto the back porch composting toilet often turn into sky watching events, with stars, planets, constellations and occasional flaming meteors streaking above. It is also extraordinary to be up and about when a crescent moon is setting to the west. Its proximity to the horizon enlarges its size as its white brilliance slides under the horizon in utter silence.
As one who appreciates these night-time interludes, I was pleased to find myself in good company on the reading of a Junichiro Tanizaki essay, ‘In Praise of Shadows.’ He devotes two pages to the glories of the Japanese toilet. A quote: ...‘the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas.’*
Mr. Alexander applied the principles of good use to the requirements of daily life: sitting, standing, moving from seated to standing and vice versa, traveling stairs, walking, resting. And to them we can add the middle-of-the-night constitutional.
Notice the beauty wherever you find yourself today. Be present to your Self and your Use. Yes indeed, even in the water closet.
*Tanizaki’s essay can be found in The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from theClassical Era to the Present, editor/Phillip Lopate.