Sunday, October 29, 2006

Lessons from whole milk.

When I was a kid, I had a neighbor lady who did some farming, of sorts. She milked two cows, a Golden Guernsey and a Brown Swiss. She had chickens, collected and sold the eggs. She had Guinea Fowl, she collected and hatched the eggs and enjoyed showing off the unique feathers to anyone who would look. There was a hog house, and sometimes there were swine to inhabit it. She had white face Hereford for beef and the processional turkey holding court in the chicken lot.
She attended a small white framed country church and would take me with her each week. For the opening of Sunday School she would play the piano and everyone would sing before we went to our classes where we learned about the life and times of Jesus and about the great love of God and how he poured it out on us. Grace was taught there and they didn't let you leave until your could say with conviction what grace is. Most of what I know about the Bible I learned in that church basement. Fond memories were made and friendships were forged just outside the church kitchen, pies came from the church kitchen.
Each Monday I would carry two plastic jugs to her house where they were rinsed in the sink and filled with whole milk. By whole I mean all of it. If I got the milk from the evening milking the cream would usually have separated by the time I got it home, only a half mile walk.
Because there was whole milk at Inez's house there was butter to churn and cottage cheese to make. I often went to get the milk when I knew that she would have just churned. She taught me to paddle butter in a heavy crock bowl. It meant working the butter against the side of the bowls so that the water was pressed out of it. The water was poured off at the end of the porch because the chore was always done while sitting in the porch swing. When the water was pressed out she would leave me on the porch while she went to get salt to flavor the butter. The salt was worked through the butter with the same wooden paddle.
As she walked through the living room she would stop and play a riff on her spinet piano. Always old Gospel songs, always from memory, always with sincerity. Yet when she returned with the salt cellar from the kitchen stove she would joke about that song being about a bear named Gladly who couldn't see straight. The old song of course, was Gladly the Cross I'd Bear.
I recall the chuckle we would share as she presented another parody of an old Gospel tune. She would invite me to the enclosed back porch where there would be other crock bowls filled with clabbering milk, the sour smell filling the air. One table was always a field of bleached white tea towels where cottage cheese was in production.
There were many life lessons that I learned from Inez. You don't get flavorful butter without pressure and seasoning. It's okay to laugh at things that are sometimes taken too seriously and there was the lesson that some things in life really aren't appreciated unless they go sour.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"heaven in a wild flower."

To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour. William Blake
I think about this phrase from a William Blake poem often. I use it as a reminder of how I think that I am actually supposed to see the world and experience it. It puzzles me sometimes when I think on it too.
“To see the world in a grain of sand,” makes a lot of sense to me. It's seeing the fact that time is short, that we are a small part of a whole, that we are made of the very earth. It causes me to think about the immensity of creation and yet how simple it really is.
My favorite part of this line from the poem is, “and to see heaven in a wild flower,” I have seen heaven in a wild flower, I've seen it in some domesticated ones too. I remember being a teen that needed to get away from the house, especially in the spring. Of course spring was the best time to get away, I had been cooped up all winter in the house, school and anywhere else that an adult wanted me to be at the time. Walking the creek banks near the house or the woods behind the house provided a place for me to see the wild flowers. Heaven was truly there if it were to be found any place on earth. I remember lying down on the moist earth on my stomach and looking at the tiny green/white blooms of the May Apples, their blossoms protected by the canopy of leaves over them. Earlier in the springtime it was Dutch Boy's Britches. I loved them for their delicate color and their tiny parts, hair fine stamens that came out of the center of each bloom as the blooms that truly looked like pants hung out on the line. Maybe my favorite was Indian Paintbrush. I loved how the flaming red petals stood among the dark green background of mid to late May and how it was so simple, only five petals, but each one with a ragged edge different than the one that was next to it. The flowers were created of parts, some so delicate only God could have made them, and maybe he was thinking that we could see his home for us in the tiny parts that he hid in plain sight. I did see heaven there, I still see heaven there. .
Now that it's autumn it's harder to see heaven in the wild flowers. They are dry and slowly fading, but once in a while I happen upon a branch of wild asters or even what people fear as the most wicked of allergens Golden Rod or Solidago. Each branch bearing the smallest of daisy like blooms. I don't see heaven in the crunchy leaves. I seem them in the Wild Flowers, the characters around me that seem to run free and appear to have no restrictions in their lives, no, “gardens” to control them just as the wild flowers have no boundries or flower beds.
I'm jealous of those Wild Flowers that appear to fly by the seat of their pants, who don't really plan, I envy them at times and want to chastise them at others.
While I know that at the end of this phrase from the poem that Blake didn't mean what I have experienced, but I've lived eternity in an hour, that time that simply wouldn't go away. But there has been the joy in the experience of having held infinity in the palm of my hand.