My senses and heart have been overloaded these past two months during our Midwest travels and stays. We’ve made the Findlay Family Farm (on my mother’s side) the hub of our adventures. Whether at the farm, or my sister’s home in Indiana, or friends’ homes in Troy, Ohio, or Caesar’s Creek Campground south of Dayton, we find ourselves nestled in God’s diverse expressions of His glory through His creation and creatures.
Perspective is a view. A change of location changes one’s view, which should influence one’s perspective. For years I viewed the Midwest from an insider’s viewpoint. We’ve now lived in Arizona for ten years. From there I’ve acquired an outsider’s view of the Midwest.
Have you lived in various regions of the country or world? How does moving from one place to another impact your understandings of other places and people and even your understanding of yourself?
I find that we tend to accept stereotypes of other regions based upon generalizations we’ve heard or from limited exposure and experience. Many of my Midwestern friends view Arizona as just hot, dry, brown, and desert. Why would you want to live in that barren heat? And here we live in a diverse, mile high valley surrounded by mountains covered with Ponderosa pines.
Five lakes dot our huge county. We have four mild seasons and even occasional, short-lived winter snows. With low humidity, 300 days of sun each year, and what is rated as the cleanest air in the USA, why would one not be attracted to central Arizona?
Many in Arizona view the Midwest as without beauty, boring. The west has dramatic beauty. Go west, young man, for adventure and nature’s array of majesty! My mother taught me to see beauty in the wheat, soy, and corn fields, in the patches of farmers’ hard working labor, in the dark soil edged by small, green woods, and the numerous country side villages and towns. Her view was from the center outward.
Returning to my roots, I’ve breathed deeply of the dignified, wide fields with their crops swaying in the breezes or glistening from the rain, or reflecting the moving angles of the sun, colored by soft yellows and striking oranges. Sometimes the cloud cover mutes the sun’s rays, giving the skies a quiet, watercolor wash of grays and blues.
The beauty of farmland, straight or rolling, is the beauty of a coy girl, waiting for the observer to recognize her shape and shades without her posing or strutting. Mountains imposingly pose; we are in awe. Rivers uproariously strut; we are hypnotized. Midwestern lands wait. Patiently. They waited for me to grow up and gain the wisdom to see them, to hear the glory they’re declaring.
The fields deep green just two weeks ago now transition into golden ripeness. They declare it’s nearly time for harvest. And the pantries next to the kitchens anticipate the coming weight of glory.
This reminds me of an amazing book I’ve discovered here at the farm house. Books, books, books. Next to people and nature, I love books. Books expose the hearts and learning of people, so to love books reflects a desire to understand others, a desire to learn, a desire for connection. The fellowship of interior thoughts. Hundreds of books have been left on the shelves here at the farm house.
In the sunroom, two long shelves hold the cookbooks. I’ve found treasures hidden in these shelves. These were largely Aunt Martha’s books. Aunt Martha, one of my mother’s sisters, was the last person to live in this house. She died sixteen years ago.
In her books I found this treasure: The New England Butt’ry Shelf Cookbook by Mary Mason Campbell with illustrations by her good friend and well known artist, Tasha Tudor.* So, I learned something new to me: the Butt’ry Shelf (or the buttery shelf). This is a New England tradition — the butt’ry shelf.
Most midwestern farms have pantries on the main floor which may be similar to butt’ry shelves. Both New England farm houses and Midwestern ones also have basement or cellar rooms to collect and arrange harvested and preserved foods. Some just call this storage area “the cellar” but our family calls one room in the cellar the “Fruit Room” which holds most of the home-canned goods and root vegetables and a freezer full of frozen fruit, vegetables, pies, and such.
But a Butt’ry Shelf? Do you have one of these or use this term? Campbell describes the butt’ry shelf with such poetic warmth, that I miss it – something I’ve never quite had, but maybe I did. Something I definitely don’t have right now, but someday will. Something I long for: the security of supply, the warmth of belonging, the reward of family working together.
I think God has made nature, when it is not groaning in violent anticipation of the freedom it longs for (Romans 8:19-22), to be His butt’ry shelf. He made and stocked in in all its diversity, and we maintain and blessedly use it.
M.M. Campbell describes a butt’ry shelf this way:
“ The butt’ry (properly spelled buttery, of course) is a small room with a smell of good things to eat and a look of delicious plenty. It is located next to the kitchen in the cool corner of the house. Its window is shaded in summer by a crab-apple tree. . . . Through the window we watch the lilacs and the old-fashioned roses come into bloom, and enjoy a view of the perennial border against its background of gray stone wall as its colors and patterns change from the daffodils of early spring to the last flowering chrysanthemum of the autumn.”
You see how M.M. Campbell sees? She can’t keep her eyes in the butt’ry. She perceives it in its wondrous context and warmly describes from the inside out. She has a whole chapter just describing the butt’ry in its setting, as if it were a character in a story, and I’ve fallen in love with this character.
“Sheathed in warm-colored pine boards, the walls of the butt’ry are lined with hand-planed shelves, sturdy enough to bear the weight of jars, crocks, platters, and plates filled with the richness of country cooking. On the floor under the shelves are the bins of flour and the wooden bucket of sugar. Here are the stacks of milk pans and pails, the churns, the breadboard in place against the wall, to be pulled out often and placed on the wide shelf in front of the window, floured for rolling out cookies, pie and biscuit dough, or kneading bread, then dusted off and replace in its niche.”
Amazing images! And I worry about my sentences sometimes being too long!
“A big basket of apples fits into the corner; a pan of potatoes brought up from the cellar is next to the apples. Several battered lard pails and a half-dozen old Shaker-made wooden blueberry boxes await July blueberry-picking time.”
Her descriptions go on for over three more pages! And then commence her chapters, arranged according to “very special occasions” stocked with menus overflowing with recipes called “receipts” so that the reader can apply old fashioned, New England country living to any modern setting (if you have the energy). I’m looking for cozy Christmas ideas to inspire our coming season when Paul and I and some family members plan to return to the Findlay Family Farm to fellowship together!
From an old view I’ve gained a fresh perspective. To personalize the butt’ry shelf metaphor, I envision that my entire life is a butt’ry shelf. Every experience is a jar or crock or platter full of images, words, and influences marinading together to be lifted up and poured into some baking dish or kettle in which God adds new ingredients which then simmer, toast, or roast – to feed me and others!
Sharing our lives together is sharing stock from our butt’ry shelves. And isn’t this just what all the “one another” and “together” verses of Scripture teach us?
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” I John 4:7
“…with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3b-4; remember the context.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” which we are to offer as ingredients working together with the gifts of others in order to “build up the body of Christ” until we become “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (from Ephesians chapter 4).
“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” II Corinthians 2:15
To borrow figuratively from Campbell’s descriptions, we as God’s butt’ry shelves should “smell of good things to eat” and our demeanors should have “a look of delicious plenty”.
Smells and looks good to me. Tastes good too. Our Midwestern adventures have given us a taste of delicious plenty, and I’d like my life to offer similar, tasty flavors. You too?
*Mary Mason Campbell, The New England Butt’ry Shelf Cookbook (Brattleboro, Vermont: The Stephen Greene Press, 1968, 1982).