Just Let Me Keep This

Solid fall-feeling weekend. We’ve spent it in good company. Last night we went to Hot Springs to visit some friends and their sweet children. A bit of catching up while the kids played, then on to a party hosted by some of their friends. Lots of kids—the boys had a blast, riding an old go-cart down a dusty hill, splashing in water. They got soaking wet, and came running to me, cold and dripping. I had extra shirts but not pants, and a sweet stranger came and took their pants to her house to dry. The boys, wrapped in towels, waited close to me, snuggling. We watched the party ramble on, together.

After a bit, I walked with our new friend back up to the house, learning about her life. She started and has headed for thirty years, an international company that assists family businesses trying to survive in the global economy. Pretty amazing. A fiercely competent woman, mother of four, living part-time in Amsterdam and part- time in the US. I could tell she was wondering about me. Finally she asked. I gave her very little information. She was so sympathetic, and kind. “But have you no family close by?” she asked. “No. No, it’s just us,” I replied.

Falling asleep last night, I remember my fear. I remember thinking, I cannot let anything happen. Who would be called? Who would come for us? How would I pay? When I was walking back from the car with dry clothes at the party, I remembered seeing the boys as they waited for me. Their world was on hold until I returned. At that moment, I realized how blind I have been, from time to time, to the meaning of my single parenthood. This threesome of Mom, Cash, and Tucker, is so sweet. So important. Important to a nearly terrifying degree. I fell asleep last night feeling the pressure of it.

Today, my brain is taking pictures of everything, as a result. I took the boys to the Fair, rode all the dizzy rides, watched the people and the horned cows. We took the chairlift over the whole fairgrounds. I’ll never forget their amazement at all the colors, smells, and sounds. It reminded me of the vow I made some time ago to travel with my boys, to tackle as much of this huge, wide world as I can, through their eyes.

Good Lord, help me stay steady for them. On my shallowest days, I believe it is important for me to be happy and patient all the time. But on my deeper, better days, I know it’s about just being here, as human and messy as I may be. If they can look back and say that it was always safe, and quiet was possible, and that I wasn’t too, too distracted, that it always smelled good, and that love was always hanging around, then that will be enough for me.

I am constantly looking back these days, having lost so much. But looking forward, really, at this point, I don’t need much, as long as I can keep this. Just let me keep this. Please. If the universe can just keep us three together, I think I can handle the rest. No matter how great a task that turns out to be. That’s all I’ll ask.

loveworkbyeyou

Morning
framed oak
and picture
faded bird
rocker
blank stare
into
a peel
of dawn
light.
Words
and
whys
tinged
wrongs and
rights
look
buttons
hairs
knuckles
fingertips
tattoo
skin.
Brow
and
blanket
furrow
shoes on
shoes
off.
Please you
please me
stay
steady on
love.
Let go
let go
hold
your
blessed
thin
breath
break
again
ask
again
drive
on.
We’re
gone.

DECODING MEATS

I gave a class this past weekend at Organic Growers School‘s Harvest Conference called Decoding Meats. The focus of the discussion was to address people’s questions about sourcing and cooking honest, local meat. Largely, we focused on the need for GMO-free, organic feedstock at an appropriate economy of scale. I took participants through the economics of pastured swine production and pastured poultry production, to help consumers understand the obstacles we face in making truly honest meat a reality. This will be a huge focus in my book, and realistically, we have a long way to go. We must not only change buying habits, but also our mindsets about what constitutes a meal, re-define waste, learn how to better use animals in the thriftiest, most efficient, respectful ways, and endeavor (as much as possible) to raise our own food. Above all, we have to stop making more demands of farmers, and understand the vast, web-like system of political, social, economic, and environmental nuances that effect our food system and food culture. 

In addition to addressing this question, the class contained a run-down of common label claims, discussing their worth to the discerning consumer. We also did a Q&A about participants’ favorite cuts, covering cooking recommendations, and also ideas for lesser-known cuts that could be substituted, helping participants better make use of the whole animal, and addressing affordability issues in some cases.

Organic Growers School will most likely post the presentation on their website, and is looking at developing a webinar with me to make the knowledge more widely accessible. For now, if you’d like more information, a copy of the presentation, or have questions, feel free to contact me via email or leave your comments here. 

On What Makes Home

I call my house Vulture House. When I moved in, early March, there were about 30 turkey vultures roosting in this massive white oak tree marking the property line. In the mornings, they perch on the tips of the tree’s old limbs, with their wings spread completely to the sun’s earliest rays. Cleaning themselves of yesterday’s carrion. At first, it was unsettling, these large, black silhouettes, larger than my youngest son, sitting like sentinels every morning and evening. I started to read about them, and learned that they are symbols of cleansing and renewal, protection, love, and loyalty. I also learned that they fly higher than any other animal besides humans, catching updrafts, apparently for the fun of it. Since, I have become enraptured with them, watching them fly parallel to the mountains with each morning’s sunrise, the tips of their wings turned up, as if in hope.

 

Along with the vultures, and the house, have come a lot of bird happenings. The day I moved in, I visited a farmer friend as he discovered a few dead toms within his turkey flock. Together, we pored over the bodies, trying to discern the predator. While in conversation, my friend pulled a bronze feather from the unfortunate animal and handed it to me, as if this was a customary exchange. The wind was blowing with a particular harshness that day. I met his gaze, accepting the feather, stowing it in the pocket of my winter coat. I imagine it is still there, hanging quietly in my closet until the weather turns.

 

Another day, during my morning time on the deck, I looked down to find a thin, smashed wren, just below my chair. It looked to be sleeping. It startled me, as any dead thing will, no matter how small. I showed it to my children, scooping it up in my hands and putting it into the yard for the vultures. We watched as they carried it off, within moments.

 

We also found a nest, full of eggs, and abandoned. It was in our shed, below some trash the former tenant left. We brought it inside, and it sits still on the linen chest, made of skeletonized leaves, seed racemes, and twigs. It’s eggs are snow white with burgundy speckles. You must search for them in the mess of the nest, but for anyone curious enough to peek, it is almost always a rewarding discovery. I bought a copper bowl at an antique mall, and the boys and I stored the nest within it. We don’t mind that the eggs are dead. An egg is still a hope, and there are three of them we own. One for each of us, as my oldest pointed out. He says things like this from time to time, unaware of his own clairvoyance.

 

I won’t live here forever, but I will never forget these images. They are burned into my mind’s eye, branded into my process, for better or worse. I constantly consider how temporary my life feels now, and wonder whether I am at home. Last night my dryer almost caught on fire, and today my laundry is spread out on my deck. A rainbow of litter. There is my dying garden, and ginger that asks for more water than the sky can make, and the smell of beets roasting (for pickling later), and the curtains lifting, just barely with the breeze. There are children peering into puddles and asking if fish might live there. Even as I laugh at this innocence, I realize I’m looking for the same flashes of life, in temporary spaces. I could watch patiently for days.

 

What makes a home? Is it catching glimpses of yourself here and there, in the same mirrors and windows? Is it your smelly life seeping into carpets, into quilts? Is it just a box with all your shit inside, even if homeless people are squatting in the woods nearby? Where you park your car, where your underwear lives? Where you hide on hard days, where you love best, where you cry yourself to sleep? It’s where you know the light the best, can expect the day to begin, the day to end.

 

Even still, peeling the beets, I felt lost in here, the smell of the skins a sign of the coming fall. Why do I still feel impermanence about me? Why can’t I settle? Stop waiting? Ease up? Today, I stumble upon a David Wagoner poem, and hold it up in the window, as if a prophesy. “ Stand still. The trees and bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, and you must treat it as a powerful stranger, must ask permission to know, and be known.”

 

I bet the vultures roost here yearly. They are not lost. I have lamented their scarcity this summer, but take solace in the bizarre certainty I have that they will return. As the weather changes, I stand gazing out the back door, at the acorns falling. They are as numerous as my doubts. And when I think of acorns, I think of pigs, of my kids gathering them, and the persimmons in the driveway at the farm, for feed. In resistance to that old longing, I leave all the mast in my driveway, waiting for the vultures to clear it away.