On a list of possible article ideas written in my notebook on Thursday, March 5, the fifth topic down is “inconveniences.” The short summary for what probably would have been an interesting piece depends on an extended reflection involving a fountain pen.
One problem: There is no fountain pen.
There was meant to be a fountain pen, of course; I bought it after I bought my awl, and my reasoning was perhaps even more sound. If and when the fountain pen shows up I still plan to write about it.
I suspect that the delay is due to the coronavirus; which is more than an inconvenience, and yet: still one nonetheless. There have recently been two other events, personal rather than global in scale, that are also much too cataclysmic to label as inconveniences, though in practice that facet of their reverberations are inescapable.
Not so long ago, we made sauerkraut. Or started to.
The recipe, to our surprise, was very simple: merely cabbage and salt (with the addition of a little water only if necessary). Cut the cabbage thin enough, mix in a small amount of salt, put it into a jar, and it will make its own brine. This amazed my mother, who wondered why in this case sauerkraut is so expensive to buy.
I think, perhaps, I have discovered the why: because it takes time. Patience may be a virtue, but it is something which the modern world tries to elide. Everything can be bought and shipped quickly enough, even across countries and continents. People’s lifestyles depend on the fast and reliable travel of an airplane, though the industry, which adds 2.5% of all annual emissions* into the air, has started to feel the effects of our reliance on speed; the higher temperatures of air heated with greenhouse gases is becoming so much thinner that sometimes planes cannot get off the ground.
It’s terrifying, and again it seems incongruous that something so terrifying could be an inconvenience. But it is.
I’m incorrigibly impatient. I may have finished drawing a graphic novel, but I could never paint flowers in the Pre-Raphaelite style. The waiting between coats of paint to dry would be like torture (though I have it on good authority that some people find watching paint dry for ten hours an exciting pastime). Every few days, I wander by the sauerkraut to notice it smells a little less like raw cabbage and a little more like sauerkraut; but it’s not a fast process. Which makes sense: historically, fermenting was a way to preserve food over a long amount of time, over the winter when no one had fridges, and nothing was growing.
Things are growing outside now, by March 16, or beginning to. The forsythia buds are just opening, and the crocuses to the front and side of the house are still gorgeously lively, the most beautiful shade of lavender with their brilliant spears of green leaves. For something so small, the flowers are not at all delicate: they are too bold for that. They are the first flower that appears when winter ends and they lead the way into spring, something that needs a certain hearty constitution. I am always awed and gladdened by the sight of the crocuses.
In a time of trouble and inconveniences, my mind travels back to the stories that enthralled me as a child, of which Sherlock Holmes was and is one of my enduring favorites. Holmes seemed to share that wonder about flowers, for he once said, on observing a moss-rose:
“Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
Still, it is carrots, and not flowers, that we planted this past weekend, on a day when I was in a gloomy and querulous mood. After opening the doors to let in the spring air, and walking into the front yard to plant carrots in tiny rows, and to make a tiny fence for them out of branches, and discovering that buckwheat in its hull, which we threw on the ground to see what might happen, is absolutely triangular, it was hard to be so gloomy anymore, though I’m afraid I tried assiduously.
Gardening, like anything else that really seems to matter, like art, or sewing, or other projects, takes time to come to completion. When we had finished planting the carrots my mother said, “The carrots are finished!”
“No,” I contradicted her. “The carrots won’t be finished until we can eat them.”
Both statements are true, but both focus on a different aspect. We were, indeed, finished with our task. The carrots were in the ground. They would soon begin their carrot-y growing. Planting them was no longer something that we needed to do.
But if you look at it only from the end product, we are, of course, weeks and weeks from the carrots being finished; and it it surely easy to become impatient when thinking only of the end product, and not recognizing the value of all those other ends and completions and waitings in between. It’s easy enough to write, of course, but I am still impatient in all respects — except, perhaps, when it comes to the flowers.
For when we had walked to the back and seen the forsythia beginning to open up, to which my mother was already planning forsythia-involving recipes, I replied that they were only just starting to open.
“But that’s all right,” I said. “Because by the time the forsythia is open the crocuses are gone, and I want to keep the crocuses as long as I can.”
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• quote from “The Naval Treaty” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle