Saturday, June 09, 2007


I have been so inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I even caught myself looking up courses on how to keep chickens the other day. But it's not just the practical (or in my chicken case, the impractical) that has stayed with me.

In her chapter on Celebration Days, Kingsolver talks about the Dia de los Muertos, saying she is drawn to this particular celebration because she lives 'in a culture that allows almost no room for dead people'. She says that growing her own food has allowed her to recall deeply buried memories of long-dead family members, almost as if she was spending time with them. The heading of this post, Xantolo, apparently means that memory space that opens up sometimes before your eyes, the ordinary communion between the dead and the living. Perhaps because it has no equivalent name in English, it sounds like some kind of weird zombie B-movie but now I've been wondering how much we've lost by keeping the dead so firmly in the past. Kingsolver writes:
"When I'm cooking, I find myself inhabiting the emotional companionship of the person who taught me how to make a particular dish, or with whom I used to cook it. Slamming a door on food-rich holidays, declaring food an enemy, sends all the grandpaprents and great aunts to a lonely place. I have been so relieved lately to welcome them back...."
Of course, it's not just with food that we form links with the past. Sometimes it's the smallest things - in fact, such small things that I've almost been overwhelmed thinking about it recently. Take this snapdragon pictured above which I know I only planted because, in the garden centre, I was reminded of how my mother always used to pick the flowers and squeeze them between her thumb and finger to make them talk for us. Indeed, as soon as my own kids saw the first flower, it was one of the first things they remembered too. So without being morbid, it's like having Mum back around with us, hanging out on our balcony and making stupid puppet plays with flower heads. Trivial maybe, but like Kingsolver, it feels like I can welcome her back. Besides, my mother was never one for a dramatic entrance.

The idea of space and memory is one which my favourite poet, Kenneth White explores in this poem,

My Properties

I'm a landowner myself after all -
I've got twelve acroes of white silence
up at the back of my mind

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