New Year 2012
Shunryu Suzuki’s 1969 English calligraphy, a framed page from Tricycle magazine

Woke up and went to the George Washington Masonic Memorial: à la Japonaise we sat on the steps overlooking Old Town Alexandria and waited for the sun to rise. But not quite ready to start in on the fish and pickles, we drank coffee and shared a pear-walnut scone. A young Korean man drove up and looked surprised to find us there. But he waited with us as the sky washed salmon-pink at the low horizon, and then, quickly a sliver of light pressed up into a yellow-orange fire.

New Year 2012

Sushi Taro’s osechi ryouri (new year’s food) is on the menu once again for the next few days. I eat these treats thinking of Japan, my teacher, and my resolution to find a way to bring Japanese culture and sake into my life more often this year. As Suzuki Roshi reminds us, the perfect time is now and now and now…

New Year 2012

New Year’s Day 2006 in Japan

Sushi Taro osechi from 2010


August harvest

Alexandria summer: Heat, mosquitoes in the backyard, ugly new construction on our block, passive-aggressive boss, heat, ennui, heat—

spray my calves with poison to keep the bugs off and step out into life I helped along: bowls and bowls of homegrown cherry tomatoes, a few Green Zebras, and a single Brandywine that made it to ripe through the gauntlet of thirsty squirrels. Bonus: our first heirloom Stone Mountain watermelon, a few more on the vines. Summer is sweet, feels cooler in the soul.

Gray catbird nest
Gray Catbird nest with assorted Del Ray detritus

Backyard bird feeder visitors this spring have included House Finches, House Sparrows, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Common Grackles, Mourning Doves (on the ground below the feeder), a single Red-winged Blackbird, and Gray Catbirds. I’ve tried to keep the bird bath filled with clean water on these hot days (today the high is expected to be 102°F). I’m particularly motivated to monitor the water supply because I noticed a few weeks ago that two catbirds were delivering twigs and fluffy bits to one of our large Osmanthus bushes. I wanted to thank them for choosing our yard, a great compliment which meant they had identified it as rich enough in food, water, and shelter to support the family.

Lately the pair has been taking turns swooping about, grabbing insects and caterpillars in their bills. This morning I pushed gently into the bush to see what was happening. I think I was expecting a Del Ray–style nest evoking the vibe of our weekly farmers’ market crowd: couples weighed down by Swedish baby carriers (or Andean baby slings) and cotton tote bags with blue/green Earth logos. Instead, the nest looked like an episode of Hoarders with the bits of plastic and paper woven among the twig structure. If it were 1987, I might think these spoiled suburban birds with their black mohawks were building a shantytown to urge the university to divest from South Africa. No, perhaps this is indeed an emblematic Del Ray nest. My little urban homesteaders are recycling and repurposing while exploring E. F. Schumacher’s “appropriate technology” concept.

The eggs are supposed to be turquoise blue, but when I leaned in to gawp, one of the pair jumped on a branch very close to my face and gave me such a nasty look. I retreated and refilled the bird bath.

Softshel crab

But many avoid death now as the greatest of evils but then welcome it as rest from things in life. The wise neither declines life nor fears not living; for life does not offend him nor does he believe that not being alive is bad. Just as food is not chosen only for the larger portion but for the more pleasant, so the wise enjoy the time that is not longer but happier.

—Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus” (trans. Sanderson Beck)

Saturday, May 21st, my Epicurean heart beats in the May sunshine. All the birds and iPods tweet, “We are alive!”

We enjoy our weekly visit to the Del Ray Farmers’ Market. Of course, we see Tom the yogurt and cheese guy, the lady with the apple cider doughnuts, and the salteña lady. After missing the Lee Brothers’ seafood truck last Saturday, we are very happy to see them again. Over the past few weeks we’ve bought and enjoyed (twice) their hyper-fresh, sweet, and delicious perch filets and once served sake with their oysters. Today we bought already dressed softshell Maryland crabs. For lunch I patted a few with just a dusting of Old Bay and cornmeal and pan fried them. I also shelled fresh peas, a brief steam, a bit of butter. Carlos had to be off on a work errand, so I was alone for my meal. I meditated, chewing happily on two of the great and most simple delicacies of this lovely planet.

Lee Brothers will reserve some softshells for you if you order the week ahead so they can plan to bring the just-molted ones to market. Look for the truck with a hanging scale and the handwritten whiteboard, “Perch, Catfish, Croaker, Oysters, Softshells.”

"Saint" Pasqual


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