A Small Gift of Steam

I’ve become very dependent on my Zojirushi travel mug to deliver hot tea throughout the day. Unlike Stephen, who prefers his beverages lukewarm, I like mine piping hot. And while most of the mugs I’ve tried are not up to the task, Zojirushi does the trick. In fact, Zojirushi does such a fabulous job that I have to leave the lid off for several minutes when I first pour in the water. Otherwise, my tea remains scalding—and hence undrinkable even for me– for several hours.

I’ve been using these mugs and performing the ritual of cooling them down for several years now, and I’ve never paid much attention to what happens during the cooling down period. But last night the weather was perfect for eating dinner on our back porch. Just before we sat down, I prepared a new mug of tea for the evening, and set it next to my place at our table for two.

Steve and I had prepared a delicious dinner of sautéed shrimp and salad with miso dressing, and were exclaiming over the meal when I happened to glance at my mug. Oh my! Delicate swirls of steam curled up from the tea’s surface, twisting and rising into the air, becoming fainter and fainter, until they disappeared over my head.

At first I enjoyed the graceful dance of the steam rising from my mug. Then I noticed that the steam sparkled, as if filled with hundreds of miniscule lights. It was around 7:00, when the sun was heading west, and at a perfect angle to light up the thousands of water droplets forming the steam.

I became transfixed: right before my eyes, arising from the four-inch mouth of my mug, loose bands of sparkling white curled and shimmied upward, a never-ending dance of water and air and sunlight. Material and ethereal, gauzy and sparkling, continually rising and renewing itself, real and ideal, the steam felt like an offering, an appearance of the spiritual in the physical world.

I sat gazing for quite some time, my eyes following the undulating bands and tendrils of steam, the miniscule lights sparkling, an other-worldly apparition, there on my back porch, at the tiny round table for two Another gift of small.


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