100 Words #391 - Zen and Wit in One Man's Meat

The first night of the meditation/family retreat, I was delighted to discover a dear friend would be my neighbor for the week, both of us bunking in rooms in the main house. 

"You left your door open", he said when we ran into each other on the stairs. 

"Oh yes, I was just down the hall for a minute." 

"I noticed that book, One Man's Meat by E.B. White on your stand. What's it about?"

I lit up. "I'm so excited about that book. It's a book of E.B. White's essays - one I haven't yet read. I found it at a vintage book sale in Woodstock VT last weekend. Have you read his essays?" 


"Oh! You must! I think you'd like them. He had quite a charming sense of humor -- really witty in a way few are anymore, and he has this non-obtrusive way of weaving in social commentary. He just writes about life in the most delightful, self-effacing, intelligently amusing way. From what I understand, these essays were written when he first went to the farm in Maine, before he wrote Charlotte's Web." 

A rare photo of E.B. White (as in I couldn't find it on Google) fills the back cover. 

A rare photo of E.B. White (as in I couldn't find it on Google) fills the back cover. 

No one, least of all E.B. White himself, expected essays of farm life to become a classic.

"The Classics edition opened with an introduction by Morriss Bishop, and this delighted me, because it was Professor Bishop who, years before, when he discovered I was headed for the country, had said, "I trust that you will spare the reading public your little adventures in contentment."  

The charm of a good book at the right time is the way parallels jump off the page. As I was immersed in meditation--a discipline of waking up--while surrounded by children of all ages, I read White's new introduction to this 1982 reprint of the 1938 original. 

"Once in everyone's life there is apt to be a period when he is fully awake, instead of half asleep. I think of those five years in Maine as the time when this happened to me. Confronted by new challenges, surrounded by new acquaintances--including the characters in the barnyard, who were later to reappear in Charlotte's Web--I was suddenly seeing, feeling, and listening as a child sees, feels, and listens. It was one of those rare interludes that can never be repeated, a time of enchantment."

Or driving around the region chatting with another friend of my plan to grow old with a couple of chickens, a cat, and an old shadow of a dog among the hills in this Northeast corner of Vermont. White writes:

"Despite the great blizzard of April, the swallows arrived on schedule and are busy remodeling the mud nests in the barn. The goose sits. Rhubarb is showing. (I used to eat rhubarb because I loved rhubarb. Now I eat it because it retards arthritis.) The Egg has been an enduring theme in my life, and I have allowed my small flock of laying hens to grow old in service. Cosmetically they leave much to be desired, but their ovulation is brisk, and I greet them with the same old gag when I enter the pen: "White here. Cubism is dead."

There are mechanical books of farm life, and there are romanticized books of farm life, and then there is E.B. White who mingles his mischievous humor with clear-eyed observations of the rhythms of life--the things that stay, the things that decay. It is applicable to all of life. Just as the Buddhist contemplates emptiness and impermanence, so too did White from the vantage point of his saltwater farm.

E.B. White One Man's Meat

At the end of retreat I was given this handwoven bookmark by the Buddhist Teacher-In-Residence as a thank-you for work I had done. She had no idea how beautifully this tied it all together. 

Writing Prompt Weekly Challenge

From One Man's Meat, your word prompt for this week's 100 Word Challenge is: