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July 1, 2009

class

class

I have a hard time answering the simple question “How do you like your internship?” Here’s how I put it this morning, to the people who run the program:

Hi Bill and Sarah,

I know you guys are interested in feedback about how the class and internship are going. Strangely, whenever you ask, I seem to become mute and/or inarticulate and don’t really feel myself giving much back. But I was riding my bike around yesterday, thinking about how happy I am to be involved in this class and in contact with this new sphere of people, and I thought “maybe this is what Bill and Sarah are wanting to hear about!” So I’ll tell you.

I am incredibly glad to be taking part in this internship. It has added a desperately-needed element of connectedness to my life that has been missing since I was transplanted here last summer—connectedness to other people, to the community we live in, to the land around me, to the plants that are growing in it and to my own body. It is giving me inklings of visions of where I might like to take my life on a professional level, while at the same time is promoting health and well-being for me on a day-to-day basis that I then transfer (in a very positive way) to people I’m close to outside of class.

Pretty much the only times I feel frustrated about it have to do with my own self and the level of commitment/attention I’m able to give at certain times. I hate that when other things in life come up I have to cut corners from the class or farm day because it’s financially impossible to take the time off from work instead. I’m enjoying being veggie-girl at the co-op, but I’m still having to waitress to make ends meet and I’m now feeling like I’ve never worked harder for less money. Lately my level of exhaustion has made it difficult for me to be fully present in class at times—especially by the time 7 o’clock rolls around—but I want you to know it’s not for lack of interest. It only frustrates me further that by the time I’m exactly where I want to be, sitting on a slope on your beautiful farm, surrounded by healing plants and vibrant people, being given an endless opportunity to learn, that I’m only able to take in so much.

When those moments of frustration arise I remind myself that I entered this with a spirit of exploration, feeling like this would just be the first taste that would let me know if I wanted to take it further. While I’m hoping to get as much as I can out of the class on the clinical level, it helps to remind myself that I have the rest of my life to expand and deepen my knowledge as a healer. I just hope my interest and enthusiasm are at least somewhat visible to you; that it doesn’t always seem like I’m overeager to end class and be elsewhere.

Bill, I know you’ve asked if the tangents you sometimes take during class are an unwelcome distraction or not. I think that if our goal is to become herbalists / holistic healers, it is important that we discuss and think about the way our practice intersects with modern life and the presiding culture of western medicine. This is often where your digressions tend to lead, but I therefore think they’re a vital part of the discussion and often wish we could take them even further. I know there’s never enough time in each class to cover everything you want to cover. I’m all for starting on time and ending on time, but I know you do the best you can.

Sorry to have gotten so long-winded. Hopefully this wasn’t overshare. Again, thank you for opening up your home and your land to us and letting us get in on so much goodness.

haybale

Yesterday

June 24, 2009

this is how I feel

this is how I feel

6 am: Ignoring alarm, rolling over for 5 more minutes of being Big Spoon to A’s warm, snuggly Little Spoon, wishing the day wasn’t starting.

7 am: Unpacking boxes of broccoli. Wanting to drink coffee but fearing it will make me more tired later in the day.

8 am: Washing and stacking 10-day-old locally grown, organic Red Oak Leaf Lettuce. Drinking coffee. Shaking off the aphids crawling up my wrists.

9 am: Still stacking lettuce despite Market now being open. Hoping customers don’t notice a) aphids or b) date on the box. Thinking about when I’ll take first break, and if there will be beans in any of the cafe soups today, because I love eating beans for breakfast.

10 am: Texting A. from employee bathroom. Happy coffee boost has curbed hunger.

11 am: Gobbling cafe chili out of cardboard cup in Market Breakroom on 15-minute break. (Disappointed in black bean to ground beef ratio). Reading Salon.com review of Real Housewives of New York City, thinking Heather Havrilesky is only a little funny.

12 pm: Picking wrinkled organic jalapenos out of display basket, wondering if A. will be over soon to take lunch break with me.

1 pm: Full of tuna salad and garbanzo beans and warm fuzzy love feelings. Cutting watermelons and cantaloupes in half and wrapping them in saran wrap because I think the melon display looks better with some color in it. Also thinking people like to see the insides of melons before they buy them. Also thinking that even if I liked watermelons, I’d still rather buy a half of one because it’s less of a commitment.

2 pm: Replacing handmade signs in produce department with shiny new printed ones. Happy to be leaving Market in 30 minutes.

3 pm: Collapsed pantsless on bed, inwardly seething as housemate prattles on about having finished book 1 of Don Quixote in only 3 days and how she intends to read the entire Panchatantra next. Wishing I could have some peace before I go to next job.

4 pm: Still pantsless in bed, watching episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, shocked that housemate would suggest I use my invaluable 2-hour reprieve between jobs to wash the vegetables from our farmshare when I’ve spent the past 8 hours washing other people’s vegetables.

5 pm: At second job at Divey Music Venue. Cowboy Junkies doing their sound check as I’m scooping canned hot fudge into empty sour cream container to be microwaved. Getting plasticky fudge all over self, as usual.

6pm: Running up and down stairs carrying trays of beer and cocktails, trying to cheerily explain to impatient customers why 200 people can’t be seated at the same time and all expect to have their drinks delivered to them simultaneously.

7pm: Making sure everyone has enough ketchup and margaritas and napkins and alcohol to keep them happy before I can dash outside to get some fresh air, sit on a milk crate and cradle my head in my hands. Marveling at how my body continues to climb stairs when my mind is so vehemently opposed to the idea.

8 pm:  Trying not to stare as grey-haired lesbians make out soulfully at the table closest to the computer. Disturbed by the idea that I could become one of them some day. Counting down the minutes til I can start passing out the checks.

9 pm: Wiping down tables, resenting the one couple who is still lingering and hasn’t signed their credit card. Take small comfort in reminding self that the longer they take, the less time I’ll have to spend carrying tables and chairs down into the basement.

10 pm: Sweaty and exhausted, arriving at home with 1/2 pint of Jack Daniels clutched in hand, hoping to get in a cold shower before A. comes over. Considering calling Parents tomorrow to admit defeat and telling them I’ll apply to grad schools to get that whole “real career” thing going as soon as humanly possible.

11 pm: Snuggled in bed with A. watching another episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, sipping Jack Daniels on ice, feeling peaceful at last.

12 pm: Passed out. Dreaming about walking to the Island from California, whereupon we find A’s nephew swimming under the dock with fish as big as he is.

Living the dream

June 17, 2009

photo by Candace Hope

photo by Candace Hope

Spent the past weekend at the island with my woman and five of our friends. Unsupervised Island Time is, as it turns out, just as glorious as I’d imagined it could be.

We swam naked in the lake, we paddled in the canoe, we warmed our toes by the fire, we smoked cigars on the porch, we drank coffee on the dock, we did puzzles while it rained, we played poker late into the night, we cooked many fantastic meals and devoured them. The house was full of laughter and love and friends and fun and it made me realize how important it is to fill the island with people. The more people that can see, smell, experience and thrive on the island, the more worthwhile it is to have such a place.

As I ferried my friends to and fro in the rowboat and scampered around setting up shop and then closing it down again, I began to feel like I actually had started becoming One Who Takes Care of the Island. It feels so good to know that I can get myself and six other people to and from the place, host a weekend gathering and then get it all cleaned up and ready for the next round of family. I feel independent and successful and blessed. I can’t wait ’til next time.

breakfast - also by Candace Hope

breakfast - also by Candace Hope

this is what 6:30 am looks like

this is what 6:30 am looks like

Locally-grown goodies have been rolling into the Market for a few weeks now. They are a splendid sight—tender lettuce heads, vivid green spinach and crates of just-picked asparagus. So fresh, so good.

People are all about the locally grown-ness in these parts, but still, at this time of year I’d say only about 25% of the produce on the floor is actually from this area. Most of the rest of it comes from California, and I always feel a mix of pride and longing when I grab a box of something that grew up in the same little corner of the world that I did. Green beans from Fresno! Plums from Kingsburg! Carrots from Bakersfield! Melons from San Diego! Reading the labels on the boxes, its so easy for me to picture the orchards and fields the food was grown in, the people that picked it and the towns they live in.

It makes me miss home. I’m happy to now be living in a place where people are so deep into the locally-grown green movement that they’ll ride their bike to the Market every Saturday to pick up local organic lettuce compost to feed their own locally-grown organic chickens, but still. When you live in California, it seems like everything is locally grown and no one makes a fuss about it. Or else they were making a fuss and I wasn’t paying attention.

Green Beans from Fresno, you were the most perfect green beans I’ve ever seen.

 dont pack heavy things in wet lettuce boxes

I was wearing a hideous neon wetsuit. I stood twitching in the frigid lakewater, my feet sinking ever deeper into pungent muck. After a while the grey sky gave way to rain, which did absolutely nothing to deter the cloud of blackflies that were swarming around my face. All the elements were adding up to a miserable scenario, but I was supposed to be thrilled. I’d been wanting to do this for years.

boat house

boat house

A few years ago, I’d started feeling like my role of occasional tourist on the family island wasn’t enough. I wanted to really participate in the place, to inhabit it on the level my aunt and uncle do—to know how to fix the pipes when they freeze over the winter, how to get the docks in and out of the lake for the season, how to connect the electricity and take down the shutters and store the boats and on and on.

tools

tools

There were two reasons I wanted this. The first was based in fear—what if something happens to my aunt and uncle and they can no longer maintain the place? What about when they get too old to take care of it? My family is small. I only have one cousin with potential interest in it. She’s four years younger than me and understandably doesn’t know yet if she’s going to want to pick up where her parents left off. Thus, it seemed, it fell to me to learn the skills I’d need to keep the place going. To be able to keep the place at all.

the canoe my aunt and uncle built, sepia-toned as it is in my dreams

the canoe my aunt and uncle built, sepia-toned as it is in my dreams

Still, I had my own self-interest in mind. The more responsibilities I took on, I figured, the more I’d earn the right to spend time there unsupervised. It’s not that I have anything particularly wild up my sleeve, but it wouldn’t it be nice to be there with just a few friends? To be able to lay around naked and drink at noon and not have to negotiate with an entire family about which boats you can or can’t take and when it will be dinnertime and which bedrooms will be off-limits? To just ride up for the weekend and spend a few days floating on the lake, lounging in a hammock or watching the sunset from the porch, not having to answer to anyone?

Last summer, my fear of losing the place and dreams of island independence became powerful enough to propel me to move to New England, where I intended to set about the business of Taking Care of the Island. So far, this has amounted to one trip last October to close up for the winter—docks taken out, boats stored, shutters up, electricity off, gorgeous foliage—five months of waiting in the snow for spring to come again, and this past weekend.

Uncle C setting up mainland dock across from the island

Uncle C setting up mainland dock across from the island.

The reality of being one Who Takes Care of the Island will come into sharper focus the more time I spend doing it. But this past weekend and winter have left me feeling a little disillusioned. Is this how I’m really going to spend the rest of my life? Suffering through six months of snow and ice and two-pairs-of-pants-and-legwarmers for the privilege of having to take time off work to spend the weekend three hours away from my friends so I can chop wood and patch pipes alone on an island? I may have to wait til I’m middle aged before I my family becomes so small that I have the opportunity to do any of that unsupervised naked lounging and noontime drinking. Right now that feels like a long ways away.

a satisfying morning in the organic case

a productive morning in the organic case

Been working produce at the Hippie Market for about a month now, and am starting to appreciate the challenges of the job. Keeping the department fully and freshly stocked is a bit more difficult than I first understood, especially with only two or three people on at a time. I like that there’s a challenge involved, though, or else I think it would be too monotonous.

The walk-in cooler is like a puzzle: orders come in several times a day, and you have to always be looking for creative ways to find space for them on the shelves. At the same time, you’re always trying to keep the shelves on the floor as full and plentiful-looking as possible. Each box moved out of the cooler, emptied on the floor and then broken down in the prep room is like a little victory, except it doesn’t last long. The orders just keep coming and the food on the shelves just keep going.

At least we hope the food on the shelves just keeps going. The Market has only been open a year, is more than a little overpriced and is in competition with farmers markets, Whole Foods and a number of other natural foods stores in the area. Produce perishes quickly, and there have been times where entire baskets of potatoes and cases of green beans have had to be tossed because they just sat out there and got nasty. That’s kind of depressing.

Its even crazier to me to pull perfectly fine vegetables just because they have a slight imperfection or two. Any kind of wrinkling on a bell pepper or minor abrasion on a zucchini and the vegetable ceases to be worth eating in the eyes of the consumer. To be fair, though, I guess it just ceases to be worth purchasing. If they’re going to spend $2.50 on a head of locally-grown organic lettuce, it’s expected to be the most vibrant specimen available.

At least the offending vegetables don’t go completely to waste. They’re put back into boxes in a corner of the cooler, where anyone who works at the store can help themselves. Whatever’s left over gets picked up by a local survival center, where the bruises are cut away and the food gets cooked up into food for the homeless. This is indeed a consolation, but it still makes me a little ill when I see people turn up their noses at perfectly healthy, organic produce just because it doesn’t look like a plastic model.

Maybe I should force one of those people to eat one of these cucumbers we found behind the conventional display: Read the rest of this entry »

Walls and weather

May 15, 2009

It’s easier to work in the rain than in the wind. Even when it’s sunny, wind takes so much effort to work against.

black birch trees blowin' in the wind

black birch trees blowin' in the wind

I didn’t mind the drizzle yesterday. We’d started building a stone wall around what will eventually be a circular central garden. There used to be a barn there, so we’ve spent the past month excavating rocks, nails, chains and other farm detritus to prepare the ground for planting. The digging is monotonous so the wall project is meant to give us a tangible sense of progress around the space.

The only other rock wall I’ve ever helped build was in Mexico, held together Mexican-style with several wheelbarrows full of cement:

good times

good times

This time I’m doing it New England style, with no mortar, mud or natural adhesive of any kind:

rainyday

i'll take a closer picture next time

The hard physical work was gathering the rocks from a big pile several yards away, either lugging them back one by one or attempting to wheelbarrow several at a time. The hard mental work was finding a way to fit them together both structural integrity and aesthetic value.

It was hard at first, but I eventually found a way to focus and spent about two hours crawling around in the mud, pushing rocks back and forth, finding harmonious ways for them to connect. I usually spend an hour or so anticipating lunchtime, but this time when it came I was squatting in the mud, my face smudged with dirt, rain dripping off my nose, totally absorbed in the project.  And even though the wall doesn’t look like much right now, achieving just a few layers made me feel very accomplished. And tired. And hungry.

It’s work like this that makes baths, burgers and long island iced teas feel so much more worthwhile.

The crazy thing about seasons is how fast everything changes. The backdrop of life is constantly shifting. Recently I’ve been getting confused and lost when driving to familiar destinations because I don’t recognize my surroundings with leaves on the trees. At the farm, the herbs grow so much from week to week I only recognize them because I know where they’re planted.

This goldenseal won't be in flower next week

This goldenseal won't be in flower next week

The farm gets more and  more beautiful every time I go back. Last Thursday was misty and damp and the greenest day I can remember in a long, long time.

baby aspen trees

baby aspen trees

I hope to eat some of these dandelions before it’s too late. I’m told the tops make tasty fritters when dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and fried on in a pan. I like the idea of eating all parts of a dandelion, but am still a little squeamish about eating things that grow out of the sidewalk. However, should there be some kind of apocalypse and I become forced to forage for food, I will also be able to identify and consume wild lettuce. You may recognize it from the perimeter of many a parking lot:

wildlettuce

Besides being edible, it’s sap is a natural analgesic (painkiller). We learned last week that if you were to take the time to harvest it—letting little bubbles of sap dry and scraping the dried sap into a jar—eventually you could use the powder to remedy pain. Funny though, Bill didn’t mention how the powder should be ingested. Hmmm.

Produce

May 6, 2009

produce in my sink

produce in my sink

In mid-march, I quit my dreadful waitressing job at a place I’ll call The Pasta Shack. I was so over the Shack. The chef was a sociopath, the owners kept accusing their best servers of stealing, I kept having to cover shifts for the people getting unustly fired, and then having to train a whole new set of degenerates to replace my friends. The longer I stayed there the more the place seemed to me like a sinking ship, and the day I quit I pictured myself a flea jumping off the back of one of the drowning rats on board.

Myself-as-flea remained suspended in that jump throughout  most of April, while I lived off my much more tolerable second waitressing job and contemplated my options. My strongest feeling was that I needed to stop waitressing full-time. Serving had rendered me bitter and resentful, perpetually spiteful and annoyed. I needed a job where I didn’t have to kiss ass all day defending crap food I wouldn’t even eat. I wanted a job that I believed in, a job that would reflect who I really am, something that that would align with my values. And now I work at a grocery store. Read the rest of this entry »

Teas & Tinctures

April 29, 2009

Lemon balm tea

Lemon balm tea

I’m three weeks into my internship at the medicinal herb farm. We meet twice each week, one day for eight hours of farm labor (see earlier post on barn-mucking) and one afternoon for four hours of clinical learning, where we’re taught the basics of how to make medicines from the plants we grow.

billdigs1

Bill digs valerian root for today's tincture

Bill has spent years studying herbs and running his own herbal medical practice. His passion for his work is serious, but I think it’s cool that he still maintains a lightheartedness and sense of humor while he talks about it. His teaching style is, by his own admission, rather un-linear.  (Circuitous?) After taking a quick walk around the grounds to see what’s happened with all the plants each week, we sprawl on blankets in the grass while Bill passes around teas and tinctures of a few different herbs. We roll the earthy diffusions and decoctions around our tongues, trying to get a physical sense of what the herbs are doing to our bodies before Bill can tell us. Then Bill takes the lid off his brain and years worth of information and experience and knowledge come flying from his mouth. Scrambling to capture the essence of his words and distill them into reliable reference material in my silly little spiral notebook feels a bit like trying to catch flying seeds on the breeze, but I have faith it will all amount to something eventually.

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