I’ve been seeing all kinds of one-liners and memes on social media lately that speak to “cutting people out of your life” or “throwing toxic people out the window.” Tantamount to these assertions are memes that say things like “your happiness is the most important thing,” or “Choose you!”. While I agree with these statements on a shallow level, there’s a big concern welling in my gut. It’s in that place that I like to sort of listen to, and it’s been bugging me to say a thing or to that may push past the shallow level from which these memes are written, and the level of humanity for which they’re reaching.

In my world, and in the world I choose to give to my children, my happiness or comfort should never come at the expense of another. If what I need to make me happy will hurt another person, then I do not even wish to “choose me.” And in my world, people are not toxic. Behaviors are toxic…and the forces that contribute to poor behaviors. Forces like mental illness, poverty, trauma, stress, addiction, depression, bullying, coercion, and poor health, to name just a handful. When I read these memes about “toxic people” or “throwing people out the window,” I want an equal and opposite, zingy little rant to send back. Maybe it would be a question, like “What happened to love?” or a statement like, “It’s a GOOD thing to care for people, despite their weaknesses.” What happened to commitment? What happened to sacrifice in service of collaboration? What happened to looking at someone’s low points, and wondering how your low points amplified theirs, like a bad medicinal cocktail? What happened to communication, and growing together, and spending your life fixing things worth fixing, like beloved friends, elders, spouses, children, or fellow human beings?

My God, what happened to love? What happened to integrity?

And I know. Sometimes it can’t be fixed. Sometimes we must part paths. But let us endeavor to do so with respect, and tenderness, and only after we’ve done everything we can do to spare destruction and risks to the heart. Because we are all fragile, and flawed, and wonderful. We are all struggling. We are each of us, without even knowing it, adding up all the happenings of our life, be they good or bad, and ending up with an equation that we have to live with, every single day. We all have a right to love, and be loved. We are meant to share. I believe this.

So please, don’t defenestrate anyone. Don’t cut anyone out with a dull spoon of self-righteousness. Please tell me that if you need to remove someone from your life that has been in any way an important presence, you’ll go further than a meme. Please tell me that you won’t be flying along in this precious life, and look over, and with words barely audible, or a haughty smile, or some hands thrown up, push the eject button on your co-pilot’s seat.

Give a shit about people. Maybe that’s my one-liner. Since I know that we’re molding ourselves, culturally, with every little rainbow-backed ditty in quotation marks that fits under our scrolling thumbs. And if you really believe that someone is toxic, try to cipher out your own reflection in the screen of your smartphone. If you really believe someone’s faults are more grievous than your own, grevious enough to deserve a “toxic” brand and a middle-finger out of your life, maybe you’re looking for the wrong flashing red button that’s just itching to be pushed.

 

 

Maybe This is a Good Sign

I wake up early to a dark house, my head heavy, momentarily unsure of where I am. I want to go back to sleep but then I can see the light beginning over the lake, and I can’t miss it. Quiet as I can manage, I creep down the ancient stairs, and basically fall outside. I pad down the long stone walkway, to the boathouse. I sit on the far side, behind the boat, at the edge, under three spiders webs, my back against a pole. Watching. Thinking.

 The biggest spider is directly above me, anxiously commanding her web in the thin morning light. Over and over again, she scrambles to its edges to wrap up a mayfly, or a gnat, or another spider. Then, as if relieved, she returns to the center to relax into her quiet, genius view of the steely lake, the charcoal mountains, the hazy sky. Just below me, water gliders make stringy wake near the dock, flirting with each other in dizzying patterns. Then, without a single warning, one strides away behind bent ripples, leaving the other behind, gliding in circles as if lost. Fish jump from the still water, surprising me, but the reward of ripples sets it right. They never stop. The water looks so inviting, but I am riveted to the stillness, not wanting to upset it. If I get it right the calmness will become me, and I will grow stronger.

 I look down, and there is a hex nut. It is sun-worn and water beaten, just beside my toe. I pick it up and hold it in front of the sky. It is the same gray as the water, its perfect sides rolling between my fingers. I remember the honeybee theorem, how mathematicians struggled for centuries to discover why the honeybee chose a hexagon to house their young and their honey. It isn’t the only shape that tessellates evenly across a surface. Squares and triangles will do the same. It took quite a long time for humans to figure out that the hexagon has a smaller total perimeter than the square or the triangle. That’s why the honeybees use it, because it allows them to work simultaneously, starting at any point, and expend the least amount of honey building their comb. Of course. Nature evolves to minimize energy. I sit thinking about this, and the spider, and wonder how I evolve. I have always loved that story of bees, loving the hexagon with it.

 I used to call my heart a beehive, like the poet Antonio Machado. Ever since I died there, I have thought of it as a river, or a stone in a river, that lets water rush over and around it, or pile atop it for miles and miles, in pursuit of smoothing and shaping. What does the water symbolize? Pain? Truth? Life itself? I don’t know yet. I do know that at one time it felt like whatever it was, its movement was too fast, rushing relentlessly, overtaking me, and the only thing to hold me from reeling was my heaviness. Today, whatever it is, that water within is also right in front of me, in endless stillness and ever growing ripples. Maybe this is a good sign.

 How fitting that I should find a relic here. I have been starting a bit of a collection lately. The first thing was a small clay pot my son made, the second was a whole wishbone from a chicken, cleaned and bleached. I don’t quite remember what possessed me to display those things, but they are in my kitchen windowsill. The third thing I do remember, was a penny. I never pick up lucky pennies, but I was cleaning, alone, in the cabin atop the hill at work, and I found it while sweeping. I had all the doors flung open so the late summer breeze was blowing through, generously. There was a strange inkling of fall, and a mousy smell about the house. I remember feeling nostalgic, but at peace, in the country again, the only sounds being the river rushing, the bird song, and the wind in the leaves. I swept up the penny initially, but then felt an urge to keep it. I had felt so peaceful in that moment.

 The last time it happened, I found a handkerchief. I was going through a bin of old rags and found it there before work. It was clean, its colors were all faded, and there was a hole in the upper corner. I started a fire soon after for a group of students, and the fire’s heat in the August afternoon pulled thick sweat from my brow. I used the handkerchief then, when I felt strong and useful.

 I think about that now, as I hold the hex nut, and look out at the water. I realize that all these artifacts I’m collecting come from moments of peace and epiphanies of calm. I wonder about the purpose of them, their shapes outlined in the window shrine every morning and night. They are all questions, really, teaching me to wait. A friend once sent me a quotation: “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves.”

I think about the honeybees. I think about the spiders, fish, and water bugs. Absolutely, this is not the efficient, calloused evolution of a population. It’s the highly disorganized, exhilarating evolution of one single soul. And I don’t know the word for it, nor do I yet know what water is, or how many ecosystems the heart holds, or what shape I’m in. Do the honeybees know, or do they just do, the hexagon the only design in their pattern language, organizing their dreams into sheets and sheets of gold?

 Someone jumps into the water, pulling me from my trance. I smile a good morning as a head pops up from the surface. Leaving the questions to lie, I put the hex nut in my pocket, and hoist myself back to the house. I carry it in my wallet all day at work, and then add it to my windowsill at dusk. It’s right in the arc of the wishbone, beside the penny, so you can see all its sides.

Why I’m Writing this Book

 

It’s 2:52am on a Sunday morning.  I fell asleep at 9pm, after kissing my two young boys (ages 6 and 2) goodnight, and having a glass of wine on my deck. I was thinking about my day, and about how I had survived it. Falling asleep, I think, was the only thing left to do. Now, I’m up, figuring out the short and long-term liability of my butcher shop, because I have to leave it behind. Not because it isn’t great. Not because I don’t love it, but because I’m getting a divorce, and my life is astronomically expensive until I sell my farm, and I work three jobs, and I’m a single mom, and my head butcher quit.

 In addition to figuring liability, I am also making mint simple syrup. It is now 2:57 AM, and I’m thinking mint-infused whipping cream will go perfectly with the fresh strawberry pie I’m making tomorrow. And… who ever argued with a mojito? In addition to dealing with my current problems, I deal in good food. I don’t just love it, I make it. From scratch. I dream of it, I grow it, clean it, cook it, and eat it. And I have been fighting for good food for nearly half my life. So, the simple syrup is part of Sunday supper with my friends, which is the only social engagement I attend to regularly, as I try to clean up this mess that is my life. Once the week begins, I’ll carefully chart my days from 4am to 8pm trying to juggle my jobs, and worries, and most importantly, my sweet children.

 When I am done with all of this mess, I’m going on a journey. I’m going to take chaos and bruise, heartbreak, and a hammock, and write a book about meat. After 12 years of every kind of farming imaginable, 6 years of meat-centric investments and creations, and 1 year of the absolute re-ordering of everything I thought was important, I think I may have something to say. I’m writing this book to stay alive, to keep my finger on a pulse.

 This book will be about meat, and food in general. This book will be about blood, and bone, and muscle, and blade, grass, crunch, simmer, smoke, soil, salt, and cut-hay smell. I mean it literally, as well as metaphorically.

 Practically, you will find within these pages information on producing, butchering, preserving, and cooking beef, pork, lamb, and poultry on the home-scale. Spiritually, you’ll find within these pages one woman’s questions and insights about food, land, community, and love. It’s my hope that reading this book is as raw an experience as writing it. I hope that, inside the good practice of all the arts included here; you will find out a little bit more about honest living.

 -May, 2014

 

 

The water is unusually choppy as we put our boats in, but we are laughing and joking, fighting the tide out from the docks. My arms are still singing from our last paddle trip, but it feels good to power out to open sea. I push out front, alone, loving the smack of the boat against each new wave, feeling my solitude there. I think about my kids, whom I had spoken with on the phone just before jumping in the boat. The little one just kept saying “my mama” over and over. So sweet. I can almost feel his little body hugging against me.

I don’t wish they were here, though, because I can see a storm brewing above the island. Still, right now, the sun is cooking my face, and my lips are tight from being on the beach all day anyway. The rain of salt water from my paddle each time it rises from the water provides a spray of relief. It’s beautiful out here. I have nothing on my mind, I’m smiling and relaxed. As soon as I hit a perfect rhythm, my boat bottoms out on the shallow shore. I’m surprised, thinking the tide was further up, but I hop out and drag the rest of the way, to high ground. The soft sand sucks my feet in as I go. I wave at the other boaters, and we nod toward the storm together.

“Looks like a big one,” she says. 

“Yep. We should probably leave,” I say. But my friends are just approaching the shore, and I want to explore the other side. I strike out across the beach, with the other boaters’ little dog following.

I’m headed for the edge of the marsh, because it’s better there for seeing the landscape. I also want to see the other side. There’s a bit of a high place just before the marsh begins, with white dry sand that stretches about three quarters of the way across the island’s belly. I cross the tidal pools, and the pockets of muck and seaweed. By the time I get to the dry sand, my feet are covered in heavy mud. I shake it off, turning around toward the water. There are other people on the island, but I am alone up here. The only thing I can hear is the ocean, and the distant rumble of thunder.

The sound of the waves, when they single out everything else, remind me of swimming, at night. In my old life. Feeling close to other people, under the moon. And even though I’m standing here now, on this little island in broad daylight, my hands on my head in awe and satisfaction, damn near a year from all the tragedy of reinvention, this memory smacks at me like lightning, and I begin to cry.

I’ve had moments like this, over the past year. But this one is peculiar. I wasn’t sitting and thinking about the betrayal. I wasn’t contemplating my situation, trying to define forgiveness, or wondering about suffering. But yet here it is, this feeling, and it is upon me like a stone. I’ve learned, slowly, that the best thing to do sometimes, or the only thing, is to just feel it, so I turn and begin to walk the half moon of beach beside the marsh, and I cry and cry. It is audible, a weeping, not silent and subdued behind my sunglasses like usual. The sadness swells and throbs, building up from my belly and then forcing its way out. Oh my god. I nearly trip on driftwood, I am crying so. I can’t see. I stop, wiping my sandy arm across my face. I look out at the water. A deep breath. And then it is over. Sigh. It’s over. Breathe.

Instead, I begin to run, back across the sand belt, at the marsh’s edge. The storm cloud is purple black and hovering ahead of me. Here I am. A woman, young. I see myself, suddenly, tan and muscular, running the crescent beach in a navy bikini, long braid with no tie, its ends loosening with every step. My tear-stained cheeks under salt-streaked sunglasses. My hat, slightly crooked. I was crying because I miss them. How terrifying. How sad. I miss them and I hate them. Here I am.

By the time I get back to the others in the group, I look fairly normal. The lightning begins to hammer down around us. We joke, nervously, and lie down beside a spurge. Soon enough, the rain comes in, cold and stinging on our bare backs. I keep my head down, listening to the others talk. I am thankful for my hat, which allows me to keep my eyes open. I watch the rain make beads of the sand, which hops all around me. I wash my fingers in its grains, my skin wrinkled from water, my rings tangled together on my finger. My wedding ring. It’s a series of seven rings, all stacked but not connected. I simply moved it to my right ring finger when I left him. I get lots of compliments on it, and it does stand out. The shiny, hammered silver is striking against my dark, weathered fingers. I have rough hands. Worker hands. I am so glad my kids aren’t here. The thunder is very loud and unpredictable. The lightning is too close. I am starting to get very cold.

With no edge of the storm visible, and the lightning breaking a bit, we make it back down to our boats. Everyone is covered in sand, and looking piqued. Thinking we may break for it, we throw on life jackets and ready the boats. But as soon as we grab paddles, lightning skips across the water, and we turn back again. It’s been nearly an hour, and my teeth are chattering. The life jacket is keeping me warm, so I leave it on. I lie down and pull the boat up over me, closing my eyes. All storms pass, I keep thinking. It’s truly the only thought that is complete.

I don’t go to sleep, but am not sure how much time passes. Someone eventually says, “Oh thank god, I see the edge,” and I peek out from under my boat to look. Of course, I think. All storms pass. We endure the rain for a few more moments, and then pull the boats back upright. I throw in my shoes, take off the lifejacket, and paddle hard. In the distance I can see a tranquil sky, with clouds like thin polka dots. A cheerful fabric.

“I want some crab legs!” my friend yells.

“I need a drink!” someone else says. Damn right.

I am out front again, a steady pace. Not looking back.

You cannot scream at the world

no matter what you know

from

behind your sunglasses,

your gorgeous

tattooed

blogroll.

It doesn’t matter what you know

you have to feed the world

not a feast

just a bit of

sugar on a biscuit

if that’s your thing

or

a drum beginning,

one

single silent stroke

of color.

Wear your story

on your skin, be it

a smell of burning

that echoes

a curse word,

a moment of pain.

Everything is food

that’s alive,

requires work,

or if it comes with

a side of pickles

or burns the back of the throat.

Everything is a metaphor so

ruin some shirts,

Loathe the sucking

of fingers

But record it

overtop the sweet

sounds of your laughter.

Everything is food

get your bib

get your spade

you cannot drive thru

this

is one way

with no window.

Everything is delicious

that reminds

us

and shows us our small

and

amazing

lives

going by

too fast.