Fiddlehead ferns for dinner

IMG_0191We first ate fiddleheads in Japan, in Kyoto, in a spring tempura dish. We were charmed not only by its visual on the plate, but also by its fresh spring taste.

Tonight, to accompany our omelette, we sauteed some garlic, onion, king trumpet mushrooms, kale, and fiddlehead ferns (which I gathered from the garden). Heaven. I even have a bit left over for lunch tomorrow.

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A message and image from out of the cosmos


My son had shared with me some time ago that on Facebook, if people who are not your friends, send you a message, you never know. There is a spot in messages labeled “Other” where all those messages go and you never know they are there until you happen to bump into them. Yesterday I bumped into this message sent to me about a year ago:

 Dear Ms. J…,

This message might come as a surprise to you. My name is TD from the Philippines. I was recently going through old family photos when I came across a pencil sketch of my sister A drawn by your father IY in the 40’s. I was 7 y/o when our family, D, from San Juan, Rizal became friends with Mr.Y who was then with the American Forces which liberated Manila from the Japanese in 1945.

I asked my daughter who presently resides in MA if she could try and find any information about Mr. Y. We’ve always wondered where he settled after the troops left our country. I am saddened to learn that he passed away at a very young age.

I remember Mr. Y doing a colored pencil sketch of me too with our home’s front door as background. He drew the door exactly how it looked — with a shrapnel imbedded in it. Our home was hit during the bombing, tearing down the side walls and shrapnels were embedded in different places. I’m not sure if your father brought that sketch back home to the United States. I am not sure if you have come across that particular drawing but if you have, may I request a copy as a souvenir.

Warmest regards to your family–


3/21, 3:02am

Dear Ms. J:

My mom asked me to send you her message because she does not have a FB account. I asked her to send me a scanned copy of your father’s sketch of my Aunt so that I can forward to you a copy. Thanks

– AT

3/27, 3:15am

Hi Ms. J:

Here is the sketch of my Aunt which your father did.

– A









Staring at this drawing of my father’s, I realized that this young girl, A, is looking directly at my father as he was drawing it. This poignant realization caught me off-guard.

Of course how moved I was by this message and image from out of the cosmos. Like the mail of old, it was, in fact, not so instantaneous because it came from outside my Facebook community (which is not so vast). I emailed back immediately (well, immediately after I read the message — only a year later) desiring to make contact, to make connection. I had always wondered whether my father had seen real combat (he never talked about the war) and it is pretty clear from this message that he had. At least on Manilla. His drawings are mostly from all the places of major battles in the Pacific, but it wasn’t clear to me that he had fought in all those locations. We had tried to research his company and division to see what their experiences were but were told that there was a fire where all the information about his battalion was archived and therefore destroyed.

My reply:

T (via A)—

First of all, please forgive the long delay in getting a message back to you. I do not always check my messages on Facebook and I just discovered your lovely note tonight. (Yes a year later!) And what a wonderful surprise it was! And what a beautiful sketch my father drew of your sister. My father brought home many sketches and drawings from the war but there is not one of a young child with the door you described behind her. However, I will go through those drawings once again to make very sure. I just wanted to get this email out to you and let you know how excited I am to make contact with you. I would love to know any more stories or memories you might have.


I haven’t yet heard back from the Philippine family. And I need to go through all my father’s drawings to see if I can find that “souvenir” for TD. I am filled with a quiet but irresistible anticipation.

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Moto no aware

DSC_0174_2I took this photo of Sakura (white cherry blossoms) and Ume (pink plum blossoms) three years ago in Kyoto after walking through miles of bright orange tori gates at Fushimi-Inari. In Japan the timing of sakura blooming is closely monitored and when they finally bloom, everyone comes out to picnic beneath them (hanami) and view the flowers, drinking lots of sake in joyous celebration.

Cherry blossoms (sakura) are said to be symbolic of clouds because of the cluster-like way they bloom. Because they are so short-lived they are also a symbol of mortality, the ephemeral nature of life. This Japanese concept is called mono no aware, 物の哀れ, which means the “pathos of things,” a term for the awareness of impermanence, a Buddhist idea. But unlike Buddhism there is a kind of melancholy and wistfulness associated with the term.

The sakura will be blooming in the Chicago Botanic Garden in the next day or two. They will recall for me our relatively recent experiences in Japan and ultimately our so very short sojourn on this planet.

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The Canterbury Tales begin


William Blake’s Pilgrims in Canterbury Tales

Today in 1387 is when scholars claim that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales begin.

The pilgrims start in Tabard Inn where the Host suggests that there be a competition in storytelling between the 31 pilgrims (counting the Host) to entertain themselves on their way to and from Canterbury. The Host says each pilgrim will tell two stories on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back. The winner will be treated to a free dinner at the Tabard upon their return and the Host will be the judge. There are only 24 stories recorded (There should have been 120 in all.)

The stories are miraculous, bawdy, reverent and irreverent, moralistic, preachy, raucous, and philosophical, tragic and romantic, comic and saintly. While there’s some misogyny and anti-semitism, there is also a great deal of humanity and a variety of storytelling styles and content evoking negative and positive responses, playful teasing and joking, anger and compassion, even blunt interrupting and censoring from the other pilgrims. The stories reveal as much about the storytellers as they do about characters in the stories themselves. The stories tell us about the ethos of the time and its complex and varied culture. Rivalries and anger between the storytellers emerge, as well as camaraderie and good cheer. In other words, it’s a pilgrimage with interaction that is genuine and real, supportive and sometimes offensive, open and vulnerable, risky and humbling, sobering and comedic. There is no information about the pilgrims’ progress toward Canterbury, just the stories themselves and the pilgrims’ responses to them that lead us through the narrative.

The whole notion that while making a sacred pilgrimage to a holy site, that those on this journey would be entertaining themselves with the bawdy as well as the reverent has always been fascinating (and so very real) to me. I couldn’t help but find an old copy of this poem and begin to read it again.

And, of course, I can’t help but think of my own life’s pilgrimage and all my bawdy and raucous, serious and philosophical, truthful and fantastical, humorous and high-spirited companions along the way. Some of them have been riding with me for most of the trip. Others have gotten on and off the road at various points. Some have disappeared altogether and some have magically reappeared. Like Chaucer’s characters, the whole point is not in reaching Canterbury per se, but rather immersing ourselves in the wonder, mystery, and pure enjoyment of the relationships and the stories on the way.

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What happens when 8th graders finish their homework

IMG_0153They draw with a permanent marker on your hand.

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Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem


Lincoln wrote about this poem, “Mortality” by William Knox (Scottish poet 1789-1825), to his friend Andrew Johnston (not Johnson!):

I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is. Neither do I know who is the author. I met it in a straggling form in a newspaper last summer, and I remember to have seen it once before, about fifteen years ago, and this is all I know about it. (1846)

Joseph H. Barrett in his 1865 biography of Lincoln, Illustrated Life of Abraham Lincoln, said that a woman after hearing Lincoln recite the poem by heart, requested to read the full poem, whereby the president kindly hand-wrote a copy and mailed it to her (Illustrated Life of Abraham Lincoln, Joseph H. Barrett, Moore, Wilstacii & Baldwin, 1865).

Mortality by William Knox

O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a fast-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

The child that a mother attended and loved,
The mother that infant’s affection that proved;
The husband that mother and infant that blessed,
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,—her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those that beloved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint that enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen,—
We drink the same stream,and  we feel the same sun,
And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, they too would shrink;
To the life we are clinging to, they too would cling;
But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

They loved, but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved, but no wail from their slumber may come;
They enjoyed, but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

They died, ay! they died! and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the changes they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

‘Tis the wink of an eye, ‘tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,—
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
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Ephemeral volunteers

IMG_0150Each day when I get home from work, I examine the flora freshly emerging from the detritus of last year’s bounty. I had forgotten where I planted some bulbs so am pleasantly surprised when unexpected hyacinths, allium, and tulips appear. Some plants like the golden bleeding heart seemed to have “moved” over the winter to a site about a foot away. Yesterday as I was walking in the east garden, I noticed an abundance of beautifully mottled leaves. I had no clue what they were. Certainly not anything we planted. They had to be volunteers.

With a bit of googling, I discovered that Trout Lilies (Erythronium Americanum) are growing there, so named because the mottled leaves look like the skin of the brown or brook trout. It is also known as Dogtooth Violet (its bulb is shaped like a long tooth) and is part of the lily family. It can take up to seven years to produce a flower and up until then produces only one leaf. When the plant matures, a second leaf appears and produces a single flower, which is hermaphrodite containing both male and female organs.

The Trout Lily is a wildflower (though one can purchase bulbs) and its natural habitats are the floors of deciduous forests when, in early spring before the foliage on trees grows, they can get all the light they need.  According to the website Edible Wild Food,

Trout Lily is both medicinal and edible. The leaves have a very mild flavour and the flowers have a slight sweetness due to their nectar and are also slightly acrid. The corms are edible as well and have a cucumber-like taste. Trout lilies are an emetic (makes you throw up), therefore it is recommended not to eat mass quantities of these in one day. You can add this plant to a salad or eat them as a trail snack. You can also make a tea with the flower, leaves or corm (or all). Collect enough corms then they can be roasted.

The trout lily is known as a spring ephemeral because its life is short, dying back to its underground parts before the heat of summer. Though it may take seven years, I look forward to its first blooming. And I look forward to the patience I will have to muster in anticipation.

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