“What’s inside it?” asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.
“There’s cold chicken inside it,” replied the Rat briefly; “coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwidgespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater–”
“O stop, stop,” cried the Mole in ecstasies: “This is too much!”
“Do you really think so?” inquired the Rat seriously. “It’s only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut it very fine!”
. . .
The Rat brought the boat alongside the bank, made her fast, helped the still awkward Mole safely ashore, and swung out the luncheon-basket. The Mole begged as a favour to be allowed to unpack it all by himself; and the Rat was very pleased to indulge him, and to sprawl at full length on the grass and rest, while his excited friend shook out the table-cloth and spread it, took out all the mysterious packets one by one and arranged their contents in due order, still gasping, “O my! O my!” at each fresh revelation. When all was ready, the Rat said, “Now, pitch in, old fellow!” and the Mole was indeed very glad to obey. . .
– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, “The River Bank”
Something snapped in the heart of this introvert in early June.
I will say that this kind of snapping isn’t an infrequent occurrence these days. This summer it’s led to spontaneous “special occasions” like made-to-order crêpes and steak-and-croquet dinners.
This particular snap was a slow and premeditated one, however, and began with the purchase of a picnic hamper weeks earlier. Our movements have been — and still are — fairly restricted, for various reasons, and I had guessed that the seclusion would weigh a little more heavily on me once the weather warmed.
These plans were thus a preemptive move. It was time for our first picnic of the season — in our own garden, in the meadow-patch dancing with blossoming clover and tall seeding grass.
But this was no ordinary picnic; this was to be an al fresco summer celebration in the full and proper tradition of The Wind in the Willows — and if you haven’t yet had the chance to hear Leif Enger mention his own yearly October tradition inspired by the same passage (see “Sailing Full and By” on the Hutchmoot podcast), you might be as charmed as I was.
I spread a sheet on the grass over a waterproof blanket and called the family up for supper, smiling at their mystified expressions when they found the dining table clear and a loaded basket in my hands.
Outside, the girls volunteered to help Y unpack the various containers and trimmings. Not being especially devoted to cold tongue and watercress sandwiches ourselves, we had instead an antipasto pasta salad, pâté de Campagne, black olives, pickled asparagus, strawberries, sourdough bread with butter, and apple cider donuts. I read the description of Rat and Mole’s luncheon aloud. The glass and the silverware clinked cheerily together as we filled our plates, and the tang of red wine vinegar hummed on the edge of every sumptuous word.
Little Jo and Lucy then surprised me by asking if they could share their favorite passages from the book, and they did: the introduction to Mr. Badger’s kitchen and the gaoler’s daughter’s gift of golden buttered toast, respectively.
We ate and listened as the slipstreams of evening sun ran and rippled across the wild little lawn.
A few years ago, sometime during my leaden season of recovering from heightened anxiety, I realized how helpful it was to have events to look forward to — no matter how small they might be. They were bright pegs on the calendar, a string of lanterns that helped me gauge the passage of time as a thing to rejoice in and not to dread.
The practice of making these plans, even if specific ones among them never came to pass, hauled me outside the oppression of my limitations. I gradually learned the value of holding yearly celebrations, which over time establish a pattern of marking the mercies of God; with each remembrance of His past faithfulness, we make room to anticipate more. And I found that the ensuing gratitude allowed me to approach even the ordinary days with greater wonder.
In remembrance of those helps, friends, this is a “prospective” rather than retrospective tea post. For we shall yet “look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13). Even as we commit our way daily to the One who can be trusted with it, it’s an act of wisdom to make room “to shelter the soul, to make provision not only for the body for also for the spirit.” (Sarah Clarkson, “September,” Lifegiving Home). So long as we draw breath, there are challenging days ahead for us. But when they come, let us meet them as whole-hearted souls who are ever in the process of receiving and extending grace, who know how to espy lasting beauty and attribute it to Lord of all creation, and who make the most of all that we have to make home-fires in desolate climates. In the end I would rather come into the desert rejoicing in the uncertainty (humanly speaking) of relying on the Giver of daily bread than enter with a self-built store of meager rations, pre-starved upon a diet of distrust and worry.
As summer comes into its ripened hour here, we’re looking forward to birthday celebrations — including a true “birth day” for a much-anticipated nephew! — and a feast of books, replenished weekly. The cosmos flowers are opening one at a time like surprise packages in the garden, each revealing some new combination of the colors and textures we first began planting a few years ago: a pristine, daisy-like white here; a magenta explosion of tiny petals there; a cloud of cream edged in dainty pink along the back fence.
Rumors of changing leaves and cooler temperatures have come our way from friends across the country, and I’ve been mourning the passage of summer — but today brought a cool change in the air that somehow felt like a personal correspondence note. Hopeful plans involving baked apples, lap quilts, sweaters, hikes, rustling leaves, and new adventures — new mercies — have been sailing about like pre-holiday whispers in this house all day.
As we near the close of a taxing summer, friends, I wanted to offer a little spread of sundry suggestions that might lend you a bit of warmth, humor, and greenery. (In case you can’t tell, I’ve had gardening on my mind!)
- Cranford. After hearing about it for years, Y and I finally watched this BBC show last month and enjoyed it thoroughly.
- Monty Don’s French Gardens, especially Episode 2 about potagers, in which I was introduced to a garden that has since become a favorite:
- the jardin du Prieuré Notre-Dame d’Orsan. C’est magnifique, and a delight to behold. This garden has inspired me more than any other to think more deeply about weaving aesthetics and function together.
- French Gardens, sadly, has since left the platform I was using to view it, but This Beautiful Fantastic is a quirky and delightful film that celebrates everything in this post: food, gardens, and unlikely friendships (though I’ll admit it took me a while to stop expecting Andrew Scott to morph into Moriarty!).
- Miss Potter. This movie is a perennial favorite, and continues to be as good as a tonic in helping me to revive a little whimsy in my everyday life and live bravely.
On our tea table these days:
- Strawberry chocolate pie. It’s a “recipe” of absolute simplicity, in order to make room for other things in our day — a ready-made and pre-baked whole wheat pie crust, a layer of melted and cooled chocolate, a heaping mound of fresh strawberries. Best served with a spoonful of whipped cream or plain Greek yogurt.