By Anne Matthews
June 9, 2015
Why is any cow, red, black, or white, always just in the right place for a picture in any landscape? Like a cypress tree in Italy, she is never wrongly placed.
—Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, 1932
On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near.
—James Agee, “Knoxville: Summer, 1915,” A Death in the Family, 1957
The spider’s touch, how exquisitely fine!
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line.
—Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, 1732
The West begins where the average annual rainfall drops below twenty inches. Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control. Some fifteen years ago I tore a poem by Karl Shapiro from a magazine and pinned it on my kitchen wall. This fragment of paper is now on the wall of a sixth kitchen, and crumbles a little whenever I touch it, but I keep it there for the last stanza, which has for me the power of a prayer:
It is raining in California, a straight rain
Cleaning the heavy oranges on the bough,
Filling the gardens till the gardens flow,
Shining the olives, tiling the gleaming tile,
Waxing the green camellia leaves more green,
Flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile.
—Joan Didion, “Holy Water,” The White Album, 1979
The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
—Thomas Jefferson, 1826
Gratitude pours forth continuously, as if the unexpected had just happened—the gratitude of a convalescent … the rejoicing of strength that is returning, of a reawakened faith in tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, of a sudden sense and anticipation of a future, of impending adventures, of seas that are open again.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882
The moon shines bright. In such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise …
In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea-banks, and waft her love
To come again to Carthage.
—William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act V, scene 1
He reflected a moment. “They were a tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, weren’t they?”
—S. N. Behrman, Portrait of Max: An Intimate Memoir of Sir Max Beerbohm, 1960
In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them …
Take yesterday’s paper (when we were in Strasbourg L’Ami du Peuple was best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on top of the radiator. The maid has gone, of course—it might be hard to ignore her belligerent Alsatian glare of astonishment.
After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of questch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. Of course you are sorry, but—
On the radiator the sections of tangerine have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.
—M. F. K. Fisher, “Borderland,” Serve It Forth, 1937
Look where I am! together with 150 people at a spa, 750m. up in the much beloved Black Forest!—at 11 Marks a day!—with wife and 78-year-old Schwiegermutter! It is of course dreadful—I only like it up in my room. The pine-forest is all around—really in the forest, my little Frieda, do you realise? in the great, wonderful pine-forest! ah! and the air!—and the nice people who so kindly chat with me! ah, aren’t we lucky, shouldn’t we be grateful! When I think of men working in coal-mines—in great factories—!!!!—Naturally I hate with poisonous hatred every pine-tree, so black and hard and stiff-haired. Why can’t they have leaves!
—D. H. Lawrence, July 1929
Much has already been lost, not just plants and animals, but also knowledge. In some regions of the South, the loss has reduced what was once a cuisine to simply local cooking. Such was the case in the Lowcountry, that region of the south Atlantic coast of North America that ranges from Wilmington, North Carolina, to the St. John River region in Florida. We can still read the old recipes and tally vanished ingredients: benne, guinea squash, tanya, Carolina-African peanuts, Carolina Gold rice, rice peas, sturgeon, American chestnuts. Those ingredients are only the most conspicuous. But a quick thumbing through of nineteenth-century seed catalogs or nursery bulletins will confront a reader with hundreds of varieties extolled for taste, conformation, and utility that no longer appear in any garden source, not even the Seed Savers Exchange. Amnesia has so cleansed cultural memory that we don’t even know what these cuisines were, or how planting shaped the larder that supplied those cuisines. That is, you can’t bring back a cuisine if you don’t know what it was that you are restoring.
—David S. Shields, Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine, 2015
What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
—Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, 1937
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.