a quilt, a pantry, a book



There was that gate, generously wide so we could bring in our truck with that big willow basket, for when the trees produced the harvests we thought might be possible. I filed recipes for apple preserves, for plum jams, for bottled cherries in exotic liqueurs. One year I scavenged enough pears to process in Mason jars, and we had pies of Transparent apples encased in buttery pastry. Some years this happened, that we managed to harvest enough for ourselves against the constant predations of bears.

—from Euclid’s Orchard (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017)

The other day I had the pleasure of talking to a group of women in my community about my writing life (which is of course entwined with everything else I do). I talked about how I understand story and its importance to how we see ourselves in relation to others, how a woman gathers stories in her carrier bag (thank you, Urusla LeGuin!), and makes them into something useful. A quilt, a pantry, a book. In the face of everything else—toxic politics, the unnecessary divisions between the rich and the poor (the unnecessary presence of poverty at all on a planet with so much wealth and superfluous food), possible nuclear war, the lack of civility in our public discourse, all of it (and this list is just too depressing a thing to continue with on a Friday morning)—walking through a life gathering materials too useful to discard seems a small but hopeful act. As Ursula LeGuin calls it, a “human thing”.

If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible, or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then next day you probably do much the same again–if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.

—from “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”

After my talk, I was given a small bag and in it: an apple. A Liberty apple from Karen Strong’s tree. And it was delicious.

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