The Warning of the Bear

This morning I woke up to a dream an hour before my alarm was set to stir me. In the dream I was sitting atop a tall clay outlook, a humble throne. I looked down from my perch in horror as a bunch of white people, adults and kids, threw rocks at a white mama bear in a clearing at night. The bear was angry, roaring and standing upright. They had been throwing rocks for some time, and her patience was wearing thin. Suddenly, the bear ran through the crowd circling, moving more quickly than I thought possible, a warning. I feared she might hurt one of the smaller children, toddlers, standing innocently in the crowd. As she completed her loop back to her original position with her back against the trees, I began yelling, “Hey!” I knew that if she did hurt one of the people it would mean her life too, no matter whose fault. As I tried to get the people’s attention to stop tormenting the bear, for their own safety and for hers, I realized my technique was ineffective. My screams drifted into the din in vein as the people too were yelling “Hey!” and throwing rocks at the mother bear, my screams drowned out by the chaos of the scene. I was too distant, my approach too easily drowned out. And then I woke up.

Strenth in Being Single

For the past three years, though it seems much, much longer, I have not been in a capital “R” Relationship. There have been trials and shorter relationships, one in particular which lasted a few months, but nothing that really felt like a mutual commitment with an eye toward the long-term. So much has happened throughout this time. I moved to two new cities, made amazing friends, found my career path, put myself through grad school, and chose a city I want to stay in close to family in my home state. However, I feel like I have not fully appreciated all of these blessings because it has been on my own. And when I say “on my own,” I am discounting the amazing relationships that I have with my family and sweet friends. (See, I am still trying to rewire my brain.)

While in the past I’ve told myself I should appreciate this alone time while I have it, I never really felt that. Cognitively, I know it’s true. Being at a time in my life where I have all my evenings to myself, with no one else to take care of is extremely rare. (Besides my cat, Wednesday, and she’s pretty low maintenance.) It’s an opportunity that my mother never had, and her mother never had, having moved from their parents’ house into their husbands’ house. It is a place of solitude to listen and learn.

Maybe it’s the story of “what’s supposed to happen as an adult” that has caused me to focus so much on finding this perfect partner who will supposedly make my life complete. Or, maybe it’s just that I’m a loving person who gets a lot of peace out of close bonding with others. Maybe it’s the expectations others have for my life and its timing that is projecting on me a dissatisfaction with the current state of things.

While this is a path I never would have willingly chose for myself, I am truly glad at this point that it has been mine. I never would have had the drive, time, or energy to do all the growing I have during my non-committed years. It’s kind of funny to think about it. I told my mom recently, it almost seems like someone is doing this to me on purpose; the odds are in my favor that I would be in a Relationship by now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “But you’re awesome, why are you still single?” I used to say, “just haven’t met the right person yet.” When these questions really began to wear on me, my response changed. I would say, “I’m not the problem! I know I’m great. They’re the problem! Have you scrolled through Tinder lately?”

What I am learning, if not fully experiencing yet at this point if I’m going to be honest, is that if I can’t be at peace with now, in all its imperfection, I won’t ever be. Because life is never perfect, except in the beauty of each unique moment. I try to recognize my privileges and fully appreciate the unimaginable blessings that I have, such as being able to do the things I love like yoga and volleyball and playing guitar and reading! So, from here on out, I am actively putting effort into not just tolerating my singledom, but cherishing it for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it is to focus on developing who I am, or more so, learning how to learn about myself and my opportunities in the world.

Time and a Turning In

Whenever I begin thinking about sustainable food systems, I can’t help but deduce that we won’t reach a sustainable food system until we reinvent a sustainable society. You really can’t have one without the other if we’re staying true to the ultimate meaning of sustainability. Sustainability does not mean “green.” Many times when my mind wanders down this rabbit hole, I come to the conclusion that Americans are currently simply too busy to create and close nutrient loops, to make the time to garden, to walk places instead of drive, to ask big enough questions and find real answers (Houle and Rummage 2015). And too busy is just not a good enough excuse to sanction the destruction and inequity we witness today.

These are just a few examples of where human energy can save fossil energy… if only we had the time. Making the time for using human energy instead of fossil energy would not only reduce carbon emissions, it would make the space for us to actually create real solutions instead of techno fixes. It would, in many cases, improve public health by reducing sitting hours, increasing physical activity, and, I would guess, improve mental health by opening opportunities to stop and talk with one another instead of the isolation we inhabit in our single-occupancy cars and cubicles. The idea I’m reaching for is about quality of life. How can we grant permission for people to have the luxury of time? Time to spend on gardening, creating wholesome meals with your family and community, time to talk… and listen. For me these days, time is the utmost luxury; I spend way too much time in the car and way too much time alone in front of a glowing square. But that is the society we live in. Jobs that demand human energy are generally thought of as second-rate. This has got to change. Communication is done virtually. It would be quite interesting to begin considering ways in which to more highly value careful human labor, quality time with others, and a handmade aesthetic that is kinder to our planet.

But this is an elusive dilemma. Busyness is ubiquitous, efficiency worshiped. Almost no one who is alive today knows how to live completely sustainably in ways that would be acceptable to the masses. So, it is the project of our time to imagine and enact a way in which to live that is not only kinder to the earth, but kinder to ourselves. Some call it creative descent; some call it intentional aesthetics; some call it quality of life; some call it permaculture. We need it all, and it begins with astute critical thinking and turning inside. Once again, the outer world finds its activation switch inside ourselves. How can I create the time to do good? How can I make the effort to really listen to my friend, spouse, child? How can I find the time to think critically about ways to practice my values instead of my routine? How can I have empathy?

Resources:
Houle, David and Tim Rummage. 2015. This Spaceship Earth. USA: David Houle & Associates.

The Color of Food

Up in frigid Vermont for my Master’s residency at Green Mountain College, our visiting scholar, author Natasha Bowens, encourages mind expansion around racial diversity and inclusion and appreciation within farming and the food movement. It is amazing to me to realize the ways in which privilege and the dominant paradigms frame the food movement, encouraging homogeny in our movement. As in our gardens, diversity means life. I’m excited to learn more from her forthcoming book, The Color of Food.

The Song of Gaia

“I saw old farmers in Kentucky last spring who belong in another century. They are inhabitants; they see the world they know crumbling and evaporating before them in the face of a different logic that declares, ‘everything you know, and do, and the way you do it, means nothing to us.’ How much more the pain, and loss of elegant cultural skills, on the part of non-white fourth-world primitive remnant cultures who may know the special properties of a certain plant, or how to communicate with Dolphins, skills the industrial world might never regain. Not that special, intriguing knowledges are the real point: it’s the sense of the magic system; the capacity to hear the song of Gaia at that spot, that’s lost.”  – Gary Snyder

Life Place

“Bioregionalism is simply biological realism; in natural systems we find the physical truth of our being, the real obvious stuff like the need for oxygen as well as the more subtle need for moonlight, and perhaps other truths beyond those. Not surprisingly, then, bioregionalism holds that the health of natural systems is directly connected to our own physical/psychic health as individuals and as a species, and for that reason natural systems and their informing integrations deserve, if not litter veneration, at least our clearest attention and deepest respect. No matter how great our laws, technologies, or armies, we can’t make the sun rise every morning nor the rain dance on the golden-back ferns. To understand natural systems is to begin an understanding of the self. When we destroy a river, we increase our thirst, ruin the beauty of free-flowing water, forsake the meat and spirit of the salmon, and lose a little bit of our souls.” –  Jim Dodge 1990, Home! A Bioregional Reader

Nutrition for You: Bio-Individuality

With all of the fad diets out there, what’s a person to eat? The one true diet is the one that’s right for you, makes you feel strong, and satisfies you to the core. Learn the components of eating for bio-individuality, the theory that you are a unique individual in bodily requirements, constitution, and preferences. We’ll discuss ways to turn inside to find out what your body’s ideal fuel consists of, the rules of balance, and how to stay on the right track with some simple food rules. Check the Class Calendar for upcoming sessions of Nutrition for You!

Two Sisters Natural Soap & Farmers’ Market April 7th

Today I’d like to share about my new acquaintance at the Clermont Farmers’ Market: Aurora from Two Sisters Natural Soap. Not only is Aurora one of the kindest, friendliest souls I’ve met, she is an artisan soap maker and a wealth of knowledge about anything relating to natural body care. All this, and her soaps are absolutely FANTASTIC! They smell out-of-this-world, don’t dry my skin, and I know they’re all natural and made with love and care. Since the showers in our house are piped to drain into the garden and we finished our outdoor garden shower, it’s important for us to use biodegradable, natural bath products. You can now find Two Sisters on my local Resources page!

Two Sisters' Gardener's Helper soap is one of my favorites!

Two Sisters’ Gardener’s Helper soap is one of my favorites!

There are at least four reasons why I insist on what I’ll call “real” soap (simple ingredients, biodegradable, homemade).

  1. Better for the Earth: Natural, biodegradable ingredients are so much better for the Earth. They won’t damage water ecosystems with phosphates or pollute with chemicals.
  2. Better for us: You may have heard of sodium laureth sulfate, phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde and diethanolamine being present in our body products. This article from the Washington Post explains the dangers associated with the body care products of our industrialized civilization. When you make your own or buy body products from trusted sources, you can rest assured that there’s no formaldehyde or other creepies in it!
  3. No animal testing: Not only is it wrong, but there is no need to when you know the artisan soapmaker, trust their ingredients and promise to not test on animals.
  4. Support local producers: Instead of giving your money to large multinational corporations whose products might be made by wage slaves on the other side of the world or at least in a large laboratory or factory, provide someone in your locale the opportunity for meaningful work by supporting what they do! Plus it’s going to be a more personal, better product; you can talk to them about how they make it, what’s in it and where the ingredients come from.

I learned in my herbal classes that what you put on your skin is just as important as what you eat. Our skin is our largest organ and readily absorbs whatever comes into contact with it. With this sentiment in mind, I am mindful to use totally natural body products whenever possible. Another great thing about real soap is that it is naturally emollient – it moisturizes the skin. Two sisters also incorporate medicinal herbs like calendula and lavender into their soaps, which not only help heal the skin, but smell amazing too,  not with artificial fragrances, but with homegrown herbs.

Sure, you might have to deal with a little more soap scum by using real soap, but that’s what the baking soda is for! With all of the vital reasons to stick with real soap, there’s no reason to support industrial soaps or products. And if you’re in Central Florida come out to the Clermont Farmers’ Market to support Aurora (and me!). Her sister, Sierra, is near Umpqua, Oregon, so if you’re there you can find their soap. If you’re somewhere else, see if there’s a small-batch natural soap maker near you, or support these lovely sisters and order from them online. If you’re really getting into the local, diy spirit, make your own soap. I’ve heard it’s not that hard, and it’s definitely on my crafty to do list!

The market April 7th was wonderful. The weather was finally cooperating and gave us a glorious sunny day. I sold or bartered all of my produce and came home empty coolered! And that’s what I love to see! Thank you to all my regulars (and new folks) who came out to get your kale and support me doing what I love – growing delicious, fresh, nutritious vegetables!

City Love

What is it like to be in love with a city? Thinking about it, dreaming about it, talking about it, missing it. Many of us have experienced it. City-pride. For me, love involved a combination of great friends, delicious restaurants, kitschy thrift stores, bike-ability. But looking deeper, beyond all the “stuff to do,” I was literally in love with the city itself: the centenarian brick buildings, the rolling hills this Florida girl wasn’t used to, the mossy sidewalks, and the seasons, oh the succulent seasons. The river. Canoeing its many sections, lying in its shallows for hours of conversation, skinny dipping after dark in the heart of the city, knowing the shortcut to get down to its shores – under the bridge, down the muddy clay too-steep path, over the tilted wooden bridge, down some more, and through the parking lot.

I remember biking home to my tiny 1911 apartment building one day in April. It was an overcast, wet, but bright day. The trees were all a budding light green, the bulbs were in full bloom: pinks, reds, whites, and deep purples edged every sidewalk and tiny front yard. The color after winter was breathtaking. I thought to myself, “This is spring.”

I admired the purpose embodied in the city. It wasn’t, like many of the surroundings in Florida, sprawling, strip malling, suburbia. Perhaps this is the nature of most downtowns versus suburbs. Each building had its reason for being: selling its wares, serving its food, even if it were just a dilapidated ancient structure fit for punk shows or an abandoned gem with open windows telling the story of its history of peeling paint and tile, proudly standing in the city center as self-assured as the arms-wide oaks.

Well, I can’t go back. It’d have changed too much or be too much the same. A visit might be nice, but life moves on and new loves are budding around me here, now. Sealing my love in words might help me move on, but there will always be a place in my heart for a certain old, dignified city: Richmond.

RVA

Expectations, Lucky Surprises & Mushroom Hunting

“Don’t go in the woods just to fill your basket. Like life, mushroom hunting is a great exercise in non-attachment, in letting go of expectations, because you never know what you will or won’t find.” – Alan Muskat via Sandor Ellix Katz

I came across the above quotation while in college through Katz’ book The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. After copying it into my journal, it has stayed with me through the years, even though I hadn’t ever been mushroom hunting until recently.  Because I am someone who is slightly preoccupied with planning ahead and day planners, Google calendar, efficient use of time, and the like, this quotation has come to me on many an occasion when I feel defeated by negligent time management or reality settling lower than my lofty expectations. It comforts me not only for the message it delivers but also due to the resonance of loamy forests and dusty mushrooms it caries. Forests know that every moment does not need an assignment. Trees can only accept what comes at them, good or bad, and continue growing toward the light. Being in the Now helps me to receive life’s gifts and challenges with an open mind and embrace every moment.

“We can approach our decisions with fear or faith, when we live with love and trust, we may not be guaranteed that bad things don’t happen to us and our loved ones, but we will be better equipped to deal with whatever comes our way, and until a crisis occurs, we will not be spending our time worrying about things that may never come about instead of relishing the beauty or joy of the present moment.” – Barbara Wishingrad

“The journey is the destination.” – Dan Eldon

I recently had a long talk with a good listener while relaxing in the shallows of a peaceful, beautiful, tree-lined lake. I twisted the conversation around my feelings of aimlessness in life, how clueless I feel about the future, and the many uncertainties ahead. At the time I felt so lost, verging toward self-pity. Not feeling much better post-pity party, I realized later that I need to keep those emotions in check. I need to remember that there is no way to accurately predict the future or to prescribe exactly what will happen, that the journey is where it’s at and has great value in its own right. There would be no peace without instability preceding it. I wish I had appreciated the moments at the lake more, with the natural beauty and wonderful company surrounding me then. You see, my over-analytical thinking not only caused me to miss out on some of the tranquility of the lake cradling me, but is now causing me to feel regret and guilt. It is a viscous cycle. Lucky for me, I believe there will be many more lake days in the future. I wrote in my journal on July 2:

I had a vision the other day, seemingly from the future. I was able to look upon my life now, free and unattached and kid-less and see it for all its footloose splendor. It helps me to realize that I won’t always be this wandering, lonely, free being. In my effort to appreciate the Now, I need to realize I won’t always just have to worry about me, like I can now. So, whenever I begin to feel aimless, lonely or defeated, I try to envision myself as a future me might – courageous, deliberate, free, constantly learning, maybe a little reckless, young and vibrantly alive! I need to practice being and thinking “Vibrantly Alive”!

I guess I didn’t remember this sentiment the other day by the lake. But Thoreau says…

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

So speaking of mushroom hunting and letting go of expectations… Ever since I learned a few edible mushrooms at the homestead I was at near Gainesville, FL, I haven’t really been looking for them. I’ve had the lucky chance encounter since then to be able to help out a little at a bamboo farm in Groveland, FL, Beautiful Bamboo. While helping to build a chicken coop, walking around under some oaks at the farm, we came across a healthy bunch of Old Man of the Woods, Strobilomyces floccopus.

Not really looking for mushrooms, it was such a treat. Lucky surprises, large and small,  have been popping up frequently in my life lately. Unlike unrealistic expectations or worrying about the future, happy surprises can only be treasured. Some lucky surprises vastly humbled any of my expectations.

The sliced Old Man mushrooms, sauteed with onion and garlic, tasted riquísimo, much like portobellos.

What luck to find such a gem right at my feet, especially unexpectedly.