In a world that daily seems to shatter along new fault lines, tea may seem a triviality of little consequence. But some days, I swear it saves me.
Today isn’t a particularly bad day. Or even a hard one. Still, it’s made better by the cup of masala chaiI just brewed, the tea a holiday gift from an old & dear friend, whom I see far too seldom. Now, however, as the chai’s warm & comforting fragrance wafts from the cup, it’s like she’s here, and we’re having a visit. There’s a kind of olfactory music, if that makes sense – a way the blend of cinnamon, cardamom, & ginger blend into a lullaby for grownups.
Tea is magic.
This was the Christmas of tea. I both gave it and received it. There were tea boxes for sons, daughter-in-law, and sister. Filled with what I either know they like, or enticing new options. For me, there were different chais, and a rosegold thermos to carry them in. There were stocking stuffers of sachets for busy office hours, and tins of loose tea when more ritual is desired. There were black & green & white & herbal, chai & matcha and more. We drank tea every day!
On a bad day, however, when I’m worried about the health of loved ones, or the lives of the next generation, or when I’m just missing old friends, I can brew a small pot of tea and it all seems to matter less. I can pour the water, and let the leaves steep, and soon a hot cuppa, as the English say, is ready to take me away.
It is, of course, a material joy. Although not beyond the reach of most. Decent tea is surprisingly affordable, considering it’s still (mostly) harvested by hand, and has to be shipped from faraway places w/ names that are as wonderfully exotic as good chai: Kagoshima, Nilgiri, Huangshan. Malawi, Paris, London & Ireland. There is history in each sip, if you care to learn it. And if not? The tea is enough on its own.
It is, as noted, a bit of a foolish thing, this worship at the cup. But there’s the health benefits, if you insist on being pragmatic. Not to mention the æsthetics of teaware through the ages. There are tea cosies, and matcha scoops, and the small washi-paper covered tins I filled w/ bits of leftover loose tea. There are spoon rests, and trays, and beautiful tray cloths. There is quiet comfort and beauty. (Don’t even ask how many teapots I own!) And the warmth that spreads like tangible comfort with each sip. That, it seems to me, isn’t foolish at all.
Lately, I’m trying to refrain from doing FB in the a.m., especially NOT when I first get up! That lovely, vulnerable, sleepy happy that envelops us like soft warm down blankets? FB is its nemesis!
Instead, even as fall deepens into upcoming winter, I go to sit on our patio, 10 feet from the bird feeding stations. 12 from the mixed border beneath the bedroom windows. I watch the little finches jockey for seed, and a portly blue jay crane his neck to reach a feeding hole on the sunflower tube. The sun is like warm honey, and life is very very good.
i have that privilege. No one is going to come round up me, or my beloved, or my family. No one is going to believe evil of me based on how I look (well, I do get blonde & senior jokes!). Seriously? I have a pretty idyllic life.
Which is why I need my garden so desperately these days. I hope that makes sense: I need this place that reminds me we can still grow beauty from seeds (it helps to have a light table, though). That there are still bright, hungry birds willing to share their flightiness & colour w/reasonably quiet observers.
I need to be able to sit, as I am, with the sun on my arm, typing at a patio table as I drink good iced coffee w/cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, & condensed milk. I need to be forcibly reminded that life will go on. And for me? It certainly will.
But in Puerto Rico, subject to arcane laws put in place to protect corporations, not people without food and water, it doesn’t. In so much of the world, to be a grandmother is hearbreaking, not joyous (if exhausting!). To be a grandmother (or father, or aunt, or other family member in charge of the littles) is to wonder how they will survive. Is to wonder what kind of lives they will be ALLOWED to live…
It’s beyond heart-breaking.
Coffee & garden sun won’t fix any of that. But it will help me get to the next moment, relatively sane & able to go about a day too often fractured by what is happening in our country.
I didn’t grow up with hate. As a verrrry lucky child, I grew up in the most diverse of environments: an overseas school. There were American military brats, expat brats from all countries (my 3rd grade best friend was from Sri Lanka, my 4th from Texas), and a generous double handful of local children. If you look at an old yearbook, you’ll see a UNICEF banner of children, gap-toothed & happy. So this whole white supremacist thing is something I flat can’t understand. What makes white people better than others??? In my world, we often aren’t even as good: we don’t speak any other languages, and we don’t know much about the world outside our hometowns. That’s GOOD???
As frustration begins to rise, I look over at the bird stations, where a crisply black, grey, & white nuthatch is feeding. He’s startled a red-bellied woodpecker off the seed cylinder. I take a deep breath, and reach for my (empty) coffee glass.
Life is soooo confusing. But it’s less so, I promise, if you can make it outside. Into the sun. Somewhere by flowers & birds. With coffee. It’s we who are the world, as the song reminds us. If we can get our own heads & hearts straight, we still have a chance to fix things.
The overgrown slope to the west of our house is NOT merely a weed patch. It is…an incipient meadow. On a verrry small scale. There are thistles, and there’s clover, and there are the tiny yellow blossoms of sheep’s shower. There are gorgeous flowering tall grasses, some blue with oat-like heads. Others are vivid green blades, w/ thinner, more elongated heads. And did I mention the 100 or so orchard bees diligently working all of it?
It’s all in how you look at it. You see a weed patch (probably our downhill neighbors do, as well). I see where the wildflower seed will go, and a place for the native bee house we’re going to put in. We brought with us to Virginia the lovely little native bee ‘condo’ my beloved bought for me from Crown Bees. It was a Christmas present — a cedar bee house that he put a copper roof on, setting it on a post capped w/ a matching copper top. Beautiful! Just right for our neglected native bees.
I’ve encouraged mason & orchard bees since then, buying cocoons (well, they aren’t really cocoons, but pupæ) from Crown, and putting them out to hatch & reproduce. It’s far easier than keeping honeybees (which aren’t as good a pollinator, and are a LOT more work!). And like honeybees, native bees are having a hard go right now.
I’m besotted with bees. They seem to know this, seeking me out when I’m outside, & settling on my hand, my arm, sometimes in my hair. They never sting me, and seem to understand I love them. But I have stepped on honeybees in clover, as a child, so I’m well acquainted w/ the searing fire of a sting. Just not in decades. I even took a beekeeping course, intending to try keeping honeybees. Note to folks who think they’d like the honey: get it your local farmer’s market. It’s HARD WORK, like farming tiiiiny animals!
Bees need pollen & nectar sources, and suburbs are increasingly limiting their plantings to stuff that really doesn’t feed bees. Not to mention poisonous pesticides that contribute to their ongoing demise. Folks don’t want clover or dandelions in their lawns (we do!), and they don’t plant nearly enough native species (which tend to attract more pollinators, including butterflies). So hearing my beloved say he’s okay w/ putting a path around the perimeter of our slope, and calling it a bee meadow, was wonderful! I may even get industrious & put in edging, to make it look even more intentional!
You may still see a weed patch. But it’s not. It’s a bee meadow, complete w/ viewing path/mowing strip & bee house! It just requires a bit of creative re-framing. Like far more of life than we often admit.
Today is a brilliant fall day. Following a drizzly, gloomy day. Which is much better than the reverse, right? Everything has a lucent sheen to it ~ light almost halates: there are tiny haloes around pinpoints of sunlight. I’m grateful for that.
And when I went to look for a pic to add to the blog (Creative Commons ROCKS!), I found Nick Saltmarsh’s lovely mural. What a great piece of art! Whimsical, and very Portland (put a bird on it). I’m grateful for this, as well.
In fact, today’s big gratitude is for both found & made beauty. Many of my friends are artists: painters, metal workers, cartoonists, bookbinders, weavers. And more: gardeners, cooks, cabinet makers. People who leave, in their wake, beauty they created w/ their own hands. It’s an amazing talent! And when I’m depressed, it’s a never-fail way to remind me that there is much good in human beings, despite current issues.
Found beauty is another element entirely, and may deserve its own post. But today, I’m grateful for beauty in general, and I’m not really distinguishing between the beauty of sunlight on a refractive surface, and the art of handmade glass. Both fill me w/ content. And I’m very grateful for that.
The Buddha tells us to live in the now of things: that there is only this breath, this moment. And I wonder if part of the ‘now’ is the beauty of each moment ~ the feel of the breeze rounding the deck corner, the bright autumn sky. How the last few leaves sift from the almost naked branches to the vivid carpet below. If I stop, and look around, and breathe, my heart stills, and I forget — for entire minutes! — my grief at a world so very full of hurt.
If I just let go of my hurt, long enough to sit in this perfect now (and yep: I do realise it’s pretty hokey sounding!), I stop hurting. Sure it returns, but never in quite the same searing sharpness.
So go sit where your gaze fall on something lovely, and just sit there, looking. Breathe in, breathe out. It’s enough, I promise. Do it a few times. And I really don’t see how you can avoid feeling grateful. ❤️
In keeping with my focus this month on everyday pleasures (achievable by most of us), today I’m grateful for watercolour pencils. Yes, really. They’re an inexpensive ‘luxury’ (no one ever died for lack of watercolour pencils, I’m sure!), but one that I increasingly rely on.
Most days — probably 4 out of 5 — I ‘draw’ my day. In a small ‘graph,’ I colour the day’s weather, my mood, and then I draw a kind of doodle ~ a variation on a Zentangle. Unlike most true Zentangles, I don’t fill in every millimetre of white space, and I do colour it. With those coloured pencils I’m grateful for. (And fyi: I’m also grateful for the pencil sharpener that keeps them nice & pointy!)
It’s a small moment out of my day, but it’s pleasant to try to distill my mood to colour (or colours). If the limited colours in my two boxes (I have four!) of pencils don’t provide me w/what I want? I can layer colours, then add a wash of water, & I have a colour I may not even have a name for. How cool is that??
Because art — even our own pretty lousy attempts at it! — is the best of therapies. When I colour w/ my pencils, or crayons in a colouring book, I’m lost to stress. All that exists is the colour in front of me, and the one to come. Sometimes the ways in which they relate, too. But not what I ‘should’ be doing, or what I’ve ‘forgotten’ to finish.
Adults do far too little play. We make everything (sometimes even play…) into work. And it’s sad. I love to colour — I even have 2 colouring apps on my phone & iPad. Those aren’t everyday pleasures, I realise, as they require smartphones, which many Americans flat can’t afford. I don’t apologise for my material happiness, but I’m well aware that it isn’t everyone’s good fortune.
Still, coloured pencils aren’t pricey. Not even the watercolour kind (which are MUCH more fun!). And you don’t need a fancy colouring book — you can use a straightedge, and draw a graph, and find ways to fill those neat boxes, one by one.
Try it! It may be the key to helping you relax as we enter an increasingly hectic pre-holiday season. ????
A friend of mine sent me a quote from Augusten Burroughs, who is not a writer I spend time with. He’s too … dark. I am well aware of the dark pain, and bleakness families can leave as their legacies, but I don’t want to read about it. I still feel cheated that I read Jane Smiley’s (a writer I adore, otherwise) A Thousand Acres. And worse yet, that a friend told me the horrible family in the novel was ‘just like’ her husband’s. TMI!
So I wouldn’t have found this quote on my own, which is almost certainly why M sent it. It has to do with healing, and the broken places within us. I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately, and so my dear friend sent me a lovely quote that says, basically, that ‘broken’ isn’t really broken. We aren’t reeeeaally missing pieces. It just feels that way.
I couldn’t help but think of a couple of Japanese words/concepts. My favourite is kintsukuroi. It’s the repair of a broken bowl, or piece of clay ware, with gold. The idea is, as the picture notes, that the bowl is now more beautiful for having been broken. That to highlight the break is to create an even more beautiful piece of art: to lift the ordinary to the sublime. It’s the logical extension of another favourite Japanese word/idea: wabi-sabi. This one is more familiar to Westerners, with its gentle insistence that imperfection adds to beauty, that what is most beautiful is the vase placed asymmetrically, the tree twisted by wind & age. That a crack in the bowl — especially when repaired w/healing gold — is not a flaw, but an asset.
This is my newest metaphor for aging. At a workshop I taught the first half of Saturday, we were talking about how difficult aging is, and how few people want to hear about it. That aging isn’t … an attractive topic, for anyone other than those caught in the messy middle of it. And quite often? Even we don’t want to talk about it.
But when you look at aging as the gold holding together the pieces of us (both literal & figurative…) that inevitably chip, even break completely free, in the heavy combat that is daily life over decades? It’s no wonder that the face of a beloved elder can seem as lovely as a bonsai that has bowed to forces greater than itself, but maintained an inner beauty & dignity.
This is not how the West treats age, however. To be old is to be invisible, or ~ even worse ~ treated as a slow child. No wonder old people are often cranky! Our elders are seen as ‘less than,’ lacking. Missing brains, skill sets, who knows what??
No, i reject the whole Western paradigm of age as something to be resisted. Instead? I am going to see my experience(s) for the gold they are, and be grateful they have healed so many of my chipped, even broken, places. What was hard can become something quite lovely. The same way a winding thread of cracks can become a tiny streamlet of gold, that makes untested wholeness suddenly quite ordinary.