Hanging laundry on the line means a moment outside, a moment to squint in the brightness and breathe the air and feel the energy shift as the boys find outlets other than each other. I’m a green warrior, solar-powered, unstoppable: “one must begin in one’s life the private solutions that will become public solutions …” Still, at the end, the laundry must be folded. An exercise in presence, in being thankful for each moment.
But sometimes I forget that part.
Today while I wrestled clothespins the boys pinched green pods from a grow-back pea plant that climbs, twisty and green in the otherwise bare brown dirt of the garden. All around them, the trees were blooming.
Blossoms and leaves arrive, fragile and new against bare boughs, and within days the branches are lush and thick with growth. It happens overnight, surely bewildering the trees when they wake bedecked and bedazzled. I stand in the kitchen with my tea as the springtime sun breaks over the delicate pinks and whites, and my heart aches for the fleetingness of it.
Our plants will spend the summer shamelessly striving to grow, to flower, to bear seed. The bright apple and pear and plum blossoms will fall, leaving behind tiny baby fruit, and the fruit will race for maturity, storing up all that golden sunlight of high summer so that we can harvest it this fall.
They are working, plants and kids alike. Their work is their life.
It is beautiful.
Wendell Berry tells us that when we as a country began to debase and devalue work we became primed for accepting industrialized agriculture. “The growth of the exploiters’ revolution on our continent has been accompanied by growth of the idea that work is beneath human dignity, particularly [hand work].” But now, today, perhaps we are seeing something else. Bread baking and preserving and quilting and even farming: the work of daily living became the realm of the laborer, but now it is also hobby, passion even. These domestic arts have become signifiers, fetishized in aspirational internet homages. Still, still: there is some movement here towards production, not just consumption. But the line is fuzzy, snaking as it does along Pinterest boards and Etsy shops.
I’m reading Mother Jones, an article about the apple whisperer. John Bunker is talking about the tremendous effort he has made over the last many decades, and about the literal fruits of his labor in the form of apple varieties saved from extinction, one tree, one branch, one twig at a time. Since 1972 he has saved dozens of varieties, and founded Fedco so that seeds and graftings can be shared. Why? “I started thinking, I got to come to this Earth and have this amazing experience of all these trees that were grown and bearing, and all these old-timers who would take me out into their fields and show me things … I started thinking, do I have any responsibilities with this? Or do I just soak it up and let it go?”
I’m back to Berry again: “It is by way of the principle and practice of vocation that sanctity and reverence enter into the human economy. It was thus possible for traditional cultures to conceive that ‘to work is to pray’.”
“The blue and green are planet earth. I need black to make outerspace but we don’t have black.” He mixes blue, purple, brown and the resulting murky gray-violet satisfies. “I love all my pictures but this one is my favorite.”
He paints a cave, a tree, a sunshine wearing glasses and gazing at a house ‘in Africa’ – when he is done, he lights up. “Now I get to wash my paint cups!”
There is a lesson here on perspective.
Garden tools are propped against the fence in the top yard. With the boys, Kyle turned over all the dirt, digging in the last of the winter garden, adding soil amenders and compost and good clean sweat. Lucas added bubble juice. Jacob contributed freshly mixed mud. In the afternoons now we head ‘up top’ to check on the earth worms, munch a few peas, and imagine that we are farmers. (“No Mommy that’s not a firetruck! It’s my tractor!”) At dinner time, they report on this.
“We worked in the garden today Daddy!”
“Ludu dig up top!”
Snap asparagus. Roast squash. Saute onion. Grate ginger. Brown butter. Chop, zest, pinch, swirl. All to the steady rhythm of the boys’ feet as they run, back and forth from the kitchen to the family room to their beds and around again, dragging pillows and blankets and sofa cushions.
“We are goldfinches building a nest! I’m the baby and Lucas is the brother!”
“Cheep cheep cheep!”
When I finish the soup, I go to the family room to see the nest. It is grand indeed, piled three feet high on top of the couch. They have lined it not with feathers and bits of string, but with all the laundry that I left folded in the baskets. The baskets themselves are repurposed stunningly: set atop the laundry-and-cushion mound, they have become egg shells for the chicks, now returned to a pre-hatch phase.
“Do you like our nest Mommy? We are working so hard to build it!”
All the ancient wisdom that has come down to us counsels …. that work is necessary to us, as much a part of our condition as mortality; that good work is our salvation and our joy.
Laundry lines and snap peas are sure signs of spring, but even better is the asparagus sprouting thick in the markets. This is hardly a recipe, because fresh asparagus hardly needs one (I actually like it raw – it tastes not unlike those peas) and roasting or grilling it is pretty straightforward. Once they are roasted, you can stand at the stove and eat them from the pan, or drizzle with a little melted butter if you’re feeling indulgent. (If spring still has a wintry edge where you are, a roasted chicken goes deliciously with the veg – that’s what we had two nights ago, and everyone here was happy.)
But if asparagus has arrived at your home and you want something special and a little surprising-in-a-good-way, perhaps for company or perhaps in honor of a weekend long in coming, this recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables makes the first asparagus of spring into a celebration of the work it took to get here. Cheers.
Asparagus with Crispy Gingerroot
Adapted slightly from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters
A couple notes on picking asparagus: thick or thin doesn’t matter, but fresh does. Asparagus loses its sweetness very quickly once picked, so if you can eat it same day, or next day if you have to, you’ll be glad that you did. If you must store it, do it like you would flowers: tips up in a vase of cool water, out of direct sunlight (or even in the fridge). Alice Waters suggests peeling asparagus, and all French chefs probably agree, but I never do this: I usually buy asparagus only early in the season when there is no chance it has bolted or gone woody/stringy, then I rinse it in cold water and dry it gently, and always snap the ends off.
This dish is bright and barely hot – a dusting with slivers of a hot pepper would not be amiss here, but then again neither would a finish of a bright lemony vinaigrette. Ginger and asparagus are surprisingly good together though.
1 pound asparagus
Ginger (~ 3 inch piece)
1-2 tablespoons clarified butter
Snap the ends off of your asparagus spears. (Save them for soup if you’d like.) Slice them in 1/2 inch pieces, leaving the ends whole.
Peel a 3 inch piece of ginger and slice it 1/8 inch thick, then into julienne. In a wok or skillet over high heat, saute the ginger for about one minute in clarified butter. Once it is crisp and golden, add the asparagus. Saute for 1-2 minutes more, until the asparagus is crisp-tender.
Remove with a slotted spoon to drain excess butter, season with salt and pepper, and serve warm.