Archive for December, 2011

December 29, 2011


by Cynthia


Everything has a beginning. Most things begin as a tiny something, hidden away, usually in the dark. An traveling egg encounters a rushing spermatozoa, a pea is buried beneath the soil, an idea is formed deep inside the brain late at night while its thinker lies, sleepless.

Things sprout. The pea sprouts a root that reaches down into the soil for water and leaves that reach up to the sun for energy. The embryo sprouts little buds of legs and arms. An idea sprouts into a thought, the thought into an intention, the intention into action.

Planting, tending, watching and nurturing are my jobs. As a psychotherapist, my job is to witness and nurture people’s emotional and relational growth. As a mother and grandmother, my job is to support, encourage and guide, but mostly to love fiercely and without waiver. As a gardener, my job is to plant, nurture and harvest in a way that is respectful of the soil, the plant, and the planet.

This quotation from Hal Borland cheers me as Christmastime ebbs away and the two dreary months of January and February loom unpleasantly on the horizon;

“There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues.”

They began arriving on Monday. Burpee, Territorial, The Cook’s Garden, Johnny’s.  And there will be more. I take them to bed with a cup of hot tea and turn up the electric blanket, dreaming, imagining, planning for spring, wishing away the winter. I’d like to enjoy the winter more and perhaps if we had sunshine, or snow, and especially if we had sunshine and snow at the same time, I might. But here in Tennessee, winter is mostly dreary, or wet, and often dreary and wet concurrently.

So I dream of thing sprouting. I buy seeds, and fire up the grow lights, and make my plans. In a way, it is what we all do each morning. We fire up the grow lights and plan our day. Something is always sprouting, if not in the garden, at least in our imaginations. Especially in winter.

December 29, 2011

The Intentional Eater’s Dilemma

by Cynthia

The Intentional Eater’s Dilemma

I was listening to an interview with Micheal Pollan on NPR last weekend. He was doing Michael Feldman’s show, What Do You Know?, and was talking about the new addition of his book Food Rules. Micheal Pollan is smart, inspiring and convincing about food.  In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan established himself as the Pied Piper of intentional eaters by tracing the industrial food production system from source to table.

On my kitchen counter sits Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s book about her family’s year long experience of living in the Kentucky countryside and eating only what they could grow or buy close to home. Kingsolver’s book convinced me of the virtues , and the pleasures, of being a locavore. 

In the same week as the Pollan interview,  I downloaded an article by Andrew Weil on the Anti-inflammatory diet, hoping to use my food choices as a way to diminish the symptoms of lupus that have been wreaking havoc on my body the past few months.  If I eliminate the foods that are on Weil’s list of no-no’s, and I eliminate foods that are non-organically grown, and I eliminate foods that were grown far away and shipped to my area, burning fossil fuels and contributing to the decimation of the ozone layer, what is left for me to eat?  Especially in the winter, and darn it, it is winter now. The only things in the garden are the winter greens. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have them. I eat them raw. I chop them into soups. I make dips, omelets, and casseroles with them. But what about my craving for an orange? Or a fresh carrot?

Being a locavore in Zone 6b is no fun in the winter. But if I hop on down to the nearest grocery and buy an organic orange that was picked a couple of weeks ago and came to me by way of California and an 18 wheeler, I feel as if I am doing something immoral.  If I only eat what I can buy or grow in my hometown, I am resigned to the frozen or canned or dried fruits and veggies stacked in my pantry or on my freezer shelves. I try to be good, I really do. I haven’t had a fresh green bean since August.

But I have a confession to make. I buy limes. I buy them all year long, three or four at a time. Granted, I am growing a lime tree, I have good intentions. If I live another 20 years and manage to keep this tree alive, perhaps one day I will quit my guilty habit of buying fresh limes. Could Barbara Kingsolver and her family live on that farm the rest of their lives, eating only what they could make or purchase within a few miles? I wonder. Would her children grow up smuggling fresh fruit into the house under their raincoats? Would her husband leave her for the first woman who offered him a fresh vine-ripened tomato mid-winter?                     .

This food choice thing is one area where I believe in moderation. Michael Pollan talks about flexatarians- people who are mainly vegetarian but eat meat on occasion. I like that word. I’m a flexatarian. Mostly, I eat organic food that I grow in my own yard, and meat that some man in my family has shot and slaughtered. But now and then I go to Subway and get a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips. Sometimes I buy beef jerky and pretzels at the gas station and chase them with a Diet Coke. And we already know about my lime habit.  None of us has to eat perfectly to make an impact on the environment. If all of us would eat a little more organic, and a little more local, and a little less meat, the planet, and our bodies, would be a lot better off.

December 2, 2011

Gardening as spiritual exercise

by Cynthia

It’s late November and time to put the garden to bed. There are still lettuces and cabbages and other greens growing like mad in one of the raised beds, tucked snugly under a row cover to protect them from the early morning frosts that herald the coming winter. In another bed is a lovely stand of green peas, their vines curling tenaciously around the cane poles I staked along the borders to give them support. The pea vines are a lovely translucent green and the pods are full of peas that will never mature. The vines froze in the first hard frost, leaving the big, flat pods shimmering and glassy. Clearly in my late summer greediness for a second pea crop I miscalculated the timing of days to maturity and first autumn freeze. I’ll pull them up this weekend and throw them in the compost pile.  One of the blessings of a vegetable garden is that even mistakes can be turned into something useful.

Last weekend Tim and I mucked out the animal stalls and transferred the litter to the garden. We are doing a little experiment. Since we won’t plant again until Spring, we put the manure directly into the beds, with four of the garden beds getting goat manure, and the other four getting chicken litter. We are wondering which poop will be the best soil amendment. A deep pile of leaves goes on top of the manure and hay mix from the stalls, and then before planting, a couple of inches of compost. I realize I put more energy into making sure my garden beds are well nourished than I do taking care of my skin. I know women who layer creams and moisturizers and clarifiers on their faces every night with the same kind of intention that I put into feeding my garden soil. While both seem important, I find the effort expended in taking care of the garden more rewarding than trying to stop the effects of time on my face. I’ll be wrinkled but well fed, with a lined face and a nourished soul.

Growing your own food, at least a bit of it, changes your life. Even in the places all over the world where people must grow their own food or starve instead, that active engagement with the natural world outside their doorstep deepens their experience. When I walk the hills in rural Guatemala, and look at the tiny well-tended kitchen gardens of Mayan Indians who subsist on next to nothing, it is clear that those beans and corn and cilantro plants are part of their cultural and spiritual expression of all that is holy to them.

 In Barbara Brown Taylor’s lovely little book about faith, An Altar in the World, she writes, “To make bread, or make love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone.”