IN THIS ISSUE
Fall has been my favorite season for longer than I can remember—there is something about it that makes me feel so truly myself that I really can’t describe it properly. I enjoyed fall as a teenager, in a high school in Roanoke, Virginia, but it didn’t speak to me the way it does now until I was studying English at Longwood University—two hours east of Roanoke in Farmville, Virginia.
I grew up in a Catholic church and school, which worked for me until about age eighteen, when I ventured off to college and found myself startled when, two years later, my once so rock-hard Catholic background no longer held me up. I still talked to God every day, but I was starting to feel that He was bigger than just one version of Christianity—or any religion, for that matter—could cling to. And at first, I was upset. I felt that oh-so-infamous Catholic Guilt and wondered what could possibly be happening to me.
But eventually (a few years later) I embraced my slow but sure transition from Good Catholic to Crunchy Unitarian. And again, the leaves changed color and the air got crisp and chilly and smelled like campfires in that grey morning fog and I felt like myself in that way I really can’t describe properly.
One morning in winter. I sit at the counter, my chipped toenails dangling just above the floor, my fingers curled around a warm mug of tea with the Monday newspaper laid out before me. It is the usual gloom and doom: inflation rising, jobs diminishing, a tsunami here, an earthquake there. The magnitude of each weighs upon me, resting on my shoulders heavily, waiting to be contemplated and considered. But together, this mish-mash of stories forms the humdrum familiarity of the daily news — a little politics, a lot of suffering and very little joy. No surprises there.
As I raise the cup to my lips, allowing the liquid to spread through my limbs like a warm embrace, one headline catches my eye. “1 billion of world’s population still illiterate,” it says.
I look again, convinced I have misread. But there it is again: 1 billion. A typing error? Idle fact checking? How can it be? 1 billion people denied life’s greatest pleasure — never able to lose themselves in a book, feel the irresistible tug of a story you just can’t put down. Never able to fall asleep, mind whirling with the images of a faraway land. 1 billion people who do not know how to read? But what is a life without words? Without books? Without stories?
There were no rules, just a simple call to action in the vein of “waste not”: harvest the remnants of your garden, and share a meal with us.
It was the end of a hot, dry season, and yet our backyard garden had thrived. The peach tree was too heavy with fruit and we gathered more potatoes and okra than we knew how to use. There was leftover squash and onion and green beans and some tomatoes that had made it through the heat. The chickens were laying eggs a-plenty. We knew that if such was the case for us, so perhaps it was for others.
And so we sent out the invitation to our “harvest dinner”, offering our home to any who might gather to savor the last fruits of our gardens before the season came to a close. It was exciting to see the accepted responses roll in, to anticipate the bounty and creativity that would grace the table. We had promises of breads and cold salads and hot vegetable dishes, all topped with homegrown spices. There was even a man who had just returned from a hunt and offered pheasant. A bend in the rules seemed acceptable since it was “of the earth” and collected by his hand.
We threw open the doors and windows and set records to play in the corner, the warm fall sun mixing with the coolness of breeze only hinting at winter. Each place was set with a burlap placemat, cut from scrap and reused, adorned with a handmade cloth napkin. The dishes, steam rising, were spread across the table and the buffet, even back into the kitchen along the countertops.
Thank You, Kindly
Sarah Brysk Cohen
“Beautiful . . . enthralled . . . raving . . . wonderful . . . stunning . . . brilliant . . . gorgeous.” Last week I opened my email early Monday morning and found not one, but TWO lovely notes from a satisfied bride. Just that Saturday, we had done her wedding florals and she apparently wrote the first “thank you” the very next day. Then, after becoming concerned that the initial note may have gone to my junk mail, she wrote yet another, similarly warm letter. She wanted to make absolutely sure I had been properly thanked. This happens much less frequently than you might think. I proudly pictured her making certain to fire off these emails before jetting to her post-wedding brunch. In my elaborate fantasy, her new husband was calling out, “Janie, let’s get going, we are going to be late!” and she replied with, “Just give me one more minute, I simply MUST let Sarah know how fabulous she is!”
I found myself turning this bride’s sweet words over and over in my mind and it energized my work for the remainder of the week. ‘This is why I do this,’ I thought. I tried to access that sense of fulfillment during several decidedly lower moments during the work-week and even in one instance of standing over the changing table, with a fresh bathrobe suddenly soaked in poop. Ironically, her wedding was only a small, intimate affair, for which we did just a few precious arrangements and yet it was one of the more immediate and glowing responses we have received to date. The power of her generosity and this kind of communiqué cannot be underestimated.
Buy your copy of our inaugural print edition, along with exploration-themed accessories in our online shop. The print edition is 240 pages full of gorgeous photography and illustrations, and thoughts about cartography, uncharted territory, nostalgia, and souvenirs from some of our favorite women writers and artists.