“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” — Hermann Hesse
When I think of “the most wonderful time of the year,” I find a male voice crooning a christmas classic has launched into some synaptic connection. The voice buzzes around my brain. But when I sit outside, close my eyes, and tune out the music between my ears, I hear birds, a gentle rustle of wind, and I feel the cooling damp air and warm sun. I am so grateful that we are on the cusp of spring here on the Central Coast.
I am bursting with energy and love and light, and so are the buds. This must be why I fall in love in the spring. This spring, though, I will fall in love with myself. I will appreciate the people in my life who offer me their love and support—their ears, their time, and their hearts. I am so lucky in this life and I have had a whole month of taking in the most amazing wave of support I have ever felt. I am swept off my feet by all the people in my life who provide a kernel of faith in my abilities and my soul. I am feeling this dry spring bursting through me.
Here is what is bursting in my world:
Gratitude for support from friends and colleagues who lent me their ears for the exhibit I have up in San Jose right now. The show is called Lend Me Your Ears and it delves into the human relationship with corn as experienced by several artists, activists, and farmers. Contributors to this exhibition use sculpture, photography, and the crop itself to portray an intimate glimpse into the human-corn relationship. Corn has spanned the territory from sacred mythology to mindless consumption, and yet so many stories about corn are still waiting to be told. This exhibition traces corn from proverbial seed to silk, following the history of this extraordinary grass from ancient worship to modern ubiquity.
I feel really good about the show, and am deeply grateful for the community of support who helped me pull it together. And I also just saw that the San Jose Museum of Art, who I collaborated with on this show, has a photo of me on their main page right now!
My mailbox is also bursting. I’ve gotten books and seeds and letters in the mail which warm my heart and are themselves bursting with synchronicity. Heirloom corn seeds and a lovely note from Mark of An Organic Conversation, Seedtime from its author Scott Chaskey (sent on behalf of a mutual friend), letters from an old and dear friend from college, DVDs about soil, and books from gardeners who want to connect about how to bring their great works to light. (You know you’re a corn nut when people send you heirloom corn seeds in the mail.)
All of this and the gift of loving words from so many members of the EcoFarm community which I am honored to be considered a part of now. In the last year and a half here, I have landed in a sweet spot. I did not land here alone or without the support of a community.
And yet there is time to be better, and to grow from these moments. I look forward to the cultivation of growth from the seeds that I am sowing.
There is a synergy happening—one that has grabbed me in the gut. Tomorrow night opens my joint photography show called Gather & Grow. The show description is as follows:
As we gather, we grow as a community. Photographers Lisa Bunin and Liz Birnbaum became inspired to collaborate on this exhibit through their work at the Ecological Farming Association—Lisa is Board President and Liz organizes the annual EcoFarm conference. What began as an image sharing conversation between two photographers deeply committed to celebrating organic agriculture and food, blossomed into an exhibit that expresses the love of nature and the intrigue of foodscapes. Their photos showcase the beauty, bounty, and biodiversity of ecological agriculture where farms transform nature into an amazing array of food.
Gather and Grow, the show’s title, echoes that of California’s oldest and largest ecological food and farming gathering—the EcoFarm Conference. Like a conference workshop, the intent of this exhibit is to invite people to engage in conversations about food and farming and in doing so foster community in the intentionally created space. Our hope is that visitors will become energized to extend their conversations beyond opening night and to consider becoming a more active participant in forging a sustainable food future. So drop by, have an organic conversation, and leave with an appetite for food system change.
And so, on the eve of my show, I am watching a delicious film: Babbette’s Feast. The film has—as one character puts it as he describes the decadent cailles en sarcophage—“the ability to transform a dinner into a kind of love affair, a love affair that made no distinction between bodily appetite and spiritual appetite.” There is something about that line which echoes in my own body and spirit, tonight.
Earlier I listened to Chef Dan Barber on This American Life. He was on to explain what he lays out so delectably in the TED talk, “A Foie Gras Parable.” The way Barber traces the infamous dish of foie gras is tantamount to a romantic quest. He starts skeptically, begins to see the light, develops depth in his reverence of this new biophilic foie gras, and finally has a full conversion experience to the extent that he would now evangelize to the world. And it all seems valid because biophilic/animal welfare oriented foie gras is nothing short of a culinary god-send. And the confluence of this story and of Babbette’s Feast both re-entering my world on the same night have stirred up some romantic notions of love and life, for me now, too.
I was once fortunate enough to have dinner at Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill, part of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York. On that night I dined with incredible company and we spoke of Babette’s Feast. I also saw geese when I was back at Stone Barns in February. These are Dan Barber’s (and farmer Jack Algiere’s) geese. This sensory-memory-romantic onslaught reminded me of a poem I read recently which was published in this Summer’s issue of the journal Gastronomica. It is called Exposition on Baking Baklava, by Hillary Fogerty. The full text is not available online; I could only find this from a preview of the first page on JSTOR:
The poem takes you on a journey around the world, propelled by love, to procure each ingredient to make baklava. From honey gathering to “the flowering place of orchids” which refers to the vanilla bean, this is one of the most romantic, charming, and memorable poems I have read in a long while.
And as is said by the General in Babette’s Feast:
“For tonight I have learned, my dear . . . that in this beautiful world of ours . . . all things are possible.”
noun: while; plural noun: whiles; noun: the while
a period of time.
“we chatted for a while”
for some time.
noun: a while
“can I keep it a while?”
at the same time; meanwhile.
“he starts to draw, talking the while”
during the time that; at the same time as.
“nothing much changed while he was away”
whereas (indicating a contrast).
“one person wants out, while the other wants the relationship to continue”
in spite of the fact that; although.
“while I wouldn’t recommend a nighttime visit, by day the area is full of interest”
verb: while; 3rd person present: whiles; past tense: whiled; past participle: whiled; gerund or present participle: whiling
pass time in a leisurely manner.
“a diversion to while away the long afternoons”
ALL PHOTOS IN THIS POST ARE BY ME. ALL ARE SUBJECT TO CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE. THANK YOU!
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Asclepias species produce their seeds in follicles. The seeds, which are arranged in overlapping rows, have white silky filament-like hairs known as pappus, silk, or floss. The follicles ripen and split open and the seeds, each carried by several dried pappus, are blown by the wind.” (Via)
Above is a dried pod and seeds of Asclepias syriaca, which “Carl Linnaeus named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the many folk-medicinal uses for the milkweed plants.” (Via)
This February, I paid a visit to my friend at New York Medical College. Seeing her, one of my oldest friends, was healing and full of joy, but after spending a few days out of California, coming back to the sunshine and palm trees made me feel so fortunate. Being at a medical school made me think about how we heal people in this culture. We walked around and she showed me the labs and told me about the “med. school culture” while we walked through the squishy, cold grass and around the snow-scattered in mounds too tall to have melted. That was a full contrast to the hikes, surf, and sunshine I take in here on the west coast, even in the winter. Since I live up in the mountains, I am also lucky enough to have a calming and inspiring view. I have come to realize that many of the things I have here in California can promote my own healing.
I recently watched a mediocre PBS documentary called The Science of Healing. It gave me a framework to re-value the view and nature I get to take in every day here. I walk under a low-hanging group of trumpet flowers (Brugmansia) and next to a cascade of passion flowers (Passiflora) on my walkway. The other night I cracked my window to listen to a pair of great horned owls, crickets, and a pack of coyotes. Up there it is remarkably still—so still that I can sometimes hear a frog in the distance on the other end of the property.
But let’s back to the specific topic at hand: asclepias. Asclepias is the genus of what we may know as milkweed. Milkweed is one of those really terrible names for a really terrific plant.
I just found this old song called Milkweed Babies from this thread. Its a charming old school poem.
Dainty milkweed babies, wrapped in cradles green,
Rocked by Mother Nature, fed by hands unseen.
Brown coats have the darlings, slips of milky white,
And wings – but that’s a secret, – they’re folded out of sight.
The cradles grow so narrow, what will the babies do?
They’ll only grow the faster, and look up toward the blue.
And now they’ve found the secret, they’re flying through the air,
They’ve left the cradles empty, – do milkweed babies care?
Milkweed is incredible, and I am only too sad to say that I have not found any this season in California. I even made a bet with a friend that I could find some before he could, and nether of us has been able to spot one, despite being all over Northern California! Does anyone know where a patch might be? I must be looking in all the wrong places. Here, I have seen many Monarchs, though. Last November I went to Natural Bridges State Park and their Monarch Resting Area, where the butterflies hang in clusters on the Eucalyptus leaves.
And still, I haven’t seen California’s milkweeds. I used to see milkweed everywhere in Illinois. It is actually my mother’s favorite plant. She likes it for its milky latex sap and the food and protection it gives to Monarchs. I have been contemplating a tattoo of a milkweed seed and its silks for a while now. Something feathery like this or this would suit my taste. The second is from this nice blog post, also about milkweed and also monarchs. My mom broke her ribs recently—she was hit by a car while on her bike. She is healing slowly but surely. This whole post is dedicated to her, in the spirit of healing and a virtual bouquet of flowers.
I can’t wait to tell her that the pods are edible. Check out this link to the blog Hunger and Thirst for Life for an amazing recipe! The blog is seriously amazing for me, a novice forager. Take a look and get inspired. There are more interesting things about milkweed than I can explore in this one post. The seeds were used during World War II to stuff lifesaver vests and flight jackets (via).