A couple things I want to mention about our upcoming Yoga and Writing Retreat.
1) There is no level of proficiency or experience required to attend. If your heart wants to write (even if your mind conjures one thousand reasons why you’re not a writer), trust your heart. Practice is a well worn path; perfection is an illusion. Also, I will be the most novice yoga student in the room.
2) Local chef and wild foods forager, Maja Liotta, will be catering the retreat (lunch included in the cost of retreat). I’m betting Montezuma County peaches and San Juan mushrooms will be on the menu.
3) The retreat is offered at a discount until September 1st. See flyer.
4) We have a couple, small scholarships available.
If you did an MRI on my brain right now, you’d see that 50% is devoted to shuttling ripe peaches into the proper channels (freezer, canning jars, drying racks), another 25% is consumed with pep-talking myself through harvest-overwhelm (step forward with knife and breathe), and the last dusty regions are torn between actively ignoring the proliferating fruit flies and vaguely wondering, who’s parenting the kids?
We harvested a few (hundred pounds of) peaches. Also, a small batch of mushrooms and one (surprise) roadkill deer. And of course every plant in the garden is waving its vegetal hand, begging, “Pick me! Pick me!” If you peered into our house right now, you’d see Dan and me, hunched over the table, ginsuing through boxes of ripe, succulent peaches, each juicy fruit spawning legions of new bawdy metaphors for Dan to try out on me.
We’ve become our own itinerant labor. Dan and I meet up in the mornings and evenings to plan and assess. The things we concern ourselves with have, roughly the same five, interchangable answers: 8 pints; more canning lids; #%$!@ fruitflies; simmer and mash; I thought you were watching the kids.
Oh that? Just a roadkill deer leg, never to be turned down.
The kids are craftily seizing the opportunity of occupied parents to squeeze peaches into cups and sell the pulpy juice in front of the house, or to trot out every last little plastic thingy to strew across the house. No matter, we’ll clean up sometime in November. Rose came out of her room this morning wearing snowboots, rubber gloves and a pair of glasses my mom sent her, which she claims have “no reception.”
It occured to me, as the rat and then the cat woke me up at godawful early thirty this morning, that everything I’m doing right now boils down to Connection to Place. I don’t know if I can articulate it, but accepting the gifts of the chokecherries, the acorns, the meaty porcini mushrooms popping, red-capped, under the spruce trees, grounds me here. If we lived in Alaska, it’d be blueberries and salmon; in California, citrus and blackberries. By inexplicable fate, we happen to live in the Southwest, and there is a whole vital, edible platter of offerings right here, each with its own time-limited ripeness. Taking part in these seasonal offerings feels like a way to greet friends everywhere, to love this world, to love this place, to belong. After nineteen years here, the shine on this local life hasn’t worn away, rather it simply gets richer, deeper, better.
Me: I’m going to go out and harvest some salad greens.
There are just TWO spots left in my chokecherry cooking class on Sunday. We’ll be making chokecherry jelly, chokecherry-apple leather, and talking about how to turn this astringently-sweet fruit into a pantry of delicious goods. (Also, three spots left in upcoming canning class). For more info, go here.
Rose and Iris selling “hand-crushed peach juice.”
Rose: “I wish people never bought things they didn’t need.”
Me: “Really? (Thinking here of Rose’s rotating mental catalogue of things she covets but doesn’t actually need) Why?”
Rose: “Because then they wouldn’t have to have yard sales.
Quiet pause; head scratching.
Rose: “Because I feel left out of all the things I want to buy at yard sales but can’t buy because I’m saving money for a rat.”
Which is to say, we’re making huge strides here. And sure, it’s subtle, but at our house we get really excited about people articulating feelings and needs. Because, hey, we can empathize with that. It’s hard to think of all those polyester old lady blouses getting snapped up by other shoppers.
I, meanwhile, have become a grandmotherly-like parody of my own baby-nostalgic self. Just now, in the library bathroom, I heard a Mama talking to her tiny, non-verbal son in that one-sided conversational way, “Are you ready to go? Should we go have lunch now?” And I had to completely refrain from bombarding the mother at the handwashing sink with how “I used to do that with MY babies! And now, we have ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS!” (Although my friend Sue wonders, reasonably, if all that continuous pre-verbal chatting accounts for having children who can now monologue cheerfully for thirty excruciating minutes at the dinner table).
Dan is actually selling some of these brain-tanned hides. Website coming soon(ish).
Dan is looking ahead to the soon-approaching bow-hunting season, which means he’s trying to tan all of last year’s hides. He carries pots of warm brains through the house, small rotten drips leaping onto our floors. The kids hardly look up from whatever they’re doing, though the smell is the olfactory equivalent of getting slapped across the face. Ultimately, I think we’re all comforted by having ways to mark the seasonal transition: Dan and his hide-tanning, me appraising chokecherries for that ripe purple glow.
And Col? He’s more like his father, daily. He’s inherited his father’s propensity to find useful stuff tossed to the side of the road. Yesterday, walking home from the river, he ferreted from the bushes a left leather glove 3 sizes too big, which he wore home with pride. “Daddy will love this,” he mused.
Mama and baby are doing just fine.
I’m teaching some more classes, because I keep getting inspired and want to share. My ability to plan ahead is lacking, because what happens is I’m walking with the kids along the river, and the wild berries are popping and I think how fun it would be to get others excited about these iconic Southwest berries. And, so I am.
Animas River Plant Walk
Monday, August 18th 4:30 – 6pm. Location: Meet at trail on east side of footbridge behind high school. Cost: $15. Kids free with parent.
The riparian berries are abundant this time of year! Learn all about chokecherries, hawthorne berries, buffalo berries, sumac berries, juniper berries and rose hips. We’ll also see some late-season riparian plants and talk about their medicinal uses, historical uses, seed dispersal and more.
Chokecherry Cooking Class
Sunday, August 24th 4-6pm. Location TBA. Cost: $25
In this class we’ll be talking about the natural history of the chokecherry tree, one of the most important plants historically in the Southwest. We’ll make and take home: chokecherry jelly and chokecherry-apple fruit leather. You’ll learn how to separate the flesh from the seeds, how to use and preserve chokecherries with minimal sugar and come home with a variety of recipes. All supplies included. Space is limited.
August blessings to you all!
p.s. Just got the news of Robin Williams’ death. So so sad. Feels like I spent half my childhood watching Mork and Mindy. Dan and I have both lost to suicide (creative, bright, shining, loved) friends who suffered from bipolar disorder. May we all be a beacon of kindness and support to those in need. Wise, clear-hearted Anne Lamott’s take on Robin Williams’ death. Helps, some.
Teaser. Back to nutella recipe a little later. Stay tuned.
A switch has been flipped in the garden, everything responding to the late-summer force which urges plants to grow higher, fuller, faster. Eating from our yard has become less whimsical novelty, more all mouths on deck, everything is ripening now! (Full organic disclosure: Col spotted and removed an earwig from my sauteed broccoli tonight).
These summer evenings, we’re out till dark-thirty, closing down the river, the neighborhood park, Col and Rose still swinging high into the pinking sky as the teenagers and deer creep in, claiming the next shift.
Front yard swingers:
The rains have come and gone and come again in biblical proportions, lashing down mightily at the earth. Then the sun returns like a warm and encouraging miracle. Dan and I reconvene at the days end, comparing notes: “I was downtown, it was crazy, Smelter Mountain was obscured.” “I was home, watching hail pile up in the cabbage leaves.” And then we pause, letting a silent prayer of gratitude wash over us, which maybe contains the smallest amount of, “more, please?”
Very naughty chickens.
The evening grosbeaks have returned to our feeders with their babies, all hapless and fuzzy and incessantly hungry. The parents occasionally pretend to forget about their offspring, until they show up flapping and mouth-gaping and unavoidable. Dan and I watch, amused, feeling a certain kinship. The kids need to be fed, AGAIN? (My new exercise regime is simply feeding children).
Outside, Col pursues cabbage butterflies with a lacrosse stick. He’s created a mausoleum of delicate bodies, small black dots jeweled into papery white wings. I am deeply ambivalent about this. “Thanks!” I tell Col, while a cascade of conflicting emotions nibble at me. The cabbage butterflies lay eggs on plants in the mustard family (broccoli, kale, cabbage, turnips primarily), and the eggs hatch into voracious caterpillars. Which is to say, this life contains many opportunities to ponder complexities.
Rose has sprouted trunk-like legs, learned to do backbends, and is a fount of strong, changeable emotion. (Sometimes she needs help turning the emotional dial, like last weekend when it got set on howlingly bereft because Col wouldn’t tell her what he was howlingly bereft about five minutes earlier. Again, the complexities.) On a neighborhood walk, she jumps in puddles, cartwheels down sidewalks, pledges undying love to decrepit one-eyed cats who thread between her legs. Watching her unbridled enthusiasm is like beholding a classical artwork, the kind that lodges in your heart and tells you something about the indomitable human spirit.
What Dan and I do after the kids are asleep, the blog-postable stuff, anyway.
I kind of can’t believe I’m posting a recipe for nutella when breakfast is a veggie omelet sponsored entirely by our own yard (earwigs included), and our diet has never been more local. But I’ve adopted this homemade nutella as my go-to snack, packing a 1/2 pint jar of it to the library to keep my energy up while deadlines tap me on the shoulder.
I find this nutella to be delicious, but I have to admit, I’m no longer reliable. Col shared a piece of pumpkin bread with me last weekend and the sugar roared out at me while the pumpkin was a small, pathetic whimper in the background. Which is to say, I’ve lost my American taste buds for sugar. (Rose would like to mention that there are many other American things I’ve lost my taste for, such as fashion). And, I haven’t eaten actual nutella in years. But, I know there’s more of us out there than ever, who’re trying to decrease sugar and increase nutrients. This is for you.
full disclosure: I ususally make triple this recipe and never measure, but I recommend starting small and playing around with ingredients. Maybe add cinnamon? Or sub out the coconut milk for almond milk?
1 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (could sub in 1/2 melted chocolate bar)
2 TBSP coconut oil
1/4 cup coconut milk (or even better, coconut cream on top of refrigerated can)
3 – 6 TBSP honey
1/2 TBSP vanilla
Blend in food processor. Store in fridge. Lasts 1-2 weeks in fridge, but it shouldn’t.
1) To meet overwhelming demand (i.e. the few friends who missed the first class), I’m offering one more Edible Weeds Class. Monday, August 11th, 4-5pm. We’ll learn which common weed in your garden has Omega-3 amounts to rival flax seeds; which plant has more nutrients than spinach, though will never ask as much from you as a gardener. We’ll talk history, culture, philosophy, and we’ll sample some of my favorite weed-sponsored creations. Come hungry. $15/person, or 2 for $20. Kids welcome and free. If you’re interested, e-mail me at sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net. Me, teaching last edible weed class with very official hand outs.
2) Kids and I just finished and loved, The Wind in the Willows. I marveled at the beautiful language, and the kids marveled at the frequent, scandalous use of the word “ass.” We all laughed at Toad’s antics, and appreciated how Toad was like all of us at our worst: impulsive, restless, narcissistic, and yet aware of his shortcomings and always trying to improve. Col is currently memorizing Toad’s hilarious songs as his new party trick. The last book I loved was J.K. Rowling’s mystery, Cuckoo’s Calling, (written under pseudonym Robert Galbraith). It’s everything you want in a book: fast paced, sharp dialogue, surprising, and including a cantankerous, hard-living detective.
5) We found the pikas! And after camping with 4 kids last weekend, I am now channeling my inner 3-year old (in the moment, eternally-awed, joyous, loving and silly), who had the best time of anyone on the trip and will remember the least.
6) Come back tomorrow for my nutella recipe. Guaranteed to change your life a little bit.
Rest assured, Rose is a much better dog-walker than speller.
I will walk your dog for one hour for four dollars. Does your dog poop on walks? If so, do you have plastic newspaper bags? If you do not I will provide them. This business will be provided for one month.
* Rose is saving up money for the ongoing expenses associated with owning a rat. She’s still in the romantic and dreamy phase, much like many of us when we were pregnant, researching consumer reports pre-approved car seats, selecting The First Outfit to bring to the hospital, imagining endless cuddles and none of the endless pooping. She told me this morning, “When I go to pick up the baby rat, I’ll bring the cage and squeaky toys and all the right food. I’ll have everything ready.” And she will.
Have a wonderful, first weekend of August. August! Can you believe it? I know. Someone said to me yesterday, “Well, I guess that’s it, summer’s about over.” Oh no, there’s much still to savor. I’m expecting lots of sibling fights, nauseatingly hot days, garden failures, all day dishwashing, and all the things that make the days pass particularly slowly. Off to look for pikas this weekend. Much love to you all, always.
It’s Saturday morning, late July, the sun shimmering like a pool of heat you could drown in. The kids are stationed at Lego headquarters, where small, hard-edged plastic shapes sprawl menacingly. Dan and I dream of the high country, where time-limited wildflowers have arrived like dear friends for the briefest of visits.
Luring the children away from home and onto a hike requires a shrewd craftiness which is surely a developmental stage, for parents.
“We’re going on a pika search!” Dan bullhorns towards the Lego pile. He pulls out our Colorado mammal book and gets the kids oohing over photos of the furry, dish-eared critter that lives in alpine rock piles. Something snaps precisely into their motivational receptor sites because the kids pack notebooks and pens, ready to record very important data on this high-altitude member of the rabbit family.
American pika. Dan took this picture at next weekend’s camping destination. Someone’s going to have to break the news to Rose that she can’t invite the pika into her tent.
We bounce and rattle up the forest service road. A sleek pine marten bounds through the spruce. Drama builds in the back seat surrounding who will finish their muffin first, the bizarre and fervent goal to have the last crumb standing. We pass meadows colonized by spreading white islands of the noxious weed, ox-eye daisy (and in a nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dan sings “I can see the ox-eye slowly creeping…”), and the kids launch cutting-edge challenges: “Try not to whistle for five minutes,” Rose propositions Col.
Corn husk lily yarmulke. It *was* shabbat after all.
We park and hike up through the trees, into to the alpine, where the whole world is laid out on a platter of green. The meadows flare with color, and we scare up a buck from his day bed under a talus field.
We bring the kids here to show them that you can fill your heart without accruing a single object, that the earth overflows with miracles that require only our attention, that entire ecosystems thrive with each species taking just enough. Maybe it’s far-fetched, but I’m hoping that these trips act as an answer to why I won’t buy the kids toys that provide a 2-hour hit of joy before becoming forgotten under the couch. (Which, truthfully, is most toys. And so, I say “no” a lot). I believe children have the greatest power to find simple joy in the art of living and playing and being, and I don’t want to dampen or confuse this ability with unnecessary stuff.
Someday, when I’m an old woman (if I am so lucky) with nothing left to lose, I will publicly share all my strong and unpopular opinions. Like, that acquiring more stuff will never, ever bring true, lasting happiness. And that our confusion over this is bringing great harm to ourselves and our earth. But until then, it’s the kids who get my dubious sermons.
We scurry from columbine to penstemon to the impressively adapted alpine willow, no taller than a child’s pinky finger. We patrol the vast talus fields, listening for the telltale pika squeak, looking for the plant bundles they dry in the sun. We hear only one pika—not typically a shy animal—over several hours, and my heart clenches in alarm. It is said that as our world warms, the pika, designed to survive winter at 12,000 feet, can die if exposed to temperatures as mild as 78 degrees.
We cheer ourselves up by searching for indian paintbrush hybrids. Rose is thrilled to discover what happens when the pink paintbrushes hang out with the cream colored ones.
For the next few hours, we ramble around, nibble wild plants, and collect this wild world into our hearts. At this age, undoubtedly, the kids get more excited to watch a movie than go hiking, but I can see the subtle forces of nature chiseling their characters, reminding them of what endures, and seeping, quietly, inside, where it counts.
* I honestly couldn’t think of a title to this post. Offer your ideas and I’ll cook you a roadkill steak with sauteed garden weeds on the side.
This time of year, I become greedy for the monsoons,
for the cool hand of rain to quiet my thirst.
As if the clouds owe me something.
When really, they’re simply the curators of water droplets,
aggregating and unravelling.
Lifting and carrying oceans throughout the sky.
As if that wasn’t miracle enough.
We’re at 10,500 feet, tents tucked in the tall spruce, the La Plata river bending clear and cold below us. Wildflowers splatter the slopes like a Jackson Pollack painting. Dan steps back to admire his “tarp-craft,” and admits, “Well, now I kind of hope it rains.”
Rose spots a chipmunk, no doubt head of campsite clean-up, names it, “Chitty,” and becomes very curious about which foods in our cooler Chitty would most enjoy. “Are you hoping she’ll eat out of your hand?” I ask Rose. “No, I’m hoping she’ll sit on my lap,” my daughter replies with alarming sincerity. Col takes a Round Robin-style approach to camp life: he throws rocks in the river, target shoots with the BB gun, and forms an archive of mud cakes on a coveted piece of plywood Dan finds.
While Dan and I say a million times a day: “the kids will appreciate this when they’re older” (this, being all our fringe, non-mainstream ways: Why go out to eat when we have a freezer full of roadkill? Pack your bags, camping again!), I often wonder what it’s like growing up in this family now, from their perspective. I mean, it’s possible that Rose dreams of thumb-happy weekends on an iPhone. And Col? He issued the bizarre request recently that we do some traveling outside Colorado, as if we’re people who actually leave the zipcode.
Afternoon: lightning smacks the nearby ridges, hail pelts the ground, a new stream picks a route right through camp, waterfalls swell, the river turns muddy and high. We huddle under the tarps, layer on clothes, and give the kids our toothiest smiles, trying to relax any brainwaves registering alarm. The storm persists; morale sags. By hour four, the kids ask to go home.
Dan tells them, “Rain falls on the earth, and we love that. Can’t we be part of that?” The kids are dubious, and yet the rain feels like a metaphor, something about enduring discomfort, allowing it in, trusting it will pass. A meditation teacher once told me, “we practice (meditation) to increase our capacity to endure discomfort.” I believe parenthood works towards this end, too.
You will be happy to know that I always take my fashion sense to the woods. Also, IPA gluten-free beer pretty tasty, minus the embarrassment over buying gluten-free beer. But, plus the excitement of: beer!
Dan gets us through some low points by telling stories of his childhood summers camping in spongy, soaked Eastern Canada with his dad. If it wasn’t rain, it was (say it with me)…bugs! Dinner was what malingered in the cooler, titled “goulash:” a fretful compilation of blackened bananas, whole, bony fish, a few shriveled garbanzo beans. Col and Rose howl with laughter, forgetting for a blessed minute, the rain soaking their ponchos.
Six hours later, the storm lets up. The mountains are instantly greener. A blue patch of sky spreads like a rip in the clouds. “That’ll freshen up the flowers,” Dan says like a parody of his own indefatigable optimism. The sun delivers one last blast of hope before crawling over the western ridge. We eat a dutch oven meal of warm, meaty deliciousness, remove our ponchos, and I read to the kids around the fire. We go to bed.
The next morning is cold and clear, sun sparkling off every green, living thing. We hike to an alpine lake, and in an ironic twist Rose begs me to hike farther with her. The ground gets marshy and Rose states the obvious: “Well, take off your shoes,” hers long since abandoned. We sploosh through the soupy wildflowers, the lake mud, waking up the soles of my feet.
Now home, I think of everything the children saw on this trip: the baby grouse tucked into tall grass while her mother led us away in the opposite direction, deer sneaking around misty morning slopes, the robin who forged an aerial path through camp to her nest, insects wriggling in beak. I don’t know what level of future appreciation for these experiences will dawn on the kids someday, but I believe that right now they know how much their parents love wild places, rain and all.
Alpine sunflower. Rose had a need to touch flowers as she walked. Not sure why, but seems auspicious.
Apropos of nothing in this post, Col has been fashioning spears for spear fishing. It’s been one of those things that as a parent I’m like, “Oh cute, my son’s talking and planning a lot for this spear fishing thing.” And then I actually tune in and realize he’s fashioned four different types of spears from Dan’s broken arrows and is damn serious about nailing a trout.
I was walking out the door when Dan called after me, “hey, thanks for the weeds.” A tangle of toothy greens draped in balsamic vinegrette occupied a corner of his lunch plate. I searched his face for sarcasm and found only sincerity. This is where we’re at. No apologies.
It’s almost funny, how much time I spend coaxing reluctant food from soil, while the weeds grow (and grow and grow…). I’ve constructed hemp-cloth shades for the lettuce, tried to psyche the spinach out of its Julyish propensity to flower, and watched a new row of bok choi get mowed down by some nocturnal insect overnight. Meanwhile, the purslane weaves itself through the carrot patch like there’s no place it’d rather grow than the arid Southwest. The forest-green amaranth grows like a trick-plant: pick ten leaves and they’ve remade themselves the next day. The lamb’s quarters exhale a meadow of greenness into our salads.
Eating weeds is about going with rather than against the flow, about working less and reaping more, about becoming more intimate with your garden, about preparing for a changing climate, and wringing the most nutrition from your food.
It may be true that every Brooklyn hipster and his gluten-free dog purchases a $5 bundled bouquet of dandelion greens at the weekly farmers market. Even notable doctor, Jonny Bowden, listed dandelion greens as a starred vegetable in his book, 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. But, lets talk about the lesser known weeds, common mallow, alfalfa, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, purslane, red clover, and more. The ones which defy your curses, efforts and neglect, growing into gorgeous caricatures of their own trickster healthfulness.
I’m offering classes this summer, on fermentation, canning, writing, but first: edible weeds!
List of all my summer/fall 2014 homesteading and writing classes HERE. (Thanks to everyone who’s been sharing the info on these classes. Means a lot to me!)
Identify (and eat!) Edible Weeds
Sunday, July 20th, 10am – 11am; Location: TBA upon sign up. Cost = $15, or 2 spots for $20. Kids free with a parent.
Common garden weeds are packed with nutrients, adapted to native soil conditions and natural rainfall. Come to my home garden and learn to identify common, edible weeds, the best time to pick them, which parts are edible and how to prepare them. Come home with handouts, recipes, and nutritional info. Sample some delicious, easy to prepare treats. Limited to 10 people. Must sign up by Friday, July 18th. To sign up, e-mail me at sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net.
This is not to say we’re not all about some garden kale, too.