It’s ten but we were up til almost morning– we were playing Rock Band on the Wii and before we knew it it was 10.30 and church started at 11! We were starving but bundled into the car fortified by one sweet potato roll each and went on. Episcopalian services are lovely and fast. We came home and ate– we were so snappish and tired, not nearly the ceremony such a delicious meal on such a special night deserved, we’re going to have to orchestrate that better next year.

I say that every year.

Then off to bed for the kids and there was still wrapping and putting out to do. My mom called bright and early to say my Grammy was doing better… My stepdaughter and I have been up since eight. We’re showered and dressed in our new matching pajama bottoms, enjoying a moment of peace (marred only by the largish puddle of water that leaked onto the floor in the foyer when she showered, in the upstairs bathroom, eek! But I am NOT calling the plumber on Christmas!)… my husband, stepson and baby are still snoring away.

So a moment of quiet. I really enjoyed Lynn Jericho’s work last year… I am so pleased to happen on this first post this morning. Here’s her first post, and my response below.

I encourage you do subscribe. It goes with those books The Voice of the Earth and The Last Child in the Woods I have but haven’t had time to read, and another book I sent Dad for a belated Christmas gift. Our Chinese friend Dong Dong, who studies Confucian and other great Chinese philosophies (and is sadly going home shortly) might like it too, maybe my parents will share with him.

I was just sitting on my back porch thinking about ordering my lunar gardening calendar for this year and wondering whether to dig out the broadleaf weeds in my lawn close to the house one at a time or spot treat them with white vinegar and how much damage the white vinegar would do to desirable grasses, and wondering how to cultivate a moss lawn on that slope between the fence and the porch…

My responses…

Three memories: These are not recollections of the vast expanses, or the tiny breathtaking beauties, either. I have a very utilitarian, personal, and self-centered relationship with nature. These are definitely evidence of the happiness I find right here on my own little spot of dirt.

1. Pulling plentiful but somewhat tough and bitter end of season basil out of my own raised beds to make an amazing, delicious basil cilantro pesto in which to saute red onions and linguine as in the Veganomicon recipe– how satisfying!

2. Several different hot summer afternoons spent with my husband and children cleaning out the weedy, dirt filled rock beds surrounding our house.

We picked the rocks out pretty much one by one, with our hands, shoveled out all the dirt down to a few inches, and then poured leveling sand and replaced the rocks. We didn’t just replace them. At first, because of my ocd, we f*$%(@# washed them too. You know what’s really sad? My perfectly sane husband and kids went along with it!

I thought and thought, but even with a backhoe… the only easier way to have done it would have been to pay a host of Guatemalans less than minimum wage to do exactly what we were doing. I thought to myself, Work Will Set You Free. And there was a sort of beauty to giving oneself up to the work, especially the work of letting the cool water run over the rocks on those hot, hot days.

The areas we’ve done look like a pristine river bed, a zen garden.

But after about a week’s worth of work on it, spread over many weeks because it is so hard to get the courage up to get going on it again… we’ve only done about 1/3 of it, and the front will be harder, because we must dig around all of the shrubs.

3. The hot sun on my arms, chest, shoulders and face as I work in the yard is more soothing to me than any mother’s touch. In this climate I get to enjoy that most of the year… when we ‘fall back’ and it is dark when I come home from work, I get pretty depressed.

We have a huge yard. I am so thankful for it. I grew up in places where our house was surrounded by meadow or cow pasture or woods, and some amount of sunrise or sunset was usually readily visible.

Suburban life, where you can see your neighbors and they can see you, and that is about all you can see, makes me a little ill… buying this house with its extremely generous yard soothed my soul in ways I cannot express.

The yard is much too big for me to maintain. I think we’re pulling down the property value for our neighbors, bless ’em– although in my opinion this is still the coolest, nicest, most substantial house in our declining subdivision of homes that I am sure were once thought to be quite nice.

Last summer my husband thought he was being kind when he told my stepkids they would be responsible for mowing– I was like, back the hell off my lawn! I use a push mower on the endless expanse– it really only takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to mow the whole thing but with working full time and the heat here and the rate at which it grows, I end up having to mow 20-40 minutes 2-3 times per week during our endless growing season. It is a great source of exercise and working out in the hot sun really brings my blood pressure down and gives me a sense of accomplishment. The lawn grows lush and uncontrollable in most of the yard– so satisfying, even if it does require more work and mowing is almost all I have time to do.

I just wish I had one of those no-motor mowers, you know the old school, whirling blade ones?

I can’t count the times I have felt such joy and freedom when I had a whole day to work in my yard. I will work in my yard from sunup til I fall out from exhaustion. I’m committed to using organic/natural methods to keep it nice– composting, digging up weeds or treating with vinegar, and mowing more often rather than using herbicides and fertilizers. I am sometimes guilty of watering but… that’s okay.

Some of my work is fruitful… the lawn near our back porch is looking so much better than the sand pit it was just a year and a half ago. Some of it is not– all but one of the giant azaleas we broke our backs to dig up– we actually had to tie a rope to my trailer hitch, in the end, and pull them the rest of the way out, they were so big and deeply rooted, from a freecycle offer and planted along our back fence– have died, along with the new white ones I bought at Lowes. My old 4wd Rodeo sits in the carport now, it doesn’t run any more and the cargo area is still covered in dirt from those azaleas. I watered faithfully, but not faithfully enough.

Oops! My little one is up… time to go down and orchestrate the pillage of the spoils left by Santa. Ways I hope to interact with nature in the coming year? That needs some thought. I will have to write how I hope to interact with nature in a bit!

* * *

Okay I’m back.

I’m already reasonably proud of my habits as far as how I try to treat nature goes. I compost, I refuse to eat meat or meat by products like gelatin (large scale meat egg and dairy farming is more dangerous to our environment than our cars and transport industry!!) and usually don’t eat dairy either, although when someone puts pizza or cake or chocolate in front of me I can’t always turn it down. We need to do this and that around our home to make it more energy efficient, and we will, one step at a time.

I am often thankful for the insane climate here– often through the fall winter and spring we can just turn everything off and open doors and windows. I recycle as best I can, too. It does my soul good to do what little I can on the environmental front.

I do promise to continue to inform myself and write about alternative energies (Clean Coal is still a fossil fuel, duh! and Clean Coal and Safe Storage aren’t!). I promise to add my voice to all the others, in a way that I hope will be accessible and helpful and make a difference.

So. Got that part of it, how I treat nature, covered.

So I think I need to pay attention to the soul front. I’ve been reading The Power of Now, as best I can among all the other 99 things I’m juggling. Tolle says if you don’t make time for small daily bites of consciousness when times are semi normal, then when it hits the fan you won’t be able to stay conscious at all, and you’ll fall apart.

David Whyte says the same thing, in a different way. You must make time daily for your heart– poetry, a walk… And I hear from a friend who’s a counselor– you’re a Human Doing. You have got to learn to be a Human BEING.

And finally, my other favorite book of 2008, Radical Honesty, talks about how ill we make ourselves when we aren’t honest– when we habitually suck it up for the sake of making others happy or not making waves. The habit is so ingrained from childhood on up and we are making ourselves sick. And Blanton says that we cannot possibly be honest because we don’t even know how we feel. He recommends meditation of some sort– as long as meditation is used to reveal inner soul feelings and needs rather than to soothe/hide/ignore them for the purposes of keeping them in.

So. I will use nature, such as it is in my little subdivision, for the purposes of greater soul health.

I will walk 15 minutes every day. That’s all. Whether anyone comes with me or not. I will simply be during that time, empty my head, listen to my heart.

I hope to exercise daily too, and work in my yard– but those things are all too easily Human Doing. So cultivating that 15 min. of consciousness per day comes first. With that done, everything else will follow.