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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.

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I am reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle. It’s the sort of book oaty crunchy self — minus platform four inch heels (no leather, of course), a trip to Vegas or two and that spackling knife I use to cobble on my layers of (cruelty free, of course) makeup — would normally read, but I haven’t had time. I read Skinny Bitch (my choice), Fast Food Nation (book group choice), and The Cubed Foot Gardener (a mania passed from my father to my decidedly NOT oaty crunchy husband, who knew?) and I knew all I needed to know, and I haven’t looked back.

But this book has looked at me from my library’s shelves, making me feel guilty, since last year or so, when one of my book groups chose it for this year– same group that chose Fast Food Nation, although alarmist prose about our food supply is far from our stock in trade, I promise. We’re more into obscure, often unreadable works of great modern literature. For real. Anyway.  Now my mom’s been talking about it and lo and behold, it’s our selection for September.  When she sent me the list of where I’ll find her after she departs this earth, and possibly my lost twins too, I checked the calendar for said book group and got me a copy.

I remember about ten years ago someone really cool, someone I looked up to, asked me if I liked Barbara Kingsolver. I’d only read The Bean Trees and maybe Pigs in Heaven at that point. Both of them seemed rich in intent, but I was already sick of the Oprah Book thing– Marginalized-And-Impoverished is cool.  Been there, done that.  It’s not cool, and I don’t want, nor do I wish on anyone, nor do I want any longer to read about, the struggle to find individuality and follow my star or live a Great Life from– due to the blessing in disguise that I find myself on– the outskirts of societal norms of community or material wellbeing. Not unless it’s by someone like, say, Frederick Douglass or James Still or Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Thanks anyway.

Kingsolver’s work seemed sort of like, you know, to Louise Erdrich what Isabel Allende is to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. God, I am a snob, for somone who hasn’t yet managed to write a book, right? Don’t tell anyone that I LOVED The House of the Spirits when I read it in high school, until I read Cien Anos de Soledad in college.

Then years later I read Poisonwood Bible and was just blown away. I loved Prodigal Summer too, but more for the richness of biology and ecology than for the overall gripping tension and frankness of Poisonwood Bible. I’d misjudged, or she just wasn’t there yet, maybe, when I’d last read her.

Animal Vegetable Miracle is, for some reason, making my eyes fill with tears every so often. Maybe it’s because I’m depleted emotionally and physically from a near-lethal combination of the depression that lingers after the last of the fairy dust evaporates and your feet finally touch the ground again a week after you return from Las Vegas, and the horrible GI bug my little girl brought home from her new kindergarten. I mean, I thought I was heartbroken to see her suffering from it. I’m even more heartbroken to BE suffering from it, let me tell you– not just it, that passed (so to speak) pretty fast, but the relentless fatigue that lingers. I’m especially ticked since I am a handwashing FREAK — though never with antibacterials, mind you — and I never get sick.

Anyway, weakened state or not, I am sickened to read things I already knew in my gut. We have lost, or never had, our own foodways. Corporations can rob us of the genetic diversity that is the fine line between us– as an entire race, not just those poor starving heathen babies in Africa and India– and starvation. I grew up with parents and grandparents who grew tomatoes and strawberries in the garden or picked blueberries or crabapples or stuck maple trees with spiles in earliest spring and boiled down syrup on the wood stove or went to the orchard down the road for bushels of peaches in season to put up for the winter. Pulling those icy sweet peaches out of the deep freezer on the back porch in the middle of winter– that was like owning and eating frozen sunshine, just as rare, precious and delightful. (At Granny’s we also had a stack of commercial and virtually nutrient-free white bread and a stick of hydrogenated magarine on the table at every meal, but that’s beside the point). 

My mother’s been saying lately that the reason food from her parents’ garden tasted so much better than any since is not fickle nostalgia or any sort of superiority of growing method, but simply that the soil was different.  All those wonderful memories that today we simply cannot touch– local food, in a nutshell.  We’re trying, here in the subdivision, in our own small way, with raised beds we can barely keep up with– commercial mushroom compost in His, compost from our kitchen vegetable scraps mixed with dirt off our own lot in Hers, a sort of Lowes vs. Scott County WT grow-off. We’ve had some delicious tomatoes and flavorful jalapenos, and I treasure the photos I have from last year of my vegetable-hating four year old standing out back in her panties (li’l Courtney Love), deep in concentration, shelling and eating peas straight off the vine. Finally, finally… pictorial evidence that I’ve done something right. Although sadly the peas didn’t make this year.

So the latest passage that made me cry was her mention of Leigh Van Valen’s Red Queen Effect. “In this place it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” That is *exactly* how I feel right now. For Kingsolver it’s a principle of survival– evolve or die, whether you are a predator fox, its rabbit prey, or the bacteria evolving superstrains immune to our antibiotics and antibacterials. For me it is– I am sick, and before I got sick I wasn’t doing too good with standing still, much less getting any where. My house was already a mess, the huge yard that gives me such pride and joy is a foot tall and in danger of being overrun by trees and shrubs that needed to be pruned desperately a month ago, my job is about to overwhelm me and I have a terrible attitude, I haven’t laid hands on a quilt or a scrapbook or even put photos up on flickr in weeks, I pour out all my creativity and patience at work and what little I have left I use to pull love and nurture out of my ass for my little girl. I leave work early to get the rest I couldn’t get yesterday when I was really in the throes of this thing because I had to go to work, and my husband says, and you’re going to sleep, right? And I say no, I am going to mow. (But then it rained, and lay down ‘just for a minute’ to chat with him after work and passed out, and so spent the evening in bed, in a nightmarish place between awake and too tired to really get up and do anything, so I slept as he directed but I still feel like shit.)  

It came to me the other day… I work in a library and I never, ever read something just for fun. What the hell is this? In the words of the immortal David Wilson in one of his immortal (and regular) episodes “Sumpun ain’t right.”

And now Kingsolver tells me. I thought I was doing so good, me and my vegan raised bed gardening righteousness. She tells me “We now depend… on a few corn and soybean strains for the majority of calories (both animal and vegetable) eaten by US citzens. Our addiction to just two crops has made us the fattest people who’ve ever lived, dining just a few pathogens away from famine.”

So all that soymilk and tofu I consume and feed my family (don’t worry, they all eat meat and dairy, I’m the only vegan freak)… could be gone in an instant, right? Maybe my vegan body armor isn’t all that after all? Well eat up, me hearties, cause when the famine hits we’re going to need our massive obesity to survive on til we figure something out. You people who have slimmed down through diet and working out– you’ve got it all wrong. Hell, I’m going back to Big Macs and Edwards’ key lime pies. Where’s that 30 pounds I lost?

Meanwhile, I’m so damn tired. I think I’m just going to sit down and let life pass me by for a bit, cause I just don’t have the strength to run or to evolve right now.

There are so many gems in Tom Hodgkins’ The Freedom Manifesto but I finally found one I had to dash up here and quote:

“When I was young, I never understood gardening, as I was only interested in drinking. Now I see that all those middle-aged and elderly gentlemen and ladies in their garden were actually having a great time, when I just thought they were being boring. My life has improved enormously, as now I am interested in gardening and drinking: two pleasures, where formerly there was only one.” (page 169)

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