Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wild Raspberries

The backs of my hands and the insides of my arms up way past the elbow are currently rough to the touch.  Look closely, and you can see the faint red cross-hatching left from my forays into a patch of black raspberries behind our new-to-us house.

I keep finding myself running my hands lightly over my raspberry scars.  It may sound odd, but they're a source of no small satisfaction to me.  They don't hurt much, and they remind me of something that is becoming precious to me: a connection not just with the land our house sits on, but with being alive and in my body in a way that last year, living downtown in a small city, I was not.

The house, the land, the land-love, and the plastic fast... and now this, my raspberry scars, are all connected.  Let me tell you how.

Last year, we bought this house, a hundred and fifty (or so--the records are lost) former farmhouse on a little less than an acre of land.  The house is long on "character"--floors that slope gently or not-so-gently, a 1970's era kitchen, and funky 1950's tile (made, ironically enough, from plastic) in the bathroom, as well as a wonderful curving staircase, dormer windows, and a slate roof.  There's a busy, noisy highway out front--not a selling point, but probably the reason we were able to afford the house to begin with--and acres and acres of woods out back.

We love this house.  For the first time since I was a girl in the house I grew up in, I feel at home.

And last summer, when we were waiting for the closing and our move-in date, we would sometimes come and visit the house, walk in the woods, and dream.  And on one of those visits, we found a tiny handful of black raspberries on the very bush I'm picking from now.

Before we even moved into our house, it was feeding us.

Moving into a house again that had woods behind it has reminded me of how much I care about woods, the land, the planet.  Hiking the paths in those woods, last year and this year, took a concern for the earth that was sometimes a thing of my brain more than my body, and made it alive and visceral for me in new ways.  It made me feel, in my body, my love and my concern for this earth of ours... And though I have been making slow alterations in how I live my life for many years now, trying to live more ecologically, connecting again to a piece of land has given those changes a sense of urgency that's hard to explain.

The land feeds us; we honor the land; we change to live in greater balance with the land.  It's all connected.

I should also say that in the month since we began our plastic fast, I've noticed a deepening concern for all sorts of environmental change.  It's not just plastic: I find myself wanting to be aware of energy consumption overall, of food miles and what kinds of chemicals and resources are being used to grow my food, and of the eco-friendly habits of thrift and husbandry that our grandparents lived by daily.

I can hear my grandfather's voice, these days, in my inner ear.  "Turn the lights off!  We don't own Central Maine Powah!"  And if my concern is less for my electric bill than for my carbon footprint, still, Right Use of Resources ideas are becoming part of what I'm alive to, too.

And then there are the raspberries.

When we moved in, our neighbor--a magnificent gardner, who kept up the perennial beds here after the old man who planted them had died--counseled us to uproot the raspberries that had invaded here and there around the yard.  Having eaten the fruit of that Other World, however, we resisted.  And this year, for whatever reason, there has been such a heavy crop of black raspberries that it is all I can do to keep up with them.

Twice a day, I go out to the yard to pick berries.  Morning and evening, I pick about a pint of berries each time I venture out.  Thus far, I have put up eight jars of jam and made an enormous black raspberry cobbler, that we've been eating for desserts all week.  I've got about enough picked again at this point to either freeze a batch, or can them in syrup, or perhaps make jam again.

In another few days, perhaps I will bake a pie, or some muffins.

I have all these cravings, not just to eat the berries, but not to eat commercially-produced foods; not just to enjoy them now, but to eat primarily the foods that are in season or that I have put up myself, when winter rolls around again.

I did not set out to become a localvore, but simply to reduce my use of plastics.  But all of this is part of a spiritual practice for me, and I've heard it said, follow the Light you've been given, and more will be given you.  Following any spiritual discipline gladly and freely tends to lead to more openings, more Light, and I think that's happening.

And there are my teachers: the black raspberries... and the spiders lurking in the bushes, the birds quarreling with me for picking the sweet berries they wanted themselves, my dogs with their open, smiling mouths as I pick the fruit, the sweat on my forehead and the scratches on my arms.

I'm alive when I pick wild raspberries.  I'm smiling, I'm physical, and I'm real.  It is not just the fruit as I eat it that is the reward, but the whole process of being outside, a little uncomfortable but looking forward to the results of my work.

People who buy fruit in little plastic coffins, refrigerated in a big box grocery store not only pay an incredible amount of money--each of my forays into the berry patch would cost me $8.00 in a grocery store--but they bring home nothing but the berries.  No dodging of thorns, no sun-squint or sweat or interaction with the earth.  It is as if they bring home only the ghost of their food.

We've done so much, we humans, to make our lives convenient, painless, and easy.  But it turns out, take away the effort, take away the sweat and the thorns and the mosquitoes altogether, and you may lose something you didn't even know was there.

I'm not saying that I like scratches on my arms for their own sake.  But I think that a willingness to sweat, to get dirty, to plan ahead and not count on fresh strawberries in January are going to be part of what we have to do to live kindly toward the earth.  And it turns out, this kind of living is not without rewards.  No kidding--a life lived hermetically sealed in plastic is not as joyful as one with thorns alongside the sweets.

None of the concerns I am writing about, from thrift to time spent outside, are totally new or totally alien to me.  But living them, together with an effort to be true to the leading I have had, that plastic use is not treating the planet as though She mattered, is weaving together all these concerns in a way that is very nearly as satisfying as the time I am spending harvesting our wild raspberries.

I am eager to see where this practice is going to lead.

Black Raspberries in Fruit by Ken Golding, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monday, June 28, 2010

Leadings and Stops--and Intuition

Part 1 of 3. 
(Part 2 is here.) 

Every now and then, I try talking about my peace testimony to others who do not share my sense of how our political values are rooted in our spiritual lives.  Some have visions of God or gods who are far away and unconcerned with human life; others do not believe that the world of religion is relevant to ordinary life; many do not believe in any sort of God or Spirit or spiritual underpinnings of life in the first place.

Some of my best friends are atheists.  They are remarkably tolerant people.  I suppose my going on and on about God and Spirit and religion sounds a lot to their ears the way listening to friends who are obsessed with stamp-collecting or quantum physics or the latest high tech gadgets sound to mine.  I mean, I'm happy that they're happy, glad they are interested and have no doubt that it's all very meaningful... to them.  But I'm not about to join them at the philatelist's convention, and past a certain point, I have to admit, this thing that they love does not mean anything to me.  It's just noise.

I feel for my friends.  Sometimes, when I'm done talking about whatever it is that has lit my fuse and got me popping like a firecracker, I'll just smile, sigh, and say, "I'm just trying to do what my Rice Krispies tell me."  Because, from a rational point of view, what's the difference between listening to God and listening to your breakfast cereal, anyway?

However, the truth is, I think that gods do talk to us.  And the Light of Friends, whom they have called Christ...She speaks to me.

I know, I know.  To me--a nice Pagan girl from suburban Massachusetts.  Sounds pretty freakin' unlikely, doesn't it?  But I learned a long time ago that the quickest way to cheat someone out of their birthright is to embarrass them out of it, and so even if it sounds ridiculous to say so, I might as well admit right here that I think God talks to me.

This is the story of what it is like for me, when I try to hear Her.

Spirit talks to me most often in a series of gentle tugs and nudges; when those add up to a direction, that's what I have learned to call a "leading."

Sometimes those are hard to hear.  Sometimes, when the gentle tugs and nudges aren't getting through to me, God takes out a kind of metaphysical 2x4 and wallops me across the psyche.

That's what I've learned to call a "stop."

I have been experiencing leadings and stops my whole life, not just since becoming a Friend and getting a new vocabulary for them.  To me, this makes sense.  Spirit is too big to fit inside of any one religion--She gets into 'em all, like water into basements. 

In fact, I think it was exactly my training as in Wicca that opened me up to sensing leadings on a regular basis at all.  So before I tell you about my experiences with leadings and stops, I think I have to tell you what it is like to train in Wicca, a magickal religion, rich in the tools of intuition.

So, what is it like to become a Witch?

For one thing, it's about being willing to experiment with ideas that most people dismiss as nonsense.  I remember telling my first husband, back when I began studying Wicca, "I think I'm going to go ahead and let myself not make too much sense for a while.  I'm going to go ahead and act like this stuff made sense, and see if it works for me."

And while I never found myself levitating in the air or saw blue flames spouting from the tip of my athame, being willing to act as though there might be something real and true in the crazy notion of "magic" did allow me to reimagine the world--to see it new, and make new discoveries in it.

From a woman with a mechanistic, purely conscious and rational view of life, I flowered into someone with much more nuanced views--richer, in the ways that candlelight is richer and more evocative than the light of a compact fluorescent bulb.  CFCs have their place--they're energy efficient, and very useful for finding lost socks.  But they have their limitations, too: they're not particularly useful for finding lost parts of your psyche, your soul.

Candles, firelight, and intuition are more helpful for that.

So much of training in Wicca is about honing intuition, about learning to think outside of words, and to observe with your whole mind, not just the part that is conscious.  We construct stories out of Tarot cards, interpret dreams for one another, sense auras... all kinds of things that, if they have a reality to them, have such a fine and subtle reality to them that it's certainly not the sort of thing that physicists label and measure.

I remember when I learned to feel my own aura, holding my hands an inch or two above my skin and gliding it softly over or through... what?  Something?  Nothing?  And playing with the auric energy between the palms of my two hands, moving my hands back in forth, slowly, patting them together till they didn't quite touch and easing them away again... until it felt as though something was there, resisting the inward and outward movement of those hands, like water or like honey.

I remember when I learned to sense the auras of others, and to use that sense to defuse a conflict by changing my own--what?  Connection to their energy?  Body language?  Was it subtle senses or simply a willingness to be intuitive and trust half-conscious visual cues around body language and position that made me begin to know when this client of mine or that was feeling low back pain or a headache, for instance--because I could somehow feel it in my own body?

I'm probably freaking out even the Quakers and non-Wiccan Pagans reading me here, never mind any stray rational humanist atheists who might have stumbled on my blog today.  This stuff is so subtle, so open to subjectivity and the projection of all kinds of crazy stuff, that we've all had (haven't we?) the experience of having some palpably crazy person offer to read our aura for us, or rid of of that pesky past-life experience that is going to cause us cancer some day, or whatever crazy thing they're offering.  People who believe they are reincarnated Atlantean priestesses, or vampires, or (I am not making this up) Vulcans somehow trapped in a human body.

There's a fine line, at times, between intuitive and crazy, between empathic and personality disordered.  It's fine for me to say I'm not crazy: I know me--you don't, or not as deeply as I do.  (Which is the key, by the way; crazy people work very hard at not being known to themselves.  More than anything else, in my last years as a therapist, I came to dislike the burden of knowing people better than they would allow themselves to know themselves.  No fun.)

In any case, I forgive you if you're feeling a little uneasy about my sanity right now, and I promise not to offer you an aura reading or a past-life cleansing when next we meet.  That would be intrusive and weird, and even if I do have the skills for doing some fairly weird stuff, I can be trusted to know when not to push that into the middle of our conversation.  Hell, I know how to ski, too, but I promise I won't try to do that at your dinner party if you decide to serve ice cream.

I can't promise not to be intuitive, though.  That stuff, one end result of fooling with magic, just happens.

For example.

One bright, hot day several years ago, my in-laws were staying with us for vacation, and we decided to talk a walk downtown where there are all kinds of fun, vacation-y things to do.  There was the usual bustle of activity that happens when a group of people on vacation decide to do something together--the finding of keys and wallets, the closing of doors and windows, the tying shoelaces--and Peter's mother Sheila and I were the last to head out the door.

When she got to the door, sunglasses in one hand and purse in the other, Sheila put her hand on the door and hesitated, and turned very slightly back into the house.  At the far end of the hallway, and up a staircase from Sheila, where I was putting on my sun hat, I saw that movement...

...and grabbed a second hat from a hook and tossed it down to where she stood.

She blinked up at me, her eyes wide.

"How did you do that?"

It took me a moment to realize the cause of her surprise.  She clearly had wanted a hat; I had an extra, and I handed it to her.  What was odd about that?

Oh.  Yeah.  Right.  It's not like she asked with words.  Come to think of it, how had I known?

I just had, that's all.

"That's almost... spooky," she concluded.  And put on her hat, as the two of us strolled out the door.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that knowing Sheila wanted a hat against the sun was magic or mind reading.  But I am going to tell you for a fact that, if I had never been open to the possibility of magic in the world, never tried to bottle that particular flavor of lightning, I never would have been open to whatever it was, whether body language, logic, experience, or even--just maybe--magic, that let me understand that my mother-in-law wanted a hat.

That is what I mean by intuition.

It's flaky, and it's unreliable, and when it works it can mostly be explained (or explained away, if that's your bent) by a hundred little circumstances around it.  But to use it, to be open to it, you must actually commit to trusting it, at least conditionally, and then practice it.

And when you do that, you discover that it can be pretty startlingly useful at times.

For instance, it can open the door to gods, some of whom have something to say to you, if you allow yourself to hear it.

(To be continued.)

Image credit: Vintage Rice Krispies box from the Michigan Historical Museum; courtesy of Wikipedia.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Catsup, Ketchup, Cat's Sup.

OK, more like Peter's actually.

Peter is the real catsup fan in the house.  I like it on the really skinny, bad-for-you kind of french fries that I shouldn't be eating anyway, but Peter likes it on lots of things.

And we ran out of our last pre-plastic fast bottle a week before last--just at the start of cookout season.  What fun is a portobello burger with no catsup?  Alas, I am no longer able to find it locally in a glass container.

Happily, there are lots of recipes online.  Here's the one I used... though I chose it mostly from convenience, because it used (or I felt comfortable substituting) ingredients I already had on hand.  It was very easy to make, and I understand that some cooks, who really like to save money, make an even simpler version than this, with nothing but tomato, water, vinegar, salt and sugar.

Cat's Catsup

1 can of tomato paste (I chose organic)
1/4 cup apple juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 T. molasses
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. good quality curry powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
2 T. vinegar

Mix together ingredients.  Adjust liquid and/or vinegar as needed for your preferred taste/consistency.


And for my next trick?  I'm thinking of trying to make some black raspberry jam.  Not that it will save plastic, exactly, but there's this one bush that's producing cup after cup of them.  And preserving and eating food from our own back yard... well, I certainly can't complain about the food miles!

Photo credit: Yohan euan 04, at "Ketchup"  at World News

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Week Three Plastic Tally and the Problem of Stealth Plastic

Did you miss us?  My last day of school was yesterday; Peter's was two days before that.  Every year, it's the same thing: achingly hard work to begin and end the school year, and achingly hard work to end it.  And every year, I forget just how hard it's going to be.

Maybe that's for the best.  I don't know.

In any case, tired or not, we did our weekly weigh-in and photograph on Sunday, as usual.  This week was a bit discouraging: 14 oz.  That's because we did a bit more unpacking--we moved last summer, but (did I mention the part where teaching school is a lot of work?) we're still emptying out and breaking down boxes, especially of the last minute stuff.

One box of last minute stuff contained a very old pair of my flip-flops.  Needless to say, I am not in the market to buy more of them, so I was very happy to find these... until I tried to put them on.  The plastic, brittle with age, simply snapped, and 8 oz. of non-recyclable plastic joined the pile for this week.

Other items of note this week: if you look closely, you can see the brown rectangle of a plastic frame from the lid on a half-gallon of ice cream.

Why do they feel the need to package ice cream in so much plastic these days?  Half the brands have plastic film that goes over the ice cream; the other half seem to have these stupid little plastic rims for removable lids.  We'll be looking for ice cream that does not come in plastic packaging... though, meanwhile, we had some left over from before the beginning of our Plastic fast this June, and we finished it off this week.

A lot of the light little bags are left over from before the fast, too... though some are a category of plastic I'm starting to think of as "stealth plastic"--where someone packages a snack food in paper or something meant to look like paper, generally in keeping with some implication that the food is "all natural" or old fashioned somehow.

The packaging turns out to be a cheat, is the bottom line.  I've seen cheese packaged in plastic that had been printed to look like waxed paper, for instance!  More commonly, once you get inside the paper package, there's a shiny silver mylar wrapper.  It's not foil--it's plastic.


I've taken to peeling away the paper on these, and adding them to the pile.  Needless to say, I find this quite annoying, and I avoid such products whenever I find them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Officially, summer begins on the summer solstice, June 21.

In actuality, as any school-child or teacher can tell you, summer begins on the day that his or her own school lets out for summer vacation.  This year, summer begins on June 23, at least for me.  However, it's doing a very nice warm-up act already.

Last night, I was dumbfounded by the fireflies in my yard.

I grew up with fireflies--and crickets, and song-birds, and trees.  I remember that when I was perhaps eleven years old, I read a Ripley's Believe it or Not anecdote about a doctor who was able to perform a surgery, once, by the light of a jar of fireflies.  As a kid, that seemed utterly plausible to me.  I remember that many, many nights in my childhood, my brother and I would roam the yard, with jars in hand, catching fireflies.  We caught a lot--though never enough to light a surgery, I must admit.

But even in the years I lived in Vermont, as an adult, the fireflies seemed to have faded away.  There never seemed to be very many, anywhere I lived--certainly not in the small city where I've lived for the past eighteen years.

Until this summer.  Living here, in this new house that reminds me so much of my childhood, I've noticed the fireflies are back.  Last night, around bed-time, checking to see that the front door was locked, I noticed them twinkling in the grass and at the edge of the woods, and so I left the door ajar and went out onto the lawn to just sit for a few moments.

There were no stars overhead, because the night was one of those humid, murky ones where you just about pray for a thunderstorm.  Instead, the stars were all out on the grass.

As I sat and I watched them, I thought of references in Aradia to the magic of the firefly.  What if all the fireflies were fairies?  What if, as was once believed of moths, they were the souls of the dead, not yet gone?  It seemed almost believable.

I heard mysterious rustling from the edge of the woods.  I know my new neighborhood has a bear family living in it, and they've often been spotted crossing the yards hereabouts.  (It was probably a bear cub running across ours that lured our dog out into the road, and into his near-fatal accident last fall.)  And yet, I could not be afraid.  I thought instead of the anecdote Mike Novack tells, of a friend of his who once, out in early spring inspecting brush piles in his woods, turned over the top of one to discover a bear sow and two cubs.  Mike says he backed away, letting the brush settle back into place, saying quietly and politely, "Excuse me, Madam!  I am so sorry to have disturbed you."

And I thought of the story of my own friend, Kirk White, out meditating in his own back yard in Vermont, when he felt something small and warm climb into his lap.  When he half-opened his eyes and glanced down, he saw that he had made a new friend: a young skunk.

He continued to meditate, perhaps sitting even more quietly, until the skunk decided it was time to go.

Sometimes, the natural world seems so much like home that it is impossible to feel like a stranger in it.  Sometimes, I get to feel like a child again, in the best possible way: that I am eleven years old again, barefoot and in my pajamas, filling a jar with they mystery of fireflies.

Last night was such a night.

This summer, I hope for many such nights, and many such days.  There is so much busy-ness that can absorb an adult mind.  May I not be so much caught up in travel, planning, writing, correspondence, that I forget to take a few hours every day to look up at leaves from below, to watch ants traveling through the jungle of the grass, or to watch a hawk making lazy circles overhead.

So mote it be.

Image of fireflies from Wikimedia Commons: found at "Signs of Summer" at Jonski Blogski

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Week 2 Plastic Tally: 6 oz, Divide by Two

So I was expecting a horrible result for the plastic weigh-in this week, partly because my husband Peter has joined me in the no-plastics challenge, and he bought bookshelves this week... that had been padded, in their boxes, with styrofoam.

It is amazing how much volume plastic has for its mass, though.  Our combined total for the week was still 6 oz.

And, to make the definitions clearer:
Last week, I was not counting Peter as a full partner in this challenge--though he has modified his habits some, too.  Last week, I did count whatever plastic packaging I used and discarded cooking for both of us, but I did not have Peter save anything he created on his own.

We are now defining our plastic waste as our household waste, generated by the two of us--the ugly pile you see in the photograph is at least the product of two American consumers rather than one.

We are neither of us, however, trying to count indirect plastic.  For instance, when the local deli cut me off a half pound of cheddar cheese and wrapped it in waxed paper for me, I did not estimate how much plastic wrapper around their ten pound block of cheese had originally wrapped the share I took home.  Nor are we counting plastic generated at our workplaces--two public schools.

We are, however, making inquiries about ways we can, just maybe, get our schools to reform a little bit next year, in terms of their plastics use.

Peter is better at this than I am.  I get very shy when it is time to ask an institution to change anything at all.  Peter?  Bold as brass.

On the other hand, I am finding that one reform leads to another, and it is already feeling very natural to simply waft down the potato chips aisle, for instance, thinking, "Nope--nothing here I can have, and nothing here I need."  And I'm finding a real pleasure in figuring out little local places I can get produce, free of plastic packaging.  We're eating more seasonally and more locally, and I'm discovering that it's more fun.

Only eight more days of school left.  Then I can really take stock, and see what lifestyle reforms we can put in place during the long, fertile days of summer.

See you next week!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pagan Values: Community.

It's one of my favorite memories.

On the last day of the small Pagan gathering, perhaps a dozen of us had hiked down the hill, piled into our cars, and made our way to the neighborhood pancake house.  Sweaty and grimy, smelling of woodsmoke and insect repellent, clad in hiking boots and sneakers, shorts and blue jeans, we had taken one long table in the middle of the restaurant.

The restaurant itself is a celebration of all things down-to-earth and Vermont.  I've seen farmers enjoying a plate of eggs still wearing their barn boots--and been grateful to the ones considerate enough to hose them off first--as well as hunters stoking up either before or after a morning of deer hunting, families with babies in high chairs, and, of course, in leaf season, the occasional tourist.

There's nothing occult or New Age about the Sugar House.  It's just there, as it has  been for decades, with it's fluorescent lights, tiled floor, and picnic style benches and tables: a local fixture, and the home of the best pancakes and maple syrup in Central Vermont.

Over pancakes and eggs and coffee and orange juice, then, our group of old friends had laughed and joked, told stories of our kids, our families, and our daily lives.  We'd caught up on the lives of community members who were not there this year--who had gone back to school, who was getting married or moving across country, divorcing or building a new house--in one last, loving effusion of our sense of ourselves as Tribe, before we would return to atomized lives among our non-Pagan friends and neighbors.

It was, as every year, a wonderful meal.

But my memory comes from a moment at the end of the meal, when a stranger from another table approached us, and hesitantly asked, "Excuse me.  I don't mean to be rude--I couldn't help overhearing a little.  Are you all... Pagans?"

We said we were, and she smiled, and nodded, and went back to her own table.

Understand, none of us were wearing anything remotely like flowing robes.  I don't even think there were any tie-dyed shirts in evidence; any pentacles or other occult jewelry were either small or tucked into the flannel shirts and tees we were wearing.

Nor had our conversation been overtly esoteric.  To the best of my recollection, we weren't speaking of gods or goddesses, ritual drumming techniques or magickal tools.  Instead, our conversation had focused on daily life: our kids, our plans, our small triumphs and disappointments.

But somehow, seeing how we interacted, this woman whom none of us even knew had figured out that there was something different about us from the usual crowd at the Sugar House.  Somehow, she had figured out that we were Pagans.

It is my belief that her clue was how we loved each other, how we belonged to one another.

We related to each other with the freedom and trust and happiness that comes of being in your deepest self with a group of others, not once only, but over and over again, over the course of decades.  We belonged to each other in a way that is rare today, in our society of nuclear families and individualistic consumers.  Perhaps only communities of monks or nuns have a similar experience--but an experience largely cloistered from the world, and, in any case, rooted in a religion far less world-embracing than Paganism.

The key to understanding us was our connectedness.  Wiccans and Druids, shamans and Hellenes and Kabbalists, we had stood together in the firelight and joined together in love of the Old Gods; students and retirees, athletic and disabled, rural and urban, we had shared the cycles of our lives over many years.

The years that have passed have changed that community.  Some of the faces that were at that table have been taken from us by death.  Bitter quarrels have divided us, and time has only partially reconciled us.  Formerly healthy adults have become disabled, children have become adults, and some of us have moved far, far away, never to return.

But the sense of connection remains.  My own daughter I remember rocketing through the woods with a mini-tribe of younger Pagans, when she was only eight years old. "Mom!" she called out to me, one day as she dashed past.  "Mom!  Mom!  We're playing we're like it was in the old days--like we're a Pagan village!"

"Playing" indeed--but it was no game.  It was real.  I was there.

My daughter no longer considers herself to be a Pagan.  Does that invalidate the time she spent in the "Pagan village" as a child?  I think not.  She is still close to many of the adults from that spiritual community, still discusses her spiritual life (which is alive and flourishing, albeit in a different form from my own) with not only me, but with many of those adults who knew her as that joyful wild child.

How common is it for our children, once grown, to remain close friends with their parents' closest friends?

I hope it is common indeed, at least within the Pagan world.  For, with my own daughter grown, my heart has room in it for my friends' children.  One of the joys of middle age, for me, is the sense of continuity and connection I have with my friends' children as I watch them grow.  This is true whether they remain Pagan--as some have--or not--as some have not.

This is, I think, because the connections we have with one another, whether within generations or spanning them, are much less about what we believe--a creed or common ideology--as about who we are.

We Pagans are a people in relationship with one another: a relationship deepened by our lived experiences of the Old Gods, but both wider and deeper than any single set of religious doctrines.  We are rooted, in the final analysis, in Life--in shared Life: in community.

There has been a lot of talk, in recent weeks, about how Paganism is not really a community, how even the concept of "Paganism" as a single anything, as an identity, is meaningless.

As someone who has drunk deep from the well of a diverse and tradition-spanning Pagan community, I beg to differ. At our best, we grow and deepen in our love for one another, love that unites rather than divides by ideology; love that is shared with the earth; love that lasts even through pain and aging.

I've tasted this water.  To my community, to my family, I say: do not settle for less.

If you build it, we will come.

Photo credit: Valerie Everett, under a  Creative Commons Attribution license.  This post is part of the 2010 Pagan Values blogging event.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Local Food and Mysteries Solved

This week, I thinned out the volunteer saplings that had sprouted up amid the groundcover around the stump of an old white pine. We would never have taken down that pine tree ourselves, but by the time we bought the house, the damage had been done.

The downside to that has been a loss of a wonderful visual screen between the lawn and our busy street.

The upside is planting a mini-orchard of semi-dwarf apples along the front of the property, to eventually serve the same role... and maybe provide us with some truly local produce. (Zero food-miles is a pretty environmentally nice number.)

But what to do with the island of groundcover in the middle of it all has been something of a question. I don't much feel like trying to eliminate the old tree roots--that was an enormous tree. I've thought about planting some rosa rugosa to grow over the old stump, and eventually fill up the island. But in the meantime, the volunteer saplings kept growing: a clump of swamp maples, and something I could not identify.

Yesterday, I thinned out the saplings to just the biggest of the maples and the tallest and healthiest looking of the unidentifiable trees. Today I finally I.D.'ed the mystery sapling: it is an American elder, an elderberry tree.

In some ways, this is ideal. I had only kept the saplings around as backup insurance, in case the apple trees do not flourish, so I'll have something started in that spot. But now I know it's an elderberry, I'll probably take out the swamp maple, but let the elder remain.

The elderberry is considered either a tall bush or a small tree, likely to grow to not much higher than the semi-dwarf trees around it. And, like the apples, it produces food: elderberries are edible when cooked, and can be made into jellies or wine. How cool is that?

They're messy trees, but this one is surrounded by a girdle of mixed groundcover plants.

I'm feeling pretty happy about this discovery, needless to say.

Meanwhile, Peter and I have been managing to eat more locally already, though less spectacularly. One way of dealing with the problem of produce bags has been to buy local vegetables from small local stores, and often, these aren't wrapped in plastic. We've been eating a lot of asparagus, which the Valley is known for this time of year. Also on the menu have been local strawberries, and organic (non-local) fresh broccoli and lettuce. It has all been quite tasty.

Oh! And I've solved the cheese problem--at least partly. One food that's hard to come by without a plastic wrapper is cheese. The answer to that turns out to be our local deli counter, where I can ask them to slice off a one pound chunk of cheddar cheese, of the sort they normally slice thin for sandwiches. While it is true that it comes in a long, five to ten pound block that's wrapped in plastic before it gets to them, it's also true that they will wrap it for me in paper if I request it, and that the result is less plastic than if I bought the same cheese from the grocery store, ready-wrapped for my convenience.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Week 1 Plastic Tally

OK, so it is actually a little less than a full week; I began collecting my plastic on June 1st. However, I want to have a regular weigh-in day, and Sunday will probably work out best, so here we are.

The grand total for Week 1: 6 oz. of plastic.

I was really quite discouraged at the amount of plastic I'd accumulated in the (plastic! But not new plastic) bin for this week, until I weighed it out. Actually, I still feel apologetic, and feel the need to point out that a lot of the items in this week's collection, things like the yogurt container and hand sanitizer bottle, are from purchases from weeks or even months back. Hand sanitizer, like liquid soap generally, is something I'll be avoiding in future: I've swapped over exclusively to bar soap and powdered, which comes in cardboard (though with a little plastic measuring cup, unfortunately), with the possible exception of dishwashing detergent. Though my friend Hystery tells me borax works for washing dishes, so we'll see.

Among the pieces of plastic waste here is packing material from the scale I bought for measuring plastic waste. Guess what the scale is mostly made of? That's right...


I'm wary of the temptation to deal with this challenge, as all others, in that good old fashioned American way, by buying more stuff. I did consider alternatives to having our own scale. After all, my husband teaches science--Peter has access to all kinds of fancy measuring equipment at school. But I was hesitant to add yet another job to his already busy life. He's pretty indulgent of my quirks and passions, and, though he shares my concern for the impact of plastic on the planet, it's different for him--he's not "under a concern" as the Quaker phrase is, feeling a kind of bone-deep urgency to change our way of life.

The whole question of how spouses of people trying to follow an inconvenient leading cope is an interesting one. I know I've met a number of Quakers who are war tax resisters, and that's pretty tough on a spouse who doesn't feel the same intensity in their witness. Resisters' husbands and wives also face the possibility of losing their home--or the certainty of never owning one--and the impossibility of getting loans or credit, among other things. Hard to do that if you don't fully share a leading.

And then I think about people like No-Impact Man, and his wife and child, who didn't sign up for a radical witness, but had it chosen for them. That is asking an awful lot.

Not that Peter is making a fuss. He's putting aside a number of his own favorite foods and beverages, until we find plastic-free alternatives he can use. He's giving up his favorite soda, and the yogurt is really his love, not mine; I cook with it, but it's a daily indulgence for him.

Eventually, we'll get him a yogurt maker and maybe a seltzer maker, too, and have a try at recreating that favorite soda recipe of his.

All of which will also involve... plastic.

Again, I feel odd about buying tools and toys to help us beat back our habits of consumption. But everything this week has been about balancing one need or urgency against another. Nothing has felt simple.

Maybe that is why this process isn't feeling especially satisfying just yet, or like it has gotten me any closer to that Spirit that was the impetus for trying it.

Then again, maybe the answer to that is in staying up too late, wasting too much time on trivial Web surfing and computer games. There is more than one kind of plastic in my life capable of being a barrier between me and the Spirit of Life.

In any case, there you have it: Week 1. If my consumption were to hold steady at this level for a year, I'd finish the year with less than 20 lbs. of plastic waste--less than a quarter of the American average. But I doubt it will be that simple.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Environmental Mindfulness

Day Two of the No Plastics Project, and so far I'm noticing how much I have not been noticing.

First of all, to be clear, I am not, unlike Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish, even trying to get rid of the plastic that I have in my house, serving in long-term jobs. Though I suspect that plastic does pose health threats to humans, I'm almost fifty years old. I've been surrounded by the stuff most of my life, my reproduction is done, and my concern is focused on the harm done by the production of new plastic, and the disposal of old stuff. I'm fine with using the plastic I already have--in fact, it seems to me that the most ethical thing I can do with existing plastic is hang onto it, take care of it, and keep it in use as long as I can. That goes for the stuff that has contact with food, like Teflon on my pans and plastic food containers, as much as it does for the vinyl siding (I know, I know--I didn't put it on there!) on my house.

My main focus is simple--or at least, it sounds simple: eliminate all single-use plastic from my life; reduce other new plastics as much as I can.

So: no bags of potato chips, and I'll make serious efforts to get produce without plastic (for instance). But I'm going to use up the products I already have packaged in plastic, and I may wind up buying more, if it's stuff I can't find substitutions for but deem I really "need" to live my relatively ordinary middle-class American life.

I'm noticing more and more how much plastic actually (*ahem*) wraps my daily life. Despite trying to reduce my plastic use for months, having committed to doing this publicly, I now see how I am surrounded by plastic: the band aid on my finger, the wrapper around the cardboard boxes of bar soap I use, the velcro band that holds the stalks of broccoli together in the store. Is the band around the asparagus made of rubber, or plastic? The ice cream cone from the stand near my house has no plastic packaging, but the sundaes sold in the same place are sold in styrofoam. I can refuse to eat them, of course, but should I be advocating for a different bowl with the owners of the stand, or refusing to eat there entirely? Where do I begin?

With finding a way to store my waste, among other things. One thing I do not want to do: be a typical consumerist American, and go out and buy myself a new THING--some kind of perfect storage container for the plastic I'm saving and tallying. What are the odds that such a container would be made of plastic, packaged in plastic, or packed in plastic.

Same thing for a scale to weigh my plastic waste, before throwing it away or recycling it. If I go rushing off to buy myself one, even if I find one that isn't made of plastic, how environmentalist is that?

I'm becoming more aware of the thousand small consumerist decisions I make on a daily basis, and of how often I "solve problems" by buying a new, specialized tool for a job that might not even need to be framed the way it is.

There was a time when I laughed at my mother-in-law and other thrifty people for saving, washing, and reusing plastic bags. I blush to admit it, now, but it's true: it struck me as false thrift, as fussy. And as messy! I have seen for sale special drying racks, intended for the environmentalists among us, for doing just this one thing, neatly. As I remember, they were made of wood.

But does that really matter? Rather than buy yet another toy for my kitchen, more stuff on a planet overstuffed with stuff, surely I can tolerate the mess?

I dry my bags by clothes-pinning them to my dish-rack. It does look like a mess. Maybe I have to just get over that. Isn't the insistence on total neatness and total cleanliness really a kind of marketing device for cleaning tools and chemicals? Or maybe not. Our ancestors did without the tools and the toys, but I don't think they especially wanted to live in hippie squalor.

All of this can descend to a kind of navel-gazing and obsession, if I let it. That's the dark side of this attempt.

What's the up side?

Being aware of how long I am using the hot water in the shower.
Thinking a little more about clustering errands when I shop or drive anywhere.
Remembering every time I leave the computer to turn it off.

It's all small stuff. Nothing is revolutionary here. But what I'm trying for is a new way of relating to the things I, as a modern woman, live surrounded by. I think that if I can manage to be mindful of plastic, the stuff that is everywhere, and which we are supposed to buy, use up, and toss away with no thought to the consequences, it may help me to be more mindful of where my food comes from, where my energy goes... maybe even, of how much I substitute being with things for being with people and Spirit.

We'll see. For now, I fall in and out of mindfulness, and in and out of self-consciousness. Hopefully I will find both my balance and an alternative to plastic-packaged deodorant soon.

Beach image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: found at Real Oceans blog.
Bag drier sold through Amazon.com, or, better, check out this link about making your own.
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