schirin oeding

under a peregrine star


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Dog Days

There’s a time when summer climbs to its peak, hot and sticky sweet, and that time is now. The university semester, in a counterproductive attempt to echo the progress of the season, also peaks right around now. Exams heap up, papers, projects, and last minute presentations appear out of the haze of heat. The farm calls out for attention, too. Cucumbers and tomatoes want harvesting from the greenhouses that are hotter than a sauna at noonday. The potato beetles are settling in for a long chomp. There’s something about the heat, though, and all the pressure of school and growing food, that sets the mind to dreaming big. My mental list of projects grows (especially during long lectures in the hot bowels of the uni castle). From cooking and fermenting (kraut, kombucha, ginger beer, and sourdough), canning and curing, to sewing, to putting pen to paper again, FINALLY, and writing stories. Call it escapism, but only if you must.

These dog days of summer, when the sun hesitates to set fully before 10:30 at night, are a time of incubation. In the spring, I’m full of energy. Lengthening days and greening fields reset the rhythm from winter’s introspection to springtime’s outward dance. Everything seems juicy and revelatory. Summer, on the other hand, offers us the long view. Vegetation slows down its explosive growth and begins to ripen. Fruits turn heavy on the trees. The bees are busier and more focused than ever. The heat makes us less hungry, and, like the bees, more focused on storing for when winter sends its cold winds our way again.

The wheat and barley fields are dry and golden. The outline of each grain head becomes crisply defined against the sky.

I find myself starting lots of sentences with, “I wish I could…” But we have to take life one step at a time, don’t we? Otherwise we’d be doing cartwheels. And in this heat, that’s hardly recommendable.

Mary Oliver has just the right words, as is so often the case.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Black Forest lady

Berries in a bowlBlack emmerSummer beesSwimming

PS- Capture summer in a bottle by making a simple St. John’s Wort tincture.


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Getting Older, Being Young, and Making Lists

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Hi friends,

Ok, the title for this post might be kind of ludicrous: it’s generally not culturally acceptable for twenty-four year olds to talk about aging. I mean, these are THE YEARS of our lives. Right? I agree with that entirely, but I’m also completely convinced that THE YEARS are always, if we want them to be. So when I talk about getting older here, I’m not complaining. Actually, over the past few months, as I’ve travelled, studied, met new people, been offered jobs (yeah, this might be an awesome perk of getting older, even if I do turn all of them down), made minor and major life choices, I have felt, more tangibly than ever, a growing sense of responsibility for my self and my life. All of this, this thing that might be “getting older” ( I wouldn’t know, it’s my first time), hasn’t been easy or obvious. I still don’t always know if I am making the right choice (who does?), I know I make plenty of mistakes, and I feel, more and more and more, that I have so much left to learn.  The more I see, the less I know, right? It’s true, and yet all of that feels like an enormous gift. I feel full of energy and optimism —not always, not constantly, but pretty much overarchingly (that’s not a word, oh well…)— and I feel like making a list. So here goes, straight from the clear mountain air of the Swiss Alps (is the altitude getting to me?) , to you*. I’ve never been much of a fan of making lists like this. (I’m not a peak bagger, either)  I’m not sure why. Does it seem superficial? Do we tend towards listing things that probably won’t happen anyway? Is it hollow a way of making ourselves feel better when we feel like we’re not getting anywhere? I’m putting all that aside. This list is not a Life List (life isn’t a checklist, after all), or a Bucket List, or anything particularly rigid or closed to change and/or revision and/or interpretation. Just some ideas that have been floating around my mind, that seem to warrant writing down. Perhaps it’s a way of setting intentions, or reenforcing them, or giving them a life of their own. Actually, I don’t have a lot of doubt that these things will come to fruition—I am, after all, working on making them happen as I write. Maybe you’ll be inspired to write a list of your own… I’d love to know what you’re planning, too. Maybe we can work together.
* A nice thing about being young and writing about getting older is that (hopefully) those of you who are older and wiser will forgive me for any weird assumption and assertions. I am, after all, still kinda young.
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Within the next ten years, I will have…

1. completed my masters in landscape design/architecture and will have built a successful, systems-based design business that focuses on farm, urban niche, and rural design. (And LOVE  my work!)

2. built a house (even a VERY small house) with my own two hands (and some friends and family) out of basic ingredients like straw and cob.

3. hiked parts of the Olav’s Way in Norway. (I don’t really feel like hiking all 560 km of it—just the choicest bits.)

4. begun learning a new language—Danish or Swedish would be at the top of the list here. (I know, this won’t help much when I am hiking in Norway…)

5. travelled to Asia, especially rural Asia. (And especially Japan and Vietnam and Thailand.)

6. travelled to India—and met some of the amazing biodynamic farmers now working there.

7. eaten a Pawpaw fruit. Seriously: I’ve been a sort-of student of permaculture for more than five years now, and while I’ve heard a heck of a lot of praise for this elusive fruit, I have yet to eat one myself. I’m starting to think they’re mythical. Okay, they’re not… 

8. grown rice in a northern climate.

9.  become a better public speaker. I got a chance to do some spontaneous public speaking with a professional this summer, and boy, did I feel nervous and crazy and filled with adrenaline. I really think that good public speakers can convey messages and tell stories in stunning, memorable, lyrical, and life-changing ways—I’d like to aspire at least to some of that. Here are two great speakers for you: Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius, and Sarah Kay on spoken-word poetry, growing up, and life itself.

10. continued to write and publish: articles, stories, poems. You can find my writing in Taproot, as well as here, and occasionally in a few other places.

11. been singing in a choir. I miss singing. Especially like this.  (Village Harmony would be THE people to sing with.)

12. bought a piece of land to build the house (see #2) and plant the garden that I’ve been dreaming of for a long time. A place to stay put. A place to hang my hat.

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That’s all for now. It’s a long list, though not an all-encompassing one by any means, and not impossible either. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. (Ten years, right?)

xo


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Mountain Days

Phew! It’s been such a long time since I was here last.  I’ve been in the Swiss Alps for a little less than a month now. We’ve been making hay almost every day, up on the high, lush fields of these mountains. Every morning, I take care of some goats, milking and feeding them, and letting them out of their tiny barn into a huge, steep field where they spend their days climbing and grazing and sleeping among some rocky outcroppings. When there’s time, I hike. The days have been flying by…

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Have a beautiful day!

xo


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Giving thanks each day

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Today is just one day before we leave here. We (the 29 of us who have indulged our minds and hearts by spending six weeks studying ecological literacy together) are more challenged, more intensely committed, more vibrantly empowered, and more alive than when we came here over a month ago. I feel as though I should say, “I have been overwhelmed.” (That would be a good reason for having let the blog sleep for so long…) But I have not been overwhelmed. I have been overjoyed and nourished. Today, gratitude and excitement are my primary emotions. On Friday morning, I leave for Switzerland, for the mountains, and for the all-encompassing views that will certainly trigger a process of digestion which has been stalled by the enormous amount of knowledge that’s been transmitted these past weeks. I aim to be inspired by the cows of the mountains: ruminating —digesting, and re-digesting.

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So, for now, I’ll share an exercise from this morning’s class. Who is an ecologically literate person, really? What does he or she do? How does this individual live life? An attempted answer. An ecologically literate person is:

A humble student of the land.

Someone who values interdependence over standing alone.

Someone who sees her-/himself as part of the great and powerful whole.

Someone who values life, and the living, without judgement.

Someone who cares for our plants and our most ancient seeds with love and abandon, and knows that food can heal and bring us home.

Someone who has the clarity of vision and the power of observation needed to see where we have gone wrong.

Someone who is an optimist, though they have considered all the facts.

Someone who can still laugh and cry with passion,

Someone who plants trees for the next seven generations,

Someone who values hard work, and work done by hand, as much as (or more than) any other kind of labor,

Someone who can be still in the presence of plants, animals, and other human beings, and does not shy away from the unknown,

Someone whose curiosity is embedded in kindness and interconnectivity,

Someone who gives thanks each day.

xo

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Beauty Is Twice Beauty

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I was introduced to the concept of systems thinking during my freshman year of college, by a a teacher, Ned Houston, who received a round of astonished applause at the end of a fiery lecture about ecology and humanity (in a class called “Humans & the Environment). Systems thinking, feedback loops, and connectivity, were all ideas that I knew existed, but hadn’t had the language to describe. I knew these loops and connections were real; I had seen them in action. To me, even now, several years later, systems thinking remains one of the most beautiful ways of interacting with and understanding ecology and humanity. Systems in nature are non-linear and so interwoven and interconnected and interdependent, it’s almost unbearable to consider them in the face of the destruction of our land. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum. Everything has an impact. We get to choose whether it is constructive, or not.

In June and July, I’ll be attending a six week intensive on ecoliteracy. Ecoliteracy: a wonderful word that, according to spellcheck, doesn’t exist, and otherwise causes some people to raise an eyebrow (“Uh, another one of those hippy-dippy ideas that don’t really mean anything.” Wrong! It means so much! Everything, perhaps…). In preparation, I’ve been rereading a book that I first read during college: Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World. This book, which is part of the Bioneers Series, is a collection of essays by everyone from Wendell Berry and Alice Waters, to Donella Meadows (author of Thinking in Systems: A Primer) and Fritjof Capra. Apart from the fact that apparently everyone who contributed had to have a funky name, it’s a tome of enormous depth and wonder. What is ecoliteracy? To echo Fritjof Capra, when we design the human aspects of a landscape: our homes, our farms, our neighbourhoods, cities, etc., nothing brings us closer to true sustainability than mirroring natural ecosystems. Ecoliteracy means understanding these systems, “reading” nature, observing ecosystems in action, understanding the limits of our environment, and cultivating a sense of place. In terms of design, beauty in nature is twice beauty: there is what meets the eye, and there is what lies below (sometimes literally, the details and purpose we look hardest at to see)—what lies below is a perfect, intelligent (non-linear, and therefor harder for us humans to grasp) system. A system we can learn so much from. A system that inherently has form, pattern, and meaning.

What I see all around me (in the news, on farms, in city planning) is a tendency to forget that humans are part of this non-linear system, too. When we think linearly, as we might tend to, we might think in traditional economic terms: where input and growth are the only way forward. The past is behind us, the future unknown, but the end goal clearly mapped, though not often expressed so bluntly: growth until nothing can grown any more. But nature doesn’t underwrite this way of life. Nothing ends without becoming something else. No thing appears out of thin air. Every human being, no matter what their path, will eventually become compost, nourishing soil microorganisms and all the plants and animals that thrive in their midst.

On farms, cyclical thinking has many names: organic farming, sustainable agriculture, biodynamics. What all of it means is that the farm is an organism. The farmer stay on the land, committed to the cycles before and after him and/or her—they’re just another part of the cycle. Wendell Berry says is beautifully in his poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. Here’s an excerpt:

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

I’ve been inspired too, lately, by the work of Ben Falk, and his design firm, Whole Systems Design. If you have a moment, take a look at his videos. Ghandi’s words, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” have hovered close to me for many years now. Falk expresses this same sentiment from an ecological perspective: like many of us, he began his journey into agriculture, sustainable design, and a reduced carbon footprint by committing to make a smaller impact on the planet. Now, some years later, he’s convinced that making as big an impact as possible is the right path. That is, planting and growing food in a renewable way, teaching lots of people about it, creating sustainable landscapes for businesses, colleges, and private clients, and above all, really, thoroughly walking the walk. And celebrating all of it. Being big, joyous, and outspoke. I’m inspired by the minutely detailed systems that bring a dynamic, natural flow to his farm. I love that he heats his greenhouse with hot water warmed up in coils of pipe inside a giant compost heap. I love that his farm is brimming with edibles, from turnips by the woodpile, to raspberry vines leaning heavily into pathways. Every bit of space is used for food and beauty. Isn’t that cool? And doesn’t it makes so much sense?

The language of nature is accessible to everyone. We can’t escape it (and why would we want to?), so we may as well learn to speak it. What an endlessly astonishing place, this world. xo

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

—Mary Oliver, The Summer Day 

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Wild leeks.