Forget fickle summer; give me a fall day, any day.
The aspen trees in the rolling hills reveal their genetic heritage as the vast clones take turns changing to brilliant gold. Red osier dogwood and highbush cranberry broaden the palette with deep red in the undergrowth.
When it is crisp and clear with a blue sky backdrop, it is heaven. Especially when I can enjoy the view with a good mug of coffee.
One of my favorite mugs is an earthy pottery mug with blue bands to approximate sky and water, a range of stylized mountains, and forest between the two. If you flip the mug, there is the outline of a unicorn and the artist’s name, Toni.
Toni was my best friend’s mother. She was an elfin creature for whom the unicorn was a perfect symbol. Most of my memories of her are from the rural property where she and her husband carved out a new life in the middle of the “back to the land” movement in the seventies.
Family of five in a teeny tiny log cabin, with a dog, rabbits and a milk goat named Bridget. I am sure they had a copy of Five Acres and Independence, which graced my family’s bookshelf in a house made from two nailed together shacks 10 miles away.
There were few neighbors, but the snowy sentinels of Tweedsmuir Park kept watch from across the valley.
Pottery was not Toni’s sole livelihood. The bills were mostly paid from the proceeds of her crews planting tiny green tufted seedlings in the burned and blackened or slash strewn surface of logging blocks. Both activities embodied her reverence for the natural world.
For decades, Toni’s pottery was clustered on her table at the Christmas bazaars in the little community halls across the area. One of her signature pieces was “the mountain mug.” She threw hundreds of them on her wheel and sold them too cheaply, in keeping with artistic tradition. Her customers were treated to a soft and genuine kindness. We weren’t what you would call a highly stratified society. But even in the upper echelons of the less broke class, it was and still is good form to serve coffee or tea in a mountain mug on any occasion.
The mountain mugs are beautiful, but not perfect. Every one is original. Many have chips or cracks, but their owners still hold them close. Artful and aesthetically pleasing, they are meant to serve their purpose. They are out there, travelling across kitchens, bumping around in pickups, or carried around the yard during inspections of the fleeting bounty of berries and greens in the northern summer garden.
Eight mountain mugs have graced our kitchen table over the years. We have shared them, loved them, and loaned and gifted them. The four survivors are amongst the last of their kind.
About 10 years ago, Toni died too young from what seemed a sudden illness. More honestly stated, she faded away in plain sight. She left us in the long shadow of regrets—hers and ours. That spring, her ashes were carried up the forest trails to the top of the one true mountain among the hills I can see while writing these words. Sky above, water below, her mountain overlooks millions of the trees her crews planted, measured, and tended.
Nothing is permanent—not a mug, not a life, not even a mountain that will eventually be reduced to clay.
We are going to suffer knocks and dings and various forms of breakage.
These bittersweet reflections remind me that our unique gifts are not for the back shelf. We need to get them out there, where they can be of service. Maybe, like the mountain mug, they will have a special kind of resonance. At very least, we owe it to our future selves when the winter of our lives looms cold.
Let’s remove all the regrets we can—the largest being that we never tried.