The Stuff of Life

David Wiley

A few years ago I moved to Northern California, where I have been dividing my time between my apartment in town and a farm in the hills belonging to my niece and her husband. When the pandemic struck, I began to stay at the farm on a more permanent basis.

Life on the farm has offered me many charms, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have a closer relationship with nature.

Not long after I had begun staying at the farm, my niece, Steena Marigold, offered me a glass of fresh juice she had just made, using organic fruits and vegetables, and an excellent juicer she had been using for several years. After taking a couple of swallows and ruminating on the complexity in the mix of flavors, I felt a kind of rush, along with something profound that couldn't be put into words. An ancient Japanese saying about tea came to mind: "The first sip is gladness, the second sip is joy; the third sip is bliss, the fourth sip is ecstasy." What I felt was not quite ecstasy, but it did give me a peculiarly blissful sensation. After I had finished the juice, I began to ask myself, "What is this stuff?" It was hard to find any definite answers to this question, although I felt it was right to ask it, never mind definite answers, which are not usually truthful anyway.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, most people have been living in a state of relative isolation. Everyone copes with it in different ways, I suppose. My way has been to focus on the small, ordinary things around me, a la Francis Ponge. I'm spending more time in the microcosmos, and I have found it a truly fascinating and edifying place. 

The second time I was treated to some of Steena's juice I had a vision of an Arcimboldo painting, a portrait made only with fruit and vegetables, arranged to look like a face, with eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc. It was just at the moment my head filled with the fruits and vegetables in the juice that the Arcimboldo painting appeared. There was nothing especially interesting or revealing about this apparition. But it was only the beginning of my experience with what I like to call the stuff of life, (or SOL for short).

My third experience with SOL brought up a memory of Huysman's A Rebours, a novel about an eccentric artist who made symphonies with exotic scents kept in corked glass bottles and released at just the right moment, and for just the right amount of time. This memory led me to Kandinsky and his ideas on synesthesia. Why could there not be, I reasoned with myself, a metaphorical relationship between the various tastes and the various colors? It would be a complicated metaphor indeed, but if, as I have always believed, color is a kind of language, why not taste as well?

I have discussed SOL with Steena a number of times. She also gets a rush from it. She likes its earthiness and the way it connects her with Nature. "It speaks to you," she says. "It tells you that you are living in a friendly universe on a friendly planet, and everything we need to become a greater species is here for us to discover and use." Steena talks about how SOL has musical qualities. It can be a symphony if enough ingredients are used. Or you can use only four ingredients and imagine a string quartet. We agreed that making SOL is an art form akin to poetry, music and painting. Perhaps it is a little more like painting than poetry and music, which are both temporal art forms. SOL, like a great painting, stays where it is for a time, without moving, while it works its magic on you.

Steena's list of fruits and vegetables includes: apples, carrots, lemon, oranges, mandarins, kale, turmeric, ginger, cucumber, celery, cabbage, pineapple, papaya, to give a partial list. Every new juice is at least slightly different from its precursors. Steena uses her educated instinct and intuition to decide on the right amount of each thing. She is open to trying a great variety of things. Her palette is almost endless. 

SOL reminds us of the variety of life, and that we learn from it by observation and comparison. If a glass of juice can transport you from a forest to a mountain top, from a river to the ocean, and back to the temple door again, very likely you have learned something worthwhile. A forest full of sunlight is certainly an illuminating experience. SOL teaches us that things are related sometimes in extraordinary ways, that everything we see, hear, taste, smell and feel is part of a great tapestry we are destined to understand one day.


1/2 bell pepper (seeded)
4 carrots (large)
3 celery stalks
1/2 lemon (peeled)
2 oranges (peeled)
1 apple (cored)
1/2 English cucumber
Or 1 regular size cucumber
3 leaves kale
1" cube ginger root

Makes about 3 cups. 

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Scene4 Magazine - David Wiley | www.scene4.com

David Wiley, painter-poet: graduate of U. Kansas; studied at Mexico City College and with artist Ignacio Belen in Barcelona. Widely traveled, he exhibits throughout California and abroad. Wiley has published two volumes of poetry: Designs for a Utopian Zoo (1992) and The Face of Creation (1996). Since 2005, Wiley has received large mural commissions in Arizona, Mexico and California. Wiley is a longtime contributor to Scene4 : paintings, poems, meditations on art, creative fiction and non-fiction. To inquire about his paintings, click here.
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