Despite this climate-chaos induced exceptional drought, the indomitable will to live that permeates all plants and animals keeps us living to our utmost. I am grateful for the resilience of Life.
I’m grateful, as an omnivore, that there are neighbors who raise beef, and that I’m able to contribute to their well-being and my own by purchasing their grass-fed, homegrown meat. I wish I could be a vegetarian, sometimes, because it’s better for the planet. But I need meat, and I like it cooked just so, with a little salt. Tonight I’m grateful for the last filet of some grass-fed, grass-finished beef I bought from Wrich Ranch just down the road. And yesterday, I was grateful for ground-beef of the same caliber from right next door, which I buy for Stellar’s homemade dog food, and grateful for the neighbor who delivered it in the snow and packed down the driveway. I don’t eat meat often, but when I do it’s only locally and humanely raised, purchased from people I trust.
The problem with red meat isn’t red meat, it’s our culture’s insatiable appetite for it. We all know that our bodies are healthier with occasional beef than with daily doses, and that factory farming is unsustainable for the planet. Eat less meat less often, savor it more, and grow your own or support local farmers and ranchers whenever possible. I’m grateful it’s so easy and so reasonable in this valley to satisfy my meager, and my dog’s eager, appetites for meat.
I’m grateful we are not experiencing here the catastrophic cold front that has much of the country in its grip, and is devastating cities like Houston. This freak weather pattern, which will become more common, and this freak pandemic, which won’t be gone soon, are both linked to the problem of our gluttony, and not just for meat. We quit calling it global warming years ago when climate change was deemed more accurate, and now it’s time to officially label it climate chaos. We are all connected, all humans, all species, every inhabitant of this earth depends upon the rest. It is my fervent wish that everyone wake up to this simple truth, and start to cultivate more gratitude for what we have and less grasping for what we want. Only through a change in human consciousness will the world be transformed, and thereby saved.
We don’t have a lot of fine dining options around here, not like you find in a city. There are some good neighborhood restaurants, but they don’t change their menus for years at a time, and you can’t count on wanting the special. We fill this lack of gustatory variety by eating excellent and often exotic meals at each others’ houses, and we are a bunch of gourmet cooks.
Once in a blue moon, or more rarely really, because we have a couple of blue moons a year, an opportunity comes along for an extraordinary treat. Last weekend about 40 people attended a benefit for the Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy, and enjoyed a six-course meal created by Swiss-trained chef Lucas Wentzel. It was a 5 star meal. A lot of us from Crawford went because Lucas is the son of our dear friends Ruth and Jeff, and his sister Emily runs the school with her husband Phil. So it was the best of both family dining and haute cuisine!
Amuse-bouche translates more or less literally from the French as “Fun for your mouth!” and is an intensely flavored bite-sized appetizer selected by the chef and offered free to each guest. Lucas chose to delight our taste buds with Rosé Valentina (from the menu): “Béchamel & Black Forest Ham in homemade pasta served over a creamy tomato sauce, drizzled with a succulent sage butter. A popular dish from the Italian part of Switzerland, Chef Lucas learned from Chef Valentina herself. Available as a vegetarian option with spinach in place of the ham.”
This dish, I’ll tell you straight off, was my favorite of the night, and they were all delicious. Lucas went all-out with edible flowers for the meal, topping this teaser with a sprig of basil flowers, and adding several other blossoms to the remaining dishes.
The second course featured a creamy roasted carrot soup seasoned with ginger. Now I know the secret to the most full-flavored carrot soup is to roast the carrots first.
This was followed by a ravioli filled with with sun dried tomato, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese in a pesto cream sauce. I am not a goat cheese fan. I try now and again to taste it, because my damn friends all love it, and it keeps showing up. But invariably, a musty goat smell comes out my armpits within ten minutes of eating it and I can’t stand to be around myself. So I typically avoid it. However, that night, I’d have had to miss a course, so I did try it, and it was so mild I barely noticed eating it, and there were, luckily for my neighbors, no after effects.
A kiwi-lime sorbet came before the main course, two tiny delicious scoops of tart sweetness with a slight bitter crunch from the kiwi seeds, which was a perfect palate cleanser.
The main course featured seared salmon with a creamy Béarnaise sauce (or stuffed roasted red pepper for vegetarians), parmesan encrusted asparagus, and a simple jasmine rice topped with another edible orchid blossom which tasted startlingly like watermelon.
For dessert, an exquisite chocolate mousse with a hint of orange, drizzled with a chocolate merlot sauce from local winery Azura Cellars, came atop a plate of sweet white sauce with a pansy flower and strawberry garnish. None of us could eat another bite, and we drove home through a steady rain feeling deliriously satiated.
Considering the quality of the food, the value of supporting this wonderful educational endeavor, and the company, the meal was a great deal. The pastas were homemade, pesto, eggs, goat cheese, and other ingredients came from local farms, and even the chocolate for the mousse came from a Colorado family starting an organic cacao farm in Costa Rica. Students from PELA helped chef Lucas prepare the meal, and their siblings, friends and parents served, bussed, and cleaned up. All this community action occurred at Edesia Community Kitchen in Paonia, a certified commercial kitchen available for events, preparation of value added agricultural products, and weekend wood-fired pizza. PELA’s chef-Lucas dinner is just one more reason I’m so grateful for where I live.
I drove some friends ninety miles to the big city today, to catch a train. They are on their way to pick up another friend in Denver, who’s just gotten off a ten-day kayak trip down the Gulf of Mexico. When we left, and when we were eating lunch, we hadn’t heard from her; her trip with three others occurred during the windy season, creating five to eight foot waves in the Gulf. We were all a little edgy underneath (and two of us more overtly) because she was supposed to be off the water two days ago. But we anyway enjoyed our lunch out at a fancy locovore restaurant, and I even ate a burger because I was assured it was locally and (essentially) organically-grown beef.
We talked with glee about the gravitational wave news proving something about Einstein and two black holes colliding a billion years ago, and I crowed about my old friend who’d had a hand in it, and then we branched out to apocalyptic meteor and supernova scenarios. We talked a lot, indirectly and directly, about death, with great good humor. We talked about the worst aspects of human nature, and our better animal and spiritual aspects. In the back of our minds was What if she didn’t make it?
She did. She had a fabulous time, I found out later. In the meantime, we parted ways after lunch, and I began a long list of errands. When any of us go to Grand Junction, there is usually a long list of errands: the Liquor Barn which always has the best price on Bombay Sapphire, PetSmart for our dog and cat needs, Vitamin Cottage for the most economical organic groceries, Office Depot… things you can’t get out here in the rural West. I was obligated to attend a Board meeting this evening in another town, and I was trying to hurry through my errands to make it home in time to turn around and head out again.
Leaving PetSmart, at the traffic light by the Mall, I watched a motorcycle police officer pull into the intersection and stop his bike. He dismounted, and his bike tipped over almost knocking him down. He recovered and awkwardly struggled to right the bike, succeeding just as three more motorcycle cops drove past him, followed by a funeral procession. In that way that knowledge dawns on you, not like a bolt of lightning but with a steady sureness that only takes a few more seconds, I recognized what it was, and I began to cry.
Last week a 17-year-old boy, masked and lingering near two schools, shot Mesa County Deputy Derek Greer. The suspect was apprehended; the deputy didn’t die right away, and local news reported that he was being kept on life support in order to complete organ donations. That was the last I’d heard of it a few days ago. When I saw the hearse, the dozens of flashing-light vehicles, black buses, and vans following it, sorrow washed over me. Just so sad. Senseless. I sat there and cried and cried, and thought of that man’s family, and of the kid who’d killed him, and all the suffering rippling out from that singular moment when their lives collided.
I thought of my grandmother’s funeral in Tennessee many years ago. I’d never before seen this: As the small procession we rode in moved through the small town where she had lived for so many years, people stopped on the sidewalks and held their hats over their hearts; they pulled their cars over, got out, took off their hats. They had no idea who this funeral was for; my granny hadn’t lived there for over a decade. They were simply showing their respect for whomever it was, showing their shared comprehension of our mutual mortality.
Then I looked out my right side window, and an older man in the truck next to me was watching me. “It’s that officer,” I said. “I know,” he said. “So sad,” I said. “Yes,” he said. The patrol cars continued to emerge from the curve about half a mile away. The man asked me if I’d heard about the man who was struck by a car last fall, and told me all about it; it was his 58-year-old son, who is still recovering but might lose his leg. So sad. I wished fleetingly that I hadn’t opened myself to this conversation. I’d been immersed in the endless funeral procession, noting the counties heard from, meditating on the range of grief: first dozens of cars from Mesa County, then squad cars from all over the state, Ft. Collins, Parachute, Cedaredge, Adams, Garfield, Rifle, and more, even Moab, Utah.
The procession went on and on. Five minutes, ten, more. Fifty vehicles, seventy, more. A Delta County car (my deputy) pulled up to the motorcycle cop, who mounted and joined the procession. But still more cars came, now interspersed with regular drivers. Our light turned green. People behind us honked and yelled. But the couple of cars ahead of me and my neighbor stayed still and let the rest of the mourners pass before us. I cried again, at the grace these drivers showed. We were all anxious to get somewhere. We were all touched by what we were witnessing, and were in no hurry to interrupt this impressive, heartbreaking display of respect for a fallen officer.
Eventually the procession ended, the green arrow directed us to proceed, and we did. Not a quarter mile on at the next intersection I was startled by the broken siren of an emergency vehicle announcing itself, and to my left, coming down the road that leads from the interstate, was another procession of flashing-light vehicles as far back as I could see, another quarter mile at least. I drove home calmly in crazy traffic. In this vast and incomprehensible universe, I was moved to a sad and tranquil peace by what I had observed, the best of human nature that I’d become a tiny part of in a tiny way.
First a word about my breakfast. I am so aware of where my food comes from. I realize it might seem off the deep end to friends in other places, other lives, other worlds. But here, in this fertile creative valley, it feels so easy and right to be mindful of every bite. Or nearly. Time to focus on slowly consuming what’s in the freezer, because in a couple of months or less we’ll have half a pig to put in there. I found a couple of rolls from Monica’s brick oven bakery, so I thawed and toasted them. Pamela’s hens are laying and I’ve got a dozen fresh eggs. Suzi called the other night and squealed “I picked up your birthday present today!” That’s when I started thinking about a homemade eggamuffin. She’d asked me a few weeks earlier which part of her pig I would like for my birthday present. Bacon! I cried without hesitation.
This year when friends announced a joint birthday party for Elena and me, she said “no presents.” Great idea, I thought. I have too much stuff! But I’d already told a couple of friends all I wanted was socks. Socks used to be a bit of a disappointment at Christmas. Imperceptibly over the years I came to appreciate the gift of socks. Maybe it began after my mother died and I no longer routinely got socks for Christmas or birthday presents. Auntie sent me socks in recent years, and I’ve been delighted to get them. So I replied to the group invitation, “Me too! No presents. Unless I can wear them or eat them.” Because I suddenly remembered the fresh oranges and other gifts of food I’ve received since living here, and I didn’t want to discourage more of those. So it was a meaningful breakfast, chock full not only of pure and local nutrients but also full of neighborly friendship and love. A fulfilling and tangible taste of community. Yum.
The lettuce was store-bought organic. The garden is crazy early waking up, but no edible greens yet except the early blue mustards, whose bright green rosettes are popping up in vibrant patches as the snow melts. All manner of other little green shoots are poking up or unfurling, crocus and iris leaves, miniature daffodil tips, curly grape hyacinth leaves, and the hardier perennials like Ratibida, Gallardia, and columbines. I’ve been puttering in the garden for at least a week, and the past few beautiful days we’ve started spring cleanup in earnest.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since the snow has melted off the front of the hoop house, and when I opened it the other day I realized I should have done so as soon as the east side was free of snow. The Vidalia onions survived! At least, some of them did, and when I checked, expecting frozen ground a finger depth down I was stunned to find the dirt was bone dry. So I dragged out the hoses and watered the bed deeply through the afternoon.
Three years worth of amaryllis add color and structure to the sunroom in winter. I can’t eat it or wear it, but each year a friend gives me one for Christmas. This year’s amaryllis popped open this week, while the other two are growing great green leaves. One of them bloomed twice last summer out on the patio. Raven, all well again, naps outside the windows.
With all this rejuvenation in the garden I was surprised to notice in these recent warm days that there were no bees coming out of the hive. I went closer and listened; no buzzing from inside. I realized with mixed emotions that the hive had died. Deborah came over yesterday afternoon to help cut back penstemon stalks and other seedheads, and we embarked upon the adventure of opening the hive, which revealed a Bee Tragedy…