I call it an idle afternoon, though I know I ought to be doing something productive. One onerous task that I've started to work on is to finish off the leftovers sitting around in the fridge. I compounded the challenge the other day, when it suddenly occurred to me that summer was vanishing and we hadn't yet made a supply of pesto.
It was a beautiful day, as I recall, the sky was clear, the air was very cool. I'd gotten up early, and the thought suddenly popped into my head—pesto time. Not the time to eat it, but to make it. This would entail a trip to the downtown farmer's market, a mere twelve minutes away, to pick up a few big clumps of fresh basil. Well, Friday is a very good time to visit. You can park right next to the stalls and crowds are non-existent, though quite a few growers and vendors are there.
I left the house at 7:55, made a brief stop at the bridge over Bassett Creek to measure the water clarity (100+), and continued down Plymouth Avenue with the delicate piano sounds of Emannuel Chambrier completing the scene. (It occurred to me, as I drifted past Homewood Studios, that Chambrier has touches of Poulenc's zip, Satie's dream-like atmosphere, and Ravel's classic structure. He ought to be included among that stellar group of younger composers: the Godfather of Les Six.)
Weaving my way into the parking lot between a Metro Mobility driver who was helping a passenger disembark and a fork-lift driver unloading a pallet of potatoes, I pulled into a spot alongside the flower stall that's been occupied by the same cheerfully spacy merchant for as long as I can remember.
As I climbed the concrete steps to the middle aisle I looked up and found myself face to face with some of the most attractive bundles of basil I'd ever seen, bright green and glistening, no doubt from a recent spray of water. Though I usually wander a bit, evaluating the various products, I didn't hesitate to purchase three bundles for $1 apiece.
All would have been well, had I not lingered, coming upon some nice eggplants and a carton of red onions. (I love red onions in salads, but do we really need five of them?) Then there were the sweet potatoes...
I made the pesto later that day, spooned it into ziplock bags, and tossed them into the freezer. We took care of the eggplant over the weekend by breading and baking them, then topping them with a tomato sauce that made use of some yellow onions. (Another purchase that I neglected to mention.)
So here I sit, wolfing down the remains of a quinoa salad from CostCo while thumbing through Thoreau's journals. It's his 200th birthday, more or less. We are sometimes given the impression that Thoreau was a woodsy loner who looked upon hardworking farmers as deluded materialists, but in fact he took a interest in all aspects of village and country life, and had a healthy respect for anyone who attended carefully to nature's ways whether wild or domestic. On February 22, 1852, he wrote:
"After having read various books on various subjects for some months, I take up a report on Farms by a committee of Middlesex Husbandmen, and read of the number of acres of bog that some farmer has redeemed, and the number of rods of stone wall that he has built, and the number of tons of hay he now cuts, or of bushels of corn or potatoes he raises there, and I feel as if I had got my foot down on to the solid and sunny earth, the basis of all philosophy, and poetry, and religion even. I have faith that the man who redeemed some acres of land the past summer redeemed also some parts of his character. I shall not expect to find him ever in the almshouse or the prison. He is, in fact, so far on his way to heaven. When he took the farm there was not a grafted tree on it, and now he realizes something handsome from the sale of fruit. These, in the absence of other facts, are evidence of a certain moral worth.
The beauty of Thoreau's Journal is that you can dip in anywhere and are likely to find thoughts of poetic or philosophical interest, well expressed but not diluted by the desire to embroider or inflate to a loftier level.
If I were taking ten books to a desert island, the Journal would be one of them. I'm grateful that New York Review Books has issued a splendid paperback edition, edited by Damion Searls, that runs to a mere 667 pages. I doubt if it contains one tenth of the original, but it will do me for a lifetime.