Thursday, August 23, 2012
Maryjane on Cows and Dreams
I yearn for their gentle spirit, unending curiosity and large chocolate brown eyes. I adore their politeness and patience. When I conjure an image of cows, I find myself sitting on the fence bordering the sunny pasture of my childhood farm. I am reminded of my grandfather in his red plaid, flannel shirt, smoking his pipe and pretending to be cranky. He was convincing at times, but I knew that beneath the scowl and grumbling was a warm heart stubbornly beating away. But now I think, maybe not. After all, I am the eternal optimist, yet aware of a much broader spectrum of the ways of the world and its inhabitants.
I don’t remember him smiling, so it’s a bit perplexing that I have crafted such fond memories of him. Perhaps it is because I was at the age where everything was pure and unfiltered. I simply took it as it came. I secretly believed that he liked it when I hung around the barn and pasture asking infinite questions. That was my childish illusion and I prefer it to other possibilities.
Sometimes I simply close my eyes and I’m transported to that enchanted place filled with the scent of new mown hay, fresh milk and manure. I hear the soft clinking of the iron milking stations and deep murmurs and lowing of the ever tolerant beasts. It was always cool in the barn and somewhat dark with distinctive straight lines of golden light streaming and glittering in through the cracks of windows and huge doors. It is there that I reestablish a sense of who I am and from whence I came.
I learned to love pure maple syrup and my grandmother’s pickles and jam. I can see her in the kitchen of the boarding house chopping vegetables and humming while a single curl hangs over her forehead. Her smile compensated for the lack of her husband’s. I had the sense to invite her to my home when my boys were babies and I was pregnant with my daughter so that she could teach me her secrets. I carry on the tradition today, mingling with the past, honoring the best of the farmer and the farmer’s wife.
Last winter I regained my moral fiber in the final throes of winter whilst collecting heavy sap buckets from my own trees, boiling golden syrup for hours. How deliriously sweet the once dark winter world had become, affording a ray of light. What a gift the maples offer at a time when winter has made me weary.
I never thought that I would celebrate berries with such profundity as when I make jam the old fashioned way, although leaving the paraffin behind. The key ingredients are love, patience and knowing exactly when to pick. Ah yes. Ripe is ripe and so it is.
After a bit of hesitation, I finally gave way to the pickling frenzy, unsure of where it would take me. I now pickle anything and everything that comes from our abundant, organic gardens. I have an eye for color, so the blend is not only based on the flavorful essence of vegetables, herbs and spices; it must be a visual riot of color as well. I trust myself enough now to swap greens for reds and yellows for greens and whites for oranges. Sometimes it’s a shame to consume the collage of brilliant ripeness in the jar. I like that I have created a feast for the eye as well as the palate, the best of both worlds (even more joyous in the harshness of winter).
I used to use my food processor but at some point in time I returned to chopping by hand. Until this writing I didn’t realize that the act of chopping is another means to stay connected with my grandmother, the other MaryJane.
How quaint it would be to go to the gardens, pass a curious cow or two and stop to share a story or secret (cows never tell).
During my teenage years, we lived on a green hillside overlooking the lake beside a huge dairy farm in Centre Harbor. I used to sit on a thick granite stone wall that was well hidden in the trees on the edge of the cow pasture. It was only a matter of minutes before one cow lifted its head and stared intently at me. One by one the others looked up as well and they deliberately walked over to investigate. At first I thought that they would blow my cover, but no one noticed and we became fast friends.
I call upon these places as points of reference in my writing, such as my historical novel (that still bubbles in the pot until it is perfectly ready for consumption). Many scenes take place in or around various vintage barns and pastures and one particular cow, Lizzy, serves as a loyal companion of the protagonist. Being able to tap into this reservoir of rich experience serves me well.
So whenever I think that I might want a cow or two, I really ask myself the tough, obvious questions. I rely on my ability to recall and transport myself back to that sacred place where innocence remains safely tucked away for future perseverance.