you had to be there


    My day started with preparing breakfast for some of our church members. Ginger put out the word last week and invited anyone in the congregation born in or before 1932 to come over to our house. Five folks came and we had a great time. (I also tried a new dish that turned out to be quite good.) We ate and talked for over two hours, and most of it wasn’t about church. Between the seven of us, we can account for almost five hundred years of living – an awesome thought. As many times as we have all seen each other at church and around town, this was the first time I remember that this particular combination of people has been together.

    My day ended with packaging fair trade coffee from Kiskadee Coffee Company, a local roaster, to sell to raise money at the North River Art Society Festival of the Arts this weekend as a fundraiser for our two mission trips this summer. We put a hundred pounds of coffee into twelve ounce packages – one hundred and forty of them. I think I got a caffeine rush just smelling the stuff. Derek, our coffee roaster, created a blend of Rwandan and Guatemalan coffees just for the fair so that once we’ve sold the batch that’s all there is. We’ll order more for other purposes, but this will be the one weekend and the one place where anyone can ever buy our Artist’s Blend.

    In between the bookends of my day, I sat down to begin Barbara Kingsolver’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which chronicles her family’s choice to eat locally for a year. What they couldn’t grow or find in their area, they did without for the most part. In one of her early chapters (I’m not that far along yet), she describes “waiting for asparagus.” What we see everyday in the supermarket actually has a very short two or three week growing season in April and May (where she lives). It shows up early and disappears fast. You have to be there.

    The wonder of a passing moment is one of the reasons I love hearing live music: either you were there or you weren’t. A couple of summers ago, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings toured as The Sweet Harmony Revue. Each artist took his or her turn singing their songs and the others joined in and, as the evening drew to a close, they joined together to sing “The Weight” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” No one recorded it. There is no live album. I heard it; I was there.

    Which means, of course, I was not somewhere else.

    Food & Wine last month had an interesting article on “The Insidious Rise of Cosmo-Cuisine” lamenting that “the cuisines of the world are merging into one giant, amorphous mass . . . [T]oo many chefs worldwide are creating menus that flit across so many borders and reference so many traditions that they – and we – lose any sense of place” (58). We can’t be everywhere at once, nor can we experience everything at once.

    When we were in Turkey, one of the dishes I loved was called Imam Bayildi, which means “the Imam cried” (because the food was so good). The dish was made up of eggplant, tomatoes, onions, flat-leafed parsley, and olive oil. At the restaurant in our hotel, they used organic produce from their own garden and our server owned the olive trees and pressed them to make our olive oil. The simplicity and the sense of place gave the dish its flavor. They didn’t need Thai chilies or truffle oil.

    I also read today about a Fair Harvest Exchange Program in Nicaragua, thanks to the folks at Global Exchange. Rather than a tourist trip, the eight-day excursion is to go and work along side of a family at a coffee coop during harvest season. You stay with them, eat with them, and work with them. They want you to be there.

    Sometimes I go walking down the beach near our house looking for sea glass. At low tide, the beach is fairly wide: there’s no way to walk it all. I have to pick a line to follow and let the rest go unsearched if I’m going to be able to pay attention to the stretch of sand and stones in front of me. On the way back, I can pick another line, but I never get to see it all. For every piece of glass I find, I suppose, there’s at least one that I never see. If I’m at breakfast in Green Harbor, I’m not in Green Bay. If I’m listening to Emmylou, I’m missing a lot of other songs. If I’m eating from my garden, I’m not tasting other very good things. If I go to Nicaragua, I won’t be in Nepal or Nebraska.

    The choice is not between having a little or having it all; the choice is between living in the savoring the sacredness of the particular or stressing over all that I’m missing. I was at breakfast with friends this morning. Whatever else I happened, I’m thankful I didn’t miss it.



    1. Just finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and just started Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. You’re farther along than me. Went to LOTS of live concerts in the 70’s. Different era. Last live show I attended (a few years ago) featured 3rd. Day. Loud, raucous Jesus music. You had to be there.

    2. I would love to eat more locally, than I already do. One little frustration we have faced is that (according to our co-op coordinator)many of the organic farmers in our area are now selling all of their produce to Whole Foods, so are no longer interested in dealing with some piddly little suburban co-op. Odd dilemma, huh?

    3. Here in sunny Calif. I learned a few years ago that our best produce, grown locally, gets shipped to the east coast. And most of what we get here comes from South America.

      Makes me want to move to New York. Almost. Except for the winters.

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