One day last week I found myself looking up the definitions for the words zephyr and vespers. English is my third language, and I nary a time hear these two words in my everyday conversations.
All at once, I found them dancing together in a poem by Pauline Johnson entitled Moonset
Idles the night wind through the dreaming firs
That waking murmur low,
As some lost melody returning stirs
The love of long ago;
And through the far, cool distance, zephyr fanned,
The moon is sinking into shadow-land.
The troubled night bird, calling plaintively,
Wanders on restless wing;
The cedars, chanting vespers to the sea,
Awaits its answering,
That comes in wash of waves along the strand,
The while the moon slips into shadow-land.
I know I’ve heard the trees of Quadra Island chanting vespers to the sea by moonlight. I stand perfectly still and listen intently when they do. Nonetheless, I did not know what vespers meant.
If you are anything like me, you use an online dictionary these days to look up your words. It’s quick and dirty, fast and cheap, like those drive-through stores that sell burgers, fries and pop. To look up a definition online, you don’t have to get up from your seat to get a dictionary. You don’t even have to know how to spell the word accurately. The search engine will make an educated guess for you and bring up the correct spelling. In fact, we could almost forget how to spell altogether. We could almost forget which letter follows which, as we don’t have to leaf through any pages or sift through entries in their correct alphabetical order.
Over the course of the few years I have been using online dictionaries I notice that the quality, the breadth and depth of the definitions provided, has decreased. Meanwhile, the advertisements beckoning me to click here and click now have increased in both size and numbers, cluttering my page and diverting me from my business. I have even been told that I can “Buy zephyr (or whatever) now” from one online mega-marketplace or another.
Such is the world of fast food, fast words and fast tricks we live in. We comfort ourselves that these time saving measures make our lives easier. We have other more pressing things on our TO DO list. Never mind the basic skills and simple pleasures that are atrophying unnoticed.
For this word search, however, some quiet force prodded me, nay, shamed me, to go to my bookshelf, where I keep a stash of funky old dictionaries precisely for emergencies such as these. I pulled down a black and red brick of a book; slow-world, thick, onion-papery soft; a tome heavy enough to be implicated as a murder weapon yet light enough to carry the meaning of the universe in its yellowing pages.
Then I went to the kitchen to pour myself a tall glass of freshly fermented kombucha before returning to my desk to read my dictionary. For days my sweetheart had been lovingly nursing this batch of kombucha, along from a new ‘baby’ mushroom given to us by our neighbor Anna; making sure it stayed warm enough yet cool enough, contaminant free and comfortable, singing to it even, like one sings to plants to help them grow. We are experimenting with different fruits and herbs to flavor our kombucha, and this is our mother batch.
I took a long, slow sip of the mother batch, and flipped to the Z section. Zephyr :
The west wind, a wisp of a fabric, anything light and ethereal. Zephyrus:
In Greek Mythology, the mildest and gentlest of the sylvan deities. Vespers:
evening song or prayer; evening worship. Vesper
is the planet Venus when an evening star. How poetic, I thought.
The other thing about holding a dictionary in your hand is that it transforms the meaning of the verb to browse. Browsing in a dictionary is a much more self directed experience than browsing online, I noted. I decided to see if I could find the meaning of the word kombucha in my dictionary. It was not there, although the book did post a very short entry for kvaas. My online dictionary search returned a “ No search results for kombucha. Did you mean kombus?” along with no less than six sources where I could purchase kombucha mushrooms at the best prices. To my computer’s credit, it did offer several other links promising information on what kombucha might be, one leading to a medical dictionary.
Kombucha is powerful medicine indeed. Before the advent of pop drinks, energy drinks, factory-packaged water and even fruit juice, many households fermented an array of brews to quench the thirst and lift the spirit, made from barley or beets or whey. In medieval England, where water was once thought unsafe and unfashionable to drink, every household brewed their own ale or purchased home brewed ale from an ale wife. Brewing and selling ale was one of the few professions allowed to women, in fact. Many ale wives began adding common medicinal herbs to their wort (the unfermented malt), for extra potency in their brew.
We have Soviet scientists doing cancer research to thank for the advent of the Kombucha mushroom, which isn’t actually a mushroom but a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria that looks like a big mushroom head. The kombucha interacts with black tea and sugar to produce acetic and lactic acid as well as smaller amounts of glucuronic acid. This glucuronic acid, also produced naturally by the healthy liver, detoxifies and acts as a strong immune system booster. It binds the toxins in our body, both environmental and metabolic, and escorts them right out, whether they want to leave or not, for once the glucuronic acid binds the toxins, they cannot be reabsorbed into the system. It’s like having your own personal biological toxin bouncer.
Beet kvaas, another traditional tonic fermented with whey, was once a staple in many households. In addition to the valuable nutrients in the beets, the kvass promotes digestion, cleanses the blood and the liver and is considered a home remedy for kidney stones.
Both these drinks are easy to make, but both involve taking a permanent detour from the fast lane.
Come the middle of March
(March 12- March 25 approx.), as the zephyr begins to replace the winter wind and the new cedar buds learn to chant their baby vespers to the sea, Foodwisdom will host a series of workshops on Quadra Island, once again at Perrywinkle Cottage, with our Red Seal Chef Antonietta Gesualdi at the helm in the kitchen, with her daughter, Sous Chef Maria assisting.
We invite you to come join us at our Kombucha Bar.
Currently we are working on firming up specific dates for the series of workshops, which include;
- Fresh Organic White Spelt Pasta Workshop
(Rolling pins welcome. We never use pasta machines in our pasta workshops)
- Authentic Italian Pasta Sauces
- Cheese Making
- Slow Fermentations and Kombucha Bar
To reserve your spot on our invitation list please email me at pantryfoodwisdom.ca, or Carol at carol.perryislandbliss.ca.
We’d love to hear from you, your desires, your evening song.
© Francesca Gesualdi, 2012Moonset
by Pauline Johnson http://www.canadianpoetry.ca/confederation/johnson/white_wampum/moonset.htm