From notes at the farmer’s market

peach

“It’s alright, a farmer’s market is for learning,” says the tall farmer from Reedley, California.

Shaun from Sunny Cal Farms dices ripe peaches into tasting pieces, and he smiles at the mother we both just overheard tell her barely-tall-enough-to-reach-the-top-of-the-table toddler daughter not to grab samples with her hand. The mom returns his smile and offers her daughter a toothpick to grab sections of the juicy stone fruit.

“So if the farmer’s market is for learning,” I say, “can you please tell me something?”

“Sure.”

“These samples are ripe, fragrant and juicy, but the fruit you’re offering for sale doesn’t even smell like fruit.”

The patient farmer explains about having to perfectly time his fruit picking date to take into account his driving time to market, and how you never want to refrigerate stone fruit that’s waiting to ripen or it will become mealy, but how he needs to be able to offer fruit for sale that isn’t past its prime.

“If I picked it perfectly ripe, it would be spoiled by market day. But here’s what you do. Store stone fruit stem down, maybe for a day or two, until it gives slightly when you gently squeeze. Then it’s ripe.”

I bought peaches and plums on faith on Sunday. By Wednesday, I learned that I can trust this farmer and wonder how I’ve lived through so many summers without knowing how to perfectly ripen a peach, a nectarine, or a plum.

What are you waiting for? What art and knowledge are you bringing to the ticks of time separating now from then?

As you wait for whatever it is, here’s a delicious peach poem by Lee Sharkey, one of my favorite quietly strong poets. This poem, “”Its roundness curving to a cleft” is found in Lee’s full-length book, Calendars of Fire, although it was first published, in a different version, in dirtcakesa beautiful literary journal I founded in 2010 and am patiently waiting to figure out how to revive. Poems too, need to ripen. The edits Lee made between the dirtcakes version and the poem in Calendars of Fire, published three years later, show that one of the greatest bounties of wait time is knowing how to use it well.

Its roundness curving to a cleft by Lee Sharkey

I offer a child a perfect peach
pulled from the shadows nesting in a bin of peaches

Mourning dolls hold crosses fashioned of twigs and string
their cheks pinked, kohl eyes veiled by fishnet

A golden morning     long-winged wasp approaching
from the amber mountain            Que vergüenza la guerra!

A peach, then, without blemish when ripeness is upon it
for her to memorize and tear its velvet cheek  (for him to memorize and tear its
velvet cheek)

When someone in the future makes an offering to the heart
its ever-moment passes, hand to hand

Reticence the shell, joy the nutmeat
The skin reluctance, joy the open mouth

With peach juice on my chin,
~Catherine

(An earlier version of this post appeared on Backyard Sisters in August, 2015.)

To answer, “What are you reading?”

I’ve been reading quite a bit about bread, sourdough specifically because I can’t stop baking. Every afternoon, I pull out a hand-kneaded boule or baguette from the oven. Sure, I eat some, but there’s always more to share with a circle of neighbors. We swap our plenties: Bread for garden coffee grounds. Gardenias for granola. Lemons for lavender stalks, slender and fragrant. I don’t require the barter, but my friends are like that.

Bread

This new baking habit reminds me of one of my favorite Ursula K. Le Guin quotes from The Lathe of Heaven.

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.

Ursula K. Le Guin, or UKL as she was known, died earlier this year which prompted me to visit much of her writing that I’d missed, beginning with her blog. This is from her final post:

Once I sang freedom, freedom,
sweet as a mockingbird.
But I have learned Real Politics.
No freedom for our children
in the world of the sayso.
Only the listening.
The silence all around the sayso.
The never stopping listening.
So I will listen
to women and our children
and powerless men,
my people. And I will honor only
my people, the powerless.

What are you reading?

Friends always ask when I drop off the bread, or pick up sun warm blueberries. A response like “Ursula K. Le Guin’s blog” is true, but the question really means What book are you reading that you can share when you’re finished? I tend to group books. One fiction with one nonfiction. One poetry collection with one memoir.

This month my nonfiction read is Valeria Luiselli‘s Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. It’s a slim book that recounts Luiselli’s experience working as an interpreter in New York City’s federal immigration court. She works with unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.

“Why did you come to the United States?” That’s the first question on the intake questionnaire for unaccompanied child migrants. The questionnaire is used in the federal immigration court in New York City where I started working as a volunteer interpreter in 2015. My talks there is a simple one: I interview children, following the intake questionnaire, and then translate their stories from Spanish to English.

But nothing is ever that simple…The children’s stories are always shuffled, stuttered, always shattered beyond the repair of a narrative order. The problem with trying to tell their story is that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end…

Luiselli_TellMeHow_9781566894951_1024x1024

NPR had this to say about Tell Me How it Ends:

These days, the whole world, including our politics, is being shaped by migration. Few people explore the nuances of this reality more skillfully than Valeria Luiselli, a strikingly gifted 33-year-old Mexican writer who knows the migratory experience first-hand. . . . Luiselli takes us inside the grand dream of migration, offering the valuable reminder that exceedingly few immigrants abandon their past and brave death to come to America for dark or nasty reasons. They come as an expression of hope.

By some odd kismet, I followed up Valeria Luiselli’s book with Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel, which spent more than six months on the New York Times best seller list, is inspired by true events of the kidnapping and trafficking of poor children who were subsequently placed in wealthy homes through closed adoption by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society between the 1920s and 1950s.

For me, the how and why of it, the underpinnings of blackmail, falsified records, and political corruption, while shocking, weren’t most important story. The most important stories were the ones told in smaller voices, or never told at all –– the stories of the children, of their experiences, of their legacy, of their struggle not only to survive and adapt, but to reclaim their lives and their identities. What was it like, I wondered, to be taken from everything you knew, with no explanation or understanding of what was happening… – LISA WINGATE

How hard is it, really, to imagine someone with power would willingly separate a child from her mother?

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I can’t save every child. But I can make and remake love for the world to be spread by waft of warmth and sustenance. Story by story. We have enough stones.

-Catherine

Just to say what we’re doing here

open arms

Once upon a time, my sister, the amazing photographer Susan Greene, and I shared a blog space called Backyard Sisters.

Sue gets credit for this open-armed, wet-footed photo of me. She always has her camera out on family adventures. My niece recently sent me this photo and said, “it’s a perfect reflection of how I see you: Arms open wide, smiling, and happy.”

Fun fact: Susan and I are middle sisters, a demographic that’s on the decline as families become smaller.

Vintage sisters

If you’re concerned about one way smaller families may impact our culture, you can read up on the wonders of the non-firstborn, or non-lastborn, baby in Adam Sternbergh’s piece, “The Extinction of the Middle Child.” To sum up what I find interesting:

“In fact, the more you learn about the skills of classic middle children — peacemakers, risk takers, levelheaded loyalists with expansive friend groups — the more middle children seem essential to our survival.”

Adam Sternbergh, “The Middle Child is Going Extinct”

So, now that we’ve established Susan and I are essential to your survival, you can follow my writing here and you can find Susan’s creative work at Susan Greene Photography. And if you’re a sentimentalist for Backyard Sisters, we’ll keep it up for a while, post together every now and then. We do still like to share food and places to go and it would be so unlike our spirit of sharing to forever vanish such popular gems as our famous Jalapeño Lemonade recipe, or “I love you yellow,” one of my most popular love posts.

I mean our Backyard Sisters motto has always been: “saving ordinary moments from the brink of oblivion.” And we’re not about to go dark now.
~ Catherine

sunflowers