Thursday, April 19, 2012


THIS MORNING I WOKE UP GRUMPY FOR NO GOOD REASON. Maybe the weather? It's been unseasonably lovely —balmy, sunny, light winds to quickly disperse any buildup of heat. Today is overcast and very cool—mid fifties—perfectly respectable for early April. Actually, I enjoyed wearing a sweater today. Sweater weather was not the problem. It was the weather report that justified my fears that all my yard's early fertility would be nipped in the bud. Driving home from work yesterday I heard that we are under a frost warning. My peach trees have been rewarded for their floral display with tiny fuzzy fruits, like tight round pussy willows, and after a year of no peaches, I can already taste the pies of August and September. But we are not guaranteed a harvest. If we dipped down below freezing last night, those baby peaches are not showing it, nor are my peonies, pushing up shoots like small crimson trees. They are safe for today, but the warning pushes on through tonight, and I am helpless against the possibilities of another frost.

Well, if I can't control the frost, what can I control? I cast around for something to improve my mood. My gaze falls on two egg coddlers standing next to my egg rack. My friend, Elaine, first introduced me to egg coddlers. I noticed on her kitchen shelf a pretty ceramic jar, like half an egg cup with a metal lid screwed on top. I asked her about it and she told me that she collects egg coddlers. “What are those?” I wanted to know. Instead of explaining, she showed me, right then and there. Though we had just eaten lunch, she coddled us a couple of eggs. “First,” she said, setting them on the counter and unscrewing the lids, “you put a little bit of butter, salt and pepper in the cup.” She cut a little slice of butter into each cup, then grabbed the salt and pepper shakers. She set a little saucepan of water on the stovetop and broke an egg into each cup, screwed on the lids and set the egg coddlers into the pan of water to boil.

My grandmother used to occasionally serve us soft boiled eggs in egg cups. The process fascinated me. She would have us set the table with a spoon, a knife and a napkin beside an egg cup, small end up, while she boiled the eggs. We'd also have a plate with buttered toast. She would place the steaming eggs in the small cup. Using the knife, you would tap a circle in the tip of the egg, to top it. Then, you had a choice: you could use your spoon and scoop the egg out of the shell and spread it on your toast, or you could upend the egg cup and use the large side as a bowl to hold your egg while you ate it. At some point in my childhood I got squeamish about “runny eggs” and then always hard cooked my eggs. At some point we outgrew having breakfast at Nanny's house, and I had all but forgotten egg cups and soft cooked eggs.


Elaine and I chatted as we waited for our eggs to coddle. Quite likely I told her about Nanny's egg cups. When the timer went off she pulled the coddlers from the water and unscrewed them, handing me my first coddled egg. With the first bite I completely understood the name. The egg was soft and delicate. I gently chopped it with my spoon and each bite melted in my mouth.


That first coddled egg was many years ago, but ever since I have been looking for egg coddlers without much success. Then, last week, at the thrift store, I was paying for three wooden spoons to replace the ones that Ursula ate—with a sneaky dog like mine, I can't keep a wooden spoon in the kitchen—and I happened to glance at the locked cabinet for the high-end items. There was a Royal Worcester set. Two porcelain egg coddlers in a box, including yellowed directions and recipes. I used my entire March coffee allowance, and still had to go to the car to dig in my parking meter change, but it was worth it. Now, when I wake up in a funk, I can coddle myself a little. The ritual calms me. I add herbs and a little cheese to mine, and pop the coddler in the tea pot. When the kettle sings I let the egg sit in the hot water for 4 minutes for a perfectly coddled egg, perfectly coddling my morning, and I can face the day with courage and hope.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


HAS SPRING COME TO STAY IN BIRDLAND? When the peach trees exploded into blossom a few weeks back I worried. Could we really be done with winter so soon? Last year the peaches and pears bloomed early, yet we didn't get enough fruit for one pie. Someone said it was because it was rainy when they bloomed, and bees don't like the rain. This year they bloomed in the sun and opened their faces to clear, blue skies, but I didn't see the bees, and didn't want to chance it. I had read about pollinating by hand with a paintbrush, and did my best to paint bushels and bushels of peaches. The festive, full skirted, almost-white flowers have shed their petals, which fell like the big flakes of snow we hope will not come now, leaving the more modest coral sepals. If my pollination was successful, we should find swellings just beneath the calyx very soon. But a frost could still come and nip these tiny peaches before they grow. A paintbrush can't help that.

A few weeks back we celebrated the Equinox with one of Bill's famous bonfires at the Kalyx center. Ellis and some of his friends had been over to help build the bonfire—a mountain of brush cut from alongside the lane. Bill has been constructing bonfires for more than 30 years. By now he is expert. First he makes a small, three sided log cabin structure to create a box for the “combustible material” (He means the paper trash he's been collecting since the last bonfire. He's very scientific about it.) Then he and his helpers lay the cut brush over it into a tight haystack shape. Bill knows just how various types of brush will affect the fire—green wood might make spectacular sparks and add more color—some species will burn hotter or faster than others.


A potluck precedes every bonfire, and we had to wait for our bread to come out of the oven, so it was in full swing when we arrived. The potluck is in the barn, which houses not animals, but community and fellowship. The barn has a hardwood dance floor, which gets a lot of use. Light filters in through big windows set with stained glass accents and breeze blows in through large screens. Against one wall, a mammoth table is laden with sweet and savory pies, salads, chips, hummus, salsa, crock pots of soups and chillies, and breads of all kinds, from flat bread to round buns. We come in with our offering and greet a few friends we haven't seen since the last bonfire. Some of the young people get up to unfold another table and set chairs around it. By the time we finish saying hello to our friends, we have a place to sit. This will repeat a few more times, as we are not the last to arrive. I catch up with Margaret and Carolyn, a few of Bill's neighbors. Margaret tells me, no, she is not going to play her dulcimer for us tonight, which makes me a little sad—her voice is so beautiful and her songs are so haunting, but Carolyn has brought a huge crock of soup she made when her freezer broke. That made me happy—not the freezer that needed repair, but the soup, because I knew that it would contain everything she put up last summer from her garden. It was delicious, and after the potluck she gave me a container of it to take home.

 Eventually, we have all eaten our fill and someone notices that the sun has gone down. People start calling for the bonfire to start and we all go outside and make a big circle in the clearing. Bill lights the bonfire and it catches slowly, a narrow cone of fire dancing up through the center. The brush pile seems transparent as the bright flame dances inside it. Soon, though the whole structure catches, the flame now dancing furiously, the sparks exploding up into the dark sky. Bonfires have a rhythm. The circle expands as the heat pushes us out to the edges of the clearing. Everyone is standing, focused on the center. But as the fire dies down the circle gets smaller again. Sparks still rise, but more sedately. People begin to sit. A group of young people begins to sing, a cappella, old hymns and folk songs. Their voices rise with the sparks, weaving in harmony up to the stars. I listen gratefully; tears prick my eyes, from the smoke, you know. Bill, who has hosted perhaps 1000 bonfires over the years hasn't lost his wonder. He turns to me and smiles. “I really like bonfires,” he says.



Wonder in Beauty; Assemble
in Peace; Blessed Be.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


FRIENDS, ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END. Last weekend we went up to Chicago and I finally had to admit that you can take the Bird out of the City, but you can't take the City out of the Bird. It was an unseasonably gorgeous day, and we took Ursula to the beach. Can you imagine that they have a beach just for dogs? At first she was shy, sniffing at the edge of the water, jumping back when the waves lapped her paws, but when she saw that it was a dog party, a BIG dog party, she high-stepped into the lake, prancing like a circus pony. She barked and bit the water, jumping and frolicking. I thought, “this is home for her.” I've known for awhile that her self esteem has been suffering, since she doesn't get to wear her leash all the time, like the city dogs. I thought about how walking her twice a day would force me to get that exercise I'm always talking about. In Birdland, I only open the door and let her run outside any time. Where's the exercise in that?

 Speaking of exercise, we had to watch out crossing the jogging path. There is a wide ribbon that goes all the way from Uptown to the Loop, and beyond, in either direction. I've often thought how nice it would be to ride a bike along the beach, but then I saw something that made my heart sing: roller skates! I do have a pair of roller skates, but as soon as I got them home to Birdland, I realized that my driveway is gravel. By the time I got to the mailbox my teeth were rattling in my head. Sometimes don't you just get a hankering for pavement? Here, in Chicago, I could skate to my heart's content and never run out of road!
 I sat in my Uptown office (a grocery store coffee shop with free wifi) and considered. Some folks tell me that if I were ever to leave Birdland, I wouldn't be able to write these letters anymore, but I say Birdland is a state of mind. Sure, the country gives me lots to look at and write about, but the true heart of Birdland is in noticing small joys wherever we are. Birdland is a choice to be part of the rhythms and the cycles that make up the dance of life. That dance is most present in the natural world, but if we look closely, we can see nature even in the heart of the city.

 And speaking of nature, sometimes don't we just want to get away from it? In Birdland we've been opening the windows at night to let in the breeze, but I can hardly sleep with those spring peepers in my pond! The city is much quieter. You can hear the whoosh of the traffic, but it's kind of soothing. If you close your eyes, it sounds just like the surf of the beach.

You might think I’d miss hanging my laundry out on the line, but truth be told, I'm a little sick of it. What I really miss is the laundromat. The soft scents and the cozy warmth as I fold my clothes on the wide table reminds me of The Pink Lady of my youth. My little laundry line with shirtsleeves and pant legs whipping around in the breeze is for the birds.

Yes, my mind is made up. I have almost all of my arrangements in place. Ursula will come with me, of course, and I've found home for most of the chickens. The only thing I'm worried about is a pair of old hens that require just a little bit of special care. Their names are Lirpa and Loof. They're good hens, but they're dyslexic, so they won't come unless you call their names backwards. If you know anyone who can offer them special care like that, let me know.
Jest in Beauty; Prank in Peace;
April Fool!