Monday, October 27, 2008

Jean de la Lune

This Friday I found myself in the early afternoon legging it along the two-lane highway, just beyond our neighboring town, still miles from home.

I'd been biking back from the Island where Husband had dropped me off that morning in the first misty hours of light - wisps rising up from the rippled surface of the river. I'd gone to help 'pop' garlic at the farm. It was good to get back there.

The ride from the Island, back along the River, is "world-class biking, nothing better" - says Husband. I don't disagree: nice, level ride, no real hills. To one side: the river with her houseboats and a ruffle of alder, maple, oak. To the other side: rocky basalt cliffs, ferns, tiny waterfalls, Douglas fir.

And a clean, wide bike lane.  Well, mostly clean.

I'd come more than half way on the bike that afternoon - it's couple-hour ride - and had just begun to congratulate myself at being almost home already, when my back tire began to flop around.

Dismounting, I found a nail in the tire - small, bent, but sufficient.

At least my eldest daughter, newly driving, had an orthodontist appointment within the hour and would be driving the van with the bike rack my way.  And we have the wonders of modern technology in the form of cell phones.

Cars whizzed past as I walked down the highway. I'd picked up my weekly share of produce at the farm and my yellow waterproof panniers on either side were full and heavy. I lifted them now from the back and hung them over the handlebars, hoping to take some weight off the flopping tire.

Cyclists use the fine wide bike lanes on this road most days of the year. I was a common sight. No one stopped to offer help, nor did I expect them to. That one gear-head in a neon aquamarine helmet and yellow jacket had succumbed to road conditions --reduced to pushing her conveyance like a broken wheelbarrow-- just marked one-up for the Autos in the ongoing, almost subliminal antagonism between spoke and hubcap.

I forgot the traffic, though, walking along, taking in the intensity of the changing leaves.

Really looked for once at a lonely house along the highway.  Shingled roof wrapped fatly around the log-edge of the eaves. Heavy oaken door: great iron hinges and just off-center, a slender diamond-paned window.  A round hobbit-window and wide picture window into a sunny (perhaps book-lined?) room.

It was like the story of a little house in the middle of the woods.  Snug and self-sufficient.

As I approached the outskirts of the town just next to mine, a man ambled out from his roadside apartment to check the mailbox, "Hmmh!  Don't you have a patch kit?"

Which I supposedly carry always.  Husband has put together a handy tool kit for me. But one of the panniers I'd grabbed this morning was apparently  not mine, so though I had hand-sanitizer and bandaids and honey sticks, ibuprofen and notebook and pens and a tiny doll-sized Bible, I had no tools, no pump, no tube, no patch kit.

Which was a pity, since I'd just been contemplating, before my tire went flat, the joys of self-sufficiency that a long-distance bike allows.

In fact, Sufficiency has been the mantra running through this week. Over the weekend, we'd ordered metal roofing to redeem our never-used-by-us chicken coop. We'd talked plans for making a root cellar out of the bike room off the garage. Then early in the week I kept finding myself repeating under my breath, Ҫa suffit, "it suffices." I kept remembering, half-remembering a line from some poem: "Each something in their --or was it its-- sufficiency . . . "

The day before I'd made bread (again, at last) and then, at the farm this morning I'd talked breadmaking with one of the apprentices, our breath rising like mist, our cheeks and noses red. He was going to try working as a baker next - cold days working out in the mud had made a floury, yeasty heaven of the idea of those early, early mornings in a bakery. "So how do you make your bread?" he wanted to know.

recipe is beautifully basic - things I keep on hand - olive oil, honey, water, salt, yeast and whole wheat flour I mill fresh in a kitchen grinder. It is the epitome of self-sufficiency.  And smells not just of warm grain and yeast but of thrift and industry when it comes out of the oven.

The other apprentices, on their way out to the fields, kept stopping by the table this morning where we worked dividing the garlic into separate cloves for planting.  Each young farmer seemed to have a story about their cider-making of the weekend before, their plans for applesauce this coming weekend as the apples kept falling from the trees around us, how their little red hen was laying, sausage-making.

Two of the apprentices have rented a big old house over the hills together and have already started getting a garden plot ready for next year, setting up some beehives in the spring. I admire them all - their energy and practical idealism and easy competence.

I'd hoped by rubbing shoulders with them more of their competence would have rubbed off on me.

Pushing my bike, I hobbled into town, trying to remember which traffic light to turn at for the orthodontist - this walking was taking longer than I had expected - hoping it was the next light, then hoping it was the next one after that. A familiar van pulled into the bike lane ahead of me and, like an angel in heaven's blue, suddenly there appeared my flame-haired friend on her way home from the City. She'd pulled the seat out of her van that morning - "I don't know why. It must have been for you!" - and now helped me lift my bike inside and both panniers with their weight of gorgeous produce.

With ease and speed we drove past the corner for the orthodontist and I called my daughter once more - now to let her know she wouldn't have to wait for me. As we slipped through the intervening fields towards our own town, my friend asked if I hadn't felt "pretty vulnerable out there on the road?"

"I guess not." I hadn't thought of it.

I'd thought of bread and the secret hidden house along the highway.

I'd thought how the farm last year had been an answer, the place for me, but now felt like a wrong-sized jacket I wanted to keep but couldn't fit into quite right any more.

I'd thought of travelling by bike, carrying with me everything I'd need.

I'd thought of my son asking me again last week about a book we used to check out (over and over) a few years back - Jean de la Lune.

The book has since disappeared from the public library, though we keep going back and looking for it. During our bout of homeschooling, picture books in French had been a way to start the girls on their French grammar and vocabulary drill.

Son had been three or four years old, and  very like the innocent, open, little round-headed moon man on the front cover himself.

I'd thought, musingly, as I pushed my bike toward home, of the way Jean de la Lune had captured my son's imagination - how Jean, from his home on the moon, had fallen in love with the life on Earth, the dancing and laughter beneath the trees hung with colored lights and, wanting to experience it for himself, had caught passage on a comet's tail.

But he ended up in prison, ankle shackled, staring out through the window-grate at his first home, shining silvery and full in the dark sky. Miraculously - as the moon wanes, so does Jean, until he is just a sliver of himself and able to step out of his shackles and through the bars of his window. And then rockets back home with the help of an eccentric inventor.

Son used to ask for this book over and over, sitting afterwards with the book open on his lap, poring over the pictures. I would read it to him, wondering what caught him so. Hoping he would recognize within himself his own powers to escape and outwit - that deepest self-sufficiency. Wishing for him the help of friendly rocket-builders along the way.

Last week we looked for the book on Amazon, but it's out of print and rather spendy as people say here in our corner of the woods.

"We'll just have to keep looking for a Jean de la Lune that's not so expensive," I'd told him when he brought the subject up this week - driving to piano from his red-and-white country schoolhouse. "You know, I found it in English, too, except it's called Moon Man. But it has the same pictures, the same story. What would you rather have - in English or in French?"

"Wasn't my Jean de la Lune in English?" Son was surprised. Then silent after I explained the here-and-there translation-as-required we'd read it in.

"I want it in French," he said at last. "Because I know it in English already and then I would have it both ways." Though the English he knows was more French, but apparently  English enough for his understanding.

So I'd thought of that.

Of Jean de la Lune. And of fall. Of the thrill it used to be, starting a new semester. Of the color of leaves, gold on the branches, a deeper gold on the ground.  Of the abundance of just enough.

I hadn't thought of vulnerability.

After my friend deposited me and my wounded bike safe and sound in my own drive -- after she waved good-bye amidst my last, laughing thank-you -- after she drove back down the hill toward her own home -- I discovered I was locked out of the house, not having brought my keys because I wasn't driving, forgetting that the garage door was locked from inside because of the builders.

I sat out in the sun against the sliding glass door, waiting for my daughters to come home and let me in, reading from my tiny travel scriptures whatever fell open, dependent as always on others in this deeply intertwined life we live.

And in the sufficiently wondrous way it always seems to go, opened to . . .

. . . come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you . . .
What does it really mean -- sufficient, sufficiency?

That evening I made
Stir Fry Salad with some of the gorgeous produce from the farm - a surprisingly satisfying and incontestably nutritious dinner, delicious with the hot cornbread my younger daughter made.

It wasn't until the next morning, dawdling back up the hill after the usual walk & talk with my Saturday morning friend, that I realized the line of poetry I'd been trying to remember - "each weed's sufficient grace" - was actually from something I'd written myself, 14 years or so ago.

Considering that all the cells of my body have changed twice over since then, it's not surprising the words seemed to have been written by a different person, someone who might have know what they were talking about:

What Comes Next

Most days you drive along, looking for the bend
in the road, lost in a cloud of dust
and noise and thought. If only you would stop

you could watch the grassy foxtails gather sunlight.
You could watch them burn away the afternoon
until the shadow of these weeds lay long
and blue. You could finger stems, leaves,
touch shining seed hair. If you stayed
long enough, you could walk home
beneath the first stars, feeling your blood
rise and fall with the pull of the moon.

Afterwards, in the light of your own kitchen,
you might find burrs and fluff on your clothing,
dried leaves in your hair. That night as you slept,
perhaps Earth, this old mother, this laughing Sarah,

would rise from under the hill, dancing flat-footed,
her arms bent high, her fine
white mane bent down toward the dust,
each step raising a whiff of dust.

In the rain you would awake, before learning the steps.
You would scarcely remember the foxtails, their fire,
each weed’s sufficient grace. But your blood
already knows. Your arms and legs can find their own.

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