Last fall, inspired by an extraordinary crop of the biennially fruiting crabapple tree in sight of my desk, I picked about 50 pounds of fruit and began making jelly. It was the third time in the five autumns I’ve lived here that the tree had fruit, but it was the first time I actually got to it. In memory of my mother, with whom I made many a batch of jam, and also because I just had to put my hands to something. This was my basketweaving, I’ve joked to friends. But it’s not entirely a joke.
I put the beautiful garnet jelly in adorable Italian jars, a friend-cum-mentor who is a packaging genius helped create the look, and les collines was born.
The name covers some ground; it is rare in that it came to me almost without thinking. It pays homage to my Canadian-born mother, Coline, named for her uncle Colin (see my Facebook post for Memorial Day), and to the beautiful hills where I have, finally, at least for now, come to rest. Les collines is French for hills; I lived in Paris, have a son who carries both passports, have graduate degrees in French. It just worked.
I’d also been thinking of beginning a blog for some time before the crabapple harvest, to write about life in the country as well as about my growing sense of grace, the concept and the reality, at work in the world. At first it didn’t make sense to combine homemade jelly with a blog exploring grace and tidbits of my freewheeling, freelance rural life. And then, it made total sense. It’s just who I am.
A name to encompass it all– the jelly, my writing, life in the country, exploring grace….blog or other social media, you’ll find my love of place, people, animals, good stories and good food locally grown under the life I picked.
Though who’s doing the picking might be anyone’s guess. Such as, the cluster of hard-edged major life events that have piled up the past few years, like some terrible Interstate car crash. The kind that happen in a blizzard, or dense fog, where the cars stack up; there was no way to avoid it, news anchors might say. Cumulatively, though, it has gotten me thinking more deeply about grace, about scraping the bottom of the barrel and still keeping the light in your eyes alive.
Grace is a vastly more interesting concept to me than, say, happiness, which receives a lot of traction these days. A flimsy concept on which to construct a life, something I read in a Buddhist writing. There’s nothing wrong with happiness, or being happy, but chasing after it as a birthright seems misguided to me, and superficial. Life is hard. It can be brutal. Sadness is a part of it. This cult of happiness may not serve us so well. Part of its seductive appeal, perhaps, is that these current constructs of happiness allow us to think we are in control. The beauty and the salvation of grace (and I speak outside any religious context) involves an acceptance that we do not have much control, at all.
So, the stuff of daily life in the country– dogs, garden, wildlife (two- and four-legged), mud&muck, bad phone lines, car time, solitude, cooking, les collines, the good, the bad, and the indifferent, moments of trial, tribulation, and grace: this is the life I picked. And before long I will be talking with people about the lives they picked and their own experience of grace, and I’ll be posting those interviews.
Though it’s a zigzaggy path on the best of days, in the end it all usually fits together, somehow. Except when it doesn’t. Then I can only trust that it is fractal, that the chaos I perceive on the ground is order when viewed from a great distance….