Tag Archive | community

Connection

Boyz Lunch today was fried Sesame Tofu with Coconut-Lime Dressing and Spinach, a light fare on the first really hot day of summer.

I’m grateful that the juniper titmice have fledged, and that I was able to get a sort-of shot of the nest hole, after my mind played tricks on me this morning and I thought maybe they’d left behind a chick. So strong was the story I made up from my illusory senses that it took several close perusals of this image and some others to set my mind at ease, and now it seems so obvious. Ah, how we manage to delude ourselves.

Today I’m grateful to be alive, to have friends, to be part of a wonderful, interesting community. In fact, several of them, one in physical space and a couple in virtual space. Also, I’m grateful to live in the multi-species community that is my yarden, cultivating constant connection with Nature. At lunch today on the patio we were all enjoying the phoebes, and observed the chicks’ milestone of venturing beyond the nest onto the joist. THEN, we were astonished to realize that there are actually five chicks!

Say

Open Heart

The Solitary One. This juniper grows unusually separate from others in a clearing in the woods. Right now it’s surrounded by a carpet of laughing yellow flowers, which don’t show up well in a color photo so I might as well share the more emotional black&white.

I’m grateful for so much today: for sunshine, green growing things, a breakfast burrito for dinner; a meaningful zoom with a talented, compassionate writer friend whose book I can’t wait to see published; new glasses, Stellar doing a little better today, the fragrance of white irises, letting go of my need to control everything; half a dozen hummingbirds zipping around the feeder outside the living room window while the phoebes tag team feeding their chicklets right above the hummingbird fray, and a Bullock’s oriole pops in brightly for a moment… and the list goes on. I started the day participating in a meditation on an open heart, welcoming the richness in each moment of this life, and managed to carry that feeling through a busy morning and a productive afternoon, with moments of grounded relaxation throughout the day. I’m so grateful for the practice of mindfulness, and the joy and contentment it’s brought to my life.

Feeling Heard and Seen

Grateful to see the first wild phlox in bloom on our walk this morning.

My gratitude today began of course first thing in the morning when Stellar and I both woke up alive and able to take a nice long walk through the forest. But it really kicked in late morning when I met my new primary care provider at the clinic, a nurse practitioner who made me feel heard and seen in a way no doctor has since the great Adam Zerr left the valley. Christi Anderson heard everything, and then asked if there was more. There was. And then she asked if there was more. There was. And then she said, “I look forward to taking care of you.” All with lots of eye contact and genuine compassion and interest. I felt a lot healthier walking out of there, simply from feeling heard and seen completely. It’s so important, whether it’s with a healthcare provider, a partner, or a friend, to feel heard and seen for who you are.

Grateful for healthy garlic growing on the left, tulips budding on the right, and a new planting of romaine amidst the greens I may have planted too early this spring; grateful for the garden’s lessons in impermanence, patience, acceptance, and resilience.

And that might have been that for today’s post, except that tonight I attended the third and final webinar on a resilient ‘circular’ local economy, hosted by one of our environmental watchdog groups, Citizens for a Healthy Community. Another of the clinic’s doctors attended this workshop to speak about integrating healthcare proactively within the main focus of the series, the ‘nutrient dense’ agriculture of this amazing valley. I’ll not go into any recap of the series, which consisted of a total of almost 8 hours over three Mondays, but I’ll share the link to the recorded workshops, in which so many entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, and others explained their amazing passion projects.

Grateful to come home from the clinic today to risen pizza dough in the skillets, and plenty of yummy ingredients to top it with, from faraway smoked salmon and capers to extremely local tomato sauce.

I moved here almost thirty years ago because I found what I had been looking for without knowing it: a palpable sense of community. Though in the past decade I have retreated into my hermitage on the fringe, this community continues to sustain me in a very fundamental way, and there really are no words to express my gratitude for the gift of living here, among these generous people so deeply connected to the earth our mother. I have been uplifted and inspired by everyone who spoke in these three workshops, and was honored to attend simply to witness and learn the depth and breadth of interconnection among all these non-profits and individuals, from community elders like food activists Monica and Chrys, to relative newcomers, all dedicated to supporting the ecosystem of this beautiful agricultural valley which is also a progressive creative center in food and many other arts. One of the most exciting things I learned is that there is now a countywide Farm to School food garden/curriculum in the nine elementary schools.

I’ve often thought that I found in this valley a safe place to plant myself and flourish; a place where I could be heard and seen so that I could find my voice and my vision. I am grateful every single day that I chose to settle here in the North Fork Valley.

Salad

I’m grateful I could spend the morning in the garden, continuing to work the soil in the raised beds and plan what will go where when it’s warm enough to start planting in earnest. I’ve already got carrots, greens, peas, and garlic in, as well as the marvelous perennial onions lining the east edge of a bed. I uprooted a few from the nursery patch (behind the red chair) to fill in some blanks along the row. These will grow lovely tall flowers that are pollinator magnets, and hopefully deter some pests. I had a few leftover, so I brought them into the kitchen.

Wondering what to have for lunch, I remembered I had an avocado and some store-bought lettuce (not for long!), and some homemade dressing leftover, so decided I’ll make a simple salad, throw in these scallions. Then I decided to use up those last couple of bacon strips, but the skillet needed to soak for a few minutes. Picture me grateful for all these options all through this thought train. I bet those asparagus are ready to cut, I thought, I’ll do that while the skillet soaks, and toss them in the salad too.

Stellar and I walked out to our secret asparagus patch and cut the four spears that were tall enough. Back in the kitchen, I realized I also had mushrooms. Hmmm, sauté some mushrooms in the bacon grease, oh and then sear the asparagus. Suddenly the simple salad had become unexpectedly complicated.

Anatomy of a simple salad

This was taking longer than I’d planned on for lunch. But, the reward promised to be well worth the time… and then I realized that the reward was the time I had, the ingredients I had, the leisure I had to create a complicated salad from a simple idea. Might as well chop up that last little bit of Havarti.

I’m grateful for all those elements, and for attending to the insight that allowed me to relax and enjoy the process of creating the complicated salad; I’m grateful for Janis who taught me years ago to make salad with plenty of whatever was on hand besides lettuce; I’m grateful to Philip for still bringing me whatever I want from the grocery store; I’m grateful for the Vermont maple bowl that is my staple dish when I eat alone and has served me well for over twenty years; I’m grateful for the plants and animals that contributed to my complicated, delicious lunch. I’m grateful for salad.

I’m grateful that The Hitching Post in our little town carries such quality soils, plant foods, and other gardening supplies. While picking up more dirt, I also grabbed a few bags of seed potatoes. Tomorrow is a root day!
And I was grateful to see that they have this creative poster promoting water conservation front and center on their counter!

My Birthday

Some birthday presents, from friends who know me well!

I am grateful that I made it to 62. Grateful that my parents, despite their challenges, raised me well and with plenty of love, and raised me to hold certain values among which number … well, another time for elucidating those, but they definitely did their best, and I turned out pretty OK, and for that I’m grateful. I’m grateful to live this part of my life in this part of the vast world, surrounded by natural beauty, supportive community, and kind friends. I’m grateful that even in the social distance of Covid, I was able to celebrate my birthday all day long in many and wonderful ways.

I did get permission to share this one. Birthday zoom cocktails with my goddaughter (top right) in Brooklyn, and her mom, one of my oldest friends, and her husband, professional musicians near DC, who asked my favorite song and then sang it: I Can See Clearly Now.

I didn’t get done half of what I’d hoped to today, but that’s OK. I did connect with a lot of people, and allowed myself to receive their generous wishes for a happy birthday. I made connection a priority this day that comes but once a year, this precious day that will never come again. I’m grateful for all the warm wishes that came on Facebook, in the mail, by phone, text, email, zoom, and by special hand-delivery. For most of my life, I confess, I have not felt myself to be lovable: I must concede to the majority today, and acknowledge that all these birthday well-wishers can’t be wrong. I’m grateful, in this moment, to feel lovable, and loved. And loving.

So Much to Celebrate

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It could as well be a wildfire, but it’s just the sunset, that great ball of fire in the sky rolling by.

The breeze is finally cool tonight, and it wants to rain. It’s been a merciless summer so far, except for last Friday night. Relentless heat in the nineties, and no rain for months. The aridification of the West. My field like most on this mesa is at least half brown, with meager green grass. Fires rage, and we’re lucky, with nine reportable fires in the state, and more than twice that many from Oklahoma west, that we are not oppressed with daily smoke, and have not had to evacuate. I feel for those closest to the fires, how the smoke settles down at night and it’s all there is to breathe. Even here sometimes, dawn brings smoky air that sends me downstairs early to close windows and doors. With the heat of the day the smoke lifts, though we get a hint of it from time to time, but otherwise skies are simply hazy. We are desperate for rain.

My skin is turning lizard. Our skin is dry always, and hot by midday, and almost no one has air conditioning, because heretofore we have not needed it. Nights in the high sixties never cool us down enough to make it through a closed-in day. This is climate chaos at play.

But last Friday night, unbridled joy erupted: At last, rain! The band won’t soon forget that night, nor will any of us who happened to be there when it rained. First there was a lightning show in the mountains north and east of town, but the music was good so we stayed, despite the obvious risks: Gobs of electrical equipment, cables across the lawn, the church steeple right across the road, lightning cloud-to-cloud around us in a constant thunder rumble.

Rapidgrass played through the rain at the Old Mad Dog Café downtown, speakers and amps covered in tarps. Many left before the rain, but those who stayed remained until the band was through, well after dark. Some ineffable unity came to the band and the crowd: strangers and friends danced together, streaming onto the dance floor as rain came down; laughing, swinging, cheering, whistling, weeping. Grizzled old-time ranchers whose livelihoods depend on water danced with young hippie transplants, confirmed hermits splashed in puddles with dark-eyed children. We stuck our heads under downspouts, laughing, getting drenched in the welcome shower, dancing, dancing, and the band played on.

A double rainbow heralded a slight break in the rain. At sunset a downpour began in earnest: dancers and drinkers poured inside, and the band followed us through the double doors, continuing acoustically with Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain and a few other tunes, before taking their only break.

People headed to cars and trucks or nearby houses to refresh themselves or change clothes, and most returned for the next set. The band kept trying to quit at the end of their second set and we kept them going for an hour more with piercing whistles and cries of Play all night!!! For the rain of course, I realize now, but in the moment it felt like for the frenzied joy.

IMG_0444It’s been a joyful summer in so many ways, so far. Cousin Melinda came from Kentucky for relaxation therapy, including the best fish tacos ever, chihuahua for a day, a day over the pass at Iron Mountain Hot Springs, and our ritual cocktail party at the Black Canyon right down the road.

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Local, organic sweet cherries, just one of many delectable snacks shared at our precious, local  National Park, a hidden gem in the historical treasure of our National Parks system now under threat (like the rest of us) from top-down mean-spirited tampering.

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Chihuahua Therapy at the home canyon.

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Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, with 16 mineral-water hot pools including this pebble-floored 106 degree pool overlooking the Colorado River.

In(ter)dependence Day brought more beloved company and festivities to our neighborhood pod, and days before that Felix turned 100. His dearest friends concocted the party of the century. More than 200 people enjoyed live music from Swing City Express (featuring vocals from various local talent), great barbecue from Slow Groovin’ in Marble, and visiting with long-ago and seldom-seen friends. People came from across the globe to honor our favorite centenarian, who was not the oldest person at his party! Felix got covered in lipstick kisses.

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We were invited to “Dress like it’s 1945,” and guests obliged in diverse ways.

IMG_0806IMG_E0873Meanwhile, midst all this partying, the garden struggles along in the hottest driest summer I’ve seen in my 26 years here. The magpies have fledged and gone, the redtails in the canyon are learning to fly, and the baby hummingbirds are almost too big for their nest, with tail feathers out one side and sweet faces peeking out the other. Despite myriad fears and stresses over weather, climate, and the demolition of democracy, there is so much wonderful life to cherish and celebrate, every day, right here in our own back yards. Open your eyes. Let me remember to be grateful, every living moment of every day.IMG_5652IMG_5655

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The desert willow, a Zone 7 tree, has always done ok on the south side of the adobe house, but this summer it’s full of more blossoms and bees than ever. Funny how some things like the dry.

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Passing by this tiny bumblebee on a dahlia, pretty good for a phone camera…

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A Quarter Century

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, an International Dark Sky Park, just down the road from home.

Sirius the Dog Star is dazzling again. The night sky is more full of stars than I have seen it for years. I live in one of the best places in the country for stargazing. Nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. Though my new bionic eyes aren’t yet completely healed, I stood outside tonight and cried because I can see Orion’s bow again; I had forgotten it.

I used to sit on the roof of my trailer and watch the sky, as storms passed by to the west and east, as the sun came up in a fan of blue and white stripes or set amid blankets of orange and violet clouds, as stars appeared one by one and five by ten to fill the sky. I don’t spend as much time outside at night now that I live in a snug house full of other things to do. And also, I think, because in recent years the stars have been disappearing, the sky darkening with my deepening cataracts. Stargazing was making me sad. No more!

The night sky is just one reason I love this place. I was horrified a few years ago when I looked out from my bed and saw two bright orange lights across the valley. There aren’t many lights on at night around here. What kind of idiot needs that kind of security light in this bucolic landscape?

The Bad Dogs drove home from here one night and scoped out the source of this dreadful sight. Once we discovered it, my irritation evaporated. The lambing lights came on again a few weeks ago, and now I welcome them, knowing that they’re temporary, and signal the coming of spring. About the same time the first crocus shoots appeared in the mud as the snow began to melt. Their first blooms opened this morning.

Nearly all the winter’s snow has melted, except on north facing slopes and in deep shadows. Last week the nurse at the Health Fair asked me, as she was drawing my blood, “Are you over the mud?” She had just moved here from Kentucky. I pondered, over it? “I’m over being bothered by it, if that’s what you mean,” I said. “You adapt. It’s just another season. Mud season. Comes between winter and spring, and then again sometimes between fall and winter.”

When I drove to town that morning it was cold. On the way home an hour later, mist rose along the hill road from the south-facing slope of a deep arroyo just now catching the sun. Up on Stewart Mesa the mountains were shrouded in clouds and sun blazed down on a golden field full of cows. A bald eagle sat on a power pole in the dobies. That half-hour drive never gets old.

I’ve been making that drive now for twenty-five years, nearly half my life. Cynthia and I got the giggles today trying to figure out how old I’ll be when it has been half my life. The math was too much for me. “You’ll never get there,” she posited. “I have to get there!” I insisted. We finally figured it out: when I’m 66 I will have lived here 33 years. After all our calculations I realized I could have just doubled the age I was when I moved here. Sheesh! I’d been tumbling it around for weeks, ever since I woke up on February second and marveled that I’ve lived here for a quarter of a century.

 

In the years after I left home at 18, I’ve walked away from more past lives than I can count. (But then, I’m not that good with numbers.) I’ve moved for jobs, schools, or whims every year or two or three. I left two states to escape relationships gone bad. When I landed here I knew I’d found my soul’s home. Planting myself here, I’ve softened. In a community this size, you can’t walk away; you can’t let anger or resentment sever ties. I’ve tried. Someone hurts you and you swear you’ll never speak to her again, and a decade later you run into her at your best friend’s party. Or a week later you meet her in the grocery aisle. You have to learn to let go.

As the lambing lights come and go, and the crocuses, and the mud, so I have settled in to the rolling seasons, ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows and a bottomless skyful of stars. When I bought this land, I was seeking peace of mind. After a quarter century, some days I think I’ve almost found it.

 

Puzzling Proverbial Politics

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It doesn’t matter what the puzzle is: clicking that last piece into any wooden jigsaw puzzle is supremely gratifying.

Puzzle season is upon us! We are trading them amongst ourselves as we did last winter, and emailing each other images of which one we might buy this year. In our informal club each household seems willing to contribute one puzzle per winter. I borrowed this one from a friend none of us suspected had puzzles. “Netherlandish Proverbs,” a 16th century oil-on-oak painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder, depicts Dutch proverbs of the time.

Artifact Puzzles includes a key to 60 of the sayings, several of which (To cast pearls before swine) are familiar to me, and many brand new to me seem particularly relevant to our times, like To tie a flaxen beard to the face of Christ.

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Pieter Breughel’s “Netherlandish Proverbs” as rendered by Artifact Puzzles. The painting is 400 years older than I am. The proverbs… timeless.

Our favored wooden jigsaw puzzle maker is Liberty Puzzles in Boulder, but Artifact will do in a pinch. I’ve only done two, and I don’t like them as well because they have fewer whimsy pieces, and the cut of their pieces isn’t as intricate or interesting.

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Whimsy pieces in the two Artifact puzzles I’ve done are both fewer and less intricate than in Liberty puzzles.

Liberty puzzles trick you on the edges; Artifact puzzles differ in the nature of the deceit. While  all of the edge pieces look like edge pieces, there were at least seven corner pieces in this puzzle, and numerous flat-edged pieces that are not edges, that abut each other various places in the center of the puzzle.

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The painting’s original title was “The Blue Cloak,” from the proverb “She puts the blue cloak on her husband,” meaning she deceives him. Notice the three pieces in the upper right, where one seeming-corner meets two seeming-edge pieces. This particular trickery seems unique to the Artifact brand.

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“To carry the day out in baskets” means to waste one’s time, as some might think I am, doing these puzzles.

Last winter I sat at my table on a cold afternoon and a neighbor crept inside the front door without knocking, without calling first, without the dogs noticing his arrival. In the second after we all heard the front door squeak, they crashed open the door to the mudroom nearly smashing it into his face. “What are you up to?” he asked, then peered over my shoulder. “You’ve got too much time on your hands,” he said. I was alarmed by his entry and annoyed by his judgement.

These wooden jigsaw puzzles are a meditation for me. The mental agility required to assemble them gives several aspects of my brain good exercise, pattern recognition, color discernment, and memory top among them. Then the image itself offers another layer of awareness: is it a classic painting, like this one, or a Hiroshige waterfall? Or is it a contemporary image, is it an antique print (and of what? butterflies, or a historic locomotive?), does it conform to a rectangular shape or take the organic shape of a jaguar; and what thoughts does that image stir, what feelings, both when I first see it, and as I move through the pieces over time? There is never nothing to think about when working one of these beautiful puzzles, each a work of art in its own right.

And it affords, above all, the gift of concentration. For while my mind may roam pondering proverbs, or mulling mythology while assembling a mermaid, or considering the effects of climate change on the Netherlands, or the plight of jaguars; while a memory may be sparked by a porpoise-shaped whimsy piece or a prairie dog (or is that a meerkat?), the rest of the world falls away. The mind is given the exercise it loves, and the spirit is free to to untether and rest beyond thought, observing the layers the mind plies while it fits together cleverly cut pieces of wood and color.

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“To tie a flaxen beard to the face of Christ” meaning to hide deceit with Christian piety. The proverb feels relevant to our current situation on several levels. Beyond the obvious, it tells us that 16th century Christians clearly did not see Jesus as a blond man, touching off in me thoughts about racism, xenophobia, and hypocrisy. 

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Five proverbs listed on the puzzle key are represented here, and at least one more discerned only from researching the painting online.

The central proverb in this image is To be unable to see the sun shine on the water, meaning to be jealous of another’s success. The fellow above is throwing money into water, i.e., wasting it. To his left, the bottoms poking out a hole in the planks represent a couple of proverbs, one stated on the puzzle key, It hangs like a privy over a ditch: it is obvious; and one uncovered hereThey both crap through the same hole, meaning they are inseparable comrades. Heehee! Under the privy (and the money) is Big fish eat little fish, meaning that whatever people say will be put in perspective according to their level of importance, or “Those in power have the power.” This makes me squirm a little as I consider the looming transfer of power in Our Nation’s Capital. Add to that the crumbling brick wall, A wall with cracks will soon collapse, or Anything poorly managed will soon fail…

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“To have the roof tiled with tarts” meaning to be very wealthy. Perhaps soon the White House will be tiled with tarts. Hmmm. At whose expense?

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While doing the puzzle, I noticed a few images not identified on the key, like this fellow kneeling at a fire, so I looked up the painting online. The central proverb here is “To not care whose house is on fire as long as one can warm oneself at the blaze,” meaning to take every opportunity regardless of the consequences to others. Hmmm. 

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Like the above man at fire, the fellow “sitting on hot coals” wasn’t in the key either. He is being impatient. Above him is one “catching fish without a net,” meaning he profits from the work of others. 

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“To bang one’s head against a brick wall.” We all know what that means!

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The details of expression in the painting are particularly well captured with this poor, morose boy. “He who has spilt his porridge cannot scrape it all up again,” or as I learned it, don’t cry over spilled milk: what’s done cannot be undone.

“Netherlandish Proverbs” was a fast, fun and thought-provoking puzzle, however burdened with nincompoops. I’m glad to have passed it on. I look forward to the beauty, surprise, and complexity of the next puzzle, next year, something bright and wild and full of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowed In and Loving It

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Sunrise this lengthening-day morning brought a beautiful view full of new snow. Last night as it still fell, Tom our UPS man called to say he’d left a package at the top of the driveway. I tried to push the Honda through but only made it about fifteen feet before backing up to my dry parking spot and waiting til morning. Once the sun was up and the air had warmed a bit, I bundled my snot-nosed coughing self up warmly and strapped on snowshoes to go get the package. I knew what it was, and it was essential.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

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Why doesn’t the grocery store sell kitten chow in the big bags? I can get it so much cheaper in a 14-pound bag from Amazon, and usually it’s delivered right to the door. If Tom had only come a few hours sooner he could have made it down the driveway! As it happened, I didn’t want him to even try. Christmas week and he was already hours late. Driving must have been harrowing for him all day. The cat food Deborah had donated to tide us over must be far more tasty than the kitten chow; the kittens ate two cups in one day between them, twice as much as usual, and were mewling for more. I had to get them back on track, and I didn’t want any more puking.

So I headed up the driveway. The snow was just deep enough to make it slow with boots alone and tedious with snowshoes, so I kicked those off just beyond the first gate. Just past the skunk culvert where the fence begins I considered turning back, just waiting awhile, in case Cynthia decided to make tracks with her Subaru or Fred came to plow. But I continued: it was so beautiful out, the kittens needed their proper food, and I knew this would be the dogs’ only chance today for a walk; also, I don’t like to presume when or if my kindest of neighbors will come with his tractor and plow.

Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

                                                    Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

Fred and Mary's cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

Fred and Mary’s cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

I love being snowed in. There’s a peace that doesn’t come any other time. Silent snow, secret snow. True solitude. I am cocooned in the warmth of my house with all the potential of the day ahead. My creative juices can flow, wander from one project to another, without external distraction. No one will come. Keeping essential paths shoveled takes time and energy, but gets me outside occasionally to appreciate the beauty of the place I have chosen to live. Shovel slowly, stop often, breathe deeply and look around. I become more grounded in this place when I can’t get out.

Away from here for a month I was a mess. I didn’t recognize myself, in constant fight, flight, or freeze. I realized sometime before I headed home that this journey was a crucial bardo: I had either to recommit whole-heartedly to the challenging rural life I have chosen, or I had to come up with a big change of plan. I haven’t decided which yet, but in the two weeks I’ve been home, the fear and anxiety have receded, leaving a calm gratitude in their place.

In that moment this morning when I considered turning back, I realized there was no hurry. Enjoy. This is the life I chose, these the burdens and the pleasures. The physical exertions that make living here hard seem nothing now compared to the mental anguish I suffer in or near a city. The hike up the driveway and back took almost an hour, pausing now and then to enjoy the view, sunlight slanting through white clouds southeast, a dark shelf of weather in the western sky, Grand Mesa sparkling to the north, unbroken white fields; juniper boughs heavy with puffs of snow, slipping off in shimmering showers, sometimes saddling Stellar with white as he runs beneath the trees. Nine-year-old Raven bouncing through the snow like a puppy, racing, scooting, kicking up powder. I carried the 14-pound bag of kitten chow in a tote over my shoulder, switching shoulders and pole hand often. Just as I reached the door and dropped the snowshoes, the tote bag, the pole, I heard the tell-tale putt-putt of Fred’s tractor in the distance.

I’ll pretend I’m still snowed in. I’ll sit by the woodstove and tend the small fire and read, write, sip hot tea. I’ll wallow in the gratitude I feel for the comfort and security of a community that supports me, through neighborly aide (of so many sorts) and convivial ritual, with friendship and love, in this spectacular place we have all chosen.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn't catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I'd have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn’t catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I’d have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Many of our winter rituals could happen anywhere, I suppose. Only here under wide-open skies could the season’s turning be marked with a fire like this one. We all stood looking up and marveled during those magical moments when sparks were shooting up through down-coming snowflakes. Up, down, hot, cold, light, dark. Altogether, life.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the snow-filled stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

 

How to Render Lard

Pig in a net on the way to the dog crate in the car.

Happy piglet on his way to a new home down the road. 

First, start with a happy little piglet that your neighbor has offered to grow for you with his other piglets. Let that happy pig live in a nice pen and eat good food, and never know a moment’s suffering in his six month life. Then let the neighborhood meat processor, whose motto is “We pet ’em, then shoot ’em,” take care of the hard part, and deliver you several huge bags of frozen cuts of the finest pork money can buy. Be sure to ask for the fat, too.

Stout, all cut up and frozen, in the back of the car on the way home to the freezers.

Stout, all cut up and frozen, in the back of the car on the way home to the freezers.

Bill raised five piglets last winter, and I’ve enjoyed bacon or chops from at least three of them around the neighborhood since they were slaughtered in April. I split a pig with a friend, and thought I’d have enough pork to last two years, but it’s going fast. We all wish a pig were all bacon.

Or ham steaks. Bacon and ham steaks. That would be great if a pig were all bacon and ham steaks.

Or ham steaks. Bacon and ham steaks. That would be great if a pig were all bacon and ham steaks.

Many delicious BLTs were had at Mirador this summer with homegrown tomatoes and homegrown bacon, on homemade bread from Small Potatoes Farm.

Many delicious BLTs were enjoyed at Mirador this summer with homegrown tomatoes and homegrown bacon, on homemade bread from Small Potatoes Farm.

This ethicarian way of eating is a far cry from factory farming. For half my life my rule has been I’ll eat meat if I know who killed it. This credo has allowed me to enjoy eating meat with little compunction for almost thirty years; I understand there are still problems with the suffering of animals, but in a life where compromise is inevitable this seems like a reasonable ethic. Knowing who killed the animal, and deciding whether to indulge based on what I know about that person’s process and ethics and how the animal lived, has let me be nourished by the protein from deer, elk, beef, pork, chicken, and fish, without the physical and emotional contamination of growth hormones, antibiotics, toxins, and egregious suffering that come from factory farming. And sharing in the meat grown or hunted locally strengthens my bonds with my community.

Gabrielle took the heads and feet of Stout and Porky, to do her own culinary wizarding with. I hear the heads were tasty....

Gabrielle took the heads and feet of Stout and Porky, to do her own culinary wizarding with. I hear the heads were tasty….

And finally, a few weeks ago, I took the fat out of the freezer and I made lard. There are two types of fat that come from a pig: back fat and kidney fat. Some say the kidney fat is the purest and best for making pastry. Another website I consulted suggests that it’s the first rendering of either that produces the clean white fluffy stuff.

I let the back fat thaw just a little to make chopping it easier, and cut it into chunks of about an inch, then ran it through the meat grinder.

I let the back fat thaw just a little to make chopping it easier, and cut it into chunks of about an inch, then ran it through the meat grinder.

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Over a low gas flame in a Dutch oven, I simmered for about an hour. In the oven or in a slow cooker are also options.

Over a low gas flame in a Dutch oven, I simmered for about an hour. In the oven or in a slow cooker are also options.

When the solids were just barely brown and settled to the bottom of the pot, I turned off the heat and ladled through cheesecloth into sterilized pint jars.

When the solids were just barely brown and settled to the bottom of the pot, I turned off the heat and ladled through cheesecloth into sterilized pint jars.

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After ladling off the first round of hot fat, I simmered the remains awhile longer until the cracklins were toasty looking. I ladled off another half-pint of fat and then drained the cracklins. The intention was to serve them as a topping for burgers that night, but when they showed up on the fixins buffet the party gobbled them up by handfuls before the burgers were off the grill.

After ladling off the first round of hot fat, I simmered the remains awhile longer until the cracklins were toasty looking. I ladled off another half-pint of fat and then drained the cracklins. The intention was to serve them as a topping for burgers that night, but when they showed up on the fixins buffet the party gobbled them up by handfuls before the burgers were off the grill.

Beautiful white lard for frying or baking. Four pounds of back fat gave me four and a half pints of first round lard, and another half pint from the second skimming.

Four pounds of back fat gave me four and a half pints of beautiful white lard from the first round, and another half pint from the second skimming, which was darker and smelled a little like bacon. This will be good for sautéing savory selections, while the first round will do for baking as well.

About a week later, I rendered the fat from around the kidneys, also called leaf lard. It was a pound of symmetrical two-lobed fat with much more pink and more connective tissue. I made several mistakes with this lard, and basically ruined it for anything but frying. Instead of grinding it I just chopped it a little smaller than the other and threw it into the skillet like that. This made the fat melt unevenly, so that in my quest for perfection I let it cook way too long trying to get all the pieces equally melted. Some chunks were still fat and pearly while others had already sunk and browned. Also, I was multi-tasking that morning and did not focus completely on the rendering process.

The tip that was left out of all the instructions I sought online was this: skim the first round off while there is still some paleness to the cracklins. THEN render the remainder; which is what I managed to do accidentally with the back fat. So while I will not know this year what perfect leaf lard is like, at least I have plenty of good fluff for pie crusts from the back fat, and the dogs ate extra well for a few days.

The fat from around the kidneys was quite different from the back fat, having a lot more color (okay, blood), and more connective tissue.

The fat from around the kidneys was quite different from the back fat, having a lot more color (okay, blood), and more connective tissue.

Over-cooking the kidney fat led to disappointingly smelly lard and a very stinky house. Fortunately it was still warm enough to open all the windows and doors and clear out the odor before dinner guests arrived. But the cracklins were too dark for anyone but the dogs. Who were pleased.

Over-cooking the kidney fat led to disappointingly smelly lard and a very stinky house. Fortunately it was still warm enough to open all the windows and doors and clear out the odor before dinner guests arrived. But the cracklins were too dark for anyone but the dogs. Who were pleased.

Last night I made the first pie crust with the lard, and realized it will take some adjusting to live up to my pie crust reputation. Usually I just use butter. The lard made the dough much lighter and greasier with the same ratio of shortening to flour, so the next endeavor I’ll start with extra flour. Still, the crust was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth, and the heirloom tomato pie was mouth-watering. Altogether a salivary dinner. I can hardly wait to try the next crust with a delicious fruit pie. And maybe next year I’ll share in another pig.