“Following the Crop”

Fresh California Cherries

Each late May we begin to look for the first crop of ripe cherries coming from California. Usually these are somewhat unripe, lacking in intense flavor and on the small size. Nonetheless, with memories of the final cherries devoured in the previous early fall, we buy them and eat them. We usually comment “ these aren’t as good as I remembered.”

As the summer unfolds, the cherries get bigger, redder and tastier. A quick look at the plastic bag reveals they are from Hood River, Oregon or Yakima, Washington, many miles north of the previous orchards. Cherries thrive on cooler winters, and these parts of the Pacific. Northwest are ideal. We eat as many as we can, knowing these too will be off the shelves soon. When finally we dig into a bag from eastern British Columbia, we know the season is near its end. Here are the dark red, huge, tasty cherries we remember. We will search them out again next summer and try not to jump the gun with California wannabes.

The entire experience of watching the crops move north always reminds me of the migrant families who moved from Southern California through Oregon onto Washington each year following the crops. Woody Guthrie pays them tribute in a song I have been humming, Pastures of Plenty.

“ Finally a Novel!”

Recently in a column in the New York Times called By the Book, the author Jeff Vandermeer who wrote the recent novel Hummingbird Salamander was asked if he thought novels should serve a moral function. His reply seemed to me to characterize much that is wrong with contemporary American fiction, “I enjoy books that don’t care if I think they should serve a moral function. Personally, I believe it’s more important that books be laboratories and experiments and it’s up to the reader to be moral. I trust my readers to know that, at times, I’m going to write wickedly and in a messed-up way, about messed-up characters who may behave in an unreliable or suspect manner.”

By moral fiction the questioner didn’t mean do they promote morality per se. Rather should books stir our deepest places where our values live? Vandermeer’s answer revealed what I have often thought when I put down yet another dreadful book: the writer is using the text as experiment and I am the unwilling subject of said experiment.

So it is with great delight that I read and absorbed Maggie Shipstead’s latest book from May of 2021, a 609 page gripping, complicated, consistently well written old fashioned novel. As Lynn Strong wrote in her May review of the novel in the New York Times “At a moment when so many novels seem invested in subverting form, “Great Circle” follows in a long tradition of Big Sweeping Narratives.”

Yes it is very long. Yes it is very involved. Yes it will be a slow read. But I hope that you, as did I, will savor nearly every word. The settings from Montana to Seattle and around the world and the characters of a woman pilot and a struggling actress will rattle around in your brain, taking up space there for a long satisfying while.

“Acquainted With Grief”

Emily Dickinson 1847 portrait

Emily Dickinson expresses the truth about grief as poignantly as any writer I know. In fact Anne Morrow Lindbergh used the line “Hour of Lead” when she wrote about the kidnapping and murder of her first child. I especially like the central section where she articulates our ability to keep going but in a pretty mechanical way when we are hit by grief.

I have been away from the blog for a while as I have been dealing with the grief that came up as our beloved dog died. While losing a valued pet is deeply sad, old submerged grief finds a way to piggy-back on a current opportunity, hoping that it will get a chance to be aired. That has happened to me. I am slowly regaining my footing and will begin to write again on a pretty regular basis. I miss the interaction and love when it is a big part of my life. Clearly I missed some of your posts. If there is something I really ought to know that happened in the last three weeks (a death, a marriage, a move, etc.) please feel free to write me directly at betsyfrompike@earthink.net and I will be sure to respond by email.

“A Good Dog”

Our beloved dog Grace, a 15 year old Australian Shepherd, succumbed last Thursday to a progressive neurological disease that was inhibiting her breathing. While we had thought she had arthritis for the past year, it turns out it was the beginning of the illness along with her arthritis. I am grateful I didn’t know that since she was happy and I was not anticipating her decline. In the end she only dealt with severe symptoms for 10 days. I had hoped she could die naturally at home, but in this disease a dog dies from not being able to breathe. That was appalling, so we chose to use a veterinarian in the end.

Needless to say it has taken a toll on us all. She was a loving member of the family, with us since her days as a rambunctious puppy brought from upstate New York as she slept peacefully in the back seat. At that time she joined our dog Tess, now also gone, and was a great playmate for her. We realized, too late, that we have never had just one dog, so it is very quiet–too quiet–right now.

In a while we will contact the woman active with the Australian Shepherd club and begin the search for another puppy. No dog ever replaces another as we know from having lost four in our marriage. But we are definitely dog people and will be again.

“Shooting the Breeze”

Before it was turned into a “pub,” Home Tavern occupied a spot just off the highway near our old home in Portland. The area had once housed furniture factories, and clearly this was a convenient stopping off place for men to drop in after work. I say men because I only ever saw men there before it turned into a “pub.”The tavern was between our house and the large riverfront park, so I walked by its open door frequently. The small place emitted an unforgettable smell of cigarette smoke and stale beer, an odor I can still bring to mind just writing about it.

I could hear laughing, swearing, yelling and general camaraderie as I passed by. I could only guess what they were talking about, but figured it was raw, opinionated, and generally full of bull. I appreciated that they had their place to vent and relax after work, but I never had to learn their views on women, politics or the world. I didn’t figure I was missing anything.

That entire atmosphere seems to have been recreated on line. Between Facebook posts, tweets, comments to the newspapers and comments on comments, I now feel as if I have walked unwittingly into the Home Tavern. Sadly there is no one around to slap one of the writers on the back laughing at his point of view. Comments that once would have led to “let’s take this out to the street,” are now casually thrown back and forth. Most lacking is humor and a general understanding that it is all bull anyway.

Next time you get caught up in rants on line, imagine them coming from a man on his third beer loudly entertaining his friends at the Home Tavern.

“Age and Vaccine Acceptance?”

I was talking with a friend the other day and reflecting on the widespread acceptance of covid vaccine in people my age–over 65. In fact in Connecticut nearly 80% of adults over 65 have completed two rounds of vaccine and over 90% have had the first shot. Clearly the vaccine resistance prevalent in pockets of the United States is missing among my peers.

My first inoculation was a series of needle pricks on my upper thigh to prevent smallpox. I still sport the scar. I was also able to be prevented from diptheria and tetanus. Those were all that were available. As kids we got “hard” measles, German measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, mumps. Most of us came out from those illnesses with just pock marks from the “I told you not to scratch” remnants of the chicken pox. However both my brother and I had very high fevers with measles including hallucinations, a terrifying experience. The German measles, given to our pregnant moms, produced babies often deaf and blind. And some adults my age have the second round of polio effects, having survived the initial disease only to be further damaged later in life.

We rejoiced at the covid vaccine, remembering the relief our mothers felt as they took us to the mass distribution sites to receive out polio preventive on a sugar cube. We were glad that our children didn’t have to suffer the childhood diseases we endured.

I think that many young adults have no idea how devastating illnesses can be. Some are quite cavalier about not inoculating their own children against “minor childhood diseases.” And they dismiss the covid vaccine, certain that it is unnecessary. The percentage of younger adults remaining unvaccinated here reflects this belief.

Is that true where you live also?

“Finally!”

As I enjoyed pictures of spring from around the blogosphere, I began to despair that the season would ever change here. Between a year lost to covid(I have heard that spring came last year, but I was too busy hunting for toilet paper to notice) and a long winter I had forgotten what a boost spring can be. Then I came out of the kitchen and saw our azalea just beginning to show its glory. Of course gale force winds and cold drenching rain are forecast for later this afternoon, so the blossoms may get destroyed. But I did see them and I did manage to photograph them before they blew away!

The deck is ready for company since in the end my husband put the chair together for me. The robins seem to have abandoned the eaves. A great pile of straw and little branches litters the porch. I don’t know the story, but there seems to have been some domestic disagreement about the proposed housing. Of course the robins aren’t airing any of their private business.

We have just begun to socialize with other vaccinated friends. Since most of us are “up in years,” we all got the shots as soon as we could. We actually had a couple over for dinner Saturday, thoroughly enjoying seeing each others’ facial expressions, freed at last from our masks.

And the policeman in Minneapolis was convicted of the murder that viewers around the world saw take place.

Finally a cluster of good news!

“New England Weather”

Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost

Robert Frost, the poet, really understood the kind of weather we have had this past week. One day it was 70 degrees and we sat outside in short sleeved shirts and soaked up the sun. Two days later it was 32 degrees and lightly snowing. The weather in New England can be a trickster for sure.