But first a weather bulletin... it was -1F (-18C) at Stratheden this morn, thus far the coldest this winter by 12 degrees. Its not unusual here at 2,500 feet elevation here in the Blue Ridge Mountains for winter temperatures to approach zero. In the six years at (or should I say 'in') Stratheden, twice it has plummeted to -8F, most recently last February. Then, like this episode, it had been unseasonably warm before the plunge. It must be devastatingly brutal to the wild inhabitants of the farm who have not been slowly acclimated to those potentially deathly lows.
This post has been rattling around in a nearly empty head for several weeks now, attempting to determine how to approach it with greatest clarity. Time to give up and just write, right? What follows is not meant as a comprehensive list of lovely gifts but an especial four that seem to best exemplify the notion and illuminate the variety of possibilities of the title of this posting, "The gift is small, goodwill is all."
A very touching gift, because of its traditional nature and the relationship betwixt giver and receiver, cost nothing. It was a bundle of home grown sage and two small bags of home grown orinco tobacco. Touching the spirit always touches the heart.
Totally unexpected gifts are always powerful and often come from unanticipated givers. The day before Christmas Eve found Mr. Fuzzy motoring through town, headed back to the farm from the eastern side of the county; the hour was past 1:30 and the stomach was in contemplation of gnawing on the backbone for sustenance. The Blue Ridge Cafe was serving lunch and a surfeit of open tables meant service would be prompt. The chicken salad sandwich hardly blunted the hunger pangs and atypically, pie & ice cream was ordered - and consumed. Waddling up to the register, the bill was presented - the amount had to be in error, far too little, and this was raised with the waitress (who was also operating the register), to which she replied (in part*), "Merry Christmas, the pie was from me." With certainty, that was not going to qualify as a 'comp' and it would be deducted from her meager earnings. I stumbled for words and could only mumble 'thank you' as I turned for the door so my tears would not be perceived. [*There is more to the quotation regarding another person but not appropriate to note here.]
A third gift was delivered to the farm, a gift basket with a wide assortment of home made delights. It struck a chord of almost lost memory, back into the 1950s when families exchanged home made gift baskets with other families. Sometime these were in the form of crafts but most often they were baskets of foods with individual servings, one for each family member, tied up in bandannas or cloth scraps - which provided color and were reusable, a virtue then in vogue.
The bottom of Mrs. Herman Baskett's basket always held a pan of rich fudge for me, wrapped in a blue or red bandanna which served as a handkerchief for me through the year (in those days, they were American made and might survive five plus years in steady use by a snotty kid). The last time such a basket was given in our family was about 1990; now all the old folks who practised humble and heartfelt giving have all gone to their eternal reward - but no, a young woman in Floyd county still kept the tradition. With every bite of a sugar cookie or chocolate encrusted pretzel from the basket, not only was the giver honored but all those of Mr. Fuzzy' childhood. This was not only delicious treats but a link to times and friends long gone except from my memory, a double gift, if you will, and one of much power.
Like the first gift, the fourth gift comes from the eighteenth century and cost nothing monetarily; it was a home made 'craft' small enough to hold in your palm, just a chip of wood and two brass tacks. Well, some might describe it that way. Here, not only is the gift extraordinary, but also the presentation, as one might expect from a Master of Arts like Mr. Lalioff. It is unique, too, because the maker/giver knew Mr. Fuzzy has lusted after this master work for more than a decade. The greatness of art comes from neither size nor complexity...
Native Americans in the northeastern colonies made bowls and ladles from wooden burls before contact with Europeans. The replacement of hot coals and beaver tooth scrapers by steel tools changed the forms but little. All objects except for plain bowls (which may not be of Native origin) always refer to a Sacred Being and must have been reserved for ceremonial use exclusively. A fine 18th century burl bowl can bring $40,000 or more - they are very rare and highly sought after. Even with modern tools, burl's irregular gnarly grain structure makes working the medium difficult, but Lalioff has vast empirical knowledge, having created large bowls and intricately detailed pipes.
Mr. Lalioff was inspired by an original artifact at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in Cooperstown, New York. If most burlware was involved with containing a sacred substance, then some device had to be used to fill the bowl with that material and also to empty it, especially a medicine administered to a human being: a spoon. In all likelihood, some of the ladles performed this action... but a spoon, hmmmmm.
The architecture and difficulty of construction make this an awesome artwork but the patination is the positive mark of a Master, a creator who makes an exhaustive and integrative approach to bringing an artifact into being. Every aspect must be considered and accounted for in the piece. Mr. Fuzzy is hardly able to contemplate an object more complete in execution. And, as a master considering all aspects, the wrapping was a delight to behold and consider, brain tanned hide, natural linen ribbon and an 18th century newspaper article that the giver knew was attached tot he receiver. Sir, I am awe struck by the gift, the presentation and the thought. On the verge of speechless a fortnight later. It is already called out in my will as it must be cherished by an appropriate care taker.
2014 was a difficult year made right by friends and their particular aspects of thoughtfulness. Just the gift is your friendship is enough, without material manifestation. Thank you all. You bring my life to a special level of fulfillment that cannot be reached by one person alone.