last night’s raccoons…

…must’ve been disappointed when they found only one or two clumps of grapes left on the pergola over the deck we use for summer dinners. This particular vine doesn’t usually produce much but this year it was laden. And when the neighbour on Sakinaw Lake said that bears had visited his garden and torn apart the grape-vines, John decided it was time to pick our grapes. We planted this vine many years ago and I don’t recall the variety. A muscat flavour, not unpleasant, but if we get grapes at all, they don’t often ripen. This year was different. And last night we heard scrambling around in the vine. Shining a flashlight down the slope of roof from our bedroom windows, we could see three pairs of eyes shining back. And one very large raccoon — the mama? — right by our window. The joke was on them. Ten pounds of ripe grapes waited in the porch for this morning when I extracted their juice and then made them into jelly. I don’t like grape jelly much. It’s often too sweet and it’s neither one thing (jam) nor another (savoury). Last year my friend Harold Rhenisch gave me a box of his Himrod grapes and they were delicious. I made them into jelly flavoured with lots of lime zest and rosemary (I put lots of fresh rosemary in a little cheesecloth bag to simmer with the juice). So I fiddled a bit with that method — the great thing about having spent 35 years making preserves of every sort is that I can figure out proportions and the prospect of success pretty well — and added a fresh chili pepper from one of my plants to each jar, along with a sprig of rosemary. It smells heavenly. It smells like something you want to tuck into the little pockets in a warm croissant on a winter morning. Or on a summer evening, with a plate of cold chicken and fresh baguette and a salad of new potatoes dusted with smoky La Chinata paprika, while overhead the grapes swell and ripen and their leaves keep the table shaded. And the raccoons dream of their share. Bears too.

grape-jelly

what would you do if a god came

A warm early-summer evening, when the robins are loud in our woods and the hummingbirds visit the hanging baskets on the deck where we had our supper of leftovers. A friend came yesterday for dinner and an evening of good food (lamb stuffed with walnuts and green olives, tiny potatoes roasted in duck fat, garden salad, and pannacotta flecked with vanilla beans and topped with roasted rhubarb compote). He brought a huge bag of mixed bitter greens from his father’s farm and because they were absolutely beautiful, I made them into a pie late this afternoon.

green pie

Evenings like this (especially after a glass or two of wine) make me think of the Odyssey, the expectation and arrival of guests, the spoon of jam to greet them (we had jelly made from Harold Rhenisch’s Himrod grapes, gifted last August, with lime and rosemary), the bed made up with fresh sheets and starry quilts, and windows open to Altan and the Gypsy Kings. What would you do if a god came? (Offer a slice of green pie, a glass of Soave.) What if the god was closer than you imagined?

What shall I do with this body they gave me,

so much my own, so intimate with me?

 

For being alive, for the joy of calm breath,

tell me, who should I bless?

 

I am the flower, and the gardener as well,

and am not solitary, in earth’s cell.

 

My living warmth, exhaled, you can see,

on the clear glass of eternity.

 

A pattern set down,

until now, unknown.

 

Breath evaporates without trace,

but form no one can deface.

— Osip Mandelstam, trans. A.S. Kline