Something Bigger Than You
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Been a hot week, and I’ve done my best to avoid air conditioning and go with open windows. Gets a bit toasty, yes, but if there’s a breeze, it makes all the difference. I like how it feels on my face and neck and forearms as I wash dishes, and I can breathe in all the scents from beyond my own yard — the neighbors’ barbecued chicken, hot tar, the blooming flowers and lawn clippings across the street, the tall field grasses down the road, lake water, and wood smoke from a campfire somewhere. And the sounds, too, of lawnmowers and children hollerin’ and dogs barking and people talking and old trucks barreling on by. And the cicadas. Summer sounds.
I have two favorite sounds out there in nature. Love the sound of waves — lake waves, river waves. Ocean waves. All manner of waves, from water lapping at the lakeshore over yonder to the waves slapping on the canoe on the river, the crashing waves up on Lake Superior to those monster roaring waves at the Cliffs of Moher. And wind. Nothing is more calming to me than a windy day. You can go out there and stand in it and feel it on you and know there’s something bigger than you and it can be gentle or wild or simply constant, like the sky, and it creaks the oak and howls through the pines in the cold months, and quakes the aspen leaves and shimmers the birch in the warm.
The wind through a willow is my favorite. It sounds like the ocean, only better. Rustling and soothing and the sound I’ve fallen asleep to every warm night for a good number of years now. Big ol’ willow, twelve years old, outside the bedroom window. It died this spring. Don’t know how, or why, but I’m guessing the winter had a hand in it, and despite my talking to it and hugging it and wishing to the sky it might leaf out, it didn’t. A few scattered leaves, and there it stood, tall and lovely and raw.
The willow came down today. I stood there watching for awhile. The good man who took it down assured me it was gone, and his father-in-law next to him nodded. “That was a beautiful tree once,” he said. And that’s when I cried awhile and gave it a wave goodbye and went inside where I mixed up a batch of bran muffins and cleaned out the pantry. Wasn’t more than an hour later, I felt the thump as the trunk hit the ground. Beautiful tree.
I’ve learned to let things go. Too complicated not to, and it feels right to me. Imagine if we kept always everything and everyone we love. Wouldn’t be a circle, and that’s what life’s about. So I’ve put in a call to the stump grinder in town, and once he finishes things, I’ll plant another tree. I’m thinking a white oak this time around. Something tall and solid. The kind of tree that will establish itself, and fill in the space, and — come hellish winter or high water — outlive me. That’s what I’m thinkin’, as August steams on in.
Here’s an old time recipe that works just fine. Any season, any time of day. They’re best just out of the oven, and the batter keeps for weeks. Seriously.
Great Grandma’s Bran Muffins
2 cups 100% Nabisco Bran
2 cups boiling water
4 cups Kellogg’s 40% Bran Flakes
3 cups white sugar
1 cup Crisco
5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 beaten eggs
1 quart buttermilk
5 tsp baking soda
Combine bran cereals in bowl; pour water over and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs and combine. Add milk, bran flakes, flour, soda, and salt. Mix only until blended. Drop batter into muffin cups, and bake 12-15 minutes in 400 degree oven. Muffins will feel firm in top center when done. Store batter in jars or containers 5-6 weeks in fridge. Or freeze it. Or put some in a bowl for breakfast pudding.