Today, among the many things I’m grateful for including Stellar and me both waking up alive, is all the learning I’ve done in this lifetime and the lessons I’ve been able to share with others; I’m grateful for teachers and students. One of my greatest teachers has been gardening: it has taught me so much about impermanence, about unintended consequences, and about unexpected benefits. Gardening has taught me to let go of attachment to outcomes, to accept constant change, and to rejoice in the simplest successes. Today, I’m grateful that the raised beds are finally filling up with the starts I’ve been nurturing for a couple of months. I’m grateful that the last unexpected freeze is behind us and that I didn’t put all these starts out just a couple of weeks ago, because I would have lost most of them to a late freeze. I’m grateful to accept myself as a learner, still learning life’s lessons, and I’m grateful for teachers of all species.
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.
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.
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.
I’m grateful today that these seedlings are doing so well! I think I’ve finally got a handle on how to start them. In the past, I’ve tried many different mediums for starting them, in many different types of containers; I’ve watered from below, and they’ve damped off from being too wet. They’ve gotten leggy. This year, they all look pretty solid, and I’ve just planted another flat full of various tomatoes and peppers that should sprout in a few days. Since I don’t know when I’ll get around to adding on a greenhouse to the south end of the house, I’ve ordered a larger, 3-tier LED grow light stand in hopes of growing more starts with a lot less moving of trays and pots in and out for weeks before I can plant in the ground. So I’m grateful not only for the first healthy seedlings of the season, but for the ability to grow even more going forward, and filling the garden with organic, extremely local food plants and flowers, to nurture everyone in this little ecosystem.
I’m grateful to be learning the art and science of composting. I still don’t put in the time and effort required to get multiple servings each year, but I always seem to get a good few cartloads of nutrient rich dirt for the simple effort of cycling all my food scraps and garden ‘waste’ through a series of three slapdash bins. This morning as Wilson was turning the contents of the two outer bins, in varying degrees of decay, into the center bin to start a new cycle, he found the ancient moose antler I’ve been wondering where it was. Before he closed the bin Stellar took a strong interest in it, but we all decided to leave it to further break down adding more minerals to the mix. I’m grateful to have help in the garden this spring, to do the physically challenging chores while I supervise and get to enjoy the lighter work, like raking spring cleanup clippings into piles to add to the compost bins.
The three bin system works really well. I put rough stuff in one, medium stuff in another, as I clip and cut back and prune and rake, and keep a third pile active adding kitchen scraps and fine material like rotted leaves, old potting soil, grass clippings, etc. When the active pile is full and has sat for awhile, we turn the top layers over into one of the other bins until we reach good compost in the lower part, and that second bin becomes the active pile. In this way, the active compost rotates through all three bins as it goes through its stages of decomposition, eventually leaving a deep layer of compost in the bottom of each bin. I’m no expert in compost – there are probably thousands of how-to websites and videos available – but the system I’ve evolved works just fine for me and my little garden. It’s so gratifying to dig down into a pile and find buckets of rich garden amendment, scraps transformed into dirt like magic, to nourish the garden beds. Healthy, living soil is the foundation of a good garden.
I’ve been so blessed over the past few years to have a friend who brings me fish he caught now and then, trout and kokonee, sometimes whole, sometimes filleted, always frozen when he delivers a catch. I’m grateful that when he can’t release them, he brings some to me, since he doesn’t care to eat them himself. Grateful for collaboration: I give him cookies sometimes, and other occasional treats.
Grateful not only for the fisherman but for the fish itself, its life ended for human sport, but its flesh well spent in support of my sustenance. Not that I contribute much more than a brown trout to the planet’s overall well-being, but I do try to.
So I had this package of fillets in the freezer, and it was time to use them up, refill the space with winter lamb, (or ice cream). Grateful for the rancher who raised the lamb, the lamb who lived well for a short while, Dawn for sharing her freezer til I can make room in mine. I saw this recipe for smoked trout croquettes, and sent it to Amy. This is more what I was thinking…
“Fried mashed potatoes,” Amy said laughing, tonight as we ate them, silly with how delicious they were, and the simple joy of another zoom dinner adventure together, giddy with gratitude that we’d both survived the pandemic so far, that our government survived… or at least those were some reasons I was laughing.
If I bought smoked trout that would have defeated the purpose of freeing freezer space. I let the fish thaw overnight in the sink, then drained and brined it, and figured out how to smoke it on the hand-me-down Weber grill (for which I’m also grateful).
It goes without saying (although it shouldn’t) that my gratitude for any kind of food is broad and deep. I know where my food comes from; and I know that in a moment, access to that food can vanish, whether by ailment, accident, or catastrophe. A young man I know of with Covid can’t eat, it hurts to swallow; my mother, and thousands with her type of disease, lost the ability to swallow altogether. People across the planet, our own neighbors, go to bed and wake up hungry; victims of climate chaos flee war and drought and starvation.
We who have ample food on our tables daily are so fortunate. We who know how to make the most of what there is in our larders, freezers, markets, neighbors’ gardens and fields, are even more fortunate. Those of us who also grow our own food are the most fortunate of all, to eat the fruits of our own labors, wholesome nutritious food grown with devotion. I am grateful for food!
Today I’m grateful for carrots. Shortly before the ground froze, I pulled a surprising number of big purple carrots from a bed where I’d scattered a bunch of random seeds in the spring. I took out a few from the fridge today (grateful for the Sunfrost refrigerator) to make a carrot-ricotta tart. Here it is January, and I’m still eating carrots I harvested months ago, surprise carrots at that!
Grateful that carrots seem to grow well in my garden most years, that they are quick and resilient, come in various shapes, sizes, and subtle flavors, that they last for months in the fridge and brighten a cloudy winter day with stored summer sunlight. Grateful that I had time and energy to tend the garden all summer, grateful for water, for the fence that keeps the deer out and the friends who helped build it, for raised beds, good dirt, and homemade compost to nourish the soil.