Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah.
The beginning of February, 2017
Clear and calm and cold weather – winter continues . . .
However . . . the first pussy-willows are budding along the creek.
This winter I raised an onion. I don’t have a garden, but I do have a need to plant something and attend to it as it displays the invincible power of ongoing life in my presence. One of the red onions I bought for eating had this tiny green tendril poking out of one end, and I could not bring myself to eat it. It had transcended its edible vegetable category. I put it in a vase with its bottom just touching the water. The onion took it from there. It became my winter garden, and a kind of existential companion, provoking my thinking through the dark days of winter.
In the last volume of my novel, THIRD WISH, two characters exchange gifts.
The woman, Alice-Alice, gives the man, Daniels, a red onion.
Her thoughts are actually mine – more autobiography than fiction.
Re-reading the narrative, I realize I can’t express my thoughts about an onion
any better than this, edited for this journal posting:
Alice-Alice says: “Here’s your present.”
She hands over a plain wooden box.
“Smell it first.”
Daniels sniffed. “Onion. Never had an onion-scented present.”
He takes the onion out of the box and cradles it in his hands.
About the size of a baseball. Its outside layer is paper-like.
Pale, pinkish-brown, and striped.
He knows that the next layer will be pansy purple, and the layers after that will fade from purple into ivory and white and on into a final lime-green kernel at the very center.
He takes a piece of a layer and holds it up to the light – it seems like a luminescent fragment of stained glass.
At the bottom of the onion are the remains of roots. At the top are the first felt-green sprouting tips of assertive growth. The kernel and roots and tips are signs that the onion is ready to live again if called upon.
The onion isn’t dead.
It is waiting.
Placing the onion on the table, Daniels reads the accompanying note:
“Granted that a bouquet of flowers for a birthday is more customary, it has a limited life. Fleeting beauty is always poetic, but flowers are dead on arrival – a fading, fugitive, momentary gesture.
An onion, on the other hand, is not only beautiful; it is useful and contains lasting possibility – magic and mystery and miracle.”
“Moreover, an onion is a floral bouquet in a way. The bulb marks it as a member of the lily family. If allowed and encouraged, it will grow and flower, like lilies.
Self-perpetuating if allowed to go to seed, hundreds more onions may be grown. And those, if dried, braided into long strings, and hung in the kitchen, will keep the smell of summer soil and sunlight through the winter.”
“You may, of course, eat it raw just as it is – both bulb and stems.
Chop it, grate it, slice it, combine it with many ingredients, fry it, or bake it. Nothing adds sweet tangy flavor to food like onions.
What would a sauce be without them – or soup or stew or roast or salad?”
“Or you may plant the onion and, if encouraged, it will grow. I have one in a glass jar on my windowsill – white roots in the water, leaves in the air, stems budding.”
“More. The outer skin is paper and may be written on or else boiled and used as a red stain for eggs at Easter, or to dye thread, which may in turn be woven into scarlet blankets, as the European villagers once did.
“Onions have medicinal qualities, as well. Good for your basic health.”
“And no encounter with an onion is incidental.
Its juice brings tears to your eyes and perfume to your fingers and breath.
If you rub the juice on the bottom of your feet your breath will smell of onions the next day. An onion is oils and sugars and water and sophisticated compounds and complex crystalline structures.
A marvel in a chemist’s lab or under a microscope.”
“The onion is metaphor for the layered nature of existence itself.
At its green center lies the germ of infinite possibility.
Fecund is the essence of onion.”
“And as a gift on your name-day or un-birthday, the onion expresses the poignant bittersweet truth of evanescent affection.
Flavor for the life.”
“I know I am making much of a very ordinary vegetable.
But anything looked at carefully may be a window on the universe.
I give you this onion in this spirit – think about it.”
Carefully, Daniels peels off the dry top brown layer, and then another layer – multiple shades of magenta – and juicy.
“It’s a gift guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes,” Alice-Alice says, smiling.
He looks up, eyes shining.
The onion has served its purpose.