Snow and Sage

Once again, school was called off due to weather, but since Dido is on his antibiotic-fueled, post-strep mend, he wouldn't have gone today anyway, and the Babe had zero intention of attending without him. It's bad enough, this school every day plan, without the security blanket of her protective and doting big brother...so we breathed a joint sigh of relief when email revealed our reprieve.

I was restless last night, maybe got four or five hours, so the whole day wore that haze of fatigue that manifests more as slow than sleepy. Luckily, I spent the morning cooking--a butternut squash soup from a recipe given to be my dearest L.A. cooking buddy, and the whole house was perfumed with roasting garlic and simmering stock scented with sage. Lovely.

This batch of soup used up the last of a bundle of dried sage I carefully gathered from our house-before-last, our first home in Hollywood, perched high on a ridge with a jetliner view of downtown Los Angeles. The house was medium sized, a 1960s long and low box, nothing fancy, but its rear was walls of glass that made people gasp when they entered the front door, not so much, I like to think, from sudden feelings of vertigo but from appreciation of the beautiful, sparkling city laid out below, cleansed by darkness and distance of its grime, and the hideous traffic turned into magic, moving decoration.

The hill below the house was steep, and just scrubby when we moved in, covered in weeds and thoughtlessly-planted eucalyptus: though the trees are pretty, they are a dreadful fire hazard, and discouraged--highly--in the fire-prone hills of L.A. We always thought that someday, we might turn that lot, large by Angeleno standards, into something usable. Finally we saved some money and before bothering to remodel the kitchen or baths (all of which could have used some, um, freshening,) we leapt into reforming the earth outside.

We found a brilliant landscape architect who alternately infuriated and infatuated me, and who I quickly learned was more of a sculptor whose medium was things growing than a designer of walls or gardens. We pretty much put ourselves entirely in his hands, and within months, the hillside had been not tamed, but definitely calmed: it had a path, and a secluded deck with a magical view, and great swaths of native (read: low water need) plants, including a host of wild sages that we picked out together one day at an esoteric nursery.

Rob was the last person we told that we were selling that house, partly in fear that if he knew we were abandoning his work, he wouldn't want to finish some outstanding small tasks, but also because on some level, it broke my heart to leave that wild garden. It smelled divine, and to see that arid, ugly hillside accept and nurture a green and silver and red living carpet was moving in a way I never expected. Before we left, I wandered among the sages and clipped an enormous bunch of leaves, which I tied together with a silk ribbon and dried in my new kitchen. Whenever I needed sage for a recipe, I'd pinch it from the bundle and fly into nostalgia. Eating the last of it today felt a bit like savoring the last taste of my California life; and even though that life is still so present for me in my friendships and my memories, I know that like my fragrant, sage-y hillside, memory is where it now resides.


Froggymama said...

What a lovely post. It sounds like a commentary on All Things Considered. You should submit it!

Meeps said...

what wonderful writing.

What a view - I had forgotten. Actually makes Los Angeles look beautiful

goodfellow said...

When I think of Los Angeles, that is the view in my mind's eye... How amazing! You sure have lived in a few amazing houses, and each of them so different.

I loved the work of your landscape architect... our property back home needs work, although it has lots of potential, but there is no one in town who's work I like -- and I wonder how far afield you can go for a landscape architect (there are great ones in Toronto of course)?

Thank you for the soup recipe -- I have a butternut squash eyeing me on my kitchen counter, begging me to turn it into something, and this sounds perfect (the smell of roasting garlic makes me swoon).