"Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud?"When we were children at the French American Bilingual School, like all French children in French schools everywhere, we memorized and recited poems and stories. One of these is La Cigale et la fourmi, The Cicada and the Ant, which you can read in passable translation here. This story, I just realized, is lodged in me deep.
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse.
— "Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise."
— "Vous chantiez ? J’en suis fort aise.
Eh bien! Dansez maintenant."
- Jean de la Fontaine, La Cigale et la fourmi
The point of the story is that the little ant works all summer, working and preparing for winter, while the cicada sings. When winter comes, the cicada has nothing set by and goes begging to the ant. Who asks the cicada, Well, what did you do all summer long? And when the cicada says, so pleased with herself, why, that she had sung, the ant says, You sang? How delightful. Now dance.
And that's the end of that. The moral not lost on generations of kids: make hay while the sun still shines. But so much prettier than that.
The fable itself just trips off the tongue. The words themselves are music, and I can remember myself in a line-up of charming children in navy blue jumpers or pants and white shirts, red ribbons in my own hair, reciting this, sing-song, the story itself imprinting itself all the way inside me.
I realized, moments ago, the hold La Fourmi has on me, as I was considering my own hesitation to go anywhere at all in the summer. We've been having a fantastic weekend, but I am plagued by a little ant-y voice whispering that I am letting the sun get away from me, the time to harvest and prepare. I think about how satisfied I was two weekends ago when I made a load of pesto from basil in the garden, how I felt last weekend crushing comb for jars and jars of honey. There's something so deeply comforting about stocking the larder before winter, and conversely something so disturbing to me about not spending the time required to maximize the return on the spring investment. But I've been choosing to sing instead of work. I know the singing is good for me, but the work still pulls.
All the way to a fantastic morning and afternoon in Point Reyes yesterday, I hesitated. If I stayed home, I could tackle those white flowers in [garden] Box 4 that I've been meaning to clear for ages. If I stayed home, I could compost, start harvesting apples, make a pear tart, write, roast that butternut squash that we harvested, dig potatoes. The list goes on and on. I wish there were a different word than "work" to describe it really, since work carries with it the baggage of not-joy. The work I'm talking about it is nothing but joy.
As we stood in line at the Point Reyes Station Farmers Market yesterday morning, waiting for our delicious grilled cheese sandwiches with a fried egg inside (dreamy!), a friend of a friend was surprised when Joe said there were a lot of Bay Area things we had never done. Which is weird, for two natives. He meant things like going wine tasting, or eating at famous restaurants like Chez Panisse or French Laundry, or any number of other things that this person, not-native, was talking about which I can't even remember now. We only went to Alcatraz two years ago, for example, almost to the day, a cold weird day with Blue Angels flying overhead and Joe stumbling around in a chemo-induced fog.
Anyway, yesterday, standing in line, we had just emerged from a great yoga class at Yoga Toes with the charming Nicholas Giacomini, aka MC Yogi. He was great and funny and awesome, and he played James Brown which RULES. It was so sweet for me to have Joe in yoga with me, just like old times. To be there, we had opted not to do our usual Saturday morning thing -- Joe hours on the bike with his teammates, me hours in Sausalito with the kula, then reuniting at home for lunch and garden. We chose to skip that and spend the day with Peggy and Jim in West Marin, stay away from our Country Mouse chores and just hang out. It's kind of a new thing we're doing, trying to take a weekend-day a month and step outside our pattern.
So much fun but really so hard for us.
Anyway, this friend of Peggy's with whom we were waiting for sandwiches, just couldn't imagine what we were doing with our time that we weren't partaking of all of these wonders of the area, all of these resources. I felt funny trying to explain the pull that Home has for us. It was hard for me to imagine being someone without this need to be INSIDE the very ground I walk on, that maybe she doesn't know what it feels like to know that that eggplant you're eating is something you yourself put in the ground, coaxed from seed, protected against the incursion of birds and voles, until it came to glorious fruition, a celebration of soil and summer on your palate. I wasn't always like this, raised on concrete and noise, but here I am, in full revel of my country side, hardly able to tear myself away from our small plot of earth.
Years and years later, I see how all that early life indoctrination turned out, how much I am La Fourmi, industriously gathering and planning for the future. Even while I'm out singing and eating and window-shopping with my friends, still the teeny tiny little ant inside is keeping track of where the sun is and how much time remains. A little Cigale but mostly, mostly Fourmi.
and just because i love this song and it makes me laugh and it has some tiny bit to do with today's theme, here's Flea singing "Little Pea." Just listen, nothing to see here. :)