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Dystopias and utopias

2018 November 21
by Rachel Turiel

I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about Thanksgiving this year. I mean celebrating one supposedly inclusive harvest season amidst a generational history of settlers who stole land, committed genocide and aimed to destroy fully functional, community-centered, earth-connected indigenous cultures is like sprinkling a little baking soda on a landfill and calling it a success. Why aren’t we talking about the truth? I broached this topic with the kids, wondering if they had the whole picture. “You mean how Columbus was a murderer?” Col asked. Yeah, pretty much that vein of history.

This is not to say don’t enjoy your holiday fixings; we are grateful to be included in our friends’ gathering. I’m just saying the more we can all acknowledge the devastating truth of history, and its present-day repercussions, the more likely it is that we may choose to stop perpetuating oppression.

In other news, Col shot his first buck deer. Hard to say if this was a bigger moment for Col or Dan. In his typical understated way, Col returned from the hunt, flushed and adrenalined and bloodstained, told me the whole story, ate a couple tacos and then settled in with a comic book on the couch while my heart leaped around my ribcage. We’ve been enjoying deer roasts and deer burgers and celebrating the whole, wild reality of this 13 yr old boy feeding the family.

Also, I got a piece published in the New York Times. It’s about navigating the complexities of raising children who want to fit in and be accepted while their parents (that would be us) live a pretty unconventional lifestyle. I’m really honored to share this essay, and really bewildered by some of the comments. My favorite thus far is the person who with all seriousness says it’s OK to not wear makeup or shave my legs, but not having a smartphone is taking it too far.

Col is working on a series of drawings of retro technology, including my first computer, which almost sent me to the chiropractor, hefting it to the electronics recycling.

Interestingly, Rose just completed a dystopian/utopian literature project in which she created a dystopia where people outsourced their humanity to their phones. After the historic “screen attack” which killed most of the community (except the few who “threw their phones from the tallest building smashing them into a million pieces,”) the utopia was born, where people spoke face to face, solved their problems nonviolently and relearned practical skills like farming, hunting and using medicinal herbs. Slay me. After her exhibition, she came home and asked to watch a video about making a hygienic toothbrush holder out of a tennis ball. Complexity.

This was a big year in which I trusted the kids to monitor their own candy consumption, which meant deep breathing through food coloring. We all survived. #Jewishsanta

And I’ve been reading, lots of reading. First I read this fascinating memoir written by a man whose son nearly died from a meth addiction. Then I read the son’s memoir. Both were horrifyingly riveting. Also, this heartbreakingly beautiful memoir, written by Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated. His crime, you will see, is that he was black and poor. Note: I like to link to Amazon so you can see the reviews, however, consider spending your $ at independent bookstores, or this online book retailer that donates to literacy programs worldwide, or go to your local library, or borrow from me.

Our 126 frost-damaged winter squash are starting to mold in the root cellar. Thus, we’ve become very serious about winter baking. Squash steams on the stovetop and bakes in the oven, continually. “I only eat pumpkin now,” Dan told me while tucking into a plate of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread.

With love,


8 Responses leave one →
  1. Pam permalink
    November 21, 2018

    I so enjoy getting to know you and your family. There is so much love and life!

  2. Kathy in Michigan permalink
    November 21, 2018

    Hi, Rachel. To ease your mind, think of Thanksgiving as a valuable incident which reminds us of appreciation between two peoples, one very grateful for their survival and a group of welcoming indigenous people who satisfied a serious need.
    And remember too the first thanksgiving celebrated on the Rio Grande in 1598, as Juan de Onate’s expedition towards what is now New Mexico. A great thanksgiving celebrated by seriously needy families as they found the river abundant with birds and fish.
    Both great historical opportunities for study.
    Though outcomes after those celebrations was at best abhorrent and genocidal, needy and brave people were saved from perishing in a new and violent world.
    And my grandson got his first deer last week too! Would sure like a taste, but you and he are too far away to partake. Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. November 21, 2018

    i don’t know, because i’ve never been published in the NYT (HOLY MOLY, CONGRATULATIONS, WOMAN!!!) but i think the prevailing wisdom is “don’t read the comments!” anyone who knows you, understands that article, and is gulping it down like some sort of thirst-quenching tonic. (of course, they’re the ones who also don’t have smart phones to comment from). anyone who doesn’t know you, should just come read this post, or even just the paragraph about rose’s dystopian lit project. and then maybe go back and re-read that absolutely golden, luminous NYT piece with some perspective.

    also, the smile on dan’s face in the first photo says it all. big congrats to col as well!

    love love love, and so happy for you.

  4. Elizabeth permalink
    November 21, 2018

    Congrats on the New York Times piece, exposing yourself in this personal way is very brave! I remember when my husband had an opinion piece in a Dutch newspaper (much smaller, but felt big when I saw his name in print :)) and the responses were judgmental, lacked nuance. Even when it was nonsensical, it still gave me an awkward feeling somewhere in the underbelly. I hope you’ll get more essays published, the world needs counter cultural voices like yours.

    By the way, Ben Hewitt’s son Rye has an instagram acount about his hunting and foraging adventures in Vermont:
    Ben wrote about his son’s passion recently and I found his last paragraph very moving.

  5. Anna permalink
    November 22, 2018

    Thank you for sharing your insights, Rachel. Congratulations on our NYT publication! I can’t wait for that memoir! I’m sucking up your stories and thoughts like a sponge. I am now the one with two pink-dress-clad, purse-carrying toddler princesses helping to process the bull elk in our home; gathering wild fruit; making everything from scratch (and getting very dirty in the process); and just generally enjoying the wildness of being part of nature in many unstructured adventures. I always wonder when these days and these family customs will be questioned by my two wild princesses, and how our lifestyle will adapt.

  6. November 24, 2018

    Congrats on the article! The cookbook “Classic German Baking” by Luisa Weiss has a recipe for Bremer Kürbisbrot, which is a yeast bread (not cake!) with a whole squash in it (if you double the recipe, always double the recipe). I can’t remember if your fam eats gluten, but it’s an easy enough recipe that packs a wallop of flavor if you’ve got any bread eaters.

  7. Solyssa permalink
    November 25, 2018

    Wow, there is just so much here. I so enjoyed reading the Times article but also going through all the comments. The judgements, the support, the person who said they were just sick of the comments section for all the opinionated response. And I applaud you for submitting what I consider quite a courageous article to put out to NYT readers, many of whom live light years away from the ideology of simple living and sustainable choices you talk about.
    I find the internet full of seemingly heartfelt arguments for simplicity, natural choices, minimalism; often accompanied by high price consumer items and beautiful whitewashed kitchens. You always get to the ‘meat’ of the matter. I so appreciate your connection to the sources of your food. American culture is disconnected in so many ways but perhaps the loss of where our food comes from is one of the most fundamental, as this is so linked to tradition and culture around the growing, gathering and consuming. It’s really hard to build a sacred meal out of store-bought, shrink-wrapped, industrial-raised meat. Thank you Rachel!

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