If Buck had seen me standing on top of the island cooktop bar in the kitchen yesterday morning just past darkthirty, he might have thought I had gone back on a promise I made to him years ago.
“You’re not going to go crazy on me, are you?”
“No,” I swore. “I won’t. I’m like you. What you see is what you get.”
There is a heavy steel pothanger fixture that is suspended by two chains from a single metal plate in the kitchen ceiling. It has two cone-shaped light fixtures in it, and removable metal hooks for hanging things like whisks, strainers, a wok steamer rack, even an ice cream scoop. I don’t hang pots from it. They would clutter up my view through the glass doors at the front of the house, and besides, I suspect it would be flirting with disaster to suspend heavy pots from a fixture that might turn out to be more decorative than functional. Think: loud crash, big hole in the ceiling, huge mess.
Nonetheless, the pothanger collects cooking grease. I don’t deep-fry anything, but olive oil is a staple at the Longleaf Bar & Grill for everything from dressing salads to a quick grill/saute of onion quarters in a cast iron skillet. Drops of oil inevitably splatter upward, collecting on the pothanger and light fixtures like a thick, sticky layer of wax.
When things in the world seem to be in a wobbly, nervous race to the bottom, or through the bottom into some reverse negative energy worm hole, when a retired surgeon friend speaks seriously of growing a garden and raising goats in the yard of his home in the downtown historic district, when everyone on television cable news seems to be shouting at each other in some language I can no longer understand, when if indeed a new heaven and a new earth are forming and the center will not hold, will the old laws of physics even still apply?
When my unruly mind wanders off into these weeds, I return to my roots.
I clean house.
And so, yesterday morning, I fetched a step ladder from the pantry, spread newspapers out on the cooktop, climbed aboard the slippery granite surface and, with Windex and old towels, cleaned and polished the curved metal pieces until they were shiny from elbow grease instead of dull from cooking grease.
The effort pleased me, and helped to focus my thoughts and restore a sense of order and control, however ephemeral.
Later in the day, Buck helped me create an outdoor writing space on an unused covered wooden deck upstairs. We cleaned up an old round black metal patio table, along with four metal chairs that had been stored to keep them from blowing away during a tropical storm warning last summer. I found some chair cushions in a closet and tied them onto the metal frames. Buck, Maggie and I sat in the new space to admire our handiwork. Our heads have been in our computers too much lately, and we had not seen the bodacious young longleafs reaching for the sky during this drab, sometimes ominous, winter. If you are walking in the woods, you see just what is before you or to the side on the path. If you get above the landscape, up on the second floor outside deck or, even better, (as we did) walk carefully up the flight of wooden steps to the small open deck at the height of a third floor (some 40 feet up), then you can see a miracle at work. While the oaks, the blackjacks and the yaupon are sleeping, the young pines are racing to get up a head of steam, to gain a seasonal growth advantage over their dormant compadres.
Buck, Maggie and I stood on that high aerie, faces into the wind, and saw bright green stripes across the otherwise drab February landscape. Several large birds gathered in the top of a huge old mother pine and were almost indistinguishable from cones. Birdsong filled the air like a tuning orchestra. This world, this whole other world, this world is the real one.
Powerful winds had blown out the day’s earlier heavy rain. In the gathering dark, we could feel it change direction and turn chilly. Refreshed, reconnected with the land, we descended the stairs, past the second floor terrace, all the way down to the ground, into the house to feed Maggie and make our dinner.
During the night, I awoke to the sound of the wind pushing our newly arranged chairs around on the upstairs deck. It was bringing with it one of the last cold fronts of the season. I clasped my hands over my head in the dark and smiled, knowing that spring is on the way.