reflections from the southeast PA rural underground

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A myth of our own

We pulled into the driveway and Eric said, "Welcome to psychedelic land." My thoughts were on the beef stew that I knew had been cooking for hours on the stove. The night was cold. This night would give its all to prevent the great Sun from returning to its rightful place.

The people said their greetings and gifts were exchanged by a few as others ate and talked. There were 15 persons present all told. Christmas cookies seemed to be everywhere. The wood stove gently worked its magic, keeping us warm from the December air outside. It was the Solstice. The house was "off the grid" and thus, powered only by this black stove and the Sun. The people were, in their various ways, "off the grid" as well.

Behind the house Sean and Tara had built a ring three levels deep made of pine boughs and adorned with quartz stones and sea shells. The path between the ring lead to a stump atop which lay an ice sculpture of sorts with a large white candle in its center. Once assembled outside the boughs, one at a time each person entered the Solstice path placing each step with care, trying to stay off the sacred ornaments, until they had finally reached the center. The wind chill made the night temperature feel much colder than the actual temperature of 18 degrees F. As usual, my feet were the first to cry out to me, "get back to that stove, get inside, this will take hours." The wind would not yield quietly to the Sun this night.

Many candles having been blown out and re-lit the ceremony was slowly fulfilled and we stared for as long as our extremities would allow at the shining center representing all energy and life giving power in the universe. The tea candles of each individual flickered, struggling to stay lit, drawing their fire from the center as we humans would continue to do all the days to come. The stars in that frigid night held their places. This was not their time to shine.

My feet numb and the ceremony over I didn't linger long before heading for the warm house again. I had internalized nature's vistas many times before and thus, making it my religion, understood that it needed my perception and further reflection on it to truly bask in its glory. It needed us. For who else would appreciate its beauty?

A couple of days later, driving back from hiking alongside a rushing, rhododendron-lined creek, Eric commented as we saw the Sun in its waning hours, "I feel privileged to see this, look at the light, its crazy, everything is purple!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Our Lady of the Wood

He had taken deathlife the day before in the mid-morning hours. This time had not been the usual day-long marathon of past seasons. He wanted to suffer, he said to me, "for the craft." But in just two days and 9 hours of shivering cold he had taken two female deathlifes. This time the suffering would come after the hunt.

When I arrived she was hung from the tree by her two front legs. Her head fell back lifeless now. The brown, white, and black coat that had sheltered her from these cold winter days was now stripped. I could see only the remnants of the fur around her four ankles and hooves. Deathlife was white bone and bright red flesh. The muscles had frozen from hanging outside in the frigid night air of early December. Her coat lay draped over the blue metal summer chair that sat just to the right of her body.

He commented on the amount of fat stretching across her back. "She must have been eating really well," he said. "Yeah, corn and soybeans are everywhere," I responded. How many fields had this deathlife known? What dreams had she conjured in the minds of those that had been lucky enough to see her and pondered at that moment, or in a later reflection, the magic of her beauty? And too, how many had glanced without even the slightest reverence for the creature they had just witnessed? How many times had she lept and bounded through stream and over rock and wood? Such a mighty strength she had mastered in her muscular legs and back! Such keen eyes and ears.

"Look at the amazing black patch just behind her nose," he said. "She was such a beautiful girl." I could not stop looking at that head which now rested like some unknown thing on the bed of dead maple leaves on the ground. The eyes now lifeless as the sky above. Gray and clouded over. As I sturdied the frozen rib cage so that he could cut off the bottom right leg I noticed my hands start to burn with cold. This was only appropriate after all. It was the least I could suffer to be saved from death with this life.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Where the food comes from

We headed out on Rt. 143 north to Mike's place tucked down against the other side of Hawk Mountain in Drehersville, Pa. He was there dressed in long underwear and tending to the woodstove at noon. We all commented on how nice the paint job was inside the living room and kitchen. He had painted the ceiling with a high gloss exterior white and the walls were the most calming green he could find. The place was brimming with warmth against the damp Thanksgiving Day outside. Mike said, "Yeah, lets go take a walk."

The three of us headed out into the woods behind the Airstream trailer. Following the train tracks we came to a good spot to head down into the small cluster of young pines. Mike's brother was visiting from West Virginia with his blond haired 4 year old who was displaying a rare shyness that her father said was not usually the case. I told Mike I had seen a full size Doe in this spot when I waited there to "see what i might see" last Monday morning at 6am. The old tractor part must have been sitting there for 20 years. None of us were sure exactly what part of the tractor it was. Something to do with harvesting for sure.

After tromping around the estate Jen and I headed back over the mountain to make our dinner. I had gone the 1/4 mile up the road to the farm earlier that morning and gotten some stored heirloom sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, tuscan kale, and bulls blood beets. The frozen turkey in the freezer was to wait until Saturday when it would make the trip with us up north to my mother's house. I put the white potato in the oven right away and then cut the baby brussels off the stock to clean them. Jen cleaned them while i cut up the dark green kale and got it braising in the pan. She then peeled the beets to reveal the deep blood-red streaks inside. "I should have gotten more from the greenhouse," I thought.

We took our plates to the living room and put in the film The Outlaw Josey Wales. As the massacre of the southern farming family took place in the first ten minutes I could already feel a kind of food coma overtake me. Josey wept while he let the words slip slowly from his grimaced face, squeezing the wooden cross he had made to mark the area where his son and wife were now buried, "The good lord giveth and the good lord taketh away."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What it means to be a skateboarder

The skateboarder is a man or woman who knows no limits. There is a usual starting age but no stopping age after one begins to ride. A skateboarder is a rider. He/she knows what this means in all facets. To ride is to live. I repeat, to ride is to live. Harley Davidson has made millions off this slogan but they will have to excuse the borrowed expression just this once. The skateboarder is his or her own engine. The skateboarder sees all living, in part, as part of riding. This is both figurative and literal. Once on the board, all else is periphery. Landscape becomes blurred and clear at once. The soul that does not exist expounds. Speed is at the fore-frunt. The body is stationary and moving all at once above the wood and the wheels going faster and faster below the feet. The motion is life. The person becomes the Rider. The skateboarder feels the carve of a good ride. All small moments become one wave.

The skateboarder may break but will not bend. He/She may encounter severe pain and will love this and hate it. The hatred will come from an anxiety that seeps into the heart once the skater can see future limits that will be placed on their body's ability to skate. The injury is an unresolved, open-ended anticipation and fear. The love will flash in all power and beauty and endorphins and sweat and bone and blood and skin and hair as the pain is blocked and numbed just enough to be physically bearable and enjoyable. The skater has touched life again. The spontaneity and uncertainty has come roaring back once again. This can and does become an addiction for the skateboarder.

The skateboarder doesn't reach for Zen. The skateboarder is Zen. The skateboarder becomes Zen. The skateboarder has so much of the soul that is not there. The non-skateboarder will see this in pop-culture forms and be sickened, frightened, jealous, amazed or mute. The skateboarder's ride is always in the consciousness right in the back seat of their mind. The small seed that is regenerating all the time. The job or person or situation or sadness or accomplishment does not turn this off ever.

Photo by Richard Wacker who teaches art in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


If you've ever seen an artichoke plant or any of its family growing you know that wild character it has with those strong, thick, spiked leaves jutting out in all directions surrounding like an army to protect its sacred heart. The cardoon is a relative of the artichoke. Today its precarious demeanor was even more off setting as it/they stood out in the 38 degree rainy late October day. After lifting drenched, icy agri-bon row covers off of multi-colored lettuce heads and cutting the first of the season's brussel sprouts, we used our red, frozen hands to try an attempt to extract the first cardoons. Their leaves, also armored with spiked edges, and much larger than their artichoke cousins made me wince every time my raw hands got too close to them. My wrist let me know as well that I wouldn't have her full support to squeeze those old hedge trimmer handles together and cut down the cardoon trunks. The wrist was recovering from a skateboarding fall 4 1/2 months prior to this day. The corner of my write one panged as I pushed the handles together just about as hard as i could to cut the cardoon trunk from the ground. Later I realized that I had been cutting too low and that I could have saved myself much effort in this endeavor but alas, that is the newness of farming. At some point I found my extremities too have become slightly accustomed to the cold and wet. We had eaten and braced for round two in the rain. She said, while digging soil to cover over radicchio that should have been covered two weeks before, " I don't think I can feel my hands anymore." I gripped the metal shovel and agreed, lumping some mix of mud and green foliage onto the edge of the cover. "Damn its cold," I thought. "Really fucking cold."It has been said that April is the cruelest month and I tend to agree, but when November weather hits in late October it makes one re think that notion.

The Mexicans call them Comotes

Today was an October day. It started out with thick low gray cloud cover and by high noon the sun was blasting through Simpsons' white clouds. We all picked tomatoes during the morning and after a light snack, went right back at it. This time picking only the giant green under-ripe ones that we knew would ripen over the next week. They would not survive the expected frost that would come in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. Eric and I then got potato forks and prepared to harvest heirloom sweet potatoes. After cutting the thick green and purple tendrils from these South American and Asian root vegetables, we proceeded to dig ever so carefully through the plush composted soil to discover the bulbous, vein-skinned, peach and white colored gems. So compact and filled with the magical denseness of life and sun and earth. So pushed. So smooth. Are the perfect green leaves medicinal we wondered? The root vegetable must contain all the magic and immensity of the universe in its ruddy wonderful shape.