Yesterday and the day before reminded me of my students in the Pacific Northwest, blinding sunlit heat interspersed with rogue patches of freezing, dripping fog—weather as an embrace of polar opposites. As I squeezed in a twenty-minute beach walk, wind was beating the fog back toward the sea. I heard maniacal laughter emitting from a cloud, wet suited surfers appearing and disappearing a few feet away from me.
It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, today, and the weather report says when the rain ends in a few days, the long, endless warm season will be over. Children decided, against my recommendation, that this is a perfect brownie baking day. The soup pot is bubbling, soup made from roasted chicken stock from last May’s rainy season.
At some point, multitasking is another word for chaos, as the boy insisted his grilled cheese sandwich be eaten even though he was in the middle of chopping potatoes for soup. I was wrestling with the computer: I am trying to lighten my backpack by using the Palm Pilot more effectively, so I was downloading tide charts and the lunar calendar, searching for the church calendar and lectionary online, too. Somewhere in there, I waltzed to the stove to stir the soup, and I realized a third of my wooden spoon has burned off or is still somewhere in the soup, disguised as a piece of chicken or potato.
The cook and developmental psychologist’s dilemma: do I tell? If I tell a nearly six-year-old that there may be a charred piece of wood in his soup, he will be looking for a charred piece of wood in every bowl of soup until he is twelve. If I tell a nearly eight-year-old that there may be a charred piece of wood in her soup, she will tell me she didn’t want my homemade chicken soup anyway, that in fact all chicken soup is yukky and she hates it, that she won’t eat one bite except maybe the carrots. (I always quadruple the carrots in the soup, for this very reason.)
On the back burner of my mind, behind the baking brownies, the six-year-old dishwasher splattering, the eight-year-old arranging miniature dogs on the windowsill, the husband looking for a missing car registration, I marvel the funny irony of a tide chart on a handheld computer. The world we live in! I am trying to figure out nature by looking at a computer! I adjust the screen display to my exact beach location, which changes the time of high tide by two minutes, corrects the whole chart to match the yellowed fold-out paper tide chart from my local hardware store, which lives on the refrigerator until it is too stained to read. Our favorite beach all but disappears at high tide, so there is a practical purpose to this function. And outside of the practical, my Palm offers me a “you are here” arrow on a beautiful color graph, and the times of sunrise and sunset, to the minute. I hope to download a calendar of meteor showers and astronomical events, too, and Jewish holidays. And the pattern for the sweater I am knitting. I am too good at losing little slips of paper and forgetting details of upcoming appointments, and if I fill the Palm with fun information, I will look for these necessary factoids more often.
It’s the “to do” list I use most often, the antidote to all the paper lists I promptly forget and lose as soon as I write them. Don’t forget: the windshield needs replaced. The valve on the washing machine, too, and it’s time to sign up to take flowers to the girl’s classroom. Don’t forget visitors and trips that fill October, don’t forget that the boy is expecting a birthday party this year and the girl wants a fuzzy black bat costume to match the boy’s fuzzy black bat costume, so buy another yard of black fleece and find a black hat for ears.
Don’t forget… don’t forget autumn is the most beautiful season of the year, my favorite. Don’t forget that it’s time to visit some of our friends who are getting very old, don’t forget that time passes so quickly and they may need our affection to get through the winter, though they would never ask for it. Don’t forget to walk, while the streets are still easy to maneuver. Don’t forget that everything will seem too busy, very soon, as if everything is leading up to the holidays. Don’t forget to breathe deeply the ocean air.
The tide chart is complete and correct, the lunar calendar is left to figure out. The soup is steaming and good enough for two bowls. “Watch for bay leaves,” I warn, deciding that is all the information they really need on an unhurried day to slowly eat soup.