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Constellations No. 4
Today during December’s solstice, in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night - a phenomenon that has been recognized in communal and spiritual practices throughout the ages. It turns out humans have always had a strong desire to explore our context in the universe; we track the sun's path while traveling the ecliptic plane, and we strive for an earthly glimpse of the continuous cycle that is grander and more powerful than any of us.
In contemporary life, though, it feels easy to lose sight of the big picture and get caught up in a push to summarize the year in a tidy package - to make sense of it and put it away before we move on. Phrases like “year in review,” “wrapping things up” are as pervasive as the feeling that we must finish everything before the calendar page turns. Sustaining ourselves through the darkness this time of year means accepting the uncertainty that comes with it, so look ahead to the new year and await the suns's return with hope for all the light and clarity that it might bring.
Is it possible to think of moving from one year to the next without these beginnings and ends? I've been thinking about how I might exist with an adjusted sense of time - one without the looming cliff at the end of December, or the pretense of an idyllic new beginning waiting just around the corner. Instead, I want to infuse that sense of possibility in the now, even in the midst of the season’s darkness as the light is slowly creeping back toward us. Is it possible to imagine myself paralleling the seasonal tilt instead of wishing it away?
For me, the natural world brims with the echos of this question and the answers to it. The sun, moon, and all the non-human creatures who inhabit this planet have been at this a whole lot longer than I have, so I choose to lean on their expertise. I look outside at the expanse of water on the other side of my studio window and make a wish that I might move through time like it does: fluidly, continually. Waves have no beginning or end; they do not mark a difference between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. I want to be more like them.
I’m reminded of an expert seasonal observer, Finnish artist and author Tove Jansson, whose work I have mentioned here before. Her Moomin series is currently topping bedtime read-aloud charts in our house and they are full of gems that speak to all of us, like this one from Moominvalley in November (1970), the final in the series:
“The quiet transition from autumn to winter is not a bad time at all. It's a time for protecting and securing things and for making sure you've got in as many supplies as you can. It's nice to gather together everything you possess as close to you as possible, to store up your warmth and your thoughts and burrow yourself into a deep hole inside, a core of safety where you can defend what is important and precious and your very own. Then the cold and the storms and the darkness can do their worst. They can grope their way up the walls looking for a way in, but they won't find one, everything is shut, and you sit inside, laughing in your warmth and your solitude, for you have had foresight.”
I’m holding Jansson’s words close to me as I gather up my warmth and my thoughts and lean into winter.
Today I bow to the darkness as gracefully as I can and recognize that this moment is one phase of a continuous cycle. I resist a succinct conclusion for the year, and in doing so attempt to embrace the story that is unfolding as the light does through this season, and the next, and the next.
Thanks for being here, friends. I'm wising you warmth and peace as you traverse the season.
In early December I was invited to be part of Granor Farm's Book + Supper Club series with chef, cookbook author, Why We Cook contributor and friend, Abra Berens. It was an absolute honor to be able to share Why We Cook with Granor's guests who gathered for an evening of conversation and delicious food in the warmth of the farm's schoolhouse and dining spaces. Abra and the Granor team thoughtfully transformed the questions at the heart of Why We Cook into a seven course menu infused with local specialties, vegetables grown steps away from the dining room and a whole lot of thoughtful preparation. To read more about my unforgettable time at Granor, head over to my journal.
A BOUNTIFUL COLLABORATION
This fall I worked with Farm Club on our second annual calendar benefiting the Leelanau Conservancy, an impactful organization dedicated to preserving the land, water and family farms that define this region of northern Michigan. Each page of the 2023 calendar pairs a quote from Nic Theisen’s legendary Loma Farm CSA newsletter with one of my watercolor and colored pencil illustrations.
This collaboration means so much to me. Working on it has contributed to my deeper understanding of seasonal cycles and the bounty offered by each part of the year. When we moved to Michigan from California in late 2020, many of our first outings revolved around winter hikes on Leelanau Conservancy trails, visits to eat and sit by the fire at Farm Club, and making meals from our Loma CSA. These habits were our introduction to our new place, to communities, friends, and the vastly different environment we've now come to know. It has given me a new appreciation of farming in this climate, taught me how to eat in season and make the most of locally grown food we have access to in all parts of the year. It has made me pay attention in a closer way to the intense dedication and labor required of farmers and the many people that work together to help protect and take care of the land.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work on it again and happy to report that proceeds from the calendar and auction of original paintings generated nearly $4,000 to support Leelanau Conservancy’s ongoing work! Huge thank you to everyone who purchased a calendar or bid on a painting! If you missed it this year, follow along @lindsaygardnerart and @farmclubtc for information next year about our 2024 calendar.
IN MY KITCHEN LATELY
A few years ago we started a tradition with our kids to learn about winter holidays celebrated by people around the world in addition to our family’s traditions. Earlier this week we honored our family’s Jewish heritage on the first day of Hanukkah by making matzo ball soup and potato latkes (I made Rebecca Firsker’s sheet pan version for the first time - great success!). To celebrate Christmas, we all choose a country and recipe for part of the holiday meal, then we look at books, make lists and send text messages back and forth with grandparents about who’s bringing what. This year our older daughter chose Ukraine after a conversation about the war followed by a long browsing session with Anna Voloshyna’s cookbook Budmo; our younger daughter chose Australia because: koalas; and we picked France and the Netherlands as a hint at the big surprise they will receive the next morning - a trip to Paris and Amsterdam in the spring. My mom makes German Coffee Kuchen passed down from my Jewish grandmother for us to eat while we’re lounging in pajamas Christmas morning - it’s a sly little wink and nod to our family history that I love.
Our kitchen is inevitably a circus during this week of December. It's messy and full of people and food and love, and not everything we intend to make gets made. It’s all part of the mishmash that I feel lucky to call ours.
Christmas Eve Menu
Dutch cheeses, pickled things + tinned fish
Genevieve Ko’s Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Béarnaise
Haricots Verts Amandine
Potatoes Fried with Pork Belly from Budmo by Anna Voloshyna
Red cabbage braised with apples
Mini pavlovas with lemon curd,
berries + cream
A BRIGHT LIGHT
Women Holding Things, by Maira Kalman (Harper Design, 2022)
"Woman in my dream walking through almond blossoms holding a giant boulder" from Kalman's Women Holding Things.
Maira Kalman’s latest book, Women Holding Things is a treasure. I have been counting down to its pub date for months since I first read about it and was thrilled when I received a signed copy as a gift for my birthday. Since then I’ve read it over and over, each time brought to tears by a new detail I notice in Kalman’s poetic text and tender-but-never-precious paintings. I admire everything about her kaleidoscopic approach to art making - her resistance to categorization; the intimate and edifying way she paints; her spare writing imbued with layers of interconnected stories, but never giving it all away. This book is an immersive experience - one that makes me feel seen and held, as a woman, a partner, a mother, a friend, a daughter, an artist, and a curious human.
P.S. If you share my regret at missing the book's accompanying exhibit of paintings at Mary Ryan Gallery this fall, check out this virtual walkthrough.
ON SHARING A POEM
I am not a poet, but in the last few months I have written a few. One poem literally woke me up in the middle of the night in August. What to make of that? I'm not sure yet.
I debated whether to share this, but borrowed some gusto from an interview on Slate's podcast Working with Maira Kalman about her expansive creative process. When asked about the multiple spokes of her practice, she replied, "The more I do, the more I think, well, this is really interesting. But something else is equally interesting and why not try it?"
So in that spirit, I leave you with this poem.
GOLDEN It rested, half buried Sand skimming its tumbled crown on the cusp of disappearing I scraped at its sides charting its shy circumference, waves licking my fingers how much was hidden? could I free it, make it mine? In my hand it lay heavy and weightless as if waiting to tell me stories in its striations – unruly charcoal ribbons cutting lines through iridescent ochre The magnitude of time curvilinear against my still-wet palms already drying in October’s light I tried to put it down but it fit just so as if it too wanted for a moment to be still and have its face held up to the sun