Thinking of all those of you celebrating a day of thankfulness, hoping you have a peaceful family reunion and find the ultimate recipe for cranberry sauce.
Just heard from an American friend in Cape Town who has planeloads of jetlagged and fractious family arriving long-distance from New York this morning. She has decided to attempt Jacques Pepin’s turkey recipe (in the current NYT) which involves steaming the turkey in a vast canning pot, then roasting it and then glazing it with cider vinegar and Tabasco. The big advantage here, she tells me, is that by the time she crawls out of the turkey sauna bath of a kitchen with her lacquered bird, the family will have eaten all the sweet potato mash, the pecan nut squash bake, the pumpkin pie and Twinkies, and will have fallen asleep. Insane to do something like that in soaring summer heat, but we all need to find a way to cope with family –
“That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”
– Mary Oliver
It is nearing the end of the year and I can’t finish all my projects, despair at the prospect of carrying them over into the next year. That is what might have to happen. It is ferociously hot, glorious in the mornings and evenings, hell at noon. The garden slithers with snakes, lizards and skinks. I am not especially afraid of snakes (those beautiful shy predators) and yet I hesitate to walk along garden paths in the noonday heat, convinced there are more snakes around than in any previous year. At night snakes visit me, sliding in and out of dreams, startling me into new levels of awareness. Nic Bishop has just published a book about snakes with brilliant photographs:
Two photographs show snakes in tandem with their prey. Against a dark and foreboding background, an emerald tree boa, its forked tongue flickering hungrily forward, lies within inches of a tiny opossum, its ears upright, frozen in terror. We learn in the accompanying text that a snake can taste the scent of prey nearby and sense other animals’ presence in the night. Another photograph, in high magnification, shows an Australian carpet python with its body wrapped around a mole-like creature, jaws clenched on the dead animal’s soft underbelly.
Throughout there are exquisite and terrifying details. A foldout spread of the Mojave rattlesnake captures both the dry, bony-looking coils of its rattle and its dart-like blackish tongue. An eyelash viper, mango yellow, is poised jaws wide open, its fangs visible folded back into two sleeves within its gums. Another snake is shown in the process of swallowing an egg four times the size of its own head.
And kept awake too by the thoughts of war, the shelling of Gaza, the rocket mortars crashing into the Iron Dome, the pitiless spectacle of war. Will the ceasefire hold?
Along with many other people, I am trying to contest the notion that we can only value, shelter, and grieve those lives that share a common language or cultural sameness with ourselves. The point is not so much to extend our capacity for compassion, but to understand that ethical relations have to cross both cultural and geographical distance. Given that there is global interdependency in relation to the environment, food supply and distribution, and war, do we not need to understand the bonds that we have to those we do not know or have never chosen? This takes us beyond communitarianism and nationalism alike.