If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. E.B. White
We arrived in our new town just as Winter was ending, and even though it could barely be thought of as Winter…what with the unsettling dryness and warm weather…it lingered on into March, wearisome with its bare branches and grey hillsides. Now that Nature is slipping on the lingerie of Spring, and my nearsighted focus on Which Box to Unpack Next is almost done, we step outside and I am startled at nearly every turn with the re-emergence of old friends at my feet. Spring! my heart whispers. I forgot about that!
Wild Radish, Mustard, Shed
Shepherd’s Purse. The quiet of the countryside has increased my awareness of the cacophony of my eardrums. Somewhere in my 30s I developed tinnitus, and otherwise peaceful moments are accompanied by high pitched ringing and pressure. I am a firm believer that we often become aware of medicinal herbs, or find them in our path, when they are just the medicine we need. Turns out, the juice of Shepherd’s Purse, dropped into the ear, “heals the pains, noise and matterings thereof.” (Culpepper). Shepherd’s Purse is edible and is also known as “Pepper and Salt” by farm folk for it’s spicy zip. You can dry the seed pods and leaves and save them for your winter stews.
I’ve been telling my colleagues that I feel utterly disoriented in regards to my work as an Ecopsychologist. I spent the last year with a myopic attention span on achieving goals and carving my niche, with this year being The Year I would see it all come to fruition. However, since pulling a geographic, my train is completely off the rails and instead of pumping out articles and glimpsing the pinnacle of what I hope will be my career, I have turned my squirrel like focus onto things like painting wood crates with milk paint, staking out gardens, home decorating and strolling through the fields with my daughter. The beauty of the new season outdoes itself every day, and instead of trying to save the world, I am supremely satisfied with enjoying what is left of it.
Turns out, there’s still quite a bit.
Sheep Sorrel can be eaten like any of the other sorrels (wood and garden). It is tart and lemony and grows to gigantic proportions in sandy soil, which is exactly what we have.
It’s easy to recognize and remember Sheep Sorrel if you turn the leaf upside down and look for the sheep’s head. See it?
Foraging for dinner.
NOW is the time to harvest Sheep Sorrel, as it has started to put up it’s flowers and seeds. This is a great way to find them actually. Peer out into the fields and you will see little red patches, flagging you down.
Sheep Sorrel Soup
(This is a delicious, but ugly, soup. Good for a cozy dinner with your family on a cold Spring evening. Maybe not so much for company.)
3 cups freshly picked and washed Sheep Sorrel
One large shallot, minced
2 T butter or olive oil (but I really recommend butter)
1/2 lb potatoes, cut up in small cubes
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 – 1 1/2 cups fresh green beans, snapped into bite size (you could also use white cannellini beans, which I think would be nice)
2 cups milk, 1/2 and 1/2 or almond milk. If you use almond milk, make sure it is unsweetened AND unflavored…check the ingredients for the addition of vanilla.
Salt and pepper
Half lemon plus lemon wedges for each bowl
Saute the shallot in the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat until shallots turn translucent. Add your potatoes and Sheep Sorrel. Put in a big pinch of salt. Saute for another minute or so, then add enough water to cover. Pop on the lid and simmer until potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.
If using green beans, parboil or steam until they are cooked to your liking.
Working in small batches (or just use a hand-held blender) puree the soup until you have an ugly, dull green slop. Put it back in the soup pan and add your milk. Re-heat slowly while adding the corn, and green beans (or cannellini beans, if using).
Adjust salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon. Serve immediately with a lemon wedge for each person.
On a rainy day last week, I suddenly knew It Was Time. I invited Fern to get cozy under the blankets, and while the tin roof offered syncopation, I brought out a special book I had been saving to share with her. Not just any book. THE book.
The barn was pleasantly warm in winter when the animals spent most of their time indoors, and it was pleasantly cool in summer when the big doors stood wide open to the breeze. The barn had stalls on the main floor for the work horses, tie-ups on the main floor for the cows, a sheepfold down below for the sheep, a pigpen down below for Wilbur, and it was full of all sorts of things that you find in barns: ladders, grindstones, pitch forks, monkey wrenches, scythes, lawn mowers, snow shovels, ax handles, milk pails, water buckets, empty grain sacks, and rusty rat traps. It was the kind of barn that swallows like to build their nests in. It was the kind of barn that children like to play in. And the whole thing was owned by Fern’s uncle, Mr. Homer L. Zuckerman. From Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.
This was at least the eighth time I’ve read Charlotte’s Web, and my voice still had difficulty getting past the lump in my throat almost from the first page. Not only do I consider this book the best children’s story of all time, it is also up there in the top ten of all fiction, ever. I think Charlotte’s Web is how E.B. came to terms with his love of life and animals, and the sorrow inherent there-in…our lives end and, as he knew well from the butchering experiences of his own farm, sometimes we end the lives of others. But above all else, life can be beautiful, full of wonder and terribly, Terrifically, Radiantly sweet.
You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
Spoken by Charlotte to Wilbur
The last seven years have been many things, but one of the consistent threads through the days and weeks has been the theme of grief. Sourcing joy despite acute grief, learning how to greet the tsunami waves of sorrow with mindfulness, and getting wise to the illusion of emotional eternity. This process has galloped through many arenas of my life, and has been my professional steed on the long, hard road towards my acceptance of our current ecological crisis.
As I stand in my life now, I look around at the unfamiliar territory, and rub my eyes with a confused plink plink. There are a few things on my agenda I still know I have to do (like turn in my confounded MFT hours to the BBS…just put them in the mail, already!) but otherwise, I’m not sure where to go. My hands reach down to the soil beneath my feet, and I turn the sandy grit over in my fingers. Here, I think. I’d like to start here.
Perhaps this is what’s next. Continuing to take my clients outside, but getting them to lower their center of gravity. Putting seeds in their hands, or a trowel, giving them a native seedling to gingerly place in the rehabilitated ground. Moving beyond processing, beyond acceptance, even, to Doing. Not at the expense of the heart, but with it. Deciding that we are worth enough to be rejuvenated, that by allowing sorrow we discover resilience and agency, and bringing that to the land, to our communities. It is not The Answer, but our global situation requires many good deeds and the deeds of many.
In all humbleness, this is one.
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. E.B. White
What deeds, good and/or tedious, are you doing in your own life these days?