A week after Noah died, my baker friend Sam Fromartz baked this beautiful crown to honor his life and memory. Here is what he wrote: “When I made it, I was thinking about the Buddhist concept of Mandala, the circle of life, as all life begins and ends, but ultimately is connected. I also thought about the Mandala when I made the grigne, like a series of never-ending waves. The way the flour unexpectedly dusted one half the loaf but not the other also symbolized lightness and dark. For all these reasons I think this loaf works and hope it is worthy of a Crown for Noah.”
I was deeply touched. I know Noah would have loved the crown (he had a passion for crusty artisan bread). I also know the first thing he would have done is stick his arm through the hole in the middle and parade around the room wearing it like a gigantic bracelet and his sisters would have run after him: “My turn! My turn!” and the grown-ups would have been trying to retrieve the loaf (“Kids! We don’t play with food!”) and there would have been a lot of giggling and bustling about. The scene is so vivid that it is almost a memory… Thank you, Sam!
I told Sam that, with his permission, I would post the picture of the crown and his comments when I was back home and on the verge of resuming baking: today seems as good a day as any as we are indeed back home near Seattle and there is no more palpable reality in our day-to-day existence than the spinning of the circle of life and the play of light and darkness.
Going home was weird. First of all, those among you who believe in signs will probably love it that the first three letters of my confirmation number for the flight were NOA… Seriously, what are the odds? I know the code is computer-generated and meaningless but still it felt like a butterfly kiss before the trip back and it brought me joy.
Then our home was a time warp: I had forgotten that we had been in the process of decorating it for Christmas when we left precipitously on December 14th. There were boxes of ornaments left and right. The stepladder was still up. A red and white bead garland hung loose from one side of the doorframe. The tree stood unlit and petrified in a corner of the living area, like a stalagmite from the plant world incongruously decorated for the saddest of holidays. The star was pinned on the 13th on the naïve advent calendar I made for my kids out of a pillowcase back in 1974, a calendar their own kids love to see come out every year.
I turned on my computer only to find the browser stuck on the post I wrote before leaving. After seven weeks, it was like being rocketed back to a time before time we could barely recollect. So much had happened since.
We took the calendar down, untrimmed the tree, collected the window candles (we have little star ones from Ikea which need to be turned on manually, one-by-one, a task our grandkids love to take on) and removed their batteries, unhook the hanging garland and started packing Christmas away. Truth be told, I don’t know at this point that I’ll ever feel like getting the house ready for the holidays again. But then “ever” is a very short word for a very long time and things may change. Also there are the grandkids to think of…
Friends from the baking community came by over the weekend: one walked in carrying two containers of levain (wheat and rye) (For those of you who are not bakers, levain is the French word for sourdough starter). I hugged her on the spot: inexplicably both my levains had died while we were gone. Feeding the new starters felt good. Although I am not quite up to baking yet (still too distracted), it was a first step, a promise to myself.
She also brought gorgeous breads, crackers and cookies, including a marvelously potent beer bread we had with turkey chili on SuperBowl Sunday (not that we watched the game this year but still…). Others brought a sumptuous chocolate cake (we had a milestone birthday to celebrate) and a lovely Pithiviers. We sat around the kitchen table in the kids’ house. We chatted, caught up on everyone’s story. Life, interrupted, seeping back. Circles of love, still woven tight…