Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Years ago when I lived in Limestone, Maine during a bleak winter, I spent many icy days indoors, watching snow fall and huddling near an old oil stove that valiantly tried to heat one room of a drafty farmhouse apartment. To amuse myself, I listened to 45 rpm records of Tchaikovsky's works on a small record player and memorized quatrains of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayaam, a book to which my father introduced me at an early age. It was a comforting exercise, and today I'm surprised how many of the quatrains I recall, especially at odd times; e.g., at breakfast on a winter morning a few days ago .
I suppose the sight of a backyard covered with brown leaves incited the memory. A live oak in the yard seems to shed year 'round, and the leaf-strewn yard brought up the lines: "Whether at Naishapur or Babylon, /whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,/The wine of life is oozing drop by drop,/the leaves of life are falling one by one." The Rubaiyat is filled with nostalgic, philosophical quatrains that cause me to wonder, now, why on earth a 19-year old girl would memorize lines that could be associated with aging? I also think that some strange prophetic wavelength from the universe urged me to memorize almost an entire book devoted to the literature of a mideastern country that I'd one day live in for two years.
A few hours after the lines from the Rubaiyat came to my mind, I was dusting bookshelves and came across the diary of my Godmother Dora, who had literary inclinations, like all Greenlaws seem to have (my mother's maiden name). A short notation for Wednesday, April 7, 1943 read: "When we become old, we lose our leaves more freely. A sudden sorrow and we're nearly stripped. The older we are, the greater the toll. But how we do hang on to the leaves—symbols of life, I suppose—and how do we slow down the death of final leaflessness?"
When I left Sewanee a few months ago, the woods and yard in front of our home had begun to fill with leaves—large yellow and rust-colored ones—and we called a few weeks ago to see whether they had been raked and carried away for the winter. Unlike the shedding live oak in our Louisiana backyard that requires constant raking, the trees at Sewanee deposit enough leaves for only one raking. I've written many poems about falling leaves, and most of them seem to echo thoughts that Dora wrote put her pen to, the latest one being in my book of poetry, Everything Is Blue, published in 2012. The poem is entitled "I Saw the Yellow Leaves Fall Down,
the tulip poplar's obeisance to rain gods,
fluttering hope as they perished,
soon, to be a gold carpet
woven of curling deaths,
brown-tipped faces in the garden,
having flown their last flight
in the arch of a summer sky,
having lived through the end of drought,
brought down before their time
by dark rain and changing light,
a shimmering gift to Him
who moves all leaves,
who cradles them to sleep
in the wet grass
glistening in a new wood,
in the innocent air
of a perfect sky."
And on a positive note, Carole Sevilla Brown writes that leaves provide a home for toads, ladybugs, and other creatures that kill off aphids. Beds of leaves also harbor butterflies during the winter, in larva stage or otherwise. They make natural mulch and retain soil moisture and warmth... sufficient facts to inspire me to leave the leaf bed in my backyard awhile longer!
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
On this rainy cold day in New Iberia, Louisiana, just a few days before Thanksgiving, I sit at my window overlooking the patio with the fat chiminea on it and the backyard strewn with wet leaves and think about blessings—the warmth of central heat and a healthy breakfast reminding me of all good gifts available in this age of post modernity.
Several books about blessings that help me with expressing thanks for plenitude and certainly elevate my evocations of thankfulness lie on the dining room table. One of them is a volume entitled To Bless the Space Between Us by John O'Donohue, an Irishman whose work encompasses blessings for getting married, having children, eating bountiful meals, and other ordinary events. In the book, O'Donohue explains that blessings of things, people, and events is a way of life and can help transform the world. The volume was given to me at Christmas three years ago by my friend, Isabel Anders of Sewanee, who also writes books about blessings, several of which are: Simple Blessings for Sacred Moments, A Book of Blessings for Working Mothers, The Lord's Blessings, and Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples.
A newer book on the dining table is a compendium entitled Bless This Food, which contains ancient and contemporary graces from around the world—prayers from Native Americans, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sufis, Jews, Unitarians and others of various faiths. As the author, Adrian Butash, says: "food is the thanks-giving link and universal form of expression for gratitude to the Almighty."
In the introduction to his book, Butash writes briefly about certain cultures and customs centering around blessings and hospitality, and I was fascinated with the section about Chinese dining customs. He describes the Chinese custom of sending dinner invitations in a red envelope—red being the color of festivity—and the spontaneous seating arrangements so that no person is left standing while another person is seated. After the guests finish the meal, the host escorts them all the way to the door because the Chinese believe that "if you escort a man at all, escort him all the way." Included in this notation about Chinese dining is a reference to a Chinese poem, "Inviting Guests," which dates back to AD 273 and gives readers a look at ancient Chinese hospitality that reflects the pleasure of sharing and enjoying life through the "entertainment of guests with warmth and goodwill."
A P.S. to Butash's explication of Chinese blessings that use the vehicle of poetry is the fact that the Chinese express love in their blessings, dealing not with love as we envision it, but with friendship because Chinese poetry is influenced by the Three Teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism: the importance of being unselfish, loyal, and courteous. When I read this passage, I thought of one of Isabel's books entitled The Faces of Friendship in which she speaks of friendships (which aren't confined to the Chinese culture): "A friend is one whose essential beingness, whose presence in the world, has touched ours at some point. And from such points of touching we measure our time, our very lives before and after..."
So, my thanksgivings are not just food blessings but include celebrations of friendship as I think of all the friends who have, as the Chinese say, been "loyal, unselfish, and courteous" to me. However, I'm not sending out any invitations in red envelopes a la Chinese style—Thanksgiving dinner will be a la American style (with some inclusions of Cajun fare) but I do hope to entertain my "guests with warmth and goodwill."
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
|GLC Meat Market, Loreauville|
During a visit with Darrell and Karen Bourque of Churchpoint, Louisiana recently, we talked about Darrell's newest book of poetry, Megan's Guitar and Other Poems From Acadie. Darrell, former poet laureate of Louisiana, has been researching the place where Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard, leader of the Acadians who fled to Louisiana during Le Grand Derangement, first settled. Broussard is one of the colorful characters in Darrell's book of poetry, and this auspicious figure is believed to have established a village near Fausse Point, present-day Loreauville, Louisiana, which is a fifteen-minute drive from my home in New Iberia.
My interest was piqued by Darrell's research and fanned by a friend who told us about a place in the small town where grass-fed beef is sold, so we set out one morning last week to explore Loreauville again. The population of the town at the last census doesn't quite reach the 2,000 mark, and 91 percent of the citizens are native-born Louisianians. Many of Loreauville's inhabitants still speak Cajun French, and the hamlet has an appealing Old World quality. Bayou Teche flows along its western edge, and Lake Dauterive, only a few miles away, offers fishing and boating recreation. Fishing and hunting remain the livelihood of many of the citizens, and sugarcane farming is a vital part of the economy.
The town was once named Dugasville after one of its founding citizens and was later named Picouville after another of its outstanding families. Citizens finally settled on the name Loreauville in honor of Ozaire Loreau who was instrumental in the burgeoning of agriculture and industry in the small town. One of the more notable industries of which Loreauville can boast is Breaux Brothers Boats, a boat manufacturing business that has attracted national and international boat buyers.
For those who hanker after grass-fed beef, the major attraction in Loreauville is a meat market on the town's main street. One of the owners of this market can trace his penchant for raising cattle back to the 18th century when in 1767, Francois Gonsoulin of St. Martin Parish began running a herd of cattle with a brand that is now the ninth oldest registered brand in the U.S. Today, one of his descendants, Dr. Shannon Gonsoulin, and his partner Stuart Gardner of St Landry Parish, raise Beefmaster and Brangus with red and black Angus bulls. The cattle run on 175 acres near Loreauville and 500 acres near Sunset. The growth period of these grass-fed cattle is three times longer than that of corn-fed calves, but the demand for the beef has been steadily increasing due to the meat's nutritional value.
Gonsoulin, a veterinarian who practices in Breaux Bridge, Morgan City, and New Iberia, researched the nutrition benefits of grass-fed cattle and found that this beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation and help prevent risks of chronic diseases; e.g., heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. The Gonsoulin beef is dry-aged rather than processed in water, and other nutritional benefits of the meat include fat-soluble vitamins like beta carotene, alpha-tocopherol, and water soluble vitamins like riboflavin and thiamin.
We went, empty-handed, into the GLC Meat Market located in the old Post Office on Main Street in Loreauville and came out with packages of beef, grass-fed lamb, and grass-fed pork underarm. Earline Ransonet, the manager of the meat market, told us that GLS supplies restaurants and large grocery companies in New Orleans and Lafayette. Gonsoulin touts that a pound of raw meat from grass-fed beef won't shrink burgers on the grill and that none of the cattle have been treated with hormones or antibiotics. They're also raised in a stress-free environment and are humanely treated.
|St. Joseph Church, Loreauville|
We didn't locate the exact place where Broussard settled the Acadians, or explore All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville where Clifton Chenier, the famous Zydeco musician, is buried, but we did find serendipity in a main street meat market that supplied us with meat enough to provide several weeks of flash frozen, vacuum-packed nutrition. We hope to return for the Wednesday afternoon Farmer's Market held in the same building as the meat market—and sample more of Acadiana's natural foods.