This past week, I listened to a segment featuring poet Tess Taylor on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and it resonated deeply with me. For so many people this past year has been one of isolation, grief and hardship and then there are others like myself who have had the good fortune to spend the year safely sheltered with our partners in our homes and surrounded by natural beauty. At first, it felt surreal and strange to be so anchored to one place, but after some time passed, I began to notice subtle changes in my daily life. Taylor selected a few poems about that in her words: “speak to an appreciation for that sense of being stuck”.
One of the poems she chose was by the Harvard based poet Stephanie Burt:
Love poem with horticulture and anxiety. Of course we have feet of clay or fins. Of course we made promises – everyone does – that we will make good, but not today. We cherish our oversized shoes. Our garden also has sylphs that only we can see and peonies and badger tracks and a sandstone Artemis and colors not found in nature except in flower beds – intense maroons, deep golds, sleek pinks, warm blues.–Stephanie Burt
In Taylor’s words: “I think this is a poem that actually says it’s OK to be stuck. It’s OK to be watching this time pass. Things are flowering that you may not even understand. You are stuck. You are in this garden. This world is enormous and beyond you. And there’s a beautiful surrender to just watching. And so there’s a way in which just trying to think what are the good parts of this strange year that we’ll treasure, that feels like a particularly domestic assignment and a way of circling this strange life that we’ve been thrown into and having the chance to evaluate what is it that I have figured out how to love this year.”
I decided to make a list of the things about this most unusual of years that I will treasure:
1.The unexpected gift of time gave us the opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us and to explore it in a deep way. Of course, my husband Paul’s knack of finding unusual walks and hidden away trails helped!
2. Although it was hard not to perform with my group and others, I developed a satisfying routine of practicing oboe where I could smooth out my tonal production, finger technique and other aspects of my playing. In a normal year, I would mostly be practicing repertoire for concerts; my interest in improvisation was rekindled and I discovered that I love creating small improvisations on my recorder, oboe and Native American flute. I played anywhere- on our hikes to mountain tops, marshes and other inspiring places. I plan to continue this and look forward to playing in chapels and other beautiful locations- and dreaming a bit- I have started researching locations in Croatia!
3. Finding ourselves together constantly, my relationship with my dear and sweet husband Paul deepened as well as our mutual sense of humor relating to the absurdities of our situation. Or, perhaps I should say- poor man– my silly streak rubbed off on him!
4. Perhaps best of all, I have started to write about my experiences and had the time to take a creative writing class. I don’t think this would have happened in such a wonderful and organic way given another set of circumstances!
The other day, I took a solo walk at Twin Oaks Preserve in Sharon, CT. This was one of our first walks that we took at the beginning of the pandemic last March.
As I walked up the gentle slope of the meadow, I experienced a bitter sweet emotion as I observed the change of the seasons. The birds have returned, a strong March wind was blowing and I smelled the sweet air of spring. We had come through this year and survived!
The Sharon Land Trust bought the 70 acre Twin Oaks property in 1998. Two oak trees that stood in the middle of the field were there since before the American Revolution. The first tree fell shortly after hurricane Sandy in 2013 and it’s twin fell shortly after. Paul and I have been reading a book called: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. The author talks about how trees communicate with each other and what they feel; very thought provoking. We don’t know if somehow the root systems were interdependent or perhaps the second tree died of a broken heart! A local artist created a beautiful sculpture from the wood that stands at the beginning of the trail.
We just had our second ZOOM Passover this past weekend and it was so heartwarming to see our daughter and her partner Katie, along with other dear friends. Not being able to see each other in person was also bittersweet, but with the use of technology we managed to see people living in Massachusetts, Virginia and Connecticut all at the same time! Our daughter led the first part of the service and then we signed off to have our own dinners. We resumed the service and were treated to Alicia & Katie’s beautiful singing. At the end of a Seder, a door is traditionally opened to symbolically allow the prophet Elijah to enter. As we opened our individual doors, I thought that the bittersweet chocolate pots de creme I had made for dessert fit the mood perfectly. We had to close our own door a bit abruptly as a bat flew close by and also the bears have awakened from their winter slumber! No reason to invite a bear into our home!
I adapted this simple recipe from the book Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater. I used Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate and just a touch of coconut sugar, but feel free to add maple syrup if you would like a sweeter flavor! This recipe makes a dense rich textured pudding that is delicious on it’s own, but also would be lovely served with fresh strawberries and maybe a touch of whipped cream!
Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme
Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
4 ounces Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate
To Make the Pots de Creme:
Ina small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of the almond milk.
In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the remaining 1 cup almond milk to a simmer with the coconut sugar, stirring often so that the milk does not boil over. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
Whisk the cornstarch again to make sure it is completely dissolved and add this to the hot milk mixture.
Return the saucepan to the heat and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly.
Remove from heat and sprinkle chocolate over the top. Whisk until chocolate is completely mixed in and is smooth. Place in individual ramekins or a bowl. Refrigerate until cold.
Note: This recipe can be easily doubled. The pudding has a very bittersweet flavor. Add maple syrup to taste.
As of this writing, both my husband and I are completely vaccinated! Now comes the part of becoming “unstuck” from our safe haven. I feel like a tortoise slowly poking it’s head out of it’s shell and looking warily around!
One of our first ventures will be to the Aldrich Museum with timed tickets to see an exhibit by the amazing 91 year sculptor Tim Prentice. Hevreh Ensemble members and close friends Laurie and Jeff will meet us there. Afterwards , we are going to a restaurant called the Farmer and The Fish, where we will celebrate Pauls’ birthday! We will be seated safely outside!
Next, we plan to visit our dear friends Carol & Hal in Boston. Carol has told me how much she misses my cooking and our dinners together. So, I am planning to make her a dinner that we are calling: “Carol’s Feast”. AND– yes, there will be blog posts about all of this; complete with recipes!
I end with my favorite Tree of the Week: