The kids are more excited about the annual city-wide fall clean up, in which people toss trash-goodies to the curb for the city to dumptruck away, than the actual, breathtaking, changing of the leaves. We drove to the high country last weekend, passing through the rise and fall of an entire season at once: from still green, to every combination of red and yellow as if each tree were decked in tropical parrots, to naked and gone. “It’s fluxing all around,” Dan said, which feels like the truest truth of fall.
Also fluxing all around is my health. I’ll start by saying “I’m OK,” in the same way I prefaced the “Col concussion” phone call to my parents with “Everyone’s OK,” because we humans are nervous enough without having to wait for a long explanation involving words like ladder, fall, and unconscious to hear that ultimately, everything is OK. As opposed to Col who came running in from playing with the neighbors, announcing, “I have some bad news.” Turns out our chickens have been launching themselves into David’s yard, which, after unclenching our nervous systems, Dan and I explained really isn’t bad news.
The Western docs have one diagnosis, the upshot being: there is no known cause or cure to my symptoms (thus, medication forever). My other current medical practitioner, a gorgeous Vietnamese wholistic kinesiologist who falls between totally out there and amazingly, inexplicably right-on believes my body can heal itself. She has determined, through muscle-testing, that the following foods are, for now, part of the problem: grains, fruit, sweeteners, dairy and white potatoes (and anyone who can identify an alcohol made with none of the above gets my undying gratitude).
How has it been? Motherfucking hard as hell. My seasonal compass has lost its bearings. Our peaches have swelled, ripened and been eaten by family and friends, juice pooling on their apologetic chins. Dan will say casually, “let’s go check on that pear tree on West 3rd,” while the house goes silent and a big N/A registers on my face. Our weekly raw milk, from which I make yogurt teeming with probiotics? Off limits.
Some nights, I eat an entirely different meal than my family. Other nights, I have what seems like a dreary knockoff of their meal. They eat thick-crust, cheese-dripping homemade pizza, I eat, er toppings. After one month I’d told myself that the repetitiveness of all the fried eggs, onions and kale I’d been eating isn’t so bad because of the spicy pizzazz of my fermented tomato salsa. Then, Hottie Healer decreed no more nightshades (“don’t shoot the messenger,” she reminds me). At the same time, my entire garden looked like a nightshade factory: potatoes, jalapenos, tomatillos, tomatoes and eggplants, all shining with ripeness.
Having restrictions has made me feel isolated and even a little embarrassed (Paleo? So trendy). Although I’ve long been a “healthy eater,” I’m reassured by the fact that I could find myself hungry at say, the Albuquerque airport, and order any fried hunk of hydrogenated corn-syruped gluten without any ill effects. I’ve always loved Natalie Goldberg’s advice to writers to take what is offered to you and taste the story of it, whether it’s a steak, a brownie or an old shoe. Now, I have to decline old shoes made of grain.
Still, I’ve been freezing eggplant dip and roasted green chiles; I’ve been canning tomatoes, tomatillo salsa, and pear sauce; I’ve been boxing up apples for the root cellar, all somewhat robotically, because this is what I do in fall. My aunt-in-law, the wonderful Barb Platt, once sent me an article postulating that seasonal depression is due to us “advanced” humans no longer spending autumn in a frenzy of food preservation, filling our larders with the literal fruits of our labors, once translating to nothing less than survival. I’ve felt that sense of buoyant security, that sense of meaning, of satisfying some molecular itch, going into winter with the pantry stocked. And yet, much of what I’ve labored over this fall is currently “part of the problem.” Talk about seasonal depression and confusion. Also, through all these changes, my symptoms raged on.
At my most optimistic, I’ve enjoyed what I can eat. My taste buds have reincarnated; I swoon over the caramely sweetness of roasted onions. My appreciation of animal flesh is near holy. There are a lot more vegetables on our table than ever before, and tonight I marveled at my kids enthusiasm over dessert of unsweetened applesauce. I make a lot of soups, in which meat, onion and garlic are the flavor base, and then every vegetable that gets through Hottie Healer Security goes into the pot. I travel with an avocado and spoon in my purse. Two cans of coconut milk, weekly. I bought some James Ranch pork fat to render into lard, and came home yesterday with ten pounds of local grassfed beef bones my friend Melanie gave me, all aflutter over the gut-healing properties of gelatin. I’m not casual about eating: we found the last forgotten package of elk sausage in the freezer and I hugged it.
There is no longer anything to binge or numb feelings on, which is disconcerting and also illuminating. I’ve dropped a size, despite eating loads of healthy fats, leading me to believe it’s sugar and carbs which stick to our ribs and thighs and bellies. It’s possible that I’ve become a bit of a pain in the ass to live with, like last night when I quietly returned a bottle of ketchup to the fridge after it appeared at the table like a beacon of tomato-flavored sugar. And I don’t want to be a militant zealot, body-blocking the neighbors’ cheddar bunnies, but I’m also the tiniest bit dismayed about the machine of American food production, and what’s marketed to kids, to all of us.
Also, I am wildly happy to report that after 40 days on this diet, my symptoms are receding. My decade-long symptoms. Receding. I’m so wildly happy about this, I’m like a postpartum mother, so awed with tiny miracles that I’ve already forgotten the month of protracted and wrenching labor. My belief is that, despite the fact that I’ve never had digestion problems, my gut has been compromised by grains and sugar. There’s loads of evidence to support this, so I won’t recount it here. I also believe that eventually I’ll be able to bring some of the exiled foods back into my diet with no problems. But, I’m not worried about that now. Right now I feel like the sun is rising on something new and beautiful.
*Huge gratitude to Phuong, whose crazy skills I bow down to.
*And gratitude to my friends who’ve supported my darkest moments, and to my parents, who are visiting for TWO MONTHS and are brave enough to cook for me and act like it’s no biggie.