The Empty Basket
There is a willow basket sitting on the table.
It’s overflowing with bright calendula blossoms, fat cucumbers, slender beans, and freshly fallen apples.
What was it like before that basket was filled with anything at all?
As we move into late summer and autumn begins to send unmistakable tokens of her arrival, the ancient symbol of the cornucopia lurks in the mind’s eye. Here in the French countryside it is particularly ubiquitous: it’s not unusual to see folks in the shops using woven baskets to gather their groceries or other purchases.
This evening we find ourselves with an excess of homegrown cucumbers and set out on foot with the basket to make the rounds of our neighbors, to share these lush things and waste not (although my beau-père refers to cucumbers as useless, they possess a remarkable health profile and here in the old country houses without air conditioning, they make excellent refrigerants).
This is a difficult undertaking for me; I worry about bothering the neighbors by showing up unannounced, I worry about them thinking we’re gypsies trying to sell them something, I worry about knocking on strange doors, I worry about translation issues even though Frenchman goes with us, I worry that although we live in a tiny hamlet and I know most folks now by sight that it’s totally awkward…
We’ve no luck at first and our failures are many for such a small location; our new neighbor S. is not at home, and indeed his telltale car is not in sight; the Kind Couple across the way do not answer their bell; Monsieur Wine Pot (this one is a literal translation: M. Potdevin) has no bell at all, so despite the fact that we’ve exchanged cherries and conversation and wine over the gate before, it is now in vain; uncomfortable Mr. Hidey-Hedges down the way has no access through his weedy iron gate and hasn’t been seen for weeks. Man-with-Dog in the dwelling nearest us does not answer our knocking although his lady visitor is just now driving away from his abode.
There is a strange wind blowing this evening and the basket full of cucumbers has already become heavy.
We decide, then, upon Monsieur Ponytail. Not a very charming appellation for such a lovely energy; glimpsed from the road in his car or from a window he radiates an interesting goodness of spirit. I know where he dwells since once when I passed by on the road with the Little Bird he appeared suddenly in an upstairs window and we waved happily to each other like little children, both about to speak but both mute.
He, it turns out, has a bell. But not to be answered the usual way. We ring, and we hear the sound of a wooden chair scraped across the floor. It has a certain fascination to it.
Then the shutters of that same upstairs window are pushed open and my Frenchman calls up nous avons fait pousser trop de concombres et si vous voulez, je vous en donne des gratuits…
And Monsieur Ponytail replies with brevity oui, je descends.
There is silence and Little Bird squirms as he makes his way downstairs. Opening the door, he removes his glasses and directly informs us that cucumbers are to be enjoyed with a little pepper. Furthermore, they are currently selling at one euro twenty each, so we’ve saved him 2.40.
As we wander back down the road, Frenchman remarks of Monsieur Ponytail he’s an HSP! and a kindredness softens the evening. Worries are carried away on the wind.
Little Bird trips, falls, skins her knees for the first time, cries, then rapidly composes herself. We trip along to our neighbors on the other side and a girl—who has a penchant for French rap and bouncing on a trampoline just when I have a precious moment to myself in the evening for a rest on the balcony—opens the door. The others and their mother are grouped in a dark room on some sort of couch and turn their heads toward us like ailing flowers. Bah oui the mother says in her rough fashion and the girl eyes the Frenchman and takes two cucumbers from the basket.
As we head back down the lane, their feral cat, Clementine, follows us. Another car is coming down the long gravel lane carrying our landlady and her family, who wave, so we shift direction and wander over to their house and we arrive at their front door with Clementine still at our heels. They take a cucumber and exchange conversation with us about education, bilingualism, and sleeping well in the countryside.
And all along wandering home in the strange wind I think: we are so connected, but so far from one another these days. It’s truly pleasant to be free of overt gossip and exposure from past ages. But it’s also pleasing to know a bit of your neighbors.
We have an empty basket but full spirits.
And all along I begin to think that abundance must be like desire:
Abundance arrives at a moment of exquisite emptiness; only emptiness can receive.
Closing the shutters upon the wind I see that the zucchini are flourishing, that the sage needs to be harvested, and that maybe, just maybe, those supposedly blue morning glories are showing signs of buds at last. Papa Oiseau is singing the Little Bird to sleep, and snatches of lullabies float down through the evening air.
And all along I think: if each person grew just one thing a season, and shared with their neighbors, what a wealthy summer it could be, in so many ways. What might be set in motion, and what stilled?
What relief and connections might come to the earth, to our souls, to our lives.