This week’s recipe for a smoky corn chowder
seems appropriate on many levels. The sun has been red in the orange-brown sky, of late, and the air is tinged with the now familiar smoke-smell of August in California. Amidst the drifting smoke, mist and cloud cover combine to temper the acrid drift; the cool overcast weather of the last few days serves as harbinger of encroaching autumn; cooler air, beaded dew on the stalks of fading sunflowers. Soup always calls loudest in the cooler weather, and while there’s plenty of this hot summer left to spend, this recent blanket of murky cloud and cool remind us gently of the shifting times, the shifting seasons. The vegetables are right on time, the sun slanted just so. Blend up a bowlful of this soup of the moment, and carry it, perhaps, to a window. Look out on the world as you take the first sips. This is our time, the only time we have in the world. The world is burning and blooming, holding us so perfectly in space and time, imperfect and broken and beautiful and ours.
This year the summer garden is not so rich as past years', a fact due to the combined personal circumstances of injury and drought. Nevertheless, the zucchini still fruits, and the dry stalks of corn rustle and rasp in the breeze. Radical abundance is a lush place to live, but sometimes the circumstances call for drier, sparser pleasures. The pleasures of living within one’s means, whether that refers to energetic and/or physical limitations, time constraints, or the fact of a diminished water supply in the arid West. Living simply means taking satisfaction in the small moments that make up our lives, not extending beyond our means or those of the ecosystems that support us. This practice is a soup to savor, a bowl to hold in our cupped hands. It is enough, despite difficulties, despite the smoke of changed forests, to be alive and appreciating the complexities of this liminal time. We make the soup, we do the work. Beneath the blackened trunks, seeds wait in the soil. Woodpeckers stash acorns in the standing dead trees, and the almost-grown quail scratch and scatter in the returning underbrush. Robin Wall Kimmerer
reminded me this morning, “Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I chose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.” Choosing joy does not negate the pain or the work there is left to do, but feeds our spirits so that we can continue the work from a better place. Luckily, joy, despite the air of rarified commoditization it is sometimes tinged with, is an entirely attainable state of being. It is found in misty mornings, or the garden, or the beach at low tide, if you are of a certain temperament. It is found on the side of the road or in a bowl of soup, in a package that arrives in the mail or a kind word from a stranger. It is found sometimes just by looking out the window. Joy isn’t always flashy and gleaming; sometimes the joy that nourishes us most deeply is made of subtler stuff, quiet and strong and steady. Sometimes, on an anniversary such as the one our local community is now commemorating, we can find joy even as we mourn for everything we have lost, appreciating what was, and what might be, again.
Such simple medicine for complex times, taken spoon by spoon by spoon again.
by Jessica Tunis