November 2014/Comeback Kids: Hard Cider, Wild Turkeys and Heirloom Apples
The world is always changing, and with news that can consume us with loss, worry and cynicism every day, may these stories help you celebrate late autumn and ground you in the possibilities of what can happen with love, passion, persistence and good old-fashioned know-how.
This article focuses on success stories that are local and fitting for the season. It's about three comeback kids who were on the brink of vanishing completely, but are alive and thriving today.
Hard Cider: Once more popular than water
For early Americans, hard cider was the beverage of choice. Everyone drank hard cider, even children and the elderly in colonial times! It was thought to be safer than water. Production and consumption dropped off dramatically after 1850 due to the temperance movement. Beer became more popular and cheaper to produce and hard cider went out of fashion. Today the creation, quality and celebration of hard cider are vitally alive and well.
This past weekend we attended the 20th Annual Cider Days, an event that was founded by our neighbors here in Colrain, Judith and Terry Maloney of West County Cider. They are often credited as initiators of the hard cider revival, creating their own first batches in their basement in the 80's. This weekend's event was sold out, full of sampling dozens of varieties of hard cider, plus workshops and incredible farm to table food. Have you tried hard cider?
Wild Turkeys: Almost extinct by 1851
Lately I've been noticing all the flocks of turkeys eating in the cornfields. There were 30 just behind our house. It's amazing to think that, according to Mass Audubon, in 1851 the last wild turkey was shot in Massachusetts on Mount Tom (Easthampton, MA).
In 1972, Mass Wildlife and UMass started a reintroduction project with just 37 birds! They were trapped in New York State and released, and today the estimated fall population is more than 20,000 birds. You see them everywhere. Huge success story, showing that, when given a chance, the natural world can thrive. Do you have turkeys where you live?
Heirloom Apples: They still grow those here?
Apples have been cultivated in America since the 1600's. Some became standouts for commercial reasons, but many varieties that would've disappeared can still be found, and are now treasured and cultivated.
Earlier this month, we attended a talk at the Williamsburg Historical Society by Russell Powell who just released his book "Apples of New England: A Users Guide" In the book he writes "Biting into a once popular apple discovered in New England tangibly connects us to our past." A man after my heart. This book is a great gift idea!
Learn more in this wonderful "field guide" with histories and qualities of over 200 varieties. He had many there to taste after the talk. Do you know there was such variation?
November Sense of Place Tip
Do a blind taste test of local fruits or produce
See if you can find a market with a large variety of apples. I bought a bunch recently at our local co-op and labeled them in brown paper bags. We've tasted each one without looking at the name, just noting their qualities in a journal, and then looking them up in Russell's book to learn about the history of each one. This is a fun game and great way to celebrate apple season.
BTW, my No. 1 favorite apple is still the Macoun. They don't last forever, but when they're in season they are tart, sweet, crisp and juicy all at once.
Know any comeback kids?
Do you have some success stories about anything regional or seasonal that was once on the brink of vanishing or being forgotten, that is alive and thriving today? I'd love to hear your stories too!
September 2014/Tell it Slant
There's such a quality to the slant of light during these late halcyon summer days, isn't there? They're so intensely beautiful, yet they cannot last forever. Might as well dazzle us now, and let us get drunk on that light, so we can go on in a satisfied stupor toward sweater weather.
My feature article this month is about shining through life's challenges."Tell it slant," Emily Dickinson once wrote.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind — Emily Dickinson
My "word of the year" for 2014 is SHINE, so I've been thinking a lot about this. Maybe it's the wisdom of age, but I am starting to see that "shine" can include a sort of patina glow. That we can shine anyway, right through the challenges that seem to tarnish the light sometimes. It's not either/or. And it's that subtler quality of light that makes it all more real, beautiful and true.
From that slant, I think I can understand how we all can walk forward. It's not about looking through rose colored glassed all the time. It doesn't mean it will solve all our problems, but it can make problem-solving easier when we look for the shine, in all its hidden beauty.
The question I've been asking myself this summer is, "How can I be happy and shine my brightest when this is going on?" There isn't a minute when there isn't something to worry about somewhere. The issues and events may be different, but everyone is facing challenges, both internally and externally, to some degree, at any point in time. How we respond is the key.
Making sense of the world
When I want to make more sense of my life or the world, rather than stay immersed in the seeming chaos, I seek out experiences that have links to something that has links to the past-- be they natural or cultural. Those threads of connection make me grateful for those things that stay the same in the midst of change.
It's where I discover a moment of dazzle that gets woven into the day. Just one moment that makes me stop and view the rest of the day with greater appreciation.
Last December I went to Emily's house to celebrate her birthday. I'd never been to the Dickinson Homestead, even though I've lived in the area for a long time. While touring the house, I climbed up to the second floor, and right away noticed a beautiful sunset out a bedroom window. I stood in the doorway and watched the sky turn rosy, bronze and pale blue. And then I noticed the bed by the door also facing the window. Then I saw the desk and quill pen. This was Emily's bedroom! She would have seen the sun set just that way, out her window over the trees. It drew me to her, straight from the heart. It was a link of consistency between the past and present that totally surprised me. It made my heart soar.
September Sense of Place Tip:
What roots you?
Make a list of places you turn to make sense of your life. What roots you to the past?
What brings you consistency, even in a changing world? What helps you shine, even through life's challenges?
Try this: Notice the light
Notice how the light at different times of day can shift the way things look.
Notice how the light can draw your attention to something you may never have noticed before. Notice how the things can draw your attention shift over time, just like the light.
June 2014/Find Your Quiet Spot: Outdoor Recreation for Introverts
A few years ago I was the keynote at an event that had the word "outdoors" in the title. Somehow I pictured it being a weekend full of people like me. People who loved to be outside because of the quiet. But the majority of attendees seemed to be athletes who loved outdoor recreation. They liked to be outside to hike, bike, canoe, run, and play sports or any other group activity. They were loud, full-hearted and fun. And they tired me out. It took me a while to figure this out. "Oh, they like the outdoors because it's challenging." They might end up tapping into their soul along the way, but that's not the main point.
One day we signed up for a mountain hike. We gathered in the parking lot to join our large, happy, rowdy group. Everyone started discussing carpool options, and there weren't enough seats. I said, "Anyone just want to go on a smaller walk, here at camp?" A few people (quietly) raised their hands. Then one person offered, "I know the trail to a heron rookery we could visit." We were pulled in her direction like magnets.
The rookery was amazing, ancient, powerful. A breathing, spiritual place. I can still see our eyes brimming with tears when we first caught sight of it the opening in the forest. I can see the still water, the nests high in the trees, the herons bringing twigs back to their mates, the soft blue sky. And I can still see the others we were with, moving slowly, communicating in whispers and hand signals. It was a rare sight. It could have been passed by. It took someone who knew the place to take us. To open our eyes and respectfully witness a process of life that has been going on there in that spot for a long, long time. Just to experience it restored some part of me. And just to know it is there today fills me up in the same way, and quiets me inside.
This was awhile ago, and today, I'm not sure which hike I'd choose to be honest. It would all depend on what I needed most. I'm more of an athlete now myself, and these days I have come to realize how much I need strenuous activity on a regular basis to feel really good, AND how I still need time in nature for quiet connection. I "use" the outdoors for physical activity and for inner reflection. Both provide me with a sense of balance and well-being. And that's the point.
Sometimes people don't even realize that places can restore their soul. They're too busy doing other things. In my sense-of-place work and research I have seen that there are many reasons people visit places, and many reasons we protect and steward places – for recreation, for social activities, for scenic or ecological reasons, as well as for mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
I believe their are easy, yet powerful ways to connect people with nature for its restorative value. And I don't mean just for the few, the bird-watchers, poets and photographers. Everyone can benefit from quiet time in nature – solo, or with a group of people who know how to speak in whispers, and recognize true magic when they see it.
June Sense of Place Tips
1) Plan a saunter, as Henry David Thoreau called them. A word which he explained in his essay "Walking" as "beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la SainteTerre,’ to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a Sainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander."
2) Take note of what you notice. Your ideas could be the start of a great song, poem, or story. The book "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed was an Oprah Book Club Pick and a bestseller. The story is based on the author’s solo journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. Hers was a recreational adventure with a goal in mind. But what she gained in the end was her soul.
3) View this TED talk by Susan Cain, author of the NYT bestseller book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking." (I picked this book up in Bar Harbor last summer while I was on faculty for an all-ages family nature camp. I wonder why I was so drawn to it…) View here http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts
4) Can you recall a time you took the opportunity to just spend quiet time outside without a certain goal or activity in mind? How would you describe it? In what way did it nourish your soul?
April 2014/Quick: What is That Song?
They're baaakkk. The Eastern Phoebes. They've got a lot of personality. Or at least in my mind, I think they do. They're a brown bird who lives under the bridge above the river, in our back yard. They return every spring. A harbinger of spring really.
They have a raspy voice, that seems to get raspier. They sound to me to be proclaiming who they are, but at the same time not quite sure. They sound sort of like a confused grandmother. Phoebe? Phoebe. They question themselves. Phoebe? Then answer themselves with certainty. Phoebe. It's sort of like me when I feel old looking for my glasses. Glasses? Glasses.
That raspy voice, combined with the self-questioning tone, and the fact that they winter down south had me creating a character for her, kind of like a grandmother from Florida. You know the type? The polyester pantsuit, the blonde hair, the coral lipstick, smoking a Pall Mall cigarette, even though she knows better. When our Phoebe comes back I hear her saying, in that raspy tone, "Aw, it's great to be back. (puff) I tell everyone in Florida about this place I got, (cough) under a bridge, not too far from the Berkshires, you know, but right in the middle of nowhere really. I come back here every year. It's so relaxing. (puff) My grandchildren come back too. We all love it here so much. Enjoying ourselves. Great tasting flies. Good to be with the whole family again, you know? Phoebe? Phoebe." That's one way to remember a bird!
April Sense of Place Tips
Birders have long used mnemonic devices, creating catchy phrases that mimic the song of the bird, making it easy to remember. You can make one up, or use one already created.
1) Try this: Learn more about the bird you hear: You can find the pictures and call for any bird on this comprehensive site from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Learn about the real Phoebe here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/eastern_phoebe/sound
2) Try this: Make up a saying for the birdsongs you hear: Even though I try to remember the calls I seem to forget most of them by the time spring rolls around again. (One of my favorites has always been the Barred Owl who says "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?") Here is an adorable resource to print that will get you started identifying some common calls! http://birdandmoon.com/birdsounds.html
3) Try this: How about making up a character? We find this very entertaining way to pass the time! (It's quiet up here…) It's completely silly and anthropocentric, and hopefully doesn't ruffle any feathers (hahaha.) But who would your bird be if she were a person? Can you find a photo (or bring an image to mind) of what she might look like if she/he were human?
March 2014/Six Cures for Spring Fever
I think it's best to really embrace whatever season or month you are in. To fully embrace it. I always joke that we shouldn't complain about rain or snow, or "they'll stop making it." But by March, we could use a little help. New England winters can be long, and we need a break now and then. What follows are a few of my favorite cures.
March Sense of Place Tips
- Visit a botanical garden. Pretend you're in Florida for an hour. I just took my mother to the US Botanic Garden, and it was a blissful way to spend the morning with her. We arrived before the crowds, and she loved the flowers and the music. Or just get yourself a nice bouquet for the kitchen table!
- Buy a crisp white blouse. It will look so good and optimistic hanging in your closet between all the brown, black and gray. There's a website I love called the 333 project. It's about how to use 33 articles of clothing to create a 3-month wardrobe that all goes together really well. Truly inspiring. This will get you on a great de-cluttering binge.http://bemorewithless.com/about/
- Eat food from warmer climes. Soak up the atmosphere of a restaurant from a warmer country. Mexican,Thai or Indian are my faves. The spicier the food and earthier the decor the better.
- Work up a sweat. Going to the gym is the warmest I feel all day sometimes. Over the past year going to the YMCA has become a huge part of my life. I love the high-energy classes, bright lights and loud music. Weight lifting is my new love, and the Step classes too. I never thought I'd be a gym person, but it makes being outside that much better when I feel really fit.
- Go hear live music. You'll forget the cold when you're gathered together with others and having a great time. (Okay, this is a plug for my concert in Connecticut at the end of the month!)
- Find poems that make you smile. This one is from Emily Dickinson. It was in the latest newsletter from the Emily Dickinson Museum.
Dear March - Come in -
How Glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat -
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are -
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well -
Oh March, Come right up stairs with me -
I have so much to tell -
I got your Letter, and the Birds -
The Maples never knew that you were coming -
I declare - how Red their Faces grew -
But March, forgive me -
All those Hills you left for me to Hue -
There was no Purple suitable -
You took it all with you -
Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door -
I will not be pursued -
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied -
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come
That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame -