Fierce Hope

We spent Thanksgiving with my folks at their house on the edge of the mountains. Watching my parents with their first grandchild, my daughter, made me hope with all the power in my body that my own grandchildren know a world as beautiful as the one we live in. And that they can look forward to sharing the ponderosas and magpies, the rivers and coyotes and the smell of sage with their descendants.

But all that fierce hope isn’t going to bring future about. Did you hear the news last week that climate change is “accelerating beyond expectation” while the percentage of Americans who believe global warming is happening has fallen from 80% to 72%? We can hope all we want that this situation gets turned around, but without personal action to feed that hope we can easily succumb to the dangerous side of hope: complacency.

Hoping that the UN or scientists or the president or environmentalists will do the right thing and steer humanity back into a sustainable balance, is, well, hopeless. We can’t just hope that a better day is coming. We’ve got to make sure that is does. It’s up to us to face the abyss (yep, it’s bleak out there), and then lift our hands to act anyways.

It’s up to us to reclaim our humanity, to do everything in our power and sometimes more to live in balance. We must choose, over and over and over, to be careful about what we buy and eat and throw away and even what we do, so that the least harm is inflicted on the planet. And then we can hope. Hope with our whole hearts that all that will make a difference.

If I’m lucky enough to meet my daughter’s children, or their children, I want to be able to tell them that I lived with them in mind. That I bled, sweat, and cried to change my unsustainable ways. I’ll tell them how my hope that all that work would pay off was what got me out of bed each day, looking for the simplest, most effective and heartfelt solution I could find to the daunting task at hand.

For suggestions on small and large things you might invest your hope in click here.

Praise

The broken pot, the burnt meal,

the family gathered, the family scattered.

Praise the hunger and praise the bounty

Praise the crooked trail that gets you there

or nowhere.

Praise the anger and the hope,

the beauty and the fear.

Praise the hands lifted and able.

Praise the call to live this good life

gratefully, carefully,

wakefully.

Circling Back Around

I consider myself pretty handy in the kitchen. These last weeks though, when it comes time to fix dinner and I face a cupboard full of whole grains and dried beans and a fridge with a few jars of goat milk and muslin sacks of in-season veggies like turnips and kale, I find myself at a bit of a loss.

It was instinct as much as luck that, looking for help, I found the old hardback copy of Laurel’s Kitchen my mama gave me when I left home. Over the years, this classic made its way to the bottom of my stack of cookbooks. No more. All my efforts to reinvent the wheel of simplicity and zero waste have circled me back round to the original movement to do just that. These women figured it out before I was even born.

While modern food politics have rendered some of their glowing recommendations obsolete (soy spread? better butter? wheat germ? yogurt from milk powder? no, no, no, no!) the heart of their approach is timeless. They cover everything from crackers to sprouts to pudding in the simplest way possible, and their ingredients call for fresh, whole foods. Just like the ones that had recently taken over my kitchen.

But lots of cookbooks do this. Some of them with much better recipes. What sets this one apart is that what those ladies were cooking up in Laurel’s Kitchen circa 1976 was a revolution. They speak out about excessive consumption, poor nutrition, the power of the homemaker to transform society, and the extent to which we waste the world’s resources at the cost of our humanity, not to mention the ecological balance of the planet. We have the power to impact all of this, they reminded me, from our humble kitchens.

And then I had to stop reading, because the beans really needed to get soaking.

The Personal is Political

Thoughts on Symbolic Action: Part One

“WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?”

So begins Derrick Jensen’s provocative article on personal versus political action in a recent issue of Orion Magazine.

Maybe Jensen’s call to large-scale action is actually filled with subliminal messages that inspire personal change, because since I read it and began a mental argument with it I’ve taken the plunge into actively reducing my footprint. Have I ever for a minute thought that my efforts, so enormous to me yet impossibly miniscule to the planet, would actually make a difference beyond the walls of my home? Not really. But the funny thing is, they do.

Our decision might be symbolic in that it is a mere drop in the churning ocean of politics, economics, and social inequalities that contribute to the systematic destruction of the planet. But like the oak groves that can’t be blown over because of their intertwined roots, our small action is strong because it is linked to all the actions that came before, and all that will come after. It has its origins in the work of the thousands of individuals – be they peacemakers, defenders of nature, fighters for social justice, or parents and teachers – whose convictions changed their own lives and grew outward from there.

No matter how insignificant I might feel some days, I am not alone. You’re here with me, too, after all. And countless others, across the planet and stretching back into history, when so many other great struggles were triumphed over. I agree wholeheartedly that we all need to do much, much more than we are. For me, though, the challenge isn’t to transform “the system” but our smallness in the face of it. Despair and isolation are what we really need to rise up against. Hope and imagination, and faith in their power to overcome the most powerful odds, those are the seeds of symbolic action. Once that seed begins growing in our hearts we are well on the way to changing our lives, and the world we inhabit.

What we then feel led to do, in our communities and beyond, well, we can take that path when our feet reach it. For now I’m like so many others, just walking. I’ve left the land of my complacency, and set out with no other aim but to find the way to my own truth, and maybe even a better world. And from there, who knows. Total system overhaul, we can hope.

So, Mr. Jensen. Good points but here’s your major mistake (to paraphrase Margaret Mead): Doubting that a small group of ass-kickers can change the world. Haven’t you heard that that’s the only thing that ever has?

And how dare you underestimate the power of composting.

Getting By

So far nobody has asked us why we’re taking a plastic fast. Seems to me that we’re not alone in wanting to clean up our act. What we get asked about is exactly how it is we plan to get by without the substance that seems to be literally engulfing the planet.*

Good question. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t have begun to answer it. I was busy filling my cart with what looked good, had a USDA organic label on it, and was cheap. Yep, that included a lot of plastic wrap, bottles, tubs, and bags. No doubt about it: food is at the crux of our plastic habit. Maybe that’s why it seems so difficult to “live” without it. I’ve done some thinking since then. And started making changes, some of them so simple I’m embarrassed it took a vow of abstinence to implement them. From easiest to most challenging, here’s the general program:

:: If we can find an alternative to plastic, we get it. This means simply choosing the product packaged in paper or glass (metal lids a bonus), or sold in bulk. It does occasionally take an additional twenty seconds of scanning the shelves before finding the plastic-free item in question.

:: Lots of things we’re learning to make from scratch. Mostly for the fun of it. But also because we can’t live without yogurt, tortillas, ricotta, and cookies.

:: A few things we’ll have to compromise on, like toothpaste caps.

:: Some things (like tortilla chips) we’ll have to go way out of our way to get (from the burrito stands that make them fresh).

:: And some things we’ll do without altogether.

So far we seem to be getting by just fine, with the unexpected side effect of eating healthier than we have in years. Our food is fresh, whole, and, more than ever before, local. Got suggestions or questions? Holler, please.

*In the movie Addicted to Plastic it is estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean, and that the ratio of plastic to plankton is 10:1.

Mending

a small potty that has been warmed by many a wee bottom,


a student bass snapped at the neck for over a decade

…what is broken shall be reborn…

(Many thanks to the Man with the Capable Hands.)

Like Eating a Meadow

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If this plastic free business is our way of fighting the good fight while living the good life, then two goats down the road are our secret weapon. This fall we joined a milking co-op run by a community of friends a short walk away. Our Friday morning share supplies us with a week’s worth of milk and gives us a taste of the farm life here in Old Santa Fe. All in just one bitterly-cold-crack-of-dawn milking extravaganza per week.

It adds a certain rhythm to our days, that bounty of six or so quarts the Mamas give us. There’s yogurt to be mixed up and incubated (and hopefully not forgotten). There’s cuajada (see below) to make from raw, still-warm-from-the-udder milk, and then bread to be made from the leftover whey. Later in the week I’ll cook up another batch of cheese, this time my beloved panir or ricotta or queso blanco, depending on what’s for dinner.

I’ve heard it said that eating cheese made from fresh goat milk is like eating a whole meadow. The goats are lovely, to be sure. But the only requirement for all this home made goodness is milk, and that can come from a cow and the store. Of course, you could get your own goats, like this gal did. Or, ask around. You might be surprised how many goats can be found in the back yards of urban neighborhoods, their milkers eager to sleep in one morning a week so that you, too, can discover the pleasures of being sustained by the milk of a gentle, sweet eyed creature.

To make a soft, mild cheese called cuajada: add 5 drops of vegetable rennet per quart of warmish (80 degree) milk. Let sit for thirty minutes or until firmed up. Cut into “cubes,” then gently ladle curds into a colander lined with a tightly woven cheesecloth. Let drain to desired consistency. This Nicaraguan style cheese doesn’t melt when heated, and so is great in quiches, stir fry’s, and pasta dishes. It also spreads onto bread and tops salads beautifully.

Want to go plastic free but don’t have goats or time for cheese making? Ask at the deli of your grocery store for a portion of bulk cheese wrapped in butcher paper.

Recipe for Wild Sourdough

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Begin with a heap of faith that the wild yeasts will land in the wet dough you set out in a corner of the kitchen. Pray that they colonize peacefully and bubble and alchemize into the promise of bread. Do not fret about the smell. This is fermentation, after all.

After three days expand the starter with flour and water and hope. Leave overnight.

Doubt the results but forge ahead. Coax the yeasties. Tell them, this, This! is what you were meant for. Rise you yeasties, rise!

Add a smidge of baking yeast from the freezer. Do not despair! All is not lost. Only helped along.

It rises. Oh, joy! Knead and let rise again. Bake and be grateful for any extra rising. But do not expect it.

Exclaim in wonder, the fresh loaves so lovely and the smell, why, its heavenly. Sourdough!

Slice and serve your family without apology for the dense bread. Say, If ever we had only water and flour, this bread could still be made with nothing more than the lively air and a hot oven. We will always have bread!

In the meantime, keep practicing.