The Path

Photo by Lori DeMarre

Occasionally when I would explain my concept for my year-long flower project, which involves getting to know the plants I encounter in the eight blocks between my apartment and my work, people would say, “Oh, like The Path by Chet Raymo.” And I always replied, “No, not like that.” I thought I had read The Path (I was mixing it up with another book) and my book was nothing like it.

Well, I finally got a copy of The Path and I’m thrilled and enchanted by the comparison. Raymo’s book is similar to mine in that we are both interested in using this device (the daily walk) as a framework on which we can hang all sorts of interesting information (he manages to incorporate architecture, history, botany, astronomy, etc.) His writing style is gorgeous, playful and supple. I hope mine is equally delightful.

One difference is significant. Chet Raymo’s path is linear–he proceeds along the same path every day and his book moves along that path in segments. My path is more like a maze. My work is five blocks south and three blocks west of my house. I haven’t really worked out the math but I figure there are probably at least 45 ways I could walk those blocks, depending on which block I turn at, and that’s not including the occasional alley (I love alleys).

One consequence of this is that I’m always getting lost, a habit praised by another favorite author, Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. (She’s also an advocate for walking in the city.) And I lose track of where I saw the plants as well. That’s partly because the landscape is always changing as the seasons pass. And partly because I walk a different way every time.

Last spring I encountered a fragrant rhododendron within blocks of my apartment but I’ve never been able to find it again. And a few weeks ago, the lovely aroma alerted me to a new linden tree, which I then lost for almost a week. This getting lost, and discovering new plants, helps create a sense of mystery and magic in my life. And I hope it adds depth to the stories I am writing about my floral adventures.

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Good Enough to Wait

By Sonya Lea

Preserving food is the extended foreplay of the gustatory world.  Especially for city-dwellers, it revives a sense of connection with wild nature, and rejuvenates senses dormant from over-reliance on the fast and the cheap.  If drive-thru is the dining equivalent of the quickie, preserving fresh, seasonal produce for later supping is tantric bliss.

If drive-thru is the dining equivalent of the quickie, preserving fresh, seasonal produce for later supping is tantric bliss.

The last week of summer I drove out to the local farm and purchased boxes of coral peaches, firm pickling cucumbers, banana and pasilla and sweet Anaheim peppers, ripe red and fleshy green tomatoes and plump blackberries.  It didn’t look like promiscuity until the saleswoman sized me up and down behind the mountain of produce stacked in eight large boxes.  “Well, you’re sure going to have your work cut out for you,” she snarked.  And the old man in line in front of me offered a wide grin, as if he knew what I would be up to, and said, in a wistful tone: “Me and the missus used to put up.  Oh, I miss it so.”

By the time I unloaded the car and began washing the long, nubby cuke, I realized I was going to be days in this kitchen – days immersed in the sweet perfume of fervid juice and musky field; days with my fingers in slippery seeds, days nudging the ruby pit from its fleshy center.   I filled the sink with cool water and stripped to my bare feet, and brought a berry to my lips, tracking its nib with my tongue before biting into its succulent drupelets.

Canning, freezing, drying, curing, fermenting, pickling, jam and jelly making – preserving holds the genius of our earliest people.  Preserving developed between 5500 and 3500 BC, creating villages, and vessels, and livestock, perhaps even the very urge to civilize in the way we experience it today.  (Though it seems strange to this acculturated cook, one of the ways historians categorize societies as being ‘civilized’ is when the primary purpose of food gathering, preparation and storing has been diverted to allow the pursuit of other, more ‘complex’ activities, such as war, religion, bureaucracy.)  Homo sapiens found he could manage his stock, and digest proteins better when food went over fire, and intentional cookery followed, leading to food as a social engagement, as taboo arbiter, as identity-maker.  What we keep can communicate our sense of frugal sparseness or our abundant beguilement: the heirloom we shelve can be our strained broth or our rose-drenched honey.  We preserve what we wish to have known as the common good.

It’s possible that salt was the first additive used as a method to preserve food.   Used by ancient communities close to the sea, salt preserves by inhibiting toxin-producing bacteria, making it essential for forms of flesh – meat, fish and the human body, as for mummifying.  Those who wielded the salt wielded the power, as the Emperor Claudius knew when he strolled into the senate one day asking if man could live without salt meat.  Before it was the Eternal City, Rome was a staging post where local marketers exchanged their goods for precious salt.  Leaders and merchants preserved their own futures along the Via Salaria, the salt road; when unforeseen circumstances meant there was little access to fresh food, salt could define a government’s rule.

Even though we now have more sugar than we know what to do with, we continue a romance with the saporous temptress: we call our beloveds ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ and ask them to give us some ‘sugar’ when we wish to be kissed.

Indeed, whoever holds the keys to the pantry holds the power.  None knew this better that Mahatma Gandhi, who emerged from his six-year prison confinement to protest the exclusive British licensing of Indian sea salt.  When he marched from the ashram to the beach at Dandi, he placed salt crystals evaporated by the sea into his small palm, enacting a potent ritual that defied the authorities in one simple act.  Indians followed, breaking the law en masse, literally assuming worth of one’s salt, until the Brits relented and asked Gandhi to represent his Indian Congress Party at the 1931 leadership conference.

At Indian rituals, Roman feasts, Athenian festivals, Chinese banquets, Middle Eastern merry-making, and Egyptian sacraments all manner of seeds, plants and flowers were preserved with sugar.  After the fourteenth century, the master confectioners of Paris made their fortunes selling to the aristocracy, and since gifts of preserves were considered luxurious, these sugared treats became a regular expense of anyone who had a role with the law. (Used as chamber spices for ‘dispelling wind and encouraging the seed’ these sweets, often called sweetmeats, were at least poetically-perfect: a candy by any other name would surely not have prefaced lovemaking.)  Sugar was brought to the New World after Columbus’ affair with Canary Island’s Governor, one Beatrice de Bobadilla, who sent him from their month-long tryst with cuttings of sugar cane.  From that sweet union, came America’s love affair with all things candied.  Jams, jellies, syrups, sugared fruits, sugar-wine (rum) – sugar was once an international currency, with labor rewarded in casks of syrup, and millions paid for its becoming a standard with their very lives, including creating a caste of slaves from Africa who would do the back-breaking work of sweetening up the colonist’s diet, and his pockets.  Even though we now have more sugar than we know what to do with, we continue a romance with the saporous temptress: we call our beloveds ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ and ask them to give us some ‘sugar’ when we wish to be kissed.  “It must be jelly,” says the blues singer, “Cuz jam don’t shake like that.”

There is no savings in preserving food at home.  The costs of labor and equipment and of what will break or go rotten through experimentation is high compared to what we can stroll down to the store and buy for a dollar or two from Smuckers or Kraft or Heinz.  Still, there is a part of our relationship to food we are buying back when we agree to follow the transformation from field to table.  In grocery shopping there isn’t the kind of bond to the elements, the land, the season, the home, the kitchen; there isn’t the connection to one’s memory, or history or intention; there isn’t seasoning or sensuality or seductive surprise that can come from becoming present to food as it changes, or even likelier, as we are changed by its presence in our midst.

We are preserving passion, which is, I believe, able to be ingested as nourishment, as earth-muse, and for us, as remembrance of a moment’s lovemaking.

This is how it happens in our home – we weave food preparation with the events of the day, with the weather, with the quiet and the conversation, watching movements and mistakes as they assert themselves, upon us and upon our food, asking for our attention.  This is how dried lavender gets shaken into the sugar canister for lavender-scented sugar; this is how the lavender buds get dumped into the peach jam, when the sifter is forgotten; this is how it gets stirred in with a jam-coated spoon; this is how it drips onto my breasts when I lean over to sample it; this is how my lover, walking by, missing no entreaty, turns me around and licks it from my flesh; this is how the fire leaps into me and my peaches while we’re dancing and kissing above the flame; this is perhaps what you also taste when I make you toast from fresh bread and chunky fruit and violet sprigs of calming flower.  We are preserving passion, which is, I believe, able to be ingested as nourishment, as earth-muse, and for us, as remembrance of a moment’s lovemaking.

On the Sunday after I’d been at the farm, a box of enormous tomatoes sat on the kitchen table, their pulp so ready to burst forth they practically split sitting in the afternoon sun.  It was time to get ready for dinner, and my man had lit a fire of mesquite and hickory on the smoker just outside the kitchen door.  As he came and went, smoke infused the house, leading us straight into an ancestral domain.  Before long we had gathered those beefy reds and laid them on the grill and waited until their skins split from heat and flame.  I let them cool on the counter, then quickly cored and peeled them, sliding eighths into a large pot, simmering slowly, before adding grainy salt and a handful of fresh basil.  An hour or so later, I lifted a wooden spoon to my mouth and felt another woman enter from the balls of my feet to the curve of my belly to just below my throat.  And then she was yelling a phrase I knew I’d heard my grandmother say a long time ago, — “Oh. My. Lord!” – a gusty, guttural call of a blues woman, an expression coming more from kinetic core than mental knowing, the smoke-dazed freshness of the fruit a memory of a time I hadn’t had, couldn’t know.  The man looked inside from the fire, smiling.  He didn’t know who this woman was yet, but he was about to taste her.

SEXY RECIPES:

peachesPeach Lavender Jam

Sugar:
4 cups granulated sugar
large bunch lavender buds*
Shake buds into sugar and let rest for two weeks, shaking a few times each week.

Jam:
2 1/2 lb. peaches, peeled and pitted
juice of one lemon
1 cup water

Prepare peaches, cut into chunks, then sprinkle with lemon juice and stir.

Bring the sugar and water to a bowl; sift the lavender out, or not – your choice!  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and boil rapidly five minutes.  Add the peaches, return to boil, and boil rapidly, stirring often twenty minutes, or until jell stage.

Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for ten minutes.  Skim well.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal.  Process according to recommendations.

Makes three pints.

*(if you don’t grow and dry your own, purchase buds from a botanical store locally)

Smoke-Infused Tomato Sauce

4 lb. beefsteak tomatoes
large bunch basil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Prepare a grill or smoker and soak wood chips in water.  A few minutes before placing the tomatoes on the grill, let the chips begin to smoke.  Quickly place the tomatoes, cover and peek every few minutes to see if the skins have burst.  Take them off the flame (use the grill for a kebob or steak to go with the sauce.)

Peel the tomatoes, cut into eighths and if you prefer, remove most of the seeds.  Place in a heavy bottomed pan, and bring to boil.  Add salt.  Simmer 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.  Take off the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Add a few basil sprigs to each hot sterilized jar.  Pour the sauce over.  Heat process, cool, and check the seals.  (If you prefer not to heat process, you can refrigerate up to one month, or freeze for two months, but cool the jars first before refrigerating.)

Makes 5 cups

Use in pasta sauces or on pizzas.

Photo Credit:

Judy Maselli

References:

Crumpacker, Bunnym The Sex Life of Food, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2006
Fisher, M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1937
Schwartz, Oded, Preserving, DK Publishing, Inc., 1996.
Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne, History of Food,  Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, U.K., 1992
Weldon, Amy E.,“The Fruits of Memory,” Corn Bread Nation 2, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., 2004

Sonya Lea is the author of Wondering Who You Are,  an intensely honest and lyrical memoir,published by Tin House in 2015, about what happened in her marriage after her husband lost his memories, due to a traumatic brain injury. Check out my interview with her here at my writing web site.

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A Rare Conjunction

by Sheila Belanger

This summer brings us a rare and unusual dance of three interesting celestial characters: Jupiter, Neptune and Chiron. All three are turning retrograde during a three week period at the start of the summer: Neptune on May 28, Chiron on May 30 and Jupiter on June 15. They are all in the sign of Aquarius and hovering close to about 26 degrees of Aquarius.

When a planet goes retrograde, it looks like its stopping and backing up. Planets don’t really move backwards, but they seem to stop and hover in a particular place in the star wheel from our perspective on earth. This action calls our attention to the place in the star wheel where they are shifting.

When planets are in Aquarius, they activate the role of the rebel, the one who is authentic, unique, alternative. Aquarius encourages us to think outside of the box. It’s about the collective and the tribe.

When planets are in Aquarius, they activate the role of the rebel, the one who is authentic, unique, alternative. Aquarius encourages us to think outside of the box. It’s about the collective and the tribe. Aquarius is an altruistic sign, in the true meaning of the word altruistic: orienting to others. Yet it also calls us to be true to ourselves as individuals, to be unique members of a collective.

So how do these three planetary characters play with the Aquarius energy?
Jupiter is a big gassy planet: it asks us to expand and open up. Jupiter in Aquarius says “I want to support your expanding your sense of the collective and the community. I want to help you take your place in your tribe.”

Chiron is a comet that represents the shaman or wounded healer. Chiron points out where you need healing. In Aquarius, the wound that needs healing is marginalizing yourself, judging yourself, putting yourself outside of the group because you feel you don’t belong.

Neptune’s gift is the ability to dream and vision. In Aquarius, Neptune can help us envision a new way to work together. The negative side of Neptune is a feeling of helplessness. “I can’t make a difference so why bother?”

The conjunction of these three planets is rare. The last time it happened was in September of 1945, at the end of World War II. Before that, it was in 1881. Chiron has a very unusual orbital period around the sun: sometimes short and sometimes long. Jupiter and Neptune come together every 12 to 13 years. Jupiter and Chiron come together every 13 to 20 years. Chiron and Neptune come together every 57 to 80 years. So this conjunction offers us an amazing opportunity.

It is a call to healing, a chance to change our vision in terms of the collective, to move away from a sense of helplessness.

It is a call to healing, a chance to change our vision in terms of the collective, to move away from a sense of helplessness. We saw this during the campaign and the election of President Obama. In a sense, this was his campaign message: yes we can, we can make a difference. And the economic crisis is encouraging more of the same attitude. We see that we need to make a change. And we understand that we all in this together.

These three celestial characters will go back and forth connecting with each other throughout the whole year. Jupiter (the teacher, the expanded one) conjoins Chiron (the healer) three times on May 23, July 22 and December 7.

Jupiter connects with Neptune, expanding our ability to dream, our intuitive, spiritual and psychic selves (as well as our victim and overwhelmed selves) on May 27, July 10 and December 21.

You may feel the call from your inner teacher (Jupiter) to come out of the fog (Neptune) and attend to some old pattern (Chiron), particularly a wound having to do with dissociation and escapism (Neptune). The healing can come from the positive qualities of Aquarius: staying true to your self, and the unique gifts you bring to the world.

When you feel angst about your addictions, when you feel overwhelmed or victimized, say a prayer for your ancestors who felt the same way. Offer them love. Offer them light. It’s a way you can shift the pattern for yourself.

Chiron has a link with healing the ancestors. So the wound may not be (just) a personal wound.  Many of our ancestors struggled with addiction, found ways to escape from the pain in their lives, had to give up aspects of themselves just to survive.

One way to heal an ancestral pattern is to ask for help. You can call on your healed ancestors, ten, twenty generations back, before there was a wound. Ask them to help you, to stand at your back. You can also use Neptunian tools like prayer, meditation and sending compassion to your ancestors.

When you feel angst about your addictions, when you feel overwhelmed or victimized, say a prayer for your ancestors who felt the same way. Offer them love. Offer them light. It’s a way you can shift the pattern for yourself.

Aquarius is connected with technology because it’s about progressive, alternative ways of doing things. Because of the Internet and television, we are now connected to people all over the world. But the shadow side of technology and Aquarius can be too much information. There’s a psychic, emotional component to all of the information, especially the bad news, we are being bombarded with.

Aquarius tends to be a mental sign and that can lead to dissociation. We just shut down. When Aquarius energy is stressed, it tends to want to escape, to check out, to run away. How the hell to I get out of here?

One solution can be found in the compassionate nature of Neptune. Ask yourself: How do I keep my heart open in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me? How do I stay open and sensitive to the collective without losing myself?

Transcribed from a talk Sheila gave at East/West Bookshop on March 26, 2009. The complete tape which covers many other astrological cycles for Spring and early Summer can be purchased at www.sheilabelanger.net

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“Living in Season” is for anyone who is weary of the frantic pace of modern life, who wants to slow down, connect with the natural world, and live a life filled with heart and meaning. Each season has its own flavor, captured in the folklore of seasonal holidays, preserved in rituals and recipes, ceremonies and songs.

This quarterly “Living in Season” e-zine helps you connect with the seasons through our articles, online courses (with suggestions on spiritual practices and creative pursuits that match the energy of each season), books and e-books on time management and the seasons. We’re glad you’ve joined us!

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