mint and wool and the Missing Piece
A few years ago, in preparation for her first child, a girlfriend of mine requested children’s books as gifts for her soon-to-be-born daughter’s library. Most people thought it was a creative idea and were thankful they didn’t have to venture into a Babies R’ Us. I, however, saw it as my very personal contribution to baby L’s lifelong view of reading, something that was awakened in me at a very early age. The perfect book didn’t come to me right away, but when I found it, it was like meeting an old friend.
“What do you want of me?”
asked the missing piece.
“What do you need from me?”
“Who are you?” asked the missing piece.
“I am the Big O,”
said the Big O.
– Excerpt from The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, by Shel Silverstein
I couldn’t help smiling, even laughing out loud at certain pages. It has become my favorite gift for all new parents, and even now, I still laugh at the same lines. They are just too simple and perfect of things to grow old for me.
The first design question The WordPress Tutorial asked was very basic: “What is your blog’s purpose?” After several days of trying to give this thing a well-defined reason for being, I came to the conclusion that it had none – it is an experiment, an evolving outlet for my attempts to record the random curiosities that grab my interest everyday. I often spend the first few minutes of every bus ride home sharing these newly-found subjects to my husband, as if everyone should be fascinated by these tiny moments of human experience. Tiny moments like reading about the Missing Piece, which makes me smile every time I witness its attempts to find a rotund friend by making itself attractive and flashy with daisies and bright neon signs.
So in the end, as its name I chose a combination of two things that remind me of specific moments in my life that always make me smile.
Sheep herding runs in my family. Well, not my immediate family, but anyone who is Basque knows that all Basque people are family. The Central Valley of California was once home to thousands of Basque immigrants who continued to herd their flocks just as they would have in the mountains of their home country. Indeed, our family ate lamb quite often, as a typical weeknight dinner or at our favorite Basque restaurant; only as an adult, when my husband admitted that he didn’t know if he liked the taste of lamb or not, did I realize that lamb is not a standard meat in a typical American diet.
Maybe this is why I was so fascinated by the life of Icelandic sheep farmers, whose homesteads we passed as we made the long drive from Reykjavik to Lake Myvatn this past April. I was prepared for the starkly beautiful landscapes, but I wasn’t prepared for the people who lived in them – their comfortable lives and ranch name-specific road signs flanking the main highway were surreal. McKeever Ranch – next exit off of Interstate 5. I had watched the documentary Sweetgrass a few weeks before our trip, which follows a family-run sheep herding business in Montana, and found that I had a respect for these isolated farmers in their little corner of the world.
And then we met the sheep.
We had been searching for a place to take a good photograph of the sheep themselves, but didn’t find the spot until we were on our way back to Reykjavik. The homestead sat adjacent to the highway (which was rare – most homes were ¼ mile to ½ mile down a dirt road directly off of the highway), and had a white fence that separated the sheep and horses from traffic. It was incredibly windy, so when my husband pulled over and hopped out, he struggled to keep the camera steady. As he climbed back into the car disappointed, I grabbed the camera and took a few shots from the shelter of the passenger seat as we slowly drove past the flock. We couldn’t help but laugh – they really were silly individuals. Their bodies were the same color and shape as the straw-like mounds of grasses they grazed in, and their eyes stared at me as if they were trying to figure out what I kind of conspicuous sheep I was. One in particular never broke his gaze, even as the others became distracted and walked away. Though studies have shown that sheep may be able to memorize the faces of up to 50 of their fellow sheep, I doubt that my Icelandic friend remembers me. But every time I look at the photo of him, I wonder if his sandy coat has already been shorn to make another gorgeous wool scarf – just like the one I took home for myself as my Icelandic souvenir.
My mom has always had a garden – whether it contained mostly flowers or mostly produce fluctuated. My sister and I were allowed a small patch within the overall garden to plant whatever we wanted, which usually consisted of small flowers and maybe a strawberry plant or two if we felt ambitious. Even though our little corner fell into ruin quite quickly when inevitably mud pie recipes became the priority of the summer, we always looked forward to the trips to the nursery. Even now I still feel a little surge of excitement when we pass a particular nursery during my visits home. But the garden will always carry a quiet place in my soul was my first garden – or rather, the first garden I remember.
I recently went into one of my favorite home stores looking for a gift for my mother’s birthday and found, of all things, a tomato plant-scented candle. In an instant it took me back to curly-haired me, barefoot and curious in our garden with mom. The moment I opened the lid and smelled the dirt-like scent, I saw a voluptuous greenish-red tomato at the eye level of a 3-year-old. It was startling how vivid the memory was, though it was fleeting. I concentrated and inhaled the candle’s scent again and felt a bittersweet happiness, a remembrance of our lives before my sister was born, before my father’s passing, before we moved next door to my grandparents. And I find myself feeling jealous of my tiny self that existed before the event occurred that changed the course of our lives.
I was blessed to spend the rest of my childhood in a loving and fun, boisterous home, with a wonderful stepfather and eventually a younger brother joining our family. But there is a wistful joy in the memory of just my parents and me, our little family in the country. As my husband and I get closer to starting our own little family, I can’t help but think of it often, though the trigger of the memory does not catch me off-guard anymore – whether it be tomatoes, rosemary, honeydew, or mint.
Written while listening to: Perpetuum Mobile, by The Penguin Café Orchestra