Attending to Fall

(This is a "raw" write. It is the result of a writing practice I do to explore my inner world; not meant for an audience, it is jagged and honest. Rarely will I share one, but the unapologetic quality seems to fit my morning's view of the coming season, and perhaps it will serve as an invitation to try writing from the place of spirit. An FYI: the mountain that suddenly appears is one we hiked this past weekend – changes in voice or pace often occur with this kind of writing.)

      The shadows in the woods are different these days. It is dappled, porous, and the sound of the air shimmering the leaves that remain rides on the flattening light. Summer's depths of shade and green have thinned. In my memory the foliage of June and July seems succulent – now it is crunchy and kicking along with my footsteps as I walk the dog on the familiar trails across the street.
      My heart starts to thin too in the fall – at least, it feels like it has risen out of the depths of the near-decadent wallowing it does in the sounds and smells and ripeness of full summer. I feel it thinning out in the coming cold, gripping in tension as color fades from the landscape. I am more shut inside, turn inward to tasks to keep my mind off the change, and yet – and yet – there is a knowing that finally when we come to rest in winter, that will be the time of letting go, the time of dreaming. And so this transition could be something else, not so brittle, if I actually turn and attend to it straight on. What if I just go down into the field and lay in the grass, feeling the cold earth beneath, listening to what is, what is – not aching for what was?
      This is the practice then, the practice of being present to the isness of the transition, neither looking behind nor ahead. And might I find that in fact it is not an in-between, it is itself? Yes, yes, my head is telling me I already know this. So what is it? (It is so much easier to find excuses than to do the work.) What is it about fall? OK, gloves off – I don't like the colors: they are too bright, too showy and they have stolen my green. – I don't like to be cold, at all. I loved the heat of the summer. In coldness, I become more lifeless. And just what do I mean by lifeless? It's that thinning again. I am not in my body, I bump into mental and spiritual walls and back out of living to the level of lists.
      Walking, walking up the mountain I begin to warm. Some woods feel good – I imagine these leggy diseased beech trees pillowed in deep snow and think I would like to come snowshoeing here in the whiteness and sunlight of February. Then the old uncut spruce forest, gaping darkness, softness and quiet – I feel the ancientness here, church-like, not a place to settle into, though. Then the krumholz near the summit, the gruff dwarves of the mountains' trees, old but short and gnarled, apprehended by ice and wind over and over, and yet tenacious. And then it is Bob and me standing on the bald rocks, and – exposed to the wind – the layer of sweat near my skin begins to chill. I put on more and more coats, but my instinct is to tighten inward, find shelter, hide. There is no glory in this, no invigoration. And that is just what is, for me. Maybe I don't need to befriend the cold. Maybe just turning and attending to this season will only reveal that indeed, it is not my story, there is no fecundity here, it just is, for awhile, and I will be in it, cold earth below, night-sky clarity above, and be thin.


The Democracy of Pie

     Pie crust.
      Just thinking of it makes my mouth water: honey-colored pastry over fruit, deepening just a bit to the ambered edge – always my favorite last bite because of the slight crispiness to it.

      “You're giving away our pie crust recipe?” Andrew is incredulous that I'm writing this post.
      “Why, is it a secret?” I ask back.
      “Well, no, but then everyone will be able to make it,” he says.
      Yup. That's the point. Pies are a democratic species, unpretentious and elegant in their simplicity. A basic dough becomes a container of ripe and savory cooked fruit (I'm leaving out the gooey pies for now). But for some reason, people fear pie-making. Pie-making contests and pie-only bakeries have raised the pie-bar to a level of specialty that seems out of reach. At family dinners or potluck suppers where I often bring a pie, people have said to me “I could never make this.” The truth is, anyone can make a pie, a good pie. And there is no reason to fear the crust.
      This pie crust recipe came to me from my mother. She says that when she used it to make a wild blueberry pie for her beau nearly sixty years ago, it cinched the deal. My father still gets one from her every year on their wedding anniversary.
      I believe in pie. So I'm doing my part to erase the elitism around pie-making by divulging a big secret: this crust is very, very easy to make. And the rest is just fruit, sweetened a little, spiced sometimes, covered and baked.
      One last thought: I'm no super-duper cook. But I believe that good homemade food can glue together families and friendships. Some of the most sacred times we share involve sitting around a table and eating together. Let's do this more often. In fact, let's teach our sons to make – and share – pie. 
     May the smell of warm pie fill your kitchen.

Stir 'n' Roll Pie Crust

Prelude: Make your filling.

1. Sift a bunch of flour into a bowl. (If you don't have a sifter, stir it through a mesh strainer, or spoon it lightly into the bowl to fluff it up.) 

2. Measure 2 cups of the sifted flour into another bowl.
Add ½ tsp salt. Whisk it together to mix.

3. Measure ½ cup vegetable oil (not olive oil) into a 1 cup measuring cup. Add ¼ cup cold milk. Don't stir!

4. Pour liquid into flour all at once.

5. Stir with a fork until evenly moistened. (From now on, handle the dough just enough to do the job; a gentle touch keeps it from getting tough.)

6. Form dough into a ball. Cut it roughly in half.

7. Have four sheets of wax paper ready. Place the larger half of the dough (if one is larger) between two sheets. (To keep the bottom sheet from slipping, moisten the counter under it slightly.)

8. Flatten the dough just enough that you can start rolling it into a disk between the two sheets.

9. Roll the dough about an inch wider than the pie dish you are using. (The larger the dish, the thinner the crust will be. Start with a smaller pie dish until you are used to working with the dough.)

10. Peel off the top sheet of wax paper. Have your pie dish ready, and gently invert the bottom sheet so the dough disk is centered on the plate. Peel the wax paper straight back, easing the dough into the dish. (If the dough breaks, don't worry: use overhanging pieces to mend, or push and seal the dough together.)

11. Roll out the top the same way, but only a little wider than the dish. (It doesn't have to settle into the dish, just lay on top. A little extra gives you room to make a mistake.)
12. Fill the pie (you did prepare the pie filling first, right?)

13. Dot the fruit with butter.

14. Lay the top crust over the fruit and peel back the wax paper.

15. Seal the edges by either a) trimming the rim with a knife and then pressing a fork along the edge (it helps to occasionally wet the fork) or 
b) rolling the overhanging dough up onto the rim and pinching and fluting it.

16. Cut vent slits in the top.
17. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour. (Put it in the middle of the oven with a baking sheet on the shelf just below to catch drips. It is done when the crust is no longer pale but mottled golden brown, and the fruit is steaming or bubbling. If the edges are getting too dark, fold a rim of foil over them and continue baking until the rest of the pie is done.)
18. Cool the pie. The longer it cools, the more it “sets” (less liquid), and the less chance of burning your mouth.

So here's the condensed version of the recipe I carry around. See how simple it is?