Kitchen Witches

Yesterday a friend and I made jam. She had steeped the strawberries overnight in sugar and rose geranium leaves. I slit open the green husks of cardamon pods and emptied the fragrant black seeds into her white ceramic mortar, crushing and cracking them with the pestle.

She put a judicious amount of the cardamon into one heavy pot and lemon verbena in another. As the strawberries bubbled and foamed, we dried jars and talked of dancing and the easy, intimate rapport we had with our bodies when we took class regularly.

When the syrup had thickened, she ladled the steaming dark ruby into our waiting jars and wrote out labels while I made a fresh pot of tea.

We carried our cups to the table and she read my tarot. Later, as I was leaving, I took a jar of honey from the window ledge near the front door. She had infused the honey with cinnamon and stacked the clear jars where light from the setting sun would catch their dark amber contents and make them glow, like jewels.


This weekend I got up early and headed out in my car. The morning was cool – a cold front had blown in during the night – and gray.

Turning on to the street at the end of my block, I startled a heron sitting in the middle of the road. It took flight, its large wings beating slowly but powerfully to lift it into the air. At the next intersection, it wheeled and flew over the outstretched branch of a live oak, bark carpeted in silver-gray lichen.

The live oaks are majestic trees. In this neighborhood, they are all at least one hundred years old. Some are much older.

There is a heron nest nearby, saved from a developer’s bulldozer by neighbors who banded together and bought the property back. I have a friend who lives on the other side of the boulevard and she too has a heron nest in her live oak.

The herons return every year. Neighbors out for a walk often stop and stare up into the trees.

I like to think of something passed on here. The ancient instinct of the birds, called back year after to year, to nest and regenerate. The neighborhood too stirring and coming together. And the live oaks, every year their fur a little shaggier, their branches a little more sheltering, their roots a little deeper.

Leavetaking I

Leaving the first of two galleries I visited last week, I paused on the landing to look out over the neighboring field. The stair to the third-floor gallery was on the outside of the building. Afraid of heights, I averted my eyes to avoid looking through the metal lattice-work to the ground below. Instead, I looked out and over. The sky had turned gray and the wind had picked up. Rain was in the air.

I looked out at a skyline of old industrial buildings. Above me a tree bent and straightened. A train was passing. Boxcar after boxcar lurched past, the metal-on-metal grinding rhythmic, hypnotic. I listened to that sound a long time, hair in my face, my jacket billowing.

Working with the Elements

Yesterday I went to see the work of Cang Xin. Cang Xin is a photographer and a shaman. He is someone who believes that all things have spirit.

His color photographs in the series Man and the Sky Series 1 and 2 are pictures of Chinese landscape populated by men (and a few women) chest-deep (or deeper) in holes or lakes. In several of the photos, we see large circles of fire with a human buried chest-deep in each center. We see magical numbers: seven circles, eleven. We see seven rows of seven men each.

In one photo, humans stand chest-deep in water, rocks held high above their heads. In some cases, only arms and the rock appear above the water. In another lake photo, the men are holding tree branches.

In some photos, the men are in a trance-like state. In others, they look back at the viewer, as curious about us as we are about them.

The Absence of the Subject

Earlier this week I went to see Michael Somoroff’s “The Absence of the Subject.” In this series of photographs and video installations, Somoroff has taken the photographs of turn-of-the-century German photographer August Sander and removed the people, the subject.

What remains is a haunting sense of waiting. A table set for tea, an open gate, a pot on a stove.

Yet the sense of something missing is largely unconscious. If we had not known the human faces had been removed, would we still react to their absence?

In the video installation room, three photographs have been animated. Pages of open books subtly lift and fall, the leaves of ivy rustle. And where once, according to the original photographs outside the gallery, a pater familius stood surrounded by his large brood. a lone butterfly meanders across an empty expanse of lawn. Tips of branches bend into the frame, and out again.

In my clear vase, I see the flower stems

This morning I went outside to cut some roses for my dining room table. I spent the first fifteen minutes snipping off decayed blossoms, deadheading. Several of the blooms had one, two, or three petals, still vibrant in color, still clinging to the hip. Some were nestled cheek by jowl with tight-in-the-bud flowers-to-be. Others were the sole occupant of a lonely stretch of stem. In neither case could I bring myself to end this small burst of deep pink. Later, when the wind and rain have battered them naked, and the sun has shriveled them dry. Then, will I return and snip the branch clean.

I cut two stems of rosemary and a single rose. They sit by me now, on my right hand. The rosemary stalks curl upward; the head of the rose nods.

Bike Ride

Yesterday afternoon son the elder and I went for a bike ride. I lifted my face to the warming sun. To my right, an orange trumpet vine climbed a long-needled pine tree, the many tiny roots of each sucking “foot” fingering its way deep into rough bark.

The tires sing against the road. Up ahead, son the elder puts both of his feet on the handbars and swoops down into a grass-lined ditch and out again.