Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What if food didn't come in a bag?

I was cleaning fiddleheads the other night in the kitchen, enjoying the slow, methodical process of dusting off the parchment thin skins that cover the unfurled heads. I wasn’t in a hurry, so my mind rested on the task and I began to remember the enjoyment of our picking expedition and piggyback across the brook.

My thoughts drifted back to the gurgling of the rushing water, the sun-splashed forest floor, the tangles of bare alder branches, piles of dead grass washed up against rotting logs in the early spring rushets. I remembered the smell of wet earth and the cushioned softness underfoot of walking on new moss and last season’s wet leaves. I recognized some of the plants beginning to grow underfoot, even though I couldn't put a name to them.

I knew these fiddleheads would taste better, simply because I gathered them myself. Because the enjoyment of eating them would be connected to my memory of how and where they grew.

Did you know that you should never pick more than three from a cluster, so as not to destroy the strength of the plant? That’s why the best and fattest fiddleheads are far away from easy access roads. I don’t know when I learned this – or when it somehow registered which ferns were fiddlehead ferns and which ones weren’t. There are often only subtle differences, but these you can’t learn from a book. It requires touching and seeing, perhaps even making a mistake or two. Too often, we fail to appreciate where our food comes from or how it grows.

A local gardener told me about something that happened when she was selling her produce at a farmer's market. Her table was overflowing with fresh green and wax beans, carrots and peas. A young couple approached and the girl picked up a pea pod, turning it over and over in her fingers. She then asked, “What’s this?” When the gardener told her there were peas inside, she just looked at her blankly. She didn't understand. Her peas came frozen in a bag.

Then there was the young cashier ringing through my groceries. He picked up a turnip, rolled it over, then looked at me. “It’s a turnip,” I offered. “No kidding,” he said, "that's what they look like."

How sad is that?

Monday, May 19, 2008

What if it was OK to ask for help?

This weekend, my husband and I took part in an annual Albert County rite of spring…fiddlehead picking. We don't it very often as there is a small window of opportunity for picking fiddleheads and most years we miss it. This weekend, though, the time was perfect for those oh-so-tender swirls of fern that grow so abundantly beside our forest streams.

We arrived at a favourite picking site (most people keep the best sites as closely guarded as the family skeletons), but alas, someone had been there ahead of us. Delicate lime green fronds waved merrily in the breeze, but the perfectly tight uncurled ones at the base of each clump were already snipped. We spotted more ferns, which might indicate a good picking site, but they were on the other side of the brook, which was running fast and shin deep.

I could certainly have waded the brook myself; I could even have removed my boots and crossed barefoot, but my husband cheerfully loaded me on his back and piggy-backed me across the stream. While the rushing water seeped over the tops of his boots, mine remained dry.

You know, so often, we think we have to tackle things all on our own, but often an experience is richer when we accept help from others. I must admit to a little independent streak - as if I need to show I can do things on my own – but in the end, what does it really prove? Does it really make a difference if I say, “I did that entirely by myself” or “I did that with a lot of help from my friends.”

In every life, there is a season for independence, but there is also a time for dependence. Wisdom comes from recognizing this, accepting it and finding a balance of each.

When we tackle challenges or changes in our lives, these are often as a result of decisions we make in our hearts, personal choices that require inner strength and commitment. But that doesn’t mean we have to follow through on them entirely alone. It doesn’t mean we have to struggle and soldier on, unaided. I’ve discovered that when I can openly admit I need help or encouragement, it serves to deepen relationships and strengthen connections. Everyone wants to feel needed, right?

Besides, doing things with others certainly makes for a more interesting story…and a lot more fun.

As for us, we had a grand afternoon in the sunshine, stepping carefully around the little mounds so we wouldn’t damage the crowns, filling our grocery bags, but ensuring we left plenty for future harvests.

Yes, I could have waded the brook, but my fondest memory of our lovely afternoon picking fiddleheads will be the laughter we shared as my husband of 20 wonderful years piggy-backed me through the water.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What if Footloose wasn't just something you did, but something you lived?

A small, but very enthusiastic, group of us met last week to talk about running the Footloose! program in Albert County again this summer.

Great News! We’ll be launching Footloose! Round Two on June 16th with the same trademark wild lime green color, but with a slightly different motto…Footloose! for Life. Because, that’s what this is really all about…making enduring changes in our lifestyles: in the way we live life, see life, think life, enjoy life, smell life.

Take a sniff…doesn’t spring smell wonderful? It smells like new life. New beginnings.

When we launched Footloose! last July, the goal was to encourage folks to get outside and become more active. We also wanted to build stronger community connections between the widely separated villages. The program succeeded in a very big way. It showed all of us that Albert County was ready for change: ready to take action and ready to close those gaps that separate us.

A number of individuals tackled some very serious health challenges and made significant improvements in their life. It was awesome to see friends out running or walking together, building stronger relationships as folks worked to log 10,000 steps a day on bright orange pedometers. As a spin-off, we now have a Nordic walking club meeting regularly in each of the three communities.

This summer, Footloose! will be even bigger and better – we’re encouraging more families to take part in the challenges, promoting healthy eating (along with the exercise), and doing whatever we can to share the success stories so we can cheer on one another. Watch for more news coming…this summer Albert County’s going to glow with those lime green Footloose! for Life T-shirts!

Monday, May 5, 2008

What if we could slow time?

While in Taos, New Mexico, I took part in a two-day workshop put on by Natalie Goldberg, an author whose writing I admire. Natalie has written a number of highly recommended writing books – the most well known being Writing Down the Bones. Her philosophy is simple. Slow down. Anchor yourself in the moment. Then just write. She teaches a regimen of daily timed writing practices. Start with just 10 minutes. Write without stopping. It's like learning to run. Start with something achievable. Discipline.

She also teaches slow walking as a prelude to the writing practice: a method of anchoring the mind in the moment, paying attention to every nuance of walking movement, the shift of balance, roll of the foot, swivel of the hip. Detail.

It reminded me of a book written by Canadian author, Sharon Butala, called Perfection of the Morning, a beautiful memoir about the loneliness of prairie life. Sharon writes that during her regular walks on the prairie, her active mind travelled further than she. She would return home not remembering a single detail of her walk. But once she slowed her mind and kept it clear...once she concentrated on keeping it devoid of thought, then she experienced an increased awareness and perception of her surroundings. Almost a spiritual connection. Delight.

Both women have discovered something important. In our busy lives, our minds are always in motion. Indeed, don't we consider multi-tasking an accomplished art? But resting our mind is as crucial as resting our body. What might we gain by slowing down time instead of living in a hurry?

During our hikes in the desert and through slot canyons, it was easier to keep my mind quiet. The heat and altitude forced me to slow my pace. The sand and rubble underfoot required careful attention. And it was a new landscape, intensely intriguing.

I became conscious of my surroundings; every pebble and every plant, the whorls and swirls on canyon walls, dried elk dung and strange animal tracks. The intensity of colour, stunning geologic formations and variety of birdsong kept my visual and auditory senses heightened. The heat released surprising scents. I became more observant. I noticed detail. I felt truly alive and energized.

What would life be like if I could slow down like this every day? What might I see and discover? How might my writing improve?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What if we took time to listen?

I’ve been travelling around New Mexico and Arizona for the past couple of weeks. And the journey is not over yet. It’s our third trip to the southwest…the desert landscape has been drawing us back for several years now. Before that, it was Portugal – another arid climate.

There's a sense of desolation to the desert that pries open my heart and peels back the edges. I feel it every time I come here ­... like I've been laid bare. Desert demands honesty. It demands wisdom and a deep reverence for the continuance and mystery of life. The wind blows, the sand shifts and something hidden is revealed.

During this trip, we visited Mesa Verde with its ancient pit houses, farming communities and amazingly complex cliff dwellings, towering hundreds of feet above the canyon floors. This site is an architectural timeline showing how generations of Ancestral Puebloan people evolved for 700 years, from 600 AD – 1300 AD.

We visited Chaco Canyon, a strange and wonderful crack in the earth surrounded by miles of empty desert that housed a community of ancient dwellings. It appears to have been a mecca to early Puebloan people. For centuries people came and went from this canyon, building their homes on the same sites of earlier civilizations. This cycle continues today, as our generation is drawn into this canyon, imagining how others lived before us.

Then, there was Rock Art canyon, decorated with over 3,000 Anasazi petroglyphs in all manner of design, crafted over the centuries. This canyon had obviously drawn people time and time again…the water here never runs dry. I ran my fingers over the designs and stories etched by people who possessed no written words, but still wanted their voices to echo long after they were gone. I could understand this need. I, too, want to leave my mark.

Perhaps this is why the southwest pulls me in. I am struck by the continuum of life, how history repeats itself, how people are drawn to certain landscapes, over and over again, like flocks of birds migrate to the same places year after year; like animals trod the same pathways.

I believe the land speaks to us, it calls to us, and should we desire real wisdom and honesty, we only need to pause long enough to listen.