40 Days: Restoration

True learning is remembering.


Painting by Amy Judd.

There is a story that is told to demonstrate the abstract idea of wabi sabi to Westerners like myself who have the most tentative of grasps of the abstract concept.  Wabi sabi is finding beauty in nature, which I understand.  Wabi sabi is also finding beauty in age and use and imperfection and transience, which overturns everything I’ve ever had written into my mind by the culture that grew me.  The story goes like this:  there is a clay, handmade bowl that is a part of a person’s daily ritual of life.  The bowl breaks.  The person doesn’t throw the bowl away.  Instead, the person uses molten gold to mend the crack, and the bowl becomes even more beautiful in the eyes of person than it ever was before.


Microscopic section of one year old ash wood by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, 1632-1723.


Restoration is my favorite week of the 40 days, and not just because I’ve never made it this far before.  Restoration is my favorite because it is wabi sabi, it is the idea of taking something old and used and caring for it, not in spite of the use, but because of the use.  Restoration is to burnish and care for an old thing.  Something like a wooden floor, or painted dome ceiling, or a brick smokehouse, or yourself.

Photo by Sophie Munns. Recycled metal sculpture by Julie Tremblay.

Restoration allows us to see past the limitations of time.  Instead of being limited by a thing in the time frame of the present, restoration allows for a person to imagine all the layers of time and all the faces of the thing that have existed to make up the thing as it is today.  Restoration gives another dimension to reality because restoration acknowledges that the past played a role in the present.


“The past is never dead.  It isn’t even past.”

-good, old William Faulkner


The restoration of Aya Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

I remembered something from my own past that I’m pretty sure led to this whole blog, writing about food in literature thing in myself.  It was this book, The Secret Garden Cookbook by Amy Cotler.  Reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel in middle school was formative enough, but creating the Victorian English recipes brought the book and the historical setting alive in a way that apparently changed me forever.

Flowers opening timelapse from David de los Santos Gil on Vimeo.

It must have been my junior or senior year of high school, circa 2002 or so, because I made the meal from this cookbook for my sister, my mom, and my future stepfather.  So it was after my mom kicked my dad out of the house and before I moved away to college.  I made the garden peas and fresh mint and the “sausage cakes” with fresh sage.  Surely, this meal was one of my very first experiences cooking with fresh herbs of any kind.  I also made the tattie broth.  The recipe called for butter or bacon grease to saute the onions in, and I remember using both, despite intense trepidation that accompanied walking off the path of the recipe instructions.  And I remember my warm satisfaction when I tasted richness of the tattie broth.

Marian’s Birdseed

Look for a lovely thing and you will find it.  It is not far.  It will never be far.

-Sara Teasdale


She feeds them, and they come.  They come because they are hungry.  Every morning at 7:30, she hauls her big bag of birdseed from her apartment over the parking lot to the green dumpster.  Then she showers the paved area to the left of the green dumpster with cups of birdseed.  And every morning, the pigeons fly down from their power lines to eat.

I saw the birds before I ever met Marian.  I saw them silhouetted against the western sky over the bayou. I saw the pigeons strung up along the power lines behind my apartment in the moments before dawn.  My dog, Eliot, and I would glance up at them on our morning walk, see them preening their feathers with the remnants of last night’s moon suspended behind them.

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And then one morning, I met her.  As Eliot and I crossed the parking, we saw all of the birds on the ground by the dumpster.  When we were twenty feet away, the birds took flight, shattering the morning silence with the flapping of their wings.  The combined force of all the wings created a strong breath of wind that hit my face, and I remembered the way the pages of the hymnal sounded when I dropped it in the wooden church where I grew up.  The pigeon wings were louder.  There were so many of them.  The light shimmered and scattered off their wings like light off water.  The rainbow sheen on their feathers mirrored the pinkening morning sky.

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“I’m sorry I scared them,” I said.

Marian shook her head and smiled.  She looked at Eliot.  “I like dogs,” she said.

“Do you feed the birds every morning?” I asked.

“Every morning,” Marion said.  “They wait for me.”

“Do they have names?” I asked.

“No.  But I know them all.  There are daughters here.  And mothers.  And grandmothers.”

I watched the birds.  Some of them were white, most of them were gray.  It never occurred to me to see them as individual living things.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Marion.  What’s your name?”

“Annie.”  When she shook my hand, tiny beads of birdseed were transferred to my palm.

“And his name?” She nodded towards my dog.

I smiled.  “Eliot.”

“He looks like a good dog.”  I walked away, and all the birds flew back down from the power lines.

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Every morning, I watch the pigeons come from all directions and circle the skies.  As I leave my apartment to go to work, I pass flocks of pigeons circling in droves to my apartment from miles away.  They land on the telephone wires, and they clean their feathers, and maybe they flap their wings a few times without flying away.


Revised from a model text written for my students: my This I Believe essay.  Incidentally, I believe that feeding people (or animals) builds community; I believe in cooking alone; I believe in cooking with others; I believe that there are no such things as mistakes in a kitchen, only learning opportunities; I believe in learning to see beauty in the ordinary; and I believe in Marian’s birdseed.