Sep. 3, 2009

Apple Season

by Joyce Sutphen

The kitchen is sweet with the smell of apples,
big yellow pie apples, light in the hand,
their skins freckled, the stems knobby
and thick with bark, as if the tree
could not bear to let the apple go.
Baskets of apples circle the back door,
fill the porch, cover the kitchen table.

My mother and my grandmother are
running the apple brigade. My mother,
always better with machines, is standing
at the apple peeler; my grandmother,
more at home with a paring knife,
faces her across the breadboard.
My mother takes an apple in her hand,

She pushes it neatly onto the sharp
prong and turns the handle that turns
the apple that swivels the blade pressed
tight against the apple's side and peels
the skin away in long curling strips that
twist and fall to a bucket on the floor.
The apples, coming off the peeler,

Are winding staircases, little accordions,
slinky toys, jack-in-the-box fruit, until
my grandmother's paring knife goes slicing
through the rings and they become apple
pies, apple cakes, apple crisp. Soon
they will be married to butter and live with
cinnamon and sugar, happily ever after.

"Apple Season" by Joyce Sutphen, from Coming Back to the Body. © Holy Cow! Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Sarah Orne Jewett, (books by this author) born on this day in South Berwick, Maine (1849). Sarah Orne Jewett wrote stories about life in rural Maine, and so she's been called a "local color" writer. She is best remembered for her novel The Country of the Pointed Firs (1876).

It's the birthday of Alison Lurie, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1926). She's written a book of stories and 10 novels, many of them set on college campuses, stories of middle-aged academics. Because she writes about domestic life and societal expectations, she is often compared to Jane Austen, and the title of her first book, Love and Friendship (1962), is the same title as a story Austen wrote as a teenager. Alison Lurie's other books include The War Between the Tates (1974), Foreign Affairs (1984), which won the Pulitzer, and Truth and Consequences (2006).

Foreign Affairs begins:
"On a cold blowy February day a woman is boarding the ten a.m. flight to London, followed by an invisible dog. The woman's name is Virginia Miner; she is fifty-four years old, small, plain, and unmarried — the sort of person that no one ever notices, though she is an Ivy League college professor who has published several books and has a well-established reputation in the expanding field of children's literature."

It was on this day 207 years ago that William Wordsworth (books by this author) wrote his sonnet "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802."

Most of his poems were about nature and the joy of open spaces without people. So this sonnet is surprising, because it is written about a busy city — London had about 1 million inhabitants at the time.

He wrote:
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did the sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt a calm so deep!

Wordsworth was on his way to France from his home, Dove Cottage, in the Lake District. He was passing through London on his way to visit Annette Vallon, the French girl with whom he had fathered an illegitimate daughter when he was a young man traveling there.

It's the birthday of Loren Eiseley, (books by this author) born in Lincoln, Nebraska (1907). He was an only child with parents who fought constantly. His father moved from job to job and worked long hours, so he was rarely at home. His mother was mentally ill and almost deaf. His best friend in elementary school suddenly stopped associating with him, and he found out many years later that the friend's family had made him end the friendship because Loren's family was so strange.

He found solace outdoors and in books. His family lived on the edge of town, so he wandered around the prairie, caught frogs in the pond, explored caves. When he was five years old, his much older half-brother Leo came to visit and read him a few chapters from Robinson Crusoe, and then left the book behind. Loren knew the alphabet and he knew a few words, and so he taught himself to read from Robinson Crusoe. After that, he biked into town to visit the library, and read constantly. He went on to become a college professor. He wrote poetic essays about biology, evolution, technology, and ecology. His most famous book is his first, The Immense Journey (1946).

He wrote: "Sometimes of late years I find myself thinking the most beautiful sight in the world might be the birds taking over New York after the last man has run away to the hills. I will never live to see it, of course, but I know just how it will sound because I've lived up high and I know the sort of watch birds keep on us. I've listened to sparrows tapping tentatively on the outside of air conditioners when they thought no one was listening, and I know how other birds test the vibrations that come up to them through the television aerials. 'Is he gone?' they ask, and the vibrations come up from below, 'Not yet, not yet.'"

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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