Fig Compote in Pot

I have always been a fan of “found” poetry–that is, wording that inadvertently reads with the resonating “both/and” complexity of  a written poem. Perhaps my favorite all-time found poem came from a documentary about the animals in Madagascar I saw decades ago. I still remember it (or I think I do):

The lemurs escape the afternoon heat in the trees:
no display,
just digestion and friendly  grooming.

But the thing I like best about the “ring” of poetry is that it can extend beyond my attuned ear to my other senses. There can be poetry in the fresh smell of earth after much needed rain (which I recently learned has a word all to itself: petrichor). There can be poetry in what a storm leaves behind. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking, sometimes it’s redemptive–sometimes it’s both, like the best of written poems.

We finally got much needed rain in the northwest this weekend, and we need a lot more, especially to help dowse the huge wildfires burning throughout the region. This rain, however, came with very high winds, at least in Portland–the kind where the curtains fly out into the room and things on patios fall over and rattle around. After the rain, more wind blew out one storm front and helped bring in another. The morning after the first storms blew through, Romeo and I were out taking a walk during a dry but windy interlude. As we were heading home off Alberta Street, we turned onto a side street that has a large fig tree, much of which overhangs the sidewalk. Each time I walk by I count the figs that might be ready, and help myself to one or two that are. They are bright green in color and when they start to turn golden and get soft they are ready to eat. They taste like light and honey. I look forward to every chance I get to eat one.

green figs

The morning after the storm, I discovered the wind had shaken many of the ripe figs higher up on the tree off the branches to the ground. Many that had fallen were smashed, which was sad to me, but some could be salvaged. I hadn’t planned to collect figs, or even buy groceries that trip, so all I had was my raincoat pocket to carry a few home.

There’s another place even more dear to my heart in this new neighborhood that has a fig tree–the Emerson Street Garden, which I wrote about in this recent post. A lovely little garden-in-progress created out of a soil reclamation project of Groundwork Portland, it is a little get-away tucked in between the tightly packed houses. Just inside the wooden gate there is a large fig tree encircled by the gravel path that leads back into the garden. Last night when I was falling asleep I realized that although I hadn’t needed to go down there and water the tomatoes because of the rain, that if Romeo and I walked that way in the morning, we might find some figs had fallen to the ground.

This time I came prepared and I was rewarded for my foresight. Romeo waited patiently as I gathered as many of the fallen fruit as could be salvaged. They didn’t have to be perfect or even really clean; I knew I would bring them home and wash them and then come up with some sugar free concoction inspired by this blueberry one from Potato Strong.

 

I know there has been lots of conjecture among scholars about whether or not the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden was really an apple tree. or whether the golden apples in the Greek myth were apples at all. Some claim both were far more likely to have been pomegranates, pears, or even persimmons. I don’t know if anyone has suggested they might have been figs. But when I look at that fig tree in its wide but compact majesty, standing sentry at the entrance to this fragile new garden in a neighborhood trying to balance peace and community on the heels of  rapid growth and displacement, I can’t help but feel it has the wisdom of ages to share with us, if only we will share ourselves with each other. But unlike the traditional bible story,  it’s no sin to eat of this fruit. Instead we need to, in order to gain a sense of ourselves, our history, our bonds to one another–to, as Joni Mitchell sings, “get ourselves back to the garden.”

There was a second shooting in my neighborhood, farther from my new house, but right where Romeo and I walked last week as we waited for the Urban Farm Collective market to open. I remember thinking the little school park was uncommonly quiet and empty as we strolled through, and I thought of a fun conversation I had had earlier there this summer, when some folks sitting around one of the picnic tables wanted to know if Romeo was a greyhound. “He’s a sighthound, like a greyhound, but with long hair” I said, and then I told them the fancy name of the breed, Silken Windhound.  One of the guys had a twinkle in his eye. “Like a greyhound with an Afro,” he said. “Yes!” I said, and we all laughed.

But now there was no one here. It was so quiet it was unsettling, but I brushed it off, not wanting to be too dramatic or fearful. It would be days before I learned that just a couple of hours before we walked through another gang-related shooting had occurred and a young woman was shot in the hand. Mercifully she’s alright. There will be a neighborhood meeting right in the park this week to discuss the facts of the shooting and how we can work together to keep the neighborhood safe. Romeo and I will be there.

After I post this recipe here, I will copy  a short version of it out in a playful way on art paper and post it beneath the glass on the bulletin board at the Emerson St. Garden. I hope it might entice any other neighbors walking by the garden to enter and pick some figs. The making of this simple fig compote feels like poetry to me, too. It helps me make real the neighborhood I want to live in.  A place where the sharing of something sweet between neighbors, and common care for one another can put an end to random violence. I think of it as a kind of edible prayer–fruiting from a tree that helps old wrong-headed knowledge turn a new leaf.

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

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Sometimes my yoga mat feels like a magic carpet. It takes me to places beyond space and time, where memories awaken or new insights stir their invisible beginnings to life. Most practically, though, these “magic carpet” travels bring me to insights of the moment in my practice–fresh ways of understanding or implementing what I have been told by my teacher(s) that ground me in the present in my body. It’s like hearing a favorite song or reading a favorite book again–the miraculous surprise is that there is always a new or different way to see it or something to notice that remarkably, I hadn’t noticed before. This is both the miracle and the magic of being “on the mat.”

I have been doing some of these poses for over 30 years. Before there was a yoga mat, there was a beach towel, or a braided rug. Sometimes just an empty courtyard in between teaching classes. But always there was a space to breathe, to be present.

Often in these practice spaces words come back to me that our teacher would say to us at the beginning of class or during a pose. One of those sets of words I’ve always loved is “spread your feet like stars.” Anything that has to do with stars captivates me and always has, but back in my early 30’s when my teacher Judy would say this to us, it sounded so fanciful and strange that I would nearly laugh out loud. Being the literal woman that I am, I could see how my spread hands looked like stars, which she also asked us to do. I couldn’t see how in the world I could ever spread my toes as if they were the points of a star. Because of the cerebral palsy I cannot spread the toes on my right foot at all. Instead they want to curl in all the time. I thought my attempts would always be incomplete. I focused sharply–and often painfully– on what I couldn’t do.

It wasn’t until later on in my life, after the diagnosis of MS, and during my time in integrative manual therapy, that I came to learn how the body will respond to the thought of walking as if it is actually walking. These ideas and the experiences that came with them were new and life-changing for me. The patterns in which the CP had locked me and my thinking about myself began to soften and to transform. Always smaller than my left one, my right foot mysteriously “grew” half a size larger. It’s still smaller than my left one, but it definitely showed us it had some capacity to loosen the spasticity I had not known was possible. My manual therapist helped me continue to be able to  walk at all by teaching me to palpate the feeling of the gait pattern in my hips, which I could instigate lying still with my hands on my hips, simply thinking of walking. My mind began to see my body reflected back to it in a whole new way, and a healing conversation between the two of them started to take place.

I learned, too, certain other movements that would move the stuck lymph along–simple things like running my fingers over the knuckles in my hand, or the joints in my foot, or even along the ribs. All of these things eased waking up stiff, and helped keep me on my feet.

As much as my imagination was captured so long ago by my teacher’s cheerful admonition to “spread your feet like stars,” I continued to conceive of it as metaphor for something I simply couldn’t do. It wasn’t until my friend Clark, who teaches yoga, shared with me that’s also called yogi feet or yogi toes, that I began to play with the possibility again. And that his teacher would also say to pull the corners of your mouth back toward your ears–that is, to smile, as you went deeper into a pose.

Of course this made me smile. And when I returned to a daily practice, I decided when I began to struggle or worry or tense up in a pose, that I would direct myself toward all of these fanciful and silly directions. I would do my best to spread my feet (and fingers) like stars, and I would pull the corners of my mouth back toward my ears.

It doesn’t seem to matter if I can actually spread all ten of my toes. What matters is that I think of it. And as I think of it, my body does it to the best of its ability. And as I do it, those corners of my mouth curl back toward my ears. And as that happens, the path between the chakras opens up and that wonderful energy yogis call the kundalini actually relaxes me deeper into each pose. And what’s most important, simply opening, or thinking of opening those extremities, opens my chest and my heart chakra, and my attempts at stretching literally become a heartfelt joy.

With a body that wants to tip the scales toward stiffness and spasticity, this formula is  like a magic incantation. I stretch beyond where I could ever stretch if I were simply trying to stretch or straining to stretch–something we are definitely not supposed to do when practicing yoga, but which nearly everyone does do. Spreading my feet like stars–and letting myself believe such an impossibility is somehow possible–has made me conscious of how many years I have spent struggling, trying and straining, either thinking this was the best I could do, or not even knowing that’s what I was doing.

I am not fancy or particularly crisp in my execution of the simple poses I have done for years. But when I practice this “spreading,” I feel the intricacies of these simple poses in depths I did not ever expect were even there.

I think spreading one’s feet like stars can be accomplished any time we start to harden up. If you can spread the toes on both your feet like stars, go for it. And if you can’t, then think of it, and let your body do the best it can do, along with that thought. And if you’re not into yoga, at least remember to pull both corners of your mouth back toward your ears when you start to stiffen up physically or otherwise. It’s like riding a magic carpet, letting your heart out of a cage.

The morning after the night I wrote this, I looked down at my  feet on the mat and saw this:

feet like stars

Although my critical eye can see that there’s more space between the left big toe and its next door neighbor toe than there is between the right one and its nearest neighbor, I was astonished to realize how flat my right foot actually was, and how much space there was between any of the toes. And then I knew I’d have to reconsider what I wrote above last night:

“Because of the cerebral palsy I cannot spread the toes on my right foot at all. Instead they want to curl in all the time. I thought my attempts would always be incomplete. I focused sharply–and often painfully– on what I couldn’t do.”

Apparently my time on the mat this morning was showing me I still focus too sharply on what I can’t–or think I can’t–do. So much so that I might miss the fact that I actually am doing it. That it is, as the motto I try to live by reminds me over and over, better than it was.

And so it is that time travel on my yoga-mat-turned-magic-carpet inevitably leads me back to consciousness in the present moment–to wake up, and to be in that moment and nowhere else. It’s more intoxicating than smelling the coffee, as that saying goes. Maybe it’s true that practice makes perfect, I don’t know. But I do know that too much emphasis on the “perfect” part makes me lose sight of the gift of the practice, right here, right now. And if I do pay attention in the moment of my practice, I might–just might–get a glimpse of my feet turned to stars.

Maria (moonwatcher)

{ 12 comments }

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