December 2015/ Free gifts for you!
It's winter solstice, that magical journey of the longest night of the year, and of welcoming returning sun. A great time to curl up with candles, music and spend time with those you love or with your own sweet self in quiet reflection. Here's some free gifts to nourish you on the journey.
- Here's my version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song for a Winter's Night" from the 2002 Signature Sounds recording "Wonderland." Download free here. You can get the whole disc ( highly recommended) on the Signature Sounds website—it's full of great artists and songs.
- Paul Winter generously gives away a free download of his winter solstice concert in NYC each year. It's a fantastic musical journey with different artists each year. You can download it here.
December Sense of Place Tip
Even if there are faith-based events each season that might differ from our own, each change of season is a collective experience. You can feel connected to place through the songs, poems and celebrations that honor the season, no matter what your faith.
Enjoy your musical treats! Wishing you a magical holiday season.
November 2015/The Later Twilight + Mom's Cranberry Sauce
"October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight."
Henry David Thoreau, from Autumnal Tints, Atlantic Monthly, 1862.
Henry starts this article by saying "Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there." He goes on to describe with poetic beauty the colors, scents and scenes of the season.
What I love about this kind of writing is how one comes to "know" a place through their senses. His essay infuses factual information about nature with personal story, feeling and experience. I love this because it shows how just trying to make sense of what we see, and to describe it, helps us see more. And doing that can help us feel more rooted and connected to places no matter where we are. This is a habit we can cultivate anywhere.
November Sense of Place Tip
Sense and describe your place no matter where you are.
This November, I've been thinking about the rich colors of the season. And about my family and Thanksgiving traditions. Which brings me to cranberries.
Wikipedia says that in "James Rosier's book The Land of Virginia (1605) there is an account of Europeans coming ashore and being met with Native Americans bearing bark cups full of cranberries." (So hostile.) It also says "The name cranberry derives from "craneberry", first named by early European settlers in America who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane." (Trying to make sense of what we see by describing it always brings up interesting, creative analogies.)
My mother made a famous cranberry sauce. She is turning 86 this month and lives in a nursing home now, but until just two years ago she lived independently at home and always loved to cook. She had a lot of famous recipes, and four years ago I asked her to start writing them down and emailing them to me.
She sent them with little stories attached. And then sent me more. And more. Until she had sent me 200 recipes. I put all these together into a book and called it "The Beautiful Table" because we always loved to set the table just right. It includes all her comments, and a whole section of Jewish favorites. It's really a treasure to have it, especially whenever the holidays come. Here's a favorite. Super simple. Not too sweet.
This is the cranberry sauce that we always serve with the Thanksgiving Turkey. Really a "family" recipe.
Cook on stove top.
1 12 ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 can mandarin oranges (see next ingredient)
1 can mandarin orange juice + water to equal 1 cup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Mix together mandarin orange juice from the can of mandarin oranges, and water and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and boil until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the cranberries and boil until the berries have popped. Remove from the heat and stir in the mandarin oranges and the walnuts to make a lovely relish accompaniment to the turkey and stuffing. Refrigerate if there is any left and it will keep for a week or longer. It is absolutely delicious.
November Sense of Place Tip
Food is linked to memories and traditions that are rooted in a time and place. Feel a connection to your past, or make new traditions no matter where you are. Ask your family members for their favorite recipes, and urge them to include comments about them if they can. Assemble into a book for a gift that everyone will appreciate!
August 2015/Wild Blackberries
Last summer when we were hiking on a trail that led up to the power lines, we arrived there on a day when blackberries were ripe and exploding everywhere. We promptly started gorging ourselves on the berries, when it occurred to us that there were probably others who wanted these berries too. Bears.
Sure enough, just a ways up you could see evidence where the grasses were matted down, and they left the imprint of a happy bear sitting in the middle, surrounded by bushes. You could just imagine him sitting there swiping his paw and devouring plump black berries. Ah, summer. Just thinking about it makes me think we need to get back up there to the ridge this month.
Everybody needs a summer day to gorge on ripe fruit, sunshine and heat. Even with our busy lives, we need to carve out time to create memories we can hold close to our heart when the snow flies.
There's also a lot of evidence that berries are good for you and one of the foods that help ward off Parkinson's and Alzheimer's (which my mother now has) so I plan to eat a lot of them, and at least create more long term good memories I can look back on.
August Sense of Place Tip
How do you relish summer? What's your idea of a perfect summer day? Write it down so you can look back on it during those long winter days. Make a point of doing imprinting in your minds eye "this is summer" so you'll have that yummy memory to hold onto.
May 2015/How to Find a Sense of Place, No Matter Where You Are
This weekend, I'm driving to Ontario where I am the keynote for their parks staff training. I am so looking forward to the journey. I've never been to the region, and can't wait to go. I'm planning to stop at Fort Stanwix on the way through upstate NY, which will be a great place to learn about the history of the region. I'm staying at an Inn on the St. Lawrence River. Then I'll travel along the river, until heading up north to the lakes were the event is being held. I love that I have the time to drive, and see the land unfold, and really arrive, knowing where I am.
When Rivers Were the Only Road
Over the past few years I've learned a lot about how the great rivers shaped the places we see today. I am reminded of this powerful passage from a great book I came across this while doing research for programs with the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge:
"The land was so wild it was essentially impassable; anyone who didn't go by the river didn't go at all. In effect, the river served as its own map. A voyageur who needed to consult it had only to climb the nearest hill. There the route was unfolded, in all its blue-misted splendor: the great dragon tail of the river uncoiling through forested valleys and across the tallgrass prairies and into the vast shrouded swamps, glittering with ten thousand sunflecks, blurred by drifts of drizzle, blazing with reflected herds of brilliant cumulus, on and on toward the horizon. As far as the eye could see, the river was the only road."
Lee Sandlin, "Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild."
May Sense of Place Tips
3 Ways to Find Your Sense of Place, No Matter Where You Are
1. See the Layers: Why does this town look like this? What are the layers of time and history here? Learn about the natural, native, immigrant, industry, transportation developments that shaped a place. (This is a lifelong learning, you'll never stop once you start!)
2. Be Curious about Road Names: Why is it called that? This will give you alot of clues to where you are and what was there before you.
3. Find Your Own Stories: What do you feel, see, think and wonder in this place? What is an experience you have had here? Your own feelings and stories shape your sense of a place. You don't need to know anything to have a meaningful connection with a place, but whatever you learn can only enrich that connection.
Together, all of this will help you make "sense" of a place, and perhaps start a whole train of thought that can lead to a story, essay or song. Who knows?! Try these tips where you live, or wherever you go.