By David Wright
There in front of me was a plate, full of steaming, wonderfully garnished squash. Here and there was a spattering of crispness, all colored in handsome golden brown. Steam rose from this main course much like a wisp of vapor from the geysers of Yellowstone, and the aroma hinted of maple syrup and a magical touch of sage. It was a grand presentation, making the vegetable elegant, if not regal. Denise, the quietly smiling cook, had in her way made a statement and almost philosophical presentation that seemed to say, “Here is the world as I see it.”
The first bite brought together all the robustness of this fine dish. But it was the sage that wrinkled my brain. It is the simple spice of the garden and, interestingly, wild prairies and woodland openings. It was just magic there nestled in the golden flesh of nature’s bounty, the squash, the gift of Wisconsin’s natives.
In truth, the dinner was also set off by the lifting of a few drafts of fine wine, and that also enhanced the overall ambiance. I remember pausing and reflecting on the Wild West we once settled on the high plains of Colorado. We had a tepee then, and there was no way to avoid the wild plants and the many smells of the chamisa and sage and the wild sunflowers of late fall. It was there we learned to use the grey-blue leaves of wild sage, to smudge the canvas lodge for a quick spiritual cleansing—more likely a crafty method of ridding the place of the smell of musty dogs and wet kids. It was an odor never forgotten, and here it was on the squash.
With the plate full of squash consumed along with the other offerings, we drifted off to conversation possibly moved by the culinary delights.
I asked, “Doesn’t that sage take your mind to drifting?”
Next to me, I think it was Rick who remarked, “I suspect you just want to be a sage.”
“A sage?” Well, that is not a bad idea, but it was not where I was going.
I looked at him apparently puzzled but enjoying the jump of language. I’m sure I lifted an eye and twisted a lip, but he held with an inquisitive grin.
This is the guy whose favorite book is Crime and Punishment. Was I about to get sage stuff from him? I thought a sage was a positive sort of an individual, not some Russian literature-lover who enjoyed trudging through a heinous crime singing “The Volga Boatman.”
While whiffs of the seasoning and the faint hint of the Wild West crossed my mind’s paths, others heard the word sage being bandied about and, out of nowhere, a sage wannabe at the end of the table, Jim of New Hope, leaned forward and, with some fanfare, made the following statement: “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” He thought it was Aristotle but later said Socrates. “Hey man, that was very sage like.”
All of us sitting around the table were old enough to be sages but had never given it a real thought, probably because there was not a real call for sages. Still, Pontificator?
In thinking about a possible new career, a sage did have a certain ring to it, and the instantaneous recognition the Sage of New Hope had just garnered certainly indicated that some community hierarchal gain might be available to a well versed pontificator/sage, even though there would likely be no financial rewards—free wine, maybe.
It was then while thinking of sagedom that Tom made knowledgeable references to Nepalese monks finding comfort in simple surroundings and non-materialistic life. I was sure the holy ones said many sagey things.
For a brief moment I suspect we all expected to experience a pause, a quiet moment, and Tom would begin by saying, “Grasshopper.” He had our attention but probably sensed we were not grasshoppers. Thoughts flew around. Books were mentioned, and we drifted off trying to understand the plight of man while still immersed in the smell of the sage-infused squash and the fine taste of that well executed Old Fashioned.
Being a sage could be rewarding, and I am still working on it. Right now, I will be sticking to enjoying the wonderful flavor over squash, fancying the faint smell of sage drifting across a Wisconsin prairie, and contemplating the history and magic of burning sage. Then, too, there are real sages offering us words to guide our lives, or at least to pause in reflection.
“If and when everyone is mindlessly stupid, will anyone notice?”
“In this world shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas, virtue if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”
“Science reminds us that we dwell in a mystery that is ultimately more to be savored than to be solved.”
“From such crooked wood from which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.”
“Those that make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.”
—Martin Luther King
“The highest form of bliss is living with a certain degree of folly.”
“Men argue; nature acts.”
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