When my landlady was tidying up the yard the other day, she left a handful of apples, some sage and a calendula flower on the steps leading up to her apartment above me. This clutch of stuff — ingredients? still life? compost? — snagged my attention with its careless, thrown-together beauty. Like a tiny altar, it begged me to pause before it with a sense of appreciation and wonder. Was it going up the stairs or coming down? Would the sage go into a stuffing with the apples or float in a hot bath with the calendula petals? Or was it all going to the green compost bin?
These little altars, these little collections of random beauty that catch our imagination, are in fact everywhere, but the kitchen is a prime place for them to occur. A pile of peeled potato skins in an old chipped bowl, a fan of kale on a wooden table, the way a plate of pears absorbs the morning light and glows. Or, like the offerings left by my landlady, mysterious collections of things left here and there that tell a dozen different stories.
Their beauty is in part from their simplicity and availability, their everyday ordinariness. You do not have to travel far and pay admission to find these things, you just have to slow down and notice. Often they are temporary and even more beautiful for that. The sun will shift away from the plate of pears, the scraps will be swept into the compost. The child will come along and tumble the pyramid of apples. Gone.
So try keeping a look out for little altars today, for those moments when something ordinary is woken up and animated by your noticing, by your careful attention. What inside you responds to these things and answers them back? What is being given and what is being received? What is the gift?
(Image: Dana Velden)