Just moved to the same island that Hannah lives on and am integrating into a rural community once again. I’ve made this promise to myself for years, that I’d return to where I can see eagles fly overhead, deer out my kitchen window and fields of grass sweeping over the landscape. My latest frontier edge these days is unwinding into a slower life, letting go of what has been and opening to new possibilities. Never comfortable, always challenging and life changing.
“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.” ~ Bruce Barton
Excerpted from A Cherokee Feast of Days, Vol II, Daily Meditations by Joyce Sequichie Hifler
“We get to know ourselves when we are alone. What may have brought us to this place may not be as important as what to do now that we are here. When we are with other people we listen to them, but in solitude we follow our own way. Great strength comes from the quiet and it prepares us for times when the sands run very fast.
Solitude is never withdrawal but being with ourselves, learning what affects us, and what of it can be given to others. We learn how to be a good friend when our attention is not divided—a good friend to ourselves and a good friend to another who needs it.”
“It is hard to fight people that live like groundhogs.” ~Tecumseh, Shawnee
Molly wouldn’t get out of the car. Hannah and I were in eastern Washington visiting Tara at 3-Bells Ranch and Molly, The Courageous Snake Finder, decided she would very much like a vacation to the Land of Somewhere Else.
As we were packing to leave, Hannah, who’d been praising Molly all weekend for her bright spirit, teasing that we’d like to take her home, found Molly waiting in the car. Molly pretended that she didn’t hear us tell her that she had to get out; that although we’d love to take her, Tara needed her. She was, after all, a Very Brave Animal, highly prized and valued on the ranch. Molly sighed. She needed a vacation…really she did.
Connecting With Each Other
Pondering the events of our excursion, it became clear to me that in order to survive in this rapidly changing world, we need to consider each other in more ways than ever before. As Tara turns her property into production growing hay and raising beef and rabbit I’m reminded that rising expenses, prohibitive fuel costs, and erratic consumer spending conspire to challenge us in ways that force both connection and creativity.
It’s the very thing that inspired this blog.
Buying close to home or from one another is a key principle of sustainability. When you click through from one of the ads on these pages, Hannah and I make a small commission on the sale that helps support us and this blog. It’s just that direct.
Rural people understand what it takes. Patronizing and hiring friends and community members is a no-brainer. Not necessarily so in the cities, where selection is vast and people are used to sussing out ‘the best for the least.’ Sustaining those you care about, those you know, those you trust is the nucleus of community.
I bought and cooked some of Tara’s rabbit meat, knowing how the rabbits were raised and butchered; knowing that ultimately, they served to help her survive. I prepared that rabbit in a totally different spirit than I do the meat I buy in the store. Although I buy organic and give thanks for the life that nourishes mine, I knew intimately the source of this food. I could make conscious connection to all the elements, all the effort, that went into getting it to my table.
Rabbit Coq Au Vin ala Libby
One 3-4 pound domestic rabbit
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves crushed garlic
Mushrooms, as many as you want
Flour for dredging (I used a gluten free mixture)
1 tsp salt
Pepper (as much as you like)
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 c. sake (Japanese white wine)
Olive Oil for browning, maybe 3 tablespoons
1 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut rabbit as you would a chicken; wash well and pat dry. Mix flour, salt, pepper and paprika together and dredge rabbit in flour mixture. Heat cast iron dutch oven; add olive oil (don’t let it get too hot); brown rabbit pieces; turning once. (If the pot isn’t big enough, brown what it will hold and remove to platter until all pieces are browned and ready).
When all pieces are browned, return to cast iron pot, add garlic, chopped onion and sake. Cover and bake for 1.5 – 2 hours, checking occasionally to add more moisture (water, sake or chicken broth if you like). You should maintain 2 – 3 inches of liquid in the pot.
When rabbit is fork tender, remove from pot with slotted spoon. Make a gravy by adding sour cream to pan drippings and whisk until smooth, adding a little of the dredging flour if you like thicker gravy. Season to taste. Add rabbit pieces back to the sour cream gravy and serve the whole thing over rice or noodles. If you want a fancier presentation, spoon cooked rice or noodles onto a serving platter, top with rabbit pieces, pour sour cream gravy over the whole thing, sprinkle with shredded fresh parsley and a little paprika. Delicious!
This Changing World
We all need to face the possibility that things are not going to return to ‘normal’ in this country, maybe even the world. By ‘normal’ I mean before 9/11. That event, whatever you may think or know about it, was a turning point that woke us up to facts and fictions that are still unfolding. The economic collapse that we’re in was predicted; the events of the last decade follow a well-worn pattern, and although we don’t have all the pieces, we all sense that ‘something wicked this way comes.’
Sounds spooky, doesn’t it? I waffle between fear and the thrill of possibility. I know that all births are preceded by transition, and that transition is a touch and go time that can last moments or millenniums. I sense that we’re in a big one and that’s really all I need to know.
Replacing fear thoughts with hope isn’t enough though. Action is what matters on the ground. Connecting to each other, forming community, supporting one another’s endeavors, talking over the dimensions of change we see (or think we see), being open to new ways and willing to prune the dead weight…these are the steps that help midwife change.
Those of us that operate on the edge may not know what the next footfall will bring, but we are all pathfinding. We are leaving footprints for others who might pass this way and need to find their way.
Her mother would cut the stem end off of a large horseradish or black radish and hollow out the center. Then she’d fill with rock candy (I supposed honey would do well too). She’d put the stem end back on and set it in the dark. She never said how she kept it from tipping over but must’ve rigged up some way to keep the thing upright. When the rock candy had thoroughly dissolved, it signaled her that the cough syrup was done…the sugary mixture had taken on the healing properties of the horseradish. She poured it off and that was the cough syrup!
Tara’s coming over to the western side of the Cascades today to get supplies and rescue me from the maudlin moment I was having yesterday while making plum jam.
Since returning from Michigan, where I once again tuned into the rural heartbeat, I’ve felt lost in translation. Do you have any idea what’s going on in the rural heartland of this country? The economy has devastated it.
More than half of my life was spent in rural culture (except for early adulthood where I had my fling with L.A., San Francisco and Seattle), so my values are rooted in country/frontier life. But I’ve lived (mostly) in Bellingham for 23 years now and have been inculcated into a comfort level that is both alluring and precarious.
Bellingham is small by city standards. It is very progressive in its social and economic politics. BALLE — the Business Alliance of Local Living Economics, a nationwide network of 75 organizations working toward sustainable local economies, is moving its national headquarters here and has appointed Michelle Long, co-founder and director of Sustainable Connections, one of BALLE’s most successful community networks, as Executive Director. Michelle and her husband Derek have worked tirelessly for the past 8 years to encourage local businesses to work together toward sustaining a healthy local economy. God knows we needed it. Bellingham is the last largest economic center on Interstate 5 before the Canadian border and we are influenced by the Canadian economy, the migration of larger employers to elsewhere and a growing populace. Sustainable Connections is helping people understand something that rural folks have always known…when you buy from each other, the money stays in local circulation. They’ve encouraged consumers to think local/buy local, and for everyone to join in breathing new life into our local and regional farms.
This city is also the birthplace of 4th Corner Exchange, a sustainable community currency (trade) network dedicated to the active trading of Life Dollars rather than wallet dollars. The network is made up of people from all walks of life offering services in exchange for other services, using Life Dollars or Sound Dollars as currency.
Upper Michigan, meanwhile, is dying on the vine. Schools and mills and nursing homes are closing, the tax base is shrinking and the cost of fuel is over the moon, unreachable for thousands of people who are making hard choices between things like heating their houses this winter and eating, or buying medications and putting gas in the car. Rural America has been hit so damn hard by this twisted economy that it’s staggering. Surreal, actually, to someone from the coast. At least we have opportunity here, precarious as it may be. I couldn’t help but count my blessings.
So what’s with the maudlin moment? Well, I put on some country music while making plum jam (plums ala Hannah’s heavily-laden, South Whidbey Island sugar plum trees) and sang my way through canning with Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, John Denver, Crystal Gayle and Allison Krauss. By mid-afternoon, I was crying real tears over lost loves, the good ole’ days picking lowbush cranberries in the blue-sky wilderness of Alaska, driving hay trucks through fields with only the magpies to keep me company, and laying my head against the ruminating belly of my goats as I milked on mid-winter evenings with the smell of goat in my nose and the sound of grain-chewing in my ears. Allison’s song, “Simple Love” sent me through years of relationships that never turned out as I thought they would, and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” assured me that I was damn lucky they didn’t.
Tara called just as I’d added the pectin to the rolling boil of ruby red plum goop, so we couldn’t talk long. She’d been working on her truck and was getting ready to head over here to bring her cousin to the airport. She heard the music and my tone, and zeroed right in on the headspace.
“Yeah, well, I quit listening to that stuff when we were working on changing up our life scripts years ago, remember? I figured if I keep lolling around in the ‘somebody done somebody wrong’ energy, I would just perpetuate that as the way life is…and it isn’t… if you intend it to be otherwise.” She was right of course. Intention is a big part of reality.
I was reminded of why I quit listening to that music in the first place. It made me ache. It made me feel alive and victimized at the same time; it reminded me of all my losses and reinforced that I’d always need a man to be whole, whether he was an asshole or a saint. It was poetic mother’s milk as I grew through my formative years, and as such, I loved it then and love it now. But the story’s all wrong for me.
When John Denver sings “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” I’m right there, heading back to what I love. And I’m also right here, in Bellingham, on a city lot, dense with gardens and fruit trees and more tomatoes than I ever thought possible. I yearn for open spaces as my neighbor on one side cranks up his lawn edger that screams when the blade hits the sidewalk, and the neighbor on the other side starts his lawn mower.
I turn on the hot running water to de-goop my hands, shut the noise out with my back door, and decide to make a quickie run to the grocery store, 5 minutes away. This is an edge. I’m living on it. I just don’t know what frontier it is.
Bumper crop of plums? Me too. Made jam and sauce and didn’t know what to do with the rest. Found a recipe in an ancient old cookbook for brandied plums, using cherry brandy. Sounded great! But no cherry brandy on hand. However, way back in the cupboard I found orange brandy so I’m soaking a load of sugar plums (otherwise known as Italian prunes) in that. Will serve them over ice cream or make jam out of them for Christmas if they’re good. Oh, and I added a few whole allspice and a stick of cinnamon to the mix.
I’m writing from the shores of Lake Superior…well not exactly on the shore right now, rather at the local wifi hotspot, the Ontonagon Township Library.
This area is exquisitely beautiful; remote, simple — it’s like stepping back in time. Lake Superior, in all her grandeur, is just about the most beautiful body of fresh water I’ve ever been privileged to love.
I heard an interesting rumor that a number of years ago, Dow Chemical and some other companies dumped 55 gallon drums of waste into the Lake near Duluth, and that the drums are decomposing and release toxic substances into the fresh water. There are a few folks that are calling Washington about it and some have been told that cleanup was ‘on their list’ and others have been told that no one had heard a thing about it. I’m going to try and find out more.
I came back here for a memorial and spent the day yesterday talking with dozens of people from all over the country. I was amazed at the similarity of stories relating to unemployment, confusion and breakdown in the existing systems of this country, deteriorating infrastructure, need for sustainability, etc. Things are much more dire than I had imagined.
I am so glad this blog is up and beginning to plump out. It’s a premier resource in the making.
My garden was fertilized with alpaca manure this year and the tomatoes are loving it.
I just finished a lunch of fried green tomatoes. I made them 2 ways…one using the traditional recipe, which is slicing and salting them, letting them sit for about 10 minutes, then drying them off and dipping them in egg/buttermilk mixture and them rolling them in a mixture flour,cornmeal/breadcrumbs. Of course everything every step of the way was seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and my latest find…smoked paprika. After frying the first batch, I mixed the wet and dry ingredients together to get a batter and dipped the tomato slices in it. It tended to slide off so I had to help it along…but when I fried them up, it created a terrific tasting, crunchy crust that encased the whole tomato slice, leaving the center soft and delicious.
The difference was that the first batch of slices came out grainy, dry and rough on the outside. The second batch was crispy and, well, battered. Both were so good I almost fainted.
These were not the heirlooms. They’re not ready yet. These were Early Girls.
Hannah gave me some heirloom tomato seed this spring and I have 4 robust plants in the garden now. But there was some other seed mixed in and it took me awhile to figure it out. It’s tomatillo! I love tomatillos and grew them a couple years ago. They produced huge amounts of fruit which I chopped fine with peppers, cilantro, lots of garlic and onion. Then added lime juice, salt, cumin and vinegar for an wonderful raw salsa.