Minding the Sky || Something Old, Something New

Posted in Blogs, Culinary

BY JUDITH WALCUTT
September 2, 2015

It doesn’t take much rain to remind us of the real place we live most of the year, or did before the endless summer began. Just a bit like this recent early morning’s grey mist and scattered showers reminds us all that the sky is changing, once again, changing. The blue is fading, the green is crisping around the edges, the relentless sun has begun to yellow the alders and tinge with orange the Japanese maples. Yes, please, can we have a little bit of rain now?

And so we got some, though I would have preferred that it had held off until after the weekend, that last crucial weekend of August—so that all the weddings and home repair projects that were already in progress could have had the benefit of the sunniest summer ever, instead of stormy skies, high winds, and surprise power outages!

Wild cherry plums like jewels (photo by Judith Walcutt)

Wild cherry plums like jewels (photo by Judith Walcutt)

On the whole, though, it has been a dazzling summer on Whidbey, making it extra hard to get anything like actual work done. The fruit came early and left before we knew it; I’ve been scrabbling to catch up on the jam front ever since. As my loyal readers know, I am a jam fan—as in fanatic. I can’t bear to see fruit hanging on a tree or clustered on a bush and going to waste—blackberries, wild cherry plums, blueberries––they must be picked! When they came in tidal wave altogether, much earlier than expected, I knew if I didn’t stop everything and grab what I could, I would have missed my window of opportunity to slow down, gather the fruits of summer, and preserve them, literally, in a jar for later, when the rain starts for good and we forget the taste of beautiful days on our tongues.

It has been an especially great summer for plums and, if you got them when they were ripe, the blackberries were smaller but deeply flavorful. The blueberries are in their final tsunami of ripeness and almost past—so hurry up and get them where you can! If you have already done so and are trying to save some for the future, here’s my best tip: combine them with plum—even if you don’t really like plum—you will get a much more flavorful blueberry.

For reasons I can only explain as alchemical magic in action, when you combine plum and blueberries, you get something that really tastes more like blueberries than blueberries on their own. Also, tossing a few peaches into the mix never hurt anything and the sweetness of the peach counterbalances the tartness possible in wild cherry plums hidden here and there around the island. People think those little plums are just ornamental but, with a little de-seeding labor, they render a sweet and tart taste that holds the flavor of the first and last day of summer combined—lushly sweet and poignantly sour––these days and those ruby fruits are the last jewels of the season and they remind me of love.

Author with husband (David Ossman) on their (unconventional) wedding day. Aug. 29, 1987 (photo courtesy of the author)

Author with husband David Ossman on their (unconventional) wedding day. Aug. 29, 1987 (photo courtesy of the author)

Actually, for me, this time of year is always evocative of love that arrives late in the day, yet just in time for a life-long affair—which is the story I share with the man I married. The end of this August marked our 28th wedding anniversary. We spoke our words together at a friend’s place up on Smuggler’s Cove Road, at the end of a rugged road through the tall cedar woods which lead to a cliff overlooking the Ship Canal and out to the Olympics, with a vista of the Canadian islands to the north. The mountains were so clear that day, they appeared closer than they actually are, having to do with the quality of the light and its refraction in the water.

The sun was strong and bright; the sky was nothing if not blue; it was a perfect day to say “Yes! I do! Yes!” and so we did.

Brook Ott, our Balloon Girl leads the way! (photo courtesy of the author)

Brook Ott, our Balloon Girl leads the way! (photo courtesy of the author)

It was not a very conventional wedding. My aisles was made of drift wood branches linked with Chinese paper cut-out garlands and there were an awful lot of balloons about the place—sometimes holding the streamers up and between the trees and sometimes just lingering in people’s hands, like floating confetti. I had a balloon girl, rather than a flower girl. My mother and my brother walked me down that colorful display and when the minister asked, “Who gives this woman in marriage,” a covey of my best girl friends shouted back: “We do!” and that was that.

There was plenty of smoked salmon and wild rice salad and lots of cake and enough champagne as well, because I hated the thought of our new life starting with stingy little slices and a thimble-full of something not quite bubbly. We made sure everyone had enough of everything—and that’s how we have proceeded. We did have a samba band, but forgot to have a reception line. We just started to dance, instead!

Abstract idea of an aisle! (photo courtesy of the author)

Abstract idea of an aisle! (photo courtesy of the author)

As we took the ferry to Port Townsend commencing our honeymoon later that night, we looked back where we thought the wedding party still lingered, where the core of people we loved with huge sparklers in hand and Motown on the stereo, played and danced late into the night long after the band went home. We thought we could see the sparklers waving at us and we waved back from the middle of the water—or maybe it was just the moon reflected off some distant glassy surface as it rose and rose, silver and gold over us, beaming something old, something new: the great beauty of the moon.

We thought ourselves lucky then and still do.

Brook Ott, once a Balloon Girl, now a bride—down the aisle with Dad, David Ott (photo courtesy of the author)

Brook Ott, once a Balloon Girl, now a bride—down the aisle with Dad, David Ott (photo courtesy of the author)

This summer we watched our wee balloon girl, Brook, come down her own aisle, on her Dad’s arm, to join paths with her beloved Chris. My husband David, as a reverend of the Universal Life Church, performed as minister. The vows were written by the couple and were personal and real and true. The benediction was literate and uplifting and the Mom, the great Mom, gave a reading from the I Ching which set everything “next” on its own true and loving course. All eyes were shiny with gladness and glistened with uplifted feelings.

It was a perfect wedding in every way, a gift of the bride and groom who had been preparing the family land for their wedding plan for over a year—creating campsites for those who came from afar, building a dance floor in a field, and making magical paths through the woods within which to explore the whereabouts of fairy houses and elf hideaways, nested in the boney arms and the crooked knees of the trees in the woods.

They had something of a samba band, too, and plenty of cake, as well as a feast made of food grown by their own hand in their own garden. No balloons, but dahlias of multiple colors and sizes and shapes, also grown in a patch of ground which used to be home to an enormous snaggled patch of blackberry vines.

Brook Ott and Chris Hunter seal the deal with truth and beauty! (photo courtesy of the author)

Brook Ott and Chris Hunter seal the deal with truth and beauty! (photo courtesy of the author)

My gift to the wedding party was what we called in our family a “present tree”—like the one Brook remembered all these years past, from my own wedding. Invented by my mother as a way to celebrate any occasion by giving everyone something to take home, it consisted of a tree hung with colorful paper lanterns, little toys for the attendant children, and Chinese New Year’s envelopes for all, containing fortunes and magic charms for all to be enlightened and protected by.

Something old, something new, something borrowed—and what was blue? Perhaps it was the face of the moon—which was nearly full again, and glowed quite silvery and balloon-like in a blueberry-plum colored sky.

Why do we cry at weddings? I guess it is the chance we have, that we are afforded, to really feel that hope, that promise, of the speech of love—when our hearts are allowed to open to the truth, the pure unadulterated truth, that love is the meaning and purpose of life. That there is no purpose, really, but love. At a wedding we have full permission to hold that thought and practice it anew.

Twenty-eight years of twenty-eight day cycles of the moon’s face waxing and waning—and both the moon and the man still knock me out. For Brook and Chris—and all newly marrieds—we wish them this kind of beauty and that kind of love.

* * *

Blueberry Plum jam in the making (photo by Judith Walcutt)

Blueberry Plum jam in the making (photo by Judith Walcutt)

Blueberry Plum Jam

4 cups fresh blueberry
2 cups de-pitted, cooked plums
2.5 cups sugar
½” wide strip of lemon peel, and/or 2 tsp. lemon juice.

Stir blueberries into warm plum base.
Add sugar slowly, stirring it in to the fruit mixture.
Add lemon peel.

Cook on low, covered, until mixture is bubbling. Remove cover and stir, allowing mixture to cook throughout, but without sticking to and burning on the bottom. The secret to this is in the stirring. The jam is done when you can feel the thickened fruit at the bottom of the pan and gathering on the sides of the pan, as you are stirring, and you have to scrape it down with the spoon. The mixture becomes thickened and sticks to the spoon. Another sign of done or near-done jam is when the lemon peel which has been cooking with the fruit becomes translucent on the edges.

Judith Walcutt lives and writes on Whidbey Island. “Memoirs of A Modern She-Noodle: A Novel” is forthcoming in 2016 from NeoPoiesis Press.

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