Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stone on the water

If you recall from last year, we had a big problem with squirrels in our garden. This year we decided to solve that problem.
Full copies of recipe available

The following images may be disturbing to some of you who don't eat meat. Or maybe to some of you that do. Which is one of those things I don't quite understand. Isn't it better to realize that meat doesn't come from styrofoam packages at Wal-mart, but that the animals I eat are living and breathing creatures? Wouldn't I rather eat animals that have had happy lives, collecting nuts and stealing tomatoes?

I don't have a problem with vegetarians. I ate vegetarian for a significant length of time, and I have frequently used vegan fasts as a way to reorient my relationship with food, especially the highly processed factory food force-fed us by our culture. But that's exactly why I believe my dinner this evening should be celebrated. I must admit, I'm extremely proud of myself. Not just for obeying the Bible's injunction (The slothful man roasts not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious. --Proverbs 12:27), but for saying grace over my meal, for thanking my dinner for her life.

I have a good friend who was forbidden from raising chickens in her community by her herbivore neighbors. It's one thing to eat animals, but evidently it's a big problem to eat animals that you know. If I choose to eat animals, then I'm going to make my best attempt to be as intimately involved with every step of their lives as possible. If nothing else, today's experiment makes me fairly confident I won't die of starvation in Alabama.

Squirrel stock


Squirrel gravy


Not hungry anymore

I was grateful for the nourishment. That sounds cavalier, but it's true. I certainly thought about my dinner a lot more than I thought about my spaghetti for dinner last night, or my chicken for dinner the night before. Not to mention that it was delicious.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What we have here is a failure to communicate

So what do I want to write about? Failure. I'm not even sure what movie that quote is from, but I love it. Aren't all failures failures to communicate?

Maybe. At least mine are. What do I have to say about failure? I need to know if I should be hard-nosed, hold myself to an impossibly high standard. The activist vegans may be right about everything, about the need for universal impossible standards.

It's the question of whether I want to hold myself and other people, the universe, God even, to the standard of perfection or whether I want to forgive. It's the question of grace versus the law all over again. If I believe in the law, I refuse to forgive myself or other people. If I believe in grace, then what?

Then I have a hard time. I've always prided myself on not being one of those loosey-goosey hippies who say I'm okay, you're okay, everything's okay, but what if actually everything is okay? What if all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well? What if there isn't a problem?

The hard part, as with every relationship and every piece of art, is that same one: trust. I have to trust my life partner, as difficult as it is and as as often as I've had that trust fail. If I don't, the moment I don't, is when any marriage, friendship, relationship begins falling apart. I know that. Trust in God is that much harder, and trust in myself harder still, especially when I've betrayed that trust in myself countless times.

Countless times. My trust in God always pans out eventually, but my trust in myself does not.

I spent Thursday through Saturday backpacking at Savage Gulf with a college friend, and yesterday at the track, dodging tornadoes. I'm back now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The greater the subtletly, the greater the sacrifice

This week I spent camping at a friend's house, who happens to live atop Lookout Mountain. It's amazing to me how even though I am basically homeless, I always end up living like a millionaire. Or at least someone with million-dollar views. I've been trusting a lot to synchronicity lately. An auction is coming up in Dade County, Georgia, and I've been assiduously researching property so I can make an informed decision, an informed bid. Maybe I'll actually end up with something.

It's one of those moments where I have to have faith. "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed," Jesus says, "you can ask this mountain to uproot itself and throw itself into the sea, and it will be done." Do I believe that? Do you?

Maybe I can have enough faith to simply believe that God will guide me to the right piece of property.

This week I was reminded of one of my favorite literary legends. I don't even want to Wiki it, for fear it will turn out to be a lie. The myth is that Robert Lowell, he of "Skunk Hour," showed up at William Faulkner's door, unheralded and unannounced. Faulkner I imagine as wavering, perpetually half-drunk in the doorway with a bourbon on the rocks, and said, "Well, I guess you can camp in the back yard..." And of course Lowell ended up staying for months, much to the dismay of Faulkner's wife.

I feel like Lowell, at least this week. I've also been loitering in the backyard of a writer friend, but maybe that's just what artists need to do sometimes. Find people to apprentice to, even if it can make one feel awkward and annoying.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

C minor

Dogwood leaves close-up

I’m having a hard time posting after Lent. On the one hand, I want to keep the habit. On the other, all of you probably need a break. So. I’m being quiet and lazy.

I went to the Four Bridges Art Festival yesterday, a major arts festival in the southeast (I guess, although I don’t remember ever hearing about it before). It reminded me that a whole other artists' world exists. Getting into a prestigious festival must feel the same way for a visual artist that getting into a good writing conference would feel for me. It’s always strange for me to have the doors open on a whole new realm of competition, to realize how it must feel to be a painter or photographer struggling for legitimacy, the same way I struggle, but in a different medium.

Visual art is not my forte, although more and more I give myself permission to take photographs. It’s one of the things I’ve been allowing myself to do without asking that I be perfect, and it’s amazing how much of a difference that makes.

I’ve learned so much by just trying to mimic the photographs of photographers I admire. Like a writer learning by writing the exact same sentences of her favorite writer. (I’ve tried that, too.) My method lately has been to search for a new idea for a picture, and then just to search for ways to take that picture, with my crappy little point-and-shoot. I change the background on my computer every month to a new National Geographic shot, just as inspiration. This month is this green castor bean leaf interior.

It inspired me to take the picture at the top, looking up through the leaves. And this one, of ivy.

I love ivy, and I love the dust of pollen gathered on its top in this picture. I wish I could have captured it better.

Part of my fear of being a photographer is not having a good enough camera. I realize what I could do with a better lens. Then I realize what a cop-out that is. Because anyone can use that excuse. My goal has to be simple: to take the best pictures possible with the camera I have.

The hard part of taking photographs isn’t equipment--it’s courage. Photography is a much more public art than literature. I was at an art festival yesterday, but everyone was afraid to be seen making art. I thought more people would be taking pictures. The only people unafraid were the children, making chalk art on the pavement.

So the hard part is having the balls necessary to break out the camera, no matter how dumb and beat-up and podunk my camera is. The hard part is being brave enough to say: I’m not afraid of looking like a tourist. I’m not afraid of imprisoning the souls of strangers. I’m not afraid of looking a fool.

Walking here from the parking lot, I saw an amazing broken-down building, shattered glass, barbed wire, no-entry signs, grafitti—a hundred fantastic pictures. But how do I give myself permission to take them? With everyone watching? Some of whom have more photographic talent than I do in their left little fingers?

Because no matter how good the photographers at the festival were (and they were amazing—check this guy out, who had a beautiful picture in the same vein
), none of them were taking pictures of that broken-down building, at least not at that moment in time, in that particular light. The key, as always, is doing the work. If I don’t take the pictures, I can’t learn. If I don’t take the pictures, they don’t exist. They will never exist. No one in the universe can take the exact picture I can take at this exact moment.

Writing, journaling, recording my thoughts either here or by myself is the same. If I don’t put them down, I lose this moment. I know I need to keep writing, too. I can’t commit to every day anymore, though.

I can’t sustain my own or anyone else’s interest at that pace. I’m thinking about a thrice-weekly posting schedule. How does that sound? If I say it out loud, maybe I’ll do it.

Will I? I don’t know. Okay. I’m going to do it. I will post, from now on, on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. Until otherwise stated. Will someone comment and yell at me if I don’t? If not, it’s your own fault if I slack off. Or maybe you're ready for me to shut up. Who knows?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The way I see it

Today I was back at work, the whole adventure of a week away, living in the van at $3 primitive campsites in the middle of national forests, dissipating like a dream. It always happens like that, but it’s usually a little less sudden. This afternoon I was immediately immersed in the pedantic life that disappears completely from my imagination when I leave it. I keep asking myself whether I even want to get a job once I make the transition south. Do I need a paycheck, or can I make it as a freelance writer/tutor/farmer/yoga instructor/homeless person?

One of the things I did while gone was make an extensive pro-con list for both pieces of land at the top of the list. One is far away, farther from my friends and family, but also farther from development, current and future. It’s also a better deal, if I want to be farther away. But on the con list is: “potentially feel more alien?”

That’s a big question. I have learned, again and again and again, that I don’t belong anywhere. I try to belong, I pull out my chameleon colors and attempt to blend, but eventually the effort becomes to great and I run away to another place I don’t quite belong. Part of me enjoys not belonging. It’s also miserable. I remember crying, driving away from my church in Oak Park, slamming my hand on the steering wheel, saying: “I just want to belong!”

Don’t I?

I continue to have the same problem, especially with churches. I blew off church again this morning, because I can’t convince myself to even make the attempt, especially when I might be leaving again, and soon. And because it’s really hard work.

The more rural an area, the harder work it is. It’s why I felt the most belonging in Chicago, where I could be as anonymous as I pleased. I am consciously choosing the country for the next step of my adventure, but I know how much I hate for everyone else to know my business. I think I’m going in with my eyes wide open, but am I? It’s impossible to say.

When I called the Marion County commissioner to ask about a land survey, she made fun of me. “You’re not gonna find that here, hon,” were her exact words. Lovely. Or the, “You don’t sound like you’re from around here, dear,” I’ve received from landowners I’ve called. Or, “I knew y’all folks ain’t from around here.” Can I let that not bother me? Does it matter that I belong nowhere equally: not Maine, not Massachusetts, not Chattanooga, not Bangkok, not Chicago? It can’t matter much to the people who have known each other since grade school in any provincial town.

Around a campfire, a potential future neighbor told me, with a hug: “Well, you belong now.” Can I believe him? Maybe if I can decide I belong somewhere, everyone else will believe me, too. Maybe the hard part is convincing myself.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pull out my pistol

Bradford pear blossoms

My lack of health insurance come to haunt me, in a very practical way. I’ve come down with a bout of bad illness, making me feel awful, and also making me thank God for the invention of antibiotics. And Tylenol. What did people do before antibiotics? Die of blood-poisoning, I imagine.

Our health is rather a fragile thing. Maybe I haven’t been realizing how much good yoga has done me, and taking a week off from it (well, not entirely, but close) was enough to throw my entire immune system out of whack. I wouldn’t doubt it. In any case, I am lucky to have family in the health professions, or at least family that hoard ten-year-old expired prescriptions of antibiotics, so I am dosing myself and hoping for the best. Like any good Thai girl would do. In Thailand, you don’t go to the doctor for your drugs--you go to the pharmacist. We travel often enough that there’s a good little stash of southeast Asian “prescriptions” hanging around. Which is great for things like my brother’s asthma, or my dad’s antacid, etc.

So maybe I don’t need health insurance after all, if I can wiggle my way around it. The problem is how people with just a little less sense than I have kill themselves. Or maybe with just as much sense as I have. The jury’s still out.

It’s one of the perils of living the life I want to live, though. My parents seem blind-sided by my desire to live an extraordinary life, but I’m just following their example. We were struck by our fair share of medical calamities as I grew up: encephalitis, dengue fever, malaria, amoeba, meningitis, motorcycle accidents, ringworm that tried to consume the flesh of my sister’s leg alive and that my parents treated with dry ice from the neighboring Pizza Hut... The list goes on.

These are things that happen. People get sick. Even young people who are loved very much. And it stinks. But what do you do about it? Live in fear? No. You live. And try to keep a stash of good vitamins.

I also managed to step on a piece of rusted barbed wire on my way to dig a hole this last week. I’m crossing my fingers than my 2001 tetanus shot is still good. They last ten years, right? Life on the edge is exciting. And dangerous, medically and otherwise. Am I scaring all of you? Probably. Blame it on my wooziness from painkillers and herbal tea.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I had to run like a fugitive

On one of the two pieces of land I’ve narrowed it down to, I felt a cool breeze wing by today, beneath the oaks and the pines. Ray Jardine, patron saint of ultralight hikers, always talks about the microclimate that exists under trees. I swear, in the woods, it feels ten degrees cooler. Even with the 99-degree temperatures that parts of Alabama experienced this week. Parts of Alabama where I was camping.

It’s a lot cooler up in the highlands, under the trees, than down in the valley. Many degrees cooler. It’s weird to be thinking about how to keep cool rather than how to keep warm--too long in Maine, I suppose. But the primary climate challenge in the south is cooling rather than heating.

Maybe that’s why I’m beginning to tip, ever so slightly, in favor of the ridgetop land. I’ve pretty much narrowed my choice down, and the two fall on either side of the highland/bottomland conundrum. Do I want to risk bad soil? Or do I want to risk flooding? Do I want to be far away from all neighbors? Or do I want good water on my land?

I do like privacy a lot. Maybe it’s because I was just at the high land today that I’m leaning towards it. It’s both farther from the neighbors and closer to civilization--to places where I can shop and find a job and meet people. I do have to start thinking about how I’m going to make a living out here in the middle of nowhere, at least until I get my hot sauce company off the ground. Or write a guidebook. Or a best-selling novel.

But here’s what I’ve been thinking about for housing.

Earth ships are the greenest building method I’ve discovered yet.

Monday, April 05, 2010

You know what they say about being nice to the right people

Cairns in Bucks Pocket State Park

It’s interesting sometimes to think about the rest of my life. The rest of my life. It’s not that long. I am 32 years old this year, and every year, as another sun creeps around, I realized I’m not as young as I used to be. The end of life seems closer, more finite. Which is fine. The old adage about youth being wasted on the young is almost 100 percent true, and I’m sure those with decades more experience than I have would claim that my youth, my third decade, is being wasted on me, too. Just as I believe those with a decade less are wasting their twenties.

But: the rest of my life. It’s a hard thing to make promises for. Maybe because I’m not married. It blows my mind how married people make these promises, till death do them part. It’s so common! Almost 98 percent of people, or something, get married. How can all of them be that brave?

I have a hard time making promises, and buying a piece of land is, in a lot of ways, a promise. A promise to myself, more than anyone. A promise that I can stay put. Can I stay put? I doubt it.

I’m trying not to make it feel like it is a decision that has an eternity’s weight behind it. I don’t know if I can stay here for fifty more years. But ten? Maybe. Five? Can I allow myself to make that big of a promise to myself? I don’t know.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Samba per Vinicius

Budding trees in Georgia

Sometimes God seems so good I can hardly bear it. Like today, on the last day of Lent. I’m driving through Alabama bottomland, by the chicken houses, past the green, green grass of home, into the sunset. Old Ford pickups pass the van, going in the opposite direction.

Days like today, the quest feels possible. Doable. Like something that could be right here, in my hand. I’m heading back to Bucks Hollow State Park, where I shivered all night in January. Where I proved to myself that I wanted this badly enough.

All things seem possible. I hypothesized today about building Thoreau’s cabin. His exact cabin. Why couldn’t I? He went to the woods to live deliberately, and that’s what I want to do, too. His ongoing themes of self-reliance and transcendentalism are exactly what I believe in, exactly what today’s America has lost hold of. I want to be his heir, theoretically and practically.

I want to live deliberately, the way he did. I’m finishing the day outside, in the woods, under the stars, out of a van. Exactly the life I want. Is that so odd? Maybe yes.

Consider the lilies of the field. They neither labor nor spin. But even Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed such as them. (Even Solomon!!) How beautiful is that? If I can only believe I’m as beautiful as the lilies of the field, that God believes in me as much as He does in them. It’s the green fuse that drives the flower upward, into the light, just as I am being driven upward into the light.

My parents used to pray for me, every day, that God would guide my steps. That He’d draw me in the way I should go. I’m sure they still do. As my theology has drifted from theirs, they’ve doubted me and my path. But what if God has been answering their prayer all along? What if I’ve been following His path all along?

It’s the last day of Lent. I can stop blogging after today. But I don’t think I want to. Lent has proved to me a lot of things, and one of them is the goodness of God. Every time I experience joy He proves Himself to me. I want to celebrate the life that I’m living—the odd, hare-brained, ten-year-old jeans and flip-flops, homeless-person-experience life that God has given me. Because it’s the best life I can imagine.

Friday, April 02, 2010

To Ja music, dance

I'm heading out tonight for another trip, this one week-long to the remote regions of the state. This trip will probably include Georgia, the western reaches of Alabama, and the central parts of Tennessee. It is, after all, two days before the end of Lent. So maybe I will fall silent.

Or maybe not. As with spring, I feel myself blooming into a new adventure, whatever it entails. I know I can find a way to live the life I want, to find myself in time, to finally build myself a home.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade

When we were on the boat, hanging out with the dock boy in Bimini, I wrote this note in my little notebook: “DR as doable.” At that point, we were terrified about approaching hurricane season, and my goal then was push, push, push. Push towards Hispaniola where we’d be safe for the season. It’s been three years now, since then. That edge of terror from my life is gone, and reading that note makes me remember a moment in time when I actually believed that we were going to make it. We could have made it. We could have, but we didn’t. I could imagine the future, but I couldn’t foresee it.

I’m feeling the need for adventure in my life again. Yeah, buying land and building will be an adventure, but an adventure in stability. I’d like to have some moving around adventure, too. I’m almost decided, almost enough to say it out loud to myself, but not decided enough to promise anyone else, that I’m going to do at least a week solo on a trail this summer. My Appalachian Trail self scoffs. A week? Please. Part of my fear in hiking for just a week is that I’ll want to keep going. I won’t be able to stop. I know I won’t want to stop. But can I convince myself that there are other things that are as important? I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s been too long. This summer, I’m carving out the time and the money for myself to go live in the woods for a while.

This morning during final meditation in yoga--shavasana, my favorite--I had this brainstorm about this guarding my heart question that's been bothering me all of Lent. That's been bothering me my whole life. My brainstorm was this verse: "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Bible verses run through my mind often in shavasana, the way I imagine the psalmist was talking about when he said: "I meditate on your precepts." So that one came to me. The peace that passes all understanding (or transcends it, in the NIV). That's what I want.

What's interesting is that it's the peace that passes understanding that's supposed to guard my heart, not my own effort. That's the answer to how I open my heart and guard it at the same time. By finding the peace that passes all understanding, and resting within it. It's the peace that guards my heart. Not me.

If I think about it that way, I don't have to hold my heart clenched in order to keep it guarded. I have to hold it open, work at holding the peace inside of it. Again, just like in yoga. No clenched toes. No clenched teeth. No clenched fists. Open mind, open hands, open heart.

(As a side note, I posted a bunch of pictures from last year on my Flickr page. I've been really horrible about updating it, but I hope to be able to post a bunch of pictures from the Alabama trip soon, too.

Also, to contribute to the multimedia glut, here's a song for today: