Sunday, September 12, 2010

Simple Gifts

Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

It was a perfectly beautiful weekend here in the valley, and I spent as much of it outside as possible, storing up vitamin D for the long rainy winter ahead. I've never been a sun worshipper and generally react like a vampire to the thought of sunbathing, but the cats and I were sunning ourselves like lizards. I took a walk Saturday afternoon, and because it was so lovely everyone had their windows open. From most of the houses, I could hear college football games and cheering or moans--'tis the season--but as I passed one house I heard someone practicing the cello. The person was obviously pretty new to the instrument, but the tune was easily identifiable as the lovely Shaker hymn (actually a "Dancing Song") "Simple Gifts." Even with missed notes it was beautiful, and it was the perfect song for such a lovely day, and the perfect expression of the way my life is now: far less complicated than it once was, far more frugal and simplified, and very much "the place just right."

It was a weekend of very simple pleasures: getting 3 books (West with the Night and two gardening books, one by Penelope Hobhouse) for $1 at the Friends of the Library book sale), watching birds and insects in the garden, baking scones, drinking wine, taking naps, and eating figs. We're finally getting ripe tomatoes and other summer veggies from our CSA, and the vast amounts of green tomatoes on my vines are occasionally getting some color. Still, I wish I had my grandmother's recipe for green tomatoe relish. I think I could make good use of it. I remember her and our maid setting up a wooden table in the garden and putting wash tubs of green tomatoes through a meat grinder, then cooking them with spices and canning them. We ate the relish on hamburgers, and it was incredible. The recipe was one of the many things lost when evil grandfather (infatuated with his nurse) cleared out the house and sold everything that wasn't nailed down after Mama's death. But I digress. I was talking about pleasant things.

Another simple gift for which I am most grateful is a partner who allows me to be myself. My husband works in the wine industry, and there was a huge pre-harvest party this weekend. Darling husband is a typical Leo who loves a party, while I am the retiring Pisces who would rather have a root canal than face a large crowd of people I don't know. They give you darn good drugs for root canals. So he went to the party, tasted dozens of wines, listened to music, and made lots of new friends, and I spent a quiet evening at home with Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Everyone is happy, and no one is made to feel bad for their choice. 

Allowing others to be who they are is one of the simplest and greatest gifts we can give.  I am not much of a music fan, but I do love Bach and jazz. Both make great use of counterpoint, over our harmony. That is what I prefer in relationships. Harmony usually requires one person to play the boring cello part in Pachelbel's Canon, the same eight notes over and over again. In counterpoint, each hand (or person) plays their own melody, and the way those two interweave and play off each other is immensely beautiful and infinitely more interesting than mere harmony. So, from the valley of love and delight, I wish you counterpoint in the week ahead. 


  1. Allegedly it was "faked" but here is a clip of Yo-Yo Ma doing "Simple Gifts" at Obama's inauguration:

  2. Oh! I have an awesome recipe for simple green tomato refrigerator pickles. E-mail me if you want it.