the art of sharing

Ramps are also know as wild leeks, potent like a cross between garlic and onions except, unlike shallots, they are green and full of the life of green. They have been on my radar and I’ve been watching for them. But is wasn’t until this past weekend when I discovered a huge patch of bloodroot on my property that I began to understand how much is ‘out there’ that I don’t ever see. I was simply clearing last years now dry pruned limbs from underneath each apple tree, snapping most of it into burnable lengths for kindling, and dragging the larger pieces over to a pile that has been established in a far corner of the property out of sight. Discovering the entire ground under this pile bursting with bloodroot blossoms signaled the end of the mornings work. I stood there gaping at the profusion of blossoms, marveling at the sheer abundance of this plant that I used to watch for every spring in my home garden. But there was never more than just a half dozen blossoms each year. I kept waiting for more. Now, in this place under the hidden brush, there was more than enough bloodroot to harvest, and still leave for the next year.

It’s like a domino effect. Finding one thing I knew I could harvest sustainably led me to thinking about what other wildness out there I could find too. That afternoon being led into a section of the woods I’d never been to before, saw the oasis of green from a distance amongst the still brown woodland floor, and walked across wetness and mossy covered rocks to reach what I knew could only be a prolific patch of ramps.

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I dug in with my fingers to extricate the plant intact with their pure white root bulbs and left with a handful that went into that night’s dinner,

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only whetting the desire for gathering more. I then researched and learned that it is best to leave the roots, harvest just one leaf from each plant to insure next years growth. Arriving at the mother lode today, I was overcome anew. So much glorious food!

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Beautiful perfect silky greens that gave way easily to my now gently probing fingers, just enough for today, knowing I would return for more.

I have been bitten by spring growth. I harvested just a fraction of the ramps from this place, made two batches of ramp pesto, and still had enough to add a cups worth to my quinoa meal for the evening. I caught myself feeling guilty pleasure in foraging for fresh and wild, and making something delicious right away to capture this essence; feeling how the art of sharing is born from compulsion to gather and create that lives in abundance.

When I deposit the ramps on the counter, I notice the leaves are as firm as when I picked them. I don’t want to tempt fate and lose the life contained here, and pull out my four cup food processor. These leaves and their white pink stems get cut into strips and I fill the bowl of the food processor with them. They never flag, never wilt, never lose their crisp from the woodland earth essence. I throw a handful of organic walnuts on top and process.

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Scrape the bowl add a little olive oil and process again. Now it’s simply a matter of adding enough olive oil to bring this mixture to a pliable consistency that, like a good meringue, holds it’s own. It is gorgeous turned inside out green. Add a liberal shake of salt, pepper, and ground fennel.

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Process briefly again. Taste. And ah, this pesto needs no cheese, let’s just call it a spectacular vegan pesto. I can’t believe how perfect it is, I’m trying to remember what basil tastes like and I can’t because this version is so good. I’m able to freeze one large and one small container of this gold and leave a heaping tablespoon out for tonight’s supper.

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I add a quarter cup of quinoa to about a cup and a quarter of chicken stock and bring to a boil. I cut up the last of the ramps (about a cups worth), skin and dice a small potato, and add both to the pot. Cover and simmer on low until quinoa is done. When I look in the pot there is no hint of green left, the ramps have dissolved and fully integrated with the rest of the contents in this pot. It smells amazing. Wild and free is visually restored after adding the heaping tablespoon of ramp pesto. Double ramp goodness.

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This is a strong pesto. It starts out smooth and pungent on the tongue, builds strength, delivers a delicate savory punch in combination with the mild quinoa and potato. The quality of ‘just right’ actually overwhelms. I’m still wallowing in disbelief at how easy this has been. What else is there to find?

I need only look  a few feet away.  It took only three days to grow an abundance of sprouts right here on my kitchen counter.

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In the next room, there are the seeds germinating as early starts for my garden. Most of these seeds came from the annual local free seed exchange in my community. Being a first timer, I took a lot of seeds. Way too many seeds. I’m learning here too that it only takes a few seeds to sow abundance. It’s been about a week and a few of the beans buried in fluffy brown soil, sitting on a table in the sun of the porch room, have broken free,

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Not as wild and free as the ramps in the woods, this is a more controlled growth that will be transplanted and consistently tended to. Witnessing the unfolding brings more pleasure, a beautiful expression of emergence and capacity.

I read,
“Focus on human potential remains impotent without a focus on human capacity. Capacity is expressed in the present. It is immediate. The key to it lies not in what we have inside of us, but rather what we are willing to own that we have inside of us.” (Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love)

I have been bitten by spring growth. Grateful for how it leads me to experience the abundance inside of me. Through the art of sharing, I learn what needs to remain inside, patiently, for future growth.

vignettes of red and yellow


Nora and the red squirrel:
I’m quite sure it’s same squirrel each time. There seems to be only one, often appearing in the bird feeder, thinking no one is around, until I open the door to the porch room and Nora races past me. I’ve seen this squirrel literally fly off the feeder onto the trunk of the big tree that has become so popular with the birds, as Nora lurches onto the windowsill barking her very insistent bark. The birds don’t seem to mind this little bit of red fur that has joined them, scampering to safety high up in the branches to settle in, out of reach.

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Now Nora is frantic. I let her out and she races to the tree, would climb it I’m sure if she could, sniffs the trail the squirrel made getting here, and seemingly gives up. But she hovers. Circles the tree. Pretends she is looking out in the meadow, and belies her nonchalance by periodically looking back up into the tree.

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I’m fascinated with Nora’s obsession with this squirrel. A little warm blooded mammal like her, with red fur not all that different than her golden yellow fur. I know she just wants to play. I wonder, why not? Why couldn’t these two be friends?

 

Trillium and Yellow Trout Lily:
It’s that exciting time of spring walking in the woods and making sightings of new growth. A plethora of deep red trillium and bright yellow trout lily live here and first encounters this past week have stopped stopped me in my tracks. They’re hard to spot at first.

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They have their faces down, as if communing with the earth they just sprang from. Two very different flowers, acting exactly the same way. Having my iPod camera is a blessing here. Squatting, I can slip the flat of the screen into the sliver of space between the downward facing flower and the ground, in an attempt to capture what is there.

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I wonder, why are both these flowers both looking at the ground? What preciousness are they hiding?

 

Portrait of Goldfinch in red:
The goldfinches arrived last week. Lots of them, taking over the feeders the way the chickadees had a month ago. It’s amazing to see so much yellow flashing all at once, see them all on the feeder at the same time. Every day they’ve been here feasting. Every day I worry that the blackbirds will drive them away, but every day they are still here, watching out for each other, holding their ground. It feels like a big family. They disappear together and arrive together. The big tree with the red blossoms that has become camouflage for most of the other birds is simply a stage set for the goldfinch. It becomes a yellow diamond in a setting of red stars.

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just another walk in the woods

My brother and sister-in-law recently sent me a video called “It’s Not About the Nail”. It’s one of those viral videos, completely brilliant, that has over twelve million hits on YouTube. It is one of those videos that is so well done that you can put yourself in the position of either the man or the woman portrayed, you can identify with both places occupied in the dynamic (even if created by men for men). It is short, just over a minute long. Did I say brilliant?  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg

My interpretation of the point being made in this video is that we can’t often see the obvious of that which might be causing us to feel an unwanted feeling. We really don’t want anyone to tell us what we can’t see as the impediment to well being, and we don’t want to be fixed. Ultimately, that obvious thing might actually become the obvious impediment to any kind of real peace, happiness, or intimacy.

Walking the hills that characterize the landscape of this area I now call home keeps me in a constant flow of being with both peaks and valleys. Even in a twenty minute span here in these woods, it is possible to pass up down and through many many times.

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I feel like I could spend a lifetime trying to describe the depth of ease and freedom I feel here. It is so dry today after a week of warm sunny days that I can smell the scent of old pine rising from the crunch underfoot. The breeze is just so, enough to caress, enough to make music in the branches above. These are just some of the bodily sensations. The next level of awareness contains the vastness of every surface the sun touches, connected, warm and alive. No matter what sadness, concern, or obsessively occupying thought I arrive with, this community of woodland spirits

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and water

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permeates and transforms, until all I am left with is peace. Every single time. I don’t need to be fixed here. No nail has to be removed for me to feel better. It doesn’t feel like escape or denial. It just feels like a return to a very true place in me that I don’t want to forget about. It feels like an energy worthy of making art about, trying to capture the essence of beauty seen and unseen.  It fuels my creativity.

There are so many days that I can only get myself here with a strongly willed intent. I know in my head that in minutes the transformation will begin. Most days it is just a few dozen heartbeats before the feeling of being fully and completely connected sets in. How is it that the sixteen year old girl who stood at the edge of the city she grew up in and willed herself to a live in New York City someday, could become this woman who soars in the spaces of solitude like this?

It’s taken me awhile to recognize that the feeling I would walk the streets of the city with all those years ago, of feeling connected, fearless, and completely anonymous, is almost exactly the same. The difference is that now I feel more empathically connected. Feeling anonymously connected just meant I was unconsciously invested in being seen a certain way. Feeling the truth of connection now as simply being what it is, is all that matters. Walking in the woods is my yoga mat rolling out to infinity.

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It is a practice that has captured my absolute dedication.

the perfect soft boiled egg

I select two fresh eggs from the dozen I picked up at the Corner Store the other day. It’s a gloomy rainy morning, not cold like yesterday but begging for some warmth nonetheless. The eggs in this carton are large, and the thin porcelain feeling of the shell in my hand tells me they are still fresh, “laid on April 3” as handwritten on the carton. I put them in my small pot, cover them with cold water and set the pot on the smallest burner turned on to high. I want to walk away. I want to just reappear in the kitchen magically and find these eggs perfectly done. But I know it doesn’t work this way. I have to turn some level of awareness to this task to keep it tethered to where I am. I wash a few dishes, eat a little applesauce while watching the water begin to heat up in the pot. Before the water is even boiling I set the timer for four minutes and go sit on the couch in the next room. I’ve barely blinked before the timer chimes. Nora enters her playful downward dog pose, begging for attention. I turn the fire off under the pot and lead Nora to the open door. She bounds out into the pouring rain. Barking at I don’t know what, that bark of play with me play with me, will someone please play with me! I watch her get soaked in the minute it takes me to get back to the pot, run it full of cold water and clean out my small applesauce dish. Nora is already back inside as I take the egg that has a long crack running along one side first. Gently peel back a bit of the shell. The egg is still almost too hot to hold, but I continue peeling with determination to expose the soft silky flesh of the egg, just enough to scoop the rest out with a spoon into the waiting bowl. It is still intact, steam rising. I have to crack the second egg, work at the shell and skin until I can scoop this one out as well. It breaks open as I lift the spoon out, revealing the perfectly cooked, but still so so soft yellow center I love. I cut into the first egg to discover the same, add a little salt, and marvel.

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Even eating these perfectly cooked eggs is a marvel. The taste is indescribable really, a sublime combination of pure warm yolk and salt that renders my mouth immobile. I hesitate to even chew for want of this sensation to last. The spoon emerges still coated with the creamy yolk, ready to dip into the warmth again. And so it goes until every last bit is consumed. The sip of coffee I follow with moves me in another direction. I contemplate the smell of wet fur curled in a ball beside me now, and consider what is next.

a drop in time

I just had another birthday. Just another drop in time. Just another reminder of all the things that feel the same, year after year. Like the sweet reunion with Nora after being away for two weeks felt timeless, her scent still smelling like popcorn, her tightly curled ball at the foot of my bed with big grateful eyes beckoning while making gentle groans of contentment,

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her complete abandon in front of the fire always evoking a deep deep love in me.

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The pot of vegetable soup I made the first day back is the same vegetable soup I made a week before at my parents, the same pot of soup I have been making for decades now. Everything about this soup continues to delight, from the methodical process of chopping and cutting, from the colorful display of ends and peelings of vegetables,

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to the assemblage in the pot ready for slow fire, to the bowlful ready to eat, steaming hot soup wilting a bed of fresh greens below.

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Birthday greetings found in voicemail from one of my oldest friends took me back over fifty years to a time when we were little girls playing, to grown up girls finding each other again, unbeknownst to each other, at the same architecture graduate school. We never forget each other’s birthdays. Each year we connect adds yet another ring to the very mature tree we share.

The surrounding woods welcomed me back with sounds and sights and smells of home, so familiar now that even the jarring sight of new severed limbs lying on the ground from a recent storm doesn’t change the feeling of where I am. The pond accepts the drops of moisture from the overhanging tree limbs with grace one day.

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It registers the glittering flashes of sunlight caught in wind inspired ripples another day.

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The pond continues to be this little world of daily wonder that never gets old.

Having a birthday is also an opportunity to celebrate where something has changed and made life a little bit better. This year’s drop in time reverberates with all the ways I have questioned and danced with resisting boundaries. This year, my gift came from Nora. As diligently as she has been trying, her lessons for me have been hard won. She made it clear to me yesterday that she was not able or willing to come out of our woods behind the house and to the door as she had done so obediently months ago. She crossed the road and took off. My reluctance to put the leash on her and lead her safely out of the woods as we do elsewhere has been a curiosity. I keep thinking she should get it, that she should do what I want. That I should be able to train her to resist the temptation.

When we go to the pond, we always enter the woods from the road. Nora is always on leash until we are about ten feet onto the path. Our time in these woods off leash is alway so wonderful. I lead her. She leads me. We co-exist and let each other be free. I love to call to her and watch her run full tilt to me, sit and retrieve her treat. I love to lose sight of her and simply call ‘this way’ and feel the thunder of her racing past me.

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This morning as we approached the place on the path where I typically put the leash back on to walk the road back to the house, she actually stopped and looked back at me expectantly. When I called to her, she came without hesitation, waited patiently for me to snap on the leash. This was my gift. The drop in time this year that signaled a change in perception and acceptance of something I had been resisting. I considered that attaching the leash as we exit the woods, any woods, might actually make her feel safe. It might actually be a good thing, not something I need to change or do differently.

Now I am smiling as I think of the past week spent with my brother, together as the advocacy team we formed for my father while he was in the hospital. We weren’t two middle aged people that week, but the same two kids we have always been, him teasing, pulling out all the stops to his vast reservoir of sibling humor to cajole laughter from me. Something I have always resisted too, until recently. I found a photo of us taken forty years ago, preserved in a frame in my parents basement photo gallery. As if to punctuate yet another significant drop in time with a kindred spirit…

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the road back home

It has been a week of beautiful sunrises at my parent’s home in the Bristol Hills of NY.

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It has also been a week of daily commuting back into the city of Rochester where my father has been hospitalized for a serious infection. This came on the heels of a broken leg, surgery and three weeks of rehab. It is a sneaky infection that took hold of his body on Easter Sunday, and has required many days of critical care to stabilize.

It’s been a week now of driving back and forth through countryside and streets that are as familiar to me as the sun rising each morning.

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There are many routes between my parents home and the hospital located in the city. After experimenting a little, I finally defaulted to the zig zag of country roads I learned in the early years of making this drive, taking me through the town of Victor and eventually to one of the many expressways that famously ring the city of Rochester. All of the exits I pass on 490 trigger memories, lead to places on this east side of town I grew up on. I exit in the town of Brighton, come to the light at East Avenue. If I turn right, I would eventually come to the gorgeous city house my parents lived in during my young adult years. It I turn left, I quickly come to road that leads to Oak Hill Country club, a place that sits prominently in many of my growing up memories of summer swimming, family Friday night dinners out, Fourth of July fireworks, and all manner of events within the stately ivy covered castle like building, nestled inside the most beautiful landscape of green and trees for playing golf, a place my father loves. And if I go straight through the light I enter onto the beginning of Elmwood Avenue.

Elmwood Avenue is the east west thoroughfare through this town that ends at the north flowing Genesee River. The ritual of following this path has been evoking cell memory all week. Just before the intersection at Clover Street I pass the big white house where I spent so much time, where our friends the Ryans moved to in high school after all the years of us kids growing up together as across the street neighbors. If I turn left here, I would soon come upon Shoreham Drive and my childhood home. At this intersection here the modern architect designed purple house still occupies one of the corners, just the way it did so many years ago when my grandmother, a prominent real estate broker in town, pointed it out to me saying, “You could be an architect!” I come to the intersection of yet another expressway, the exact one I practiced entering and exiting as a young driver learning how to negotiate speed. I soon arrive at the famous Twelve Corners, three major roads converging to create twelve corners for shops, offices, schools, and municipal buildings. Here sits the middle school both me, and my mother before me, attended. I can look right up Monroe Avenue and almost see the red house my grandmother made her office so many years ago. At the intersection of Winton Road I look left and see my high school sitting exactly as it has for generations. I continue to pass easily through the well synched green lights, one of the things I have come to experience and appreciate on these daily journeys along Elmwood Avenue. I wonder, is it always like this, is this Avenue aiding in the smooth transition to where my father lies healing from his latest challenge?

The wing of the hospital he is in is brand new, palatial and accommodating for us family members who choose to stay.

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My brother and I tagged team on overnights until the infection was under control, until we could see the feisty glimmer in our father’s eye once again. In the course of our week here it has been spring, and then winter again. I woke in the wee hours a few mornings ago to snow blurred lights of the city beyond.

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I turned to take in the temporarily still scene of a hospital room at rest, and bless the peaceful figure of my father in deep healing sleep.

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Soon my brother would arrive and I would begin the reverse travel down the road that continues to bring me back home.

The hospital sits adjacent to Mt. Hope Avenue on Elmwood Avenue. Everything about this intersection is familiar, even with new UR college town buildings that contain the Barnes and Noble and Starbucks of today. It is here that my father had his first office as a young dentist establishing his practice, eventually finding a permanent home for his own office just down the road a bit, where as a high schooler, I would work for him during the summers. Then comes the intersection at South Avenue. This road leads to the north side of beautiful Highland Park just around the corner, famous for its lilacs each spring, representative of all lilacs that grace this city, evoking the scent of the lilacs ringing the small back yard of our home. The Al Sigal Center sits prominently at this intersection. Even as a kid this place was known for its care and support of persons with developmental disabilities, a place my son Ben might know well if we lived here. A little further, I pass the private catholic high school, evoking that deep feeling of crush on many boys that always seemed just beyond my reach. I pass the public library. I am my father’s daughter in so many ways, but this was a place I learned to love from my mother, a place I can still smell for the hours spent there as a young girl joyfully making piles of books to take home and read. Then I am at Twelve Corners again. I feel the switch to this cell memory go off. My heart and mind are now moving forward to home where my mother, for her own medical reasons not able to immerse in hospital environment, waits for the day’s news.

The ride down Elmwood Avenue this last night was as the sun was going down, a red ball glowing in the rear view mirror as I headed east. By the time I arrived on the country roads that would take me to my parents home, the sun was sitting on the now snow blanketed fields, casting ethereal shadows of pink light on the snow.

 

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I turn 180 degrees to find the sun now slipping behind the ridge there.

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Dad will be discharged today. The gap between the father that lives in my cell memory and the father fighting for his health has closed.