On a cold winter's day, the wind howling around me, there's nothing I love more than being in the soup. Duck soup, at that. And I mean the literal kind. The big metal pot is simmering on the woodstove, the aroma rising through the house. The smell and faint bubbling sound of the broth bring a sense of satisfaction that seeps into every crack and crevice of the room.
I lean back in the easy chair and let the alchemy of cooking take over, one thing heated and added to another, all things greater than their parts, transformed into a new entity.
Everything in the pot has a history, a connection to my acreage near Kalona, Iowa - an old one-room schoolhouse that overlooks a valley of gently rolling hills. A tiny creek meanders through the farmland and eventually empties into a river that flows into the Mississippi.
Everything in the pot began here last spring as a much smaller version of itself.
Take the potatoes, for example: Pontiac Reds saved in the root cellar all winter, their eyes sprouting as the spring days grew warmer. The potatoes were sown into the ground on Good Friday.
The onions were sown soon after the potatoes, but instead of planting them in neat, straight rows, I scattered them throughout the garden. Their pungent odor wards off bugs and rabbits. Now I'm thinking of myself pulling into the lane at night and watching those rabbits scamper in my headlight beams.
Bear, the dog, dashes off after the varmints across the pasture toward the coop that sits on top of the hill. The ducks are locked away safely inside to protect them from the raccoon that roams the ditches. I hear the chorus of frogs croaking in the pond, and when their song fades by late June, the cicadas take up the call, ushering in the hotter days of July.
On the night of the Fourth, I sit near my garden, the few carrots I save for seed exploding with their own fanfare. All around, fireworks from three small town celebrations fill the air, and I follow the trails of the cascading comets. The drier August nights are more still. Noise carries far.
Bear barks at the fox down by Picayune Creek and winds his way home with a big scratch on his nose. Ultimately, he doesn't seem to mind and stretches out to sleep on his back near the garden gate, paws in the air.
The darkness is punctuated by the blinking lights of the fireflies and the blinking lights of the Amish buggies rolling up the hill. Above, August's meteor shower streaks the heavens. The moon waxes and wanes.
Below, the roots of the tomato and pepper plants wither, but in their place the turnips, rutabagas, radishes, and beets have begun to push up out of the earth in the cooler days of September. They stand up straight, firmly anchored to the soil, their colors vibrant in the muted haze. The leaves of the trees curl and fall.
Shenanigan and Mac, the goats, stand on their hind legs, twirling around to snatch the foliage before it touches the ground. Before all the trees are bare, the barometer drops and winter storm clouds envelop the sky.
Before I can take one bite of soup, snow settles over the landscape outside. Inside, the ingredients in the pot find their perfect balance, texture, and blend.
I pick up the spoon and dip it into the bowl. The entire world is contained within, and all is right again.