In an unusual break with tradition, we attended a Thanksgiving dinner out in rural France. It didn’t turn out to be a break with the past.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme...
None of them appear to play a prominent culinary role in this year’s festivities. Funny how this time of year I can’t do without them in the kitchen, how each of them can be symbolically boiled down as emotional helpers (Parsley: death; Rosemary: remembrance; Thyme: the strong emotions, courage; Sage: don’t get me started).
I had put aside the usual incorporation of my herbal harvest at my own table for this new adventure.
The food at this dinner gathering—our attendance was a gift from a dear friend—seems hardly traditional, although advertised as such; it is elaborate and sparse, elegant and bizarre. For example, the “pumpkin pie” part of it uses the cinders from roast pumpkin as a dye and a garnish that faintly resembles vanilla bean. The pumpkin itself is but a thin strip of purée. There are unsweetened curls of cindered, raw pumpkin nestling with it.
At this gathering there are only a handful of Americans, perhaps four or five. Our table is graced by a collection of fabulous women in their 70s or so (a strange familiarity; we often give thanks for the same peculiar demographic in our circle of close friends). So what are the odds that at our table is a woman who did her degrees at the same university where I did my undergraduate work?
Fair enough, I suppose.
What are the odds that my old academic background re-surfaces even further tonight, that past life in the ivory tower which I thought I had put behind me forever?
Surely not as great.
My co-alumna indicates her dear friend across the table, telling me that this woman’s father-in-law was a professor of archaeology.
And it’s when her friend then speaks of Corinthian excavations that I feel a bucket of cold water has been suddenly dumped over my head. I can hear the cicadas crying in Greece, feel the swath of friendships and discoveries made in the 1930s, see the faces and the handwritings of that network of individuals.
By the time I ask her name, I’ve already realized the name of the archaeologist, whom I know in a strangely intimate way from working on the archives of an early American female archaeologist, Lucy Shoe Merritt. And this is not the only crossroads of synchronicity and incongruous resurrection of my academic past that I have come to in late November.
The Universe’s sense of humor never fails to astonish me. But maybe there is an extra intent in it tonight:
Without this past background which has haunted me tonight, I never would have arrived here, in this herbal life abroad. And without the absence of my usual traditions, I might not have re-noticed the new, might not have pondered another kind of harvest.
Like this re-invented Thanksgiving fare, my life is something new, yet fashioned from the same old ingredients. Something at times raw, but bizarrely refined, recognizable at a closer look. So perhaps it is with many of us as we follow the turns of our paths.
Remember me to one who lives there…
I look back over my shoulder. I give thanks this holiday season for all that has come before—all preceding experiences and ways of being—no matter how difficult, for it gave greater awareness to the ever-refining process of a life.
(Ever wonder where you’d be without your past, and some of the things you either disliked or escaped? There is a sometimes difficult but deeply illuminating exercise by Martha Beck—telling your life story backwards—in Steering by Starlight.)
Whether you look inward this season or only outward, all this connection with the past combined with the haste and emotions of the hectic holiday season can take a toll on your heart (I personally reach for Hawthorn) and your spirits as well as your immunity (Thyme): look after yourself.
Wondering why there are no herbal holiday recipes this season? There have been so many new upheavals and strains this year that we’re going to take a much-needed hibernation and return restored in the New Year, along with the re-opening of the Herboristerie online shop and the Herbal Etymology Database.