Saturday, June 23, 2012

This is not a petting zoo

Yesterday, I clapped at a bear by accident.

A peaceful afternoon, the classical-music man on NPR mumbled the, uh, *silence*... on the radio as the song birds warbled and the crows wailed periodically in the trees. I stabbed at a salad with my nose buried in my GRE study book, trying to skim a chapter before ambling down the hill back to the barn for an afternoon of cultivating.

"Something just walked behind the shed," I say to the other apprentice who only just arrived on Monday.

"It's probably a deer."

"No," I say, "no, it was black. I just saw it out of the corner of my eye--it's probably the neighbor's dog." I had only seen hindquarters: stocky, black, short tail, the size of a large dog.

Midway as I go to walk around to the front of the shed, a very wise thought occurs to me: I should warn the dog that I am coming so that I don't scare it. You see, I'm not afraid of animals, and I thought I'd pet it.

"Here, puppy!" I call and clap my hands as I bustle forward through scrub oak I'm falling backward through a second later: a baby bear hightails it one way and I yell and gallop through the poison ivy back to the kitchen.

"Roshdat! That was a bear!"

"Oh." She goes on eating.

"A baby bear."


"This means that there is a mother bear somewhere."

"Are you saying we should leave?"

"I'm not sure."

We leave.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

This week marks my one-month anniversary at the farm. I haven't worn makeup in 3 weeks (even to church), I can haul a wheelbarrow of sod uphill to the miry hole in which we compost things and I don't break a sweat. I have a fantastic farmer's tan, and my hands are cracked like August earth and just as earthy. Not even doing the dishes will soak the soil out.

I've met old hippies, aging yuppies, evangelical families with 10 kids and construction companies called "Southern Comfort" (so many possible jokes). Whilst washing scallions, I blithely chat about the Greek election (knowledge courtesy of BBC World News via NPR), Microsoft's new tablet (I didn't know anything about it, but my conversational BS skills carefully honed in the early-morning hours of waitressing for leatherfaced fishermen), mob violence and the occupy movement, the history of democracy, and new age religion and meditation. Give me a bamboo forest, and I'm reasonably capable of making you some really nice fence posts given a machete and a handsaw. I can fix a throttle cable on a lawnmower, and yesterday I sort of learned how to gas weld. I'm a pro with hoe, and I know which weeds are edible though I can't remember their names or if I do I can't remember what they look like.

My week configures itself from a gentle routine of endless weeding under hot afternoon suns, spraying neem oil for pests and fish emulsion for fertilizer, and transplanting little lettuces. Our biweekly harvest days crown this routine, marking our time into little midweek festivals, celebrations of the work of our hands.

Drive out to the farm on Tuesdays and Saturdays around eight o'clock and you'll find me rattling down the farmdrive in the back of our beater, arms up over the weathered-wood railing and half of my rear end poised on the wheelwell, bracing myself against the gravel ruts we failed to fix last week and trying not to end up splat over all the chard. Watching the sun rise behind forest with a truck full of the heavy, earth smell of fresh kale, broccoli, dill, lettuces with their little bottoms still muddy from last night's rain and the chinese cabbages with disgusting earwigs scrambling out of them, hair tied up and hands dirty--that's the best part of the week. I'll have already been up for a while, and my back will hurt from the hurry of leaning over vegetable rows with a knife in one hand a bushel basket in tow: the work of months culminates with a little snip and a rustle in the already-growing pile of spinach. You might think that that would be sort of sad and anticlimactic. But, nay, rather the farmer when he is in travail hath sorrow because his planting season is come: but as soon as he his delivered of the harvest, he remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a salad is born into the world.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Cool Story about My First Time Getting Seriously Lost on the Subway

Tonight I had two donuts and a beer for dinner. That might not surprise you if you know me very well, but it's actually a pretty great story. 

So I got out of work late because I stayed behind listening to a co-worker's stories of Republican Conventions from ages past -- I won't go into details, but it's good stuff, the GOP actually can be fun at times, apparently -- and then I went to H&M where I got a great dress with pictures of zebras all over it, because I'm an adult, and that means I can do what I want, which at this point in my life means dressing like a little kid. 

Anyways, all I'd eaten by the time I headed home (about 8:45, I think) was a whole wheat bagel with Tofutti cream cheese, a bag of Cool Ranch Soy Crisps, and three granola bars. So I stumbled down into the subway a little delirious, I think, from a combination of exhaustion and the early stages of starvation. 

And, no surprise, I got on the wrong train. 

I got on at 34th Street. I usually get off at 110th street, when I manage to ride the subway correctly. This train blasted past 110th and didn't stop until 126th. I was so tired that as the train soared past my stop, I didn't even realize it -- I just thought, Oh, that's my subway stop, huh, cool -- until the train finally screeched to a halt 16 blocks uptown of where I needed to be. 

Miserably, I dragged my increasingly heavy purse off the train and waited for the next one. It finally came, so I clambered on and found a seat. And then that train also soared past 110th. 

I waved a little as my stop passed, got off at 59th, and stumbled over to the side of the track helpfully labelled "Uptown" and got on the next train that came, fingers crossed. At that point, I didn't really care where the train was going because I'd made the executive decision that if it was the wrong one, I'd just sleep in the subway.

It was the right train, and by no virtue of my own, I flopped out at 110th, starving. There was only one thing I wanted: canned palace paneer from Organic Forever, the hippie grocery two blocks from my place. Naturally, it was closed, but its next door neighbor, America Meat and Grocery, was still open. This might surprise you, but they didn't have any tasty vegetarian options (the closest thing they had to a vegetarian entree was Beef-a-roni, no thank you), so I wandered down to DELI GROCERY, down the block. 

The only thing there that looked good was beer, and I already had beer at home. So I moved on. 

At 9:58, I finally stumbled into Dunkin' Donuts, set to close in two minutes. 

"Wow, I'm so glad you're open! Hah! Hah!" I said to the kindly gentleman behind the counter, and proceeded to launch into my usual string of questions at Dunkin Donuts: "So do you have any whole wheat bagels left? And also with the veggie egg white sandwich, are the veggies like suspended in the egg, or do you guys have veggie meat?"

"Oh no. We have no eggs. We have only donuts," he said. 

I almost fainted right there. 


"You want a donut?"

"Oh. Umm."

I gazed at the wall of donuts, all the colors swirling together, and finally decided that this was a sign. At that point, I had two choices: settle for Dunkin', or walk another five blocks to Best Yet Grocery, which may or may not have been open, and hope they had something tastier than Beef-a-roni or Chocolate Sprinkles. 

Not happening. 

"Yeah, can I get a chocolate with sprinkles, please," I said. 

"You want chocolate? I give you strawberry too."

So there's a happy ending. I almost died in the subway, I almost passed out on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, and I might die of malnutrition, but I got a free donut! And there's still beer in the fridge. 

In retrospect, I don't think that's as good of a story as I thought it was. But I'm too tired to re-read it to check. Instead, here's a link to a song we listened to a lot freshman year that's really relevant to my life right now: 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Harlem, USA: Two Weeks, One Latex Glove, No Regrets

So. While Serena "Annie Dillard" Howe is busily suckling her sustenance from the very pap of Mother Nature, tasting flavors none of us can imagine and probably even discovering new colors -- I'm not jealous, I'm not jealous, I swear -- I'm getting settled in Harlem.

It's been two weeks, and so far, so good. I mean, ideally there would be less trash on the street, but a used latex glove only fell on the ground in front of me once and the homeless guy who sits on my stoop for hours at a time making weird noises seems pretty harmless. And even though at one point, the stove, refrigerator, toilet, and internet in my apartment were all broken, I just reminded myself that if Serena can make it without modern conveniences, I damn well can too. The only difference is that I'm paying a hilarious amount of money for my anti-modern inconvenient apartment. So it goes.

And honestly, the only major disappointment has been the beer. So far, I've had Harpoon, Smuttynose, and Brooklyn Brewery's seasonals, and they just aren't Michigan beer. I know that should be obvious (they're all New England breweries, ergo, they are not Michigan breweries), but I feel like I should emphasize it: New England beer is not Michigan beer, and that's a problem. I imagine anyone reading this has heard me go off on a tangent about how Michigan beer is proof that there is a God and He loves us, so just imagine me giving that talk here.

Also, National Review is great, but I can't imagine a universe where anybody wants to hear me ramble about the delight of calling House staffers and Googling the hell out of legislative initiatives, so I'll hold off unless there's popular demand. Instead, here's that link to the Calming Manatees website the rest of cyberspace discovered a month ago -- although, come to think of it, Serena's probably borderline-comatose calm at this point in the day, so I'll just grab another sub-par but still-passable New England beer, check out some internet sea mammals for a while, and call it a night. Ah, the glamour of New York City. Believe everything they tell you, kids.

Beauty and the Amateur

It's a lovely, hazy Sunday afternoon, and I'm over at the house of a family from the little church I'm attending here. They're all napping after a delectable lunch of pork (they raised it themselves) and an incredible roasted potato salad. I will have to get the recipe.

 I'm reading a stack of books by Fr. Robert Farrar Capon who many of you know and if you don't you should. I'd like to copy out a long section for you from the first recipe in his "cookbook" The Supper of the Lamb which I find both charming and profound. I'm cooking a lot these days and most of my pleasures are gastronomical, so you'll have to put up with 80% of my contributions to this blog being food-oriented. I'd like to dedicate this little selection to Dr. Whalen as the tone and sentiment reminds me very much of him--particularly his class on romance, if you had the honor of taking that.

With no further ado, Fr. Capon (from the very first recipe, which is for "Lamb for eight persons four times." You know a cookbook will be delightful if it has recipe titles like that.):

Amateur and nonprofessional are not synonyms. The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers--amateurs--it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral--it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness. 
In such a situation, the amateur--the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness is a seen and boredom a heresy--is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man who is bound, by his love, to speak. If he loves Wisdom or the Arts, so much the better for him and for all of us. But if he loves only the way meat browns or onions peel, if he delights simply in the curds of his cheese or the color of his wine, he is, by every one of those enthusiasms, commanded to speak. A silent lover is one who doesn't know his job. 
Therefore, the man who said 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' was on the right track, even if he seemed a bit weak on the objectivity beauty. ... The real world which he doubts is indeed the mother of loveliness, the womb and matrix in which it is conceived and nurtured; but the loving eye which he celebrates is the father of it. The graces of the world are the looks of a woman in love; without the woman they could not be there at all; but without her lover, they would not quicken into loveliness. 
There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence of absence of a loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it into bits--witness the ruined monument of antiguity. On the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its lights and shadows warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling. 
Or, conclusively, peel an orange. Do it lovingly--in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral, as any grandfather used to do. Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rind; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.  
That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God's chandelier, the wishbone in His kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore, it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of man.