We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Pilgrimage

Summer                                                                                    Monsoon Moon

St. Croix River, September, 2016

St. Croix River, September, 2016

Returning to the auld sod. September of two years ago was my last trip to Minnesota, that one for a day long Woolly Mammoth retreat in Stillwater. This time it’s Groveland UU’s 25th anniversary and their acceptance as a covenanting community of the UUA. Kate and I were part of Groveland from very near its inception, meeting in the round upper room of the Highland Park Library. I had just left the Presbytery and needed a religious community that did not make my mind go into reverse in order to remain.

The UUA proved to be a caravan serai for my longer journey, a spot where I could consider the contradictions of monotheism in friendly company. Groveland gave me a chance, over the years, to write out and present a travelogue of my own soul. This was a rare and welcome opportunity, one where I could say out loud what would have been heresy in my Presbyterian robes.

Mom, Dad, Me

For a while in those years I thought I would return to the full time ministry, perhaps even settle as a clergy in a small congregation. My analyst, John Desteian, later helped me identify this wish as a regression, a return to my back then profession to pick up something I’d left behind. In the retrospectoscope of many years now I think it was a need to say goodbye to that world, the world of the religious professional, to acknowledge that I no longer belonged in it, perhaps never did.

The notion of vocation is powerful. When triggered, as mine was in a complex mix of politics and renewed interest in spirituality, it becomes self-defining. Called, some say. I never felt called to the ministry; though I did come to feel that the peculiar mix of politics and institutional leadership of my short, fifteen year, career was my vocation. Ordained first to my work as manager of Community Involvement Programs apartment living training program for the developmentally disabled, moving from there to the political work of the West Bank Ministry and finally onto Presbytery staff where I had broader responsibilities for mission and congregational development, I was able to pursue a commitment I made to myself during high school.

Industrial ruins of the Johns-Manville plant, 2015

Industrial ruins of the Johns-Manville plant, 2015

While working as a managerial intern for Johns-Manville corporation, the CEO of the factory where I worked offered me a full ride scholarship. In return I would work for the corporation as a manager for five years after college.

I needed the money because my SAT scores, though good, were not competitive for the best financial aid. I even found the work I’d done as an intern interesting. My summer project was to develop a diagnostic tool for the factory, defining and then developing a method to track what Jim Lewis, the CEO, called key operating indicators, koi’s. It was fun, digging around in the data to find a group of numbers that indicated the ongoing health of the work, then developing a method to track them on a regular basis.

When it came time to reply to Jim’s offer though, I had a very strong gut response. No. I would not, I said to myself then, ever work in a setting that compromised my values. At that point I was a strong labor advocate and attuned to the damaging, psyche cramping, even soul destroying power of corporate America.

Ye young radical, 1968

When I went to United Seminary in 1971, I gave myself a year. I wanted to get out of Appleton, Wisconsin, out of Fox River Paper company’s rag room. I needed to use my mind, not my back. When I got to United, I discovered a campus and, at the time, a profession, pushing back against the war in Vietnam, in solidarity with the civil rights movement, and intellectually rigorous. I liked my classmates and was able to continue the radical political life I’d begun, like so many, in the late sixties college movement against the war.

As I went deeper into the spiritual tradition of Christianity, I found contemplative prayer, long retreats, an inner world of great depth. Intellectual curiosity kept me coming back for more. And, that commitment I made was not challenged, not at that time.

It was only after adopting Joseph in 1981, five years after my ordination, that I began to find cracks in the metaphysics I’d accepted. If Joseph had been raised in his birth home, in Bengal, he would likely have been raised Hindu. And, as a Hindu, he would have been beyond the pale of salvation. No. The same sort of gut response I’d had to the Johns-Manville offer hit me. No. If I could love this boy now, I would love him as a child devoted to Shiva or Vishnu or Kali. And, if I could do that, and the god I served could not. Well.

09 11 10_Joseph_0271Was that the real trigger? I’m no longer sure. It was a contributing and significant one, that I know. I believe now that it was the rationale I could explain to others. The true inner shift was a different one, a result of the contemplative and spiritual work that I first found in seminary.

I read the Creation of the Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner when it was first published in 1986. It opened my mind and heart to the power of metaphor, how metaphor could be used as an oppressive tool, one so subtle that what appeared as spiritual might actually be enslaving. In particular Lerner’s work convinced me that transcendence, with its up and out of the body, up and away from the natural order move, reinforced, even helped create patriarchy. The best, the most sublime, part of us was not in our embodied form, but in our ability to leave the body for a higher spiritual plane, to merge with God. This was a move that reinforced that the three story universe where true power, the most real, was above us, literally, in the realm of God, the father. Heaven.

Instead, I came to believe that true power, the most real, was right here, in our bodies, on this earth, in the amazing web of life in which we participated along with the rest of the animate world. Transcendence became, for me, a concept that smuggled in a world ruled by men and kept the world that way through constant repetition and its anointing as the way to true spirituality.

IMAG0680croppedAgain, NO. See a pattern here? When I made the turn from up and out of the body to down and in, my religious worldview shifted permanently. My spirituality became an embodied one, one that found the universe in my hands, my feet, my skin, the very fleshy things that are of this world. When gardening and beekeeping and orchard tending occupied a lot of both Kate and mine’s time, it was easy to see the link between the soil and this embodied, non-transcendent spirituality.

This was the core move, the one I could explain theologically, intellectually, even emotionally through the Joseph story; but, which was in fact a metaphysical shift away from spiritual realms other than the one into which we are thrown at birth. I’m still in that place. I’m still anti-transcendent, pro-body, pro-earth. I find God an unnecessary idea, but, oddly, I find religion itself compelling. Still.

Judaism, reconstructionist Judaism, is, unexpectedly, a comfortable home. It requires no dogma, requires no belief, and has an establishing principle of skepticism toward the past, yet an acceptance of the power of tradition. Beth Evergreen in particular is a place that allows, encourages deep exploration of self, of community, of our obligations to each other as fellow creatures, and to the gritty world that supports us. All I ever wanted, really.

 

The Future of Food

Imbolc                                                                           New Shoulder Moon

third plate Mentioned The Third Plate a few posts ago. A book by chef Dan Barber, owner of the Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan and a principle in the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County.

SELECT TASTING OR DAILY MENU
Rotation Grains
smoked farmer’s cheese and broccoli pistou
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Maine Diver Scallop
bacon, winter squash and kohlrabi
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Stone Barns Pig
tsai tsai, horseradish and pickled grapes
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11 day dry-aged bolero carrot steak
mushroom, kale and onion rings
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blue hill farm milk
yogurt, turmeric and ginger
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Malted Triticale porridge
White Chocolate, quince and Beer Ice Cream
Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

He uses four big concept areas, pictured at the top: Soil, Land, Sea, Seed to tell a story about what he sees as the future of food. He’s trying to take the conversation about food beyond the now well known critiques of books like Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Aldo Leopold’s The Sand County Almanac, and any number of books published in the late sixties like Eull Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. Throw in Wes Jackson’s Becoming Native to This Place, almost anything by Wendell Berry and the thought world championed by John Muir and Edward Abbey and you can see the big conceptual field Barber has tried to plow.

He seems on to something. Using examples like the dehesa in Spain that produces jambon iberico, The Bread Lab run by Washington State plant geneticist Stephen Jones, the farm of Klaas Martens who teaches him about reading the language of the soil, Veta La Palma, a Spanish aquaculture corporation set up in an estuary of the Gulf of Cadiz, and Anson Mills, a fascinating concept by Glenn Roberts who uses landrace farming to resurrect old grain crops and nurture new ones, he seems to propose a recursion to localized crops, that is, wheat, for example, that grows best in upstate New York.  This recursion includes animals, too, where their rearing takes on the characteristics that oenologists call terroir in wines.

nutrition

This recursion would have chefs take their cues, their menus, from what farmers can grow in their immediate area and from those sites with a focus on sustainability and ecosystem regeneration. The fascinating aquaculture experiment that is Veta La Palma  uses the Guadalquivir River and the salt water of the Gulf of Cadiz to farm high quality sea bass. The focus does not have to be only local or regional but can include instances of food production with ecosystem supportive techniques.

This seems similar to the disaggregation idea in power production, local solar and wind and geothermal and hydro.  Anything that deemphasizes the industrial and the corporate in favor of the local and ecological.

EatLocal

He talks about his idea in agriculture as middle agriculture, that is agriculture smaller than corporate, but larger than the small family farm or the boutique garden. He’s trying to get to scale sufficient that it could actually feed large numbers of people.

It makes me want to cook in the way he suggests. That is, find food grown here in the Rockies, use it along with food sourced from the Veta La Palmas, the dehesas or the Bread Labs, and build our menus at home around it, changing with the seasons. Right now that would take a good bit of work, but it might be possible and it would certainly be worth it.

A continuing theme.

A Horticulturist

Imbolc                                                                           New Life Moon

As my melancholy continues to lift, new and old values push themselves forward, wanting to be included or excluded. I didn’t, for example, attend the Democratic caucus last night. Though I did want to be home for Kate, who uncharacteristically has anxiety about her upcoming surgery, Sjogren’s adds an unknown, I also didn’t want to go. Kate pushed back on this, saying the activist has been an important part of me, well, almost forever. True. And maybe, probably, I’ll alter course on this one, but right now I want to focus on other things.

third-plate-dan-barberIn addition to cooking, the sumi-e (ink brush painting), and working out, I mentioned the possibility of a greenhouse. Expensive, so we’ll see about that. But. I began reading a book I’ve had for a while, The Third Plate. It puts me back in the mental and very physical world of Andover. In fact, the feeling, while I was reading it, was so comfortable, a sort of ah, here I am at home feeling, that I recognized it as an old value pushing itself forward.

It’s more than just getting my hands in the soil, nurturing seeds. It’s about being part of the farm-to-table movement, about acting on eating better food, about staying connected, directly, with mother earth. While reading this, I realized horticulture was a deep part of me, one Kate and I spent a lot of time, energy and money on, not because we had to, but because it was significant and nourishing.

carey_reamsBuddy Bill Schmidt will recognize the quote that begins the chapter on Soil: “See what you’re looking at.” Carey Reams, an unlikely looking radical, used to say this. He was the founder of the outfit from which I purchase soil additives, the High Brix Gardening folks in Farmington, Minnesota. He contended, as do many now in the farm-to-table world, that agriculture went astray long ago, moving toward products that fit mechanized food production rather than human nutrition.

There are too many examples that prove this, unfortunately. One is that the bulk of corn grown in the U.S. either goes for corn syrup or feeding cattle. Another is the development of tomatoes with skins hard enough to stand a mechanical picker.

wheatThe vast wheat fields of the Great Plains grow an annual wheat, two varieties that work well in steel rolling mills. Not only have these annual crops destroyed the ten feet or more of top soil that buffalo and deeply rooted grasses developed there, but the steel mills which make this crop profitable separate the germ and bran from the kernel, leaving only fluffy white flour. What’s bad about that? Well, turns out the nutrition in wheat lies in the germ and the bran.

IMAG0619I guess this is the native Midwesterner in me. I grew up driving past corn fields, pastures filled with Holsteins and Guernseys, pigs and beef cattle. The Andover gardens, the orchard and the bees, along with our small woods satisfied this part of my soul. I’m going to investigate local CSA’s, see if that’s a route back into this world. We have to buy groceries anyway, so why not from folks who share a philosophical position close to my own.

This is different, you see, than being attentive to the lodgepole pines and the aspen, the mule deer and the elk, the fox and the mountain lion. These are part of wild nature and beautiful, also important to my soul. But the world of horticulture, of growing and consuming food and flowers, fruits and honey is, too. A reemerging part of me. And I’m happy to see it, to feel it come.

 

Metaphor? Of course.

Fall                                                                               Harvest Moon

kabbalah8The tree of life, the tree of immortality guarded by the angel with the flaming sword; the tree itself still growing in paradise, concealed by language, by our senses, by the everydayness of our lives; the path back to the garden often forgotten, the exile from paradise a separation so profound that we no longer know the location of the trail head and even harder, we no longer have a desire to search for it.

Metaphor? Of course. But in these three words lie a trap for the unwary, a trap in which I allowed myself to get caught and held, a mindhold trap. My life seems like a sine wave of grasping, then losing the significance of metaphors.

When young, I felt the mystery behind the communion wafers and the grape juice at Alexandria First Methodist. At the tenebrae service, when we extinguished the little candles with their paper drip guards and the sanctuary went dark, I thrilled to the change from ordinary experience, sensed the power rolling over us as the memory of crucifixion and death came hurtling through the centuries to land in our small Indiana town, in the very spot where I sat.

The sunrise services held on Easter morning lit up my whole inside. The power of the tenebrae had been defeated and life did go on forever, death only a mistake, an illusion, misunderstood as a cruelty when in fact it was a gateway. I suppose on those days, repeated over many years, I had a glimpse of the path back to the garden.

My mother’s death, I think, shattered this instinctive faith. Those feelings occasioned by grape juice soaked squares of bread, darkness and the rising of the sun, were a true path and one I lost when the brutal reality of grief smeared the way.

But the memory of that way remained. So I moved up from the instinctive triad of netzach-hod-yesod, forced by fear and loss to skip the next triad chesed-gevurah-tiferet and go to the one easiest for me to access, hochmah-binah-daat. I know these hebrew words may mean nothing at all to you, I’m still at the base of a steep learning curve with them myself, but they do appear on the illustration above so you can see where they are on the tree of life.

In simple, but not simplistic terms, the triads are netzach-hod-yesod, the realm of instinctual behavior, chesed-gevurah-tiferet, the realm of emotions and hochmah-binah-daat, the realm of the intellect. Movement in the tree of life goes from the keter to malchut and back from malchut up to keter, so there is no real top or bottom, only different spots in an ongoing process of creation.

kabbalahBut here’s the trap. Metaphor, of course! I studied philosophy, religion, anthropology in college. Then, after a few years stuck in unenlightened instinctual behavior-the storied sex, drugs and rock and roll of the sixties and seventies-I moved to seminary. The trap tightened. I learned about the church, scripture old and new, ethics, church history. It was exhilarating, all this knowledge. I soaked it up. I remained though stuck in the intellectual triad, pushing back and forth between the polarity of intuitive wisdom, hochmah, and analytical thought, binah, often not going on to daat, or understanding. I learned, but did not integrate into my soul.

There was a time, after seminary, after ordination, as I groped my way around in the work of ministry, that I found the path again. It was in mystical traditions like the Jesus Prayer, or the use of lectio divina, contemplative prayer. I had spiritual directors who guided my prayer life and I meditated often, daily for years, went on private retreats for days at a time. In those years I found my way back to the netzach-hod-yesod triad, traveling again on the instinctual path formed so long ago.

The trap sprung another time, though, as I got better at my ministry, more able to apply organizational development paradigms to congregational life, more able to pull the levers of political power for the good of various purposes: affordable housing, unemployment policy, economic development for poor neighborhoods, fighting off corporate takeovers of those same poor neighborhoods, more able to navigate the internal politics of Presbytery life. I became stuck in malchut, the material world which we experience everyday. So stuck that eventually I could see nothing else and the path disappeared again.

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_01_002My heart knew I had gotten lost, in exile once again. In Dante’s words in Canto 1 of the Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.

It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death…

I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way.”

This time I knew I had to extricate myself from the subtle trap, get out of the thought world that had me lost in the dark wood, the direct way lost. It was a wild, harsh, seemingly impenetrable forest.

It was clear that for me the Christian faith had gotten muddled up with ambition, immersion in the world of power. And, most problematic of all, it had become part of the metaphor trap. The metaphor had gone stale, had become a barrier instead of a koan. Not the fault of the faith itself, but of my journey within it.

IMAG0650croppedAt the time of its crumbling another path had begun to open for me. Fiction writing emerged when, ironically, I began writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Instead of working on it I ended up with 30,000 plus words of what would become my first novel, Even The Gods Must Die. Irony in the title, too, I suppose.

In the train of that shift came a decision to look into my Celtic heritage as a source for my fiction. While researching Celtic religion for the fantasy novels I wanted to write, I discovered the Great Wheel.

It grounded me. So to speak. My spiritual life became tactile, bound up in soil amendments, bulbs, corms, seeds, spades and hoes, fruit trees, raspberries and bees. And, of course, dogs. Always dogs.

Meeting Kate enabled me to move gracefully out of the ministry and into a pagan worldview. I was back in the netzach-hod-yesod triad, but now firmly attached to malchut, the queendom of this world.

Writing fiction found me exploring the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad, having to reach into my heart for believable characters, story lines. Over the course of those years, the years since leaving the Christian ministry and now, I began to gradually integrate the triads, at least the three: intellectual, emotional and instinctual. The combination of family life, the Andover years, writing, and working as a docent at the MIA began to slowly weave them into my soul.

2010 01 19_3454Even so, I sat behind the barrier, the flaming sword, the metaphor trap. Beth Evergreen and Rabbi Jamie Arnold have started me on a journey back to where I began, immersed in the dark. Seeking for the light, yes, but happy now in the  darkness, too. The Winter Solstice long ago became my favorite holiday of the year.

When I left Christianity and took up my earth-bound spirit, I shut off access to the fourth triad, the one subsumed under keter: faith-joy/pleasure-will, and its source of energy, the ein sof, the infinite One, perhaps god in small letters. Today, as I write this, I’m more pagan than I’ve ever been, more embracing of the body, the mountains, the stars, the elk and the mountain lion, than any words from any source.

2011 03 06_3396But. At Beth Evergreen I have begun to feel my way back into the fourth triad, the mystery I first encountered on the hard wooden pews in Alexandria, the one pulsing behind the metaphors of tenebrae, of crucifixion, of resurrection,  and now of Torah, of language, of a “religious” life. I knew it once, in the depth of my naive young boy’s soul. Now, I may find it again, rooted in the old man he’s become.

Think Again

Beltane                                                                Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (1)Reimagining Faith has been a project of mine since I slipped out of the Unitarian Universalist world leaving behind both Christianity and liberal religion, the first too narrow in its theology, the second too thin a broth. The stimulation for the project lay first in a decision I made to focus on my Celtic heritage for the writing I wanted to do. This commitment led me to the Great Wheel of the Year and its manifestation literally took root in the work Kate and I did at our Andover home.

When we bought the house there, it sat on a lot with the usual scraped earth look of new home construction. It had no lawn, no trees in front, no soil adequate for growing flowers. We hired a landscape architect and added several thousand dollars to the mortgage for his work which included retaining walls, perennial beds, wild prairie on two sides of our house and tiered perennial beds in the back with a patio at their bottom. Our goal was to enjoy the landscaping throughout the time we owned the house. And we did.

2011 10 13_1265In retrospect our request to him to make it all as low maintenance as possible seems laughable. He did as we wanted, putting in such sturdy plants as Stella D’oro, a species of daylily, shrubs, a bur oak and a Norwegian pine, some amur maples, a hardy brand of shrub rose, juniper, yew, a magnolia that Kate wanted, and a river birch. This work included an in-ground irrigation system and the very strange experience of having no lawn until one morning when the sod people came and rolled it out. Then we had a lawn that evening.

2012 05 01_4112We looked at it, saw that it was good and thought we were done. Ha. It began with a desire for flowers. I wanted to have fresh flowers available throughout the growing season, so I studied perennials. At that time I thought I was still holding to the low maintenance idea. I would plant perennials that would bloom throughout the Minnesota growing season, roughly May 15 to September 15, go out occasionally and cut the blooms, put them in a vase, repeat until frost killed them all back. Then, the next year the perennials would return and the process would recur. Easy, right?

No. Gardens are alive. They are dynamic. Species of flowers have very different horticultural needs. Some, like the spring ephemerals, grow early to avoid the shade of leafed out trees and shrubs. Some, like bleeding hearts and hosta, require shade. Others, like iris, a particular favorite of Kate, need an application of a pesticide to eliminate iris borers. Others, like tulips, wear out in the harsh weather cycles common to Minnesota. Trees planted around the beds grow, too, changing the sun and shade areas from year to year. Soil gets depleted as plants take nutrients from it to fuel their growth. Different flowers require different sorts of soil, too.

06 20 10_Garden_0052Once this world opened up to us, we began to enjoy working with all these variables to create beauty around our home. Gardening for flowers, eh? Well, how about some vegetables. This led to a two-year project of cutting down thorny black locust, chipping the branches, then hiring a stump grinder. After this was done, Jon built us several raised beds. We filled them with good soil and compost. Tomatoes, potatoes, beans, garlic, leeks, onions, carrots, beets flourished. Vegetables, eh? Why not fruit and nuts?

400_late summer 2010_0163Ecological Gardens came in with permaculture principles and added apple trees, plums, cherry trees, pears, currants, gooseberry bushes, blueberry bushes and hawthorns. On the vegetable garden site they added raspberries, a sun trap for tomatoes, and an herb spiral. At that point then we were maintaining multiple perennial flower beds, several vegetable beds, fruit trees and the bees that I had started keeping.

We did later add a firepit and picnic area, but those were the main horticultural efforts. This was a twenty year long immersion in plants and their needs, the way the seasons affected them and our human responsibility for their care.

WheelofYear1GIFWhen I stepped away from the Presbyterian ministry after marrying Kate, the Celtic pagan faith reflected in the Great Wheel began to inform my theological bent more and more. What was to come in the place of the Christian path? Perhaps it was a way of understanding our human journey, our pilgrimage as part of the planet on which we live rather than as separate from it or dominate over it.

Wicca, though, and the various neo-pagan movements seemed thin to me, not without merit as earth-based faiths, but often filled with gimcrackery and geegaws rather than guidance for the next phase of human existence here. I began to wonder about an ur-faith, a way of believing, of being religious, that could exist alongside, even below the other faith traditions, some path that could put us back in the natural world (from which we have never actually removed ourselves) and in so doing undergird the kind of compassion for our planet that might save humanity.

This is the concept behind reimagining faith. Is it possible to create a framework for an earth-based faith that respects science, yet offers ritual and private contemplative practices? What would a book look like that attempts to create a theology, conceptual scaffolding for such a faith? I got this far a while ago. But something has stopped me from moving forward. This post is about poking myself to move forward.

HesseI have finished 7 novels and am nearing completion of an 8th. So I can work on a long term project and see it through to completion. I’ve also been part of creating several organizations still in existence in Minnesota, among them MICAH, Jobs Now, and The Minnesota Council of NonProfits (originally the Philanthropy Project). These, too, are long term efforts that I helped see to completion.

Over time I’ve also worked with several other institutions in various roles that lasted for years: the Sierra Club, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Citizens for a Loring Park Community, the Stevens Square Community Organization, the West Bank PAC and the West Bank Community Development Corporation, not to mention the Presbyterian Church and the Unitarian-Universalists.

2010 01 19_3455I’ve had less persistence in my two non-fiction writing projects: an ecological history of Lake Superior and Reimagining Faith. Not sure why. Getting started on the research and idea end was not a problem, I have file folders, bookshelves, posts here on Ancientrails and various sketches for outlines. But I’ve never sustained the push to finish.

My now year long immersion in Reconstructionist Judaism, studying first mussar (ethics) and now kabbalah, has caused several sparks to go off for the Reimagining Faith work. I’m beginning to feel the urge to commit substantial writing time, thinking time to this project. What I’d like to do is produce a book that would lay out the skeleton and put some flesh on it. At that point I’d like Reimagining to become a collaborative project with whomever feels an attraction to it.

So let be it said, so let it be done. Yul Brynner, the Ten Commandments.

Boys and their Tractors

Lughnasa                                                            Lughnasa Moon

Into St. Paul this morning for another America Votes meeting at the Minnesota Nurses Association. Solid, information packed as usual.

On the way in I listened to a radio discussion of masculinity and on the way back an Ira Flatow Science Friday story on regenerative farming. NPR is listening to my brain.

Men in America has its main hook in the changes since the 1970’s in men and women’s education status. Women have pushed ahead of men, or girls ahead of boys steadily, until today girls dominate boys in all of the academic disciplines through high school. While in itself this is neither alarming or surprising, when joined to the decline in manual labor and other manufacturing jobs, a disturbing picture emerges. Men begin to look left behind in the contemporary labor market. There are a lot more matters to discuss here. Another time.

Regenerative farming pushes forward the no-till farming movement, moving beyond merely sustainable agriculture to an agriculture that positively enhances the soil. In this show a number from the book The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson got my attention. She says that if 11% of the worlds agricultural land were to convert to no-till farming the resulting natural sequestration of carbon dioxide would balance the climate change equation. Don’t know if this is true, but it’s intriguing.

It took me immediately to rain follows the plough which I mentioned here not far back. That was the belief that created the vast agricultural lands of the plains where industrial agriculture has combined with center pivot irrigation to drain the Ogallala aquifer and destroy the once ten foot deep top soil created by prairie plants. If that land were to convert to no-till agriculture, water use would plummet and the plains could begin to heal themselves. Might be the 11% right there.

What Is Your Kiva?

Spring                                          Hare Moon

Santa Fe.  Staying in a reasonably priced motel right in the heart of adobe filled Santa Fe.  The cathedral featured in Death Comes for the Archbishop is only a block or two away.  I came to Santa Fe after seeing Chaco Canyon.

Due to a weird late night mix up I checked into a motel-cheap-no phone, no wi-fi she said.  I didn’t mind.  She forgot to add no heat.  This in Holbrook, AZ high up just past the Mogollon Rim.  49 when I pulled in. I was too tired to hassle it so I went to sleep.

Fortunately, years of living with Kate have taught me cold sleeping skills.  It was fine until I woke up 4 am. I’d never shifting my bed time from home, nor my rising, so the 6 am Minnesota equivalent had me awake.  I decided to get in the warm car and drive to Chaco Canyon.  Which I did.

This is a haunting place, difficult to get to now as it must have been difficult to get to in the period between 850 a.d and 1150 a.d. when it flourished.  It was, for that time period the ceremonial for the pueblo peoples.  The architecture of Chaco County shows up in many other pueblo peoples sites, though much more modest in scale.

The Chaco folks built big.  And they built stone on stone, with a mud mortar.  The construction technique reminded me of dry stone fences in the East.

The part of each person’s inner life that reaches out to a particular patch of mother earth has created thousands of small kivas, I’ll call them.  The pueblo people go into the below ground circular stone structures called kiva’s as if returning to the womb. Each time they come out, they’re reborn.  So a kiva is a patch of earth where you feel reborn.  For me it’s our gardens and woods and orchard, for the pueblo people its Chaco Canyon and the Four Sacred Mountains.

Each patch of earth needs a kiva that holds it dear and feels responsible for its care.  And who, in turn, are reborn in the giving of that care by the earth.  This is a faith with so many worship sites and the worship is different for each kiva.  What kiva do you belong to?

Soil Test

Lughnasa                                                                     Harvest Moon

Soil tests create the information base for deciding on what products and what amount of soil testthem to use next year.  Fall is the best time to do them since the broadcast fertilizer can be laid down before winter.

I used a clean trowel, a plastic bucket and my knees.  To do a soil sample involves a clean cut into the soil of six inches, then a small slice of that cut, top to bottom, into the bucket. This process repeats several times in different areas, then you blend the soil and take 1.5 cups of it and put it in a plastic bag.  I did this twice, once for the vegetable garden and once for the orchard.

A soil test sheet, provided by International Ag Labs, takes down garden size and what kind of testing you want done.  That all gets mailed to lab in Farmington and a while later, a recommendation comes back with very specific amounts and products.

My dealer, Luke Lemmer in Plato, Minnesota, will compile the broadcast according to the labs recommendations and will also supply the other products.  The soil test goes in today.

Garden Diary: Beginning of the Soil Drenches and Foliar Sprays

Summer                                                            New (First Harvest) Moon

When we installed the landscaping, we asked for low maintenance.  I still remember the skeptical look on Merle’s face.  “Well, I can make it lower maintenance, but there’s no such thing as no maintenance.”  In those first years I deadheaded, sprayed Miracle Gro, pruned the roses and planted a few bulbs.

Gradually, the land drew me in and I got more interested in perennials of all kinds bulbs, corms, tubers and root stock.  Fall became (and remains) a ritual of planting perennials, most often bulbs.  Fall finds me on a kneeler, making my prayer not to the Virgin Mary but to the decidedly unvirgin earth.  Receive these my gifts and nourish them.  And yes, I agree to help raise them.

Kate always planted a few vegetables but at some point we merged interests and expanded our vegetable garden.  That was when organic gardening, permaculture and now biodynamics began to interest us.  We futz around using some organic ideas like compost and integrated pest management, some permaculture design with plant guilds and productive spaces closest to the building that supports them and now some biodynamics (or whatever the right term is).

As I understand it, biodynamics works to produce the highest nutrient value in food by moving the soil towards sustainable fertility. This requires applications of various kinds of chemicals, yes, but in such a way as to increase the soil’s capacity to grow healthy, nutritious food and to do that in a way that maintains the soil’s fertility from year to year.

This is very different from modern ag which has a take it out and put it back approach to soil nutrients.  In that approach modern ag focuses on nutrients that produce crops good for harvest and the farmer and food company’s economics, not the end consumer’s dietary needs.  Biodynamics works at a subtler level, looking at the whole package of rare earths and other minerals necessary for healthy plants and the kind of soil conditions that optimize the plants capacity to access them.

Today I did a nutrient drench called Perk-Up.  A nutrient drench goes onto the soil and encourages optimal soil conditions, a large proportion is liquified fish oil and protein.  I also sprayed on the leaves and stalks of all the reproductively focused vegetables a product called brix blaster which encourages the plants to focus their energy on producing flowers and fruit.

The whole vegetable garden got Perk-up.  The reproductive vegetables in our garden are:  tomatillos, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, sugar snap peas, cucumbers and, for some reason, carrots plus all the fruits.  I only sprayed the vegetables since the strawberries have just finished bearing and I haven’t decided whether or not to spray the orchard this year.  Since I made up more than I needed, I also sprayed all the lilies which are heading into their prime blooming weeks just now, plus a few other miscellaneous flowers blooming or about to bloom.

Tomorrow I will spray another product that encourages vegetative growth on the appropriate vegetables:  kale, onions, chard, beets, garlic and leeks.

This year my overall goal has been to jump up a level in the production of vegetables, increasing both quantity and quality without increasing the area planted.  Next year I’ll continue what I already think is a successful program for them and expand to the fruits and, maybe, at least some of the flowers.

As I’ve said elsewhere, horticulture is a language and it takes time to learn.  The plants and the soil speak to me all the time.  I’ve had to immerse myself in a lot of different disciplines to learn their language.  I’m not a native speaker, nor am I completely fluent but I’m well past the beginner stage.

 

 

It’s Growing On Me

Beltane                                                                                    Solstice Moon

Becoming a horticulturist takes time.  Time learning plants, learning pests, learning flowers and vegetables and fruit.  Learning soil, chemicals.  Time with hands in the soil, with seeds and transplants and irrigation.  It takes failure.  Those tomatoes with the yellow leaves.  The potato leaves shredded by the Colorado beetle.  Over mulching that garlic. (which I did this year.)  It’s been a long time now since I started down this ancientrail.  Slow at first.  That garden at the Peaceable Kingdom.  Heating with wood there, too.

Small efforts on 41st Avenue in Minneapolis and Sargent Avenue in St. Paul.  Some more on Edgcumbe Road.  Mostly flowers.  Then this property.  We hired a landscape architect who laid in the first beds, added some elevation changes, planted the first plants, designed the early iteration of irrigation and rolled out the new lawn.  After that I learned about perennials, trying to get a seasonal symphony, color throughout the growing part of the year.

There was that two year correspondence course from the University of Guelph in London, Ontario.  It was good, laying down the conceptual basis for much of the work, though I feel I’ve under utilized what I learned in it.  Anyhow I have a A.A. degree in horticulture as a   result.

Kate started planting vegetables; I focused on flowers.  Somewhere in there I cut down the locust, as I said a while back.  Bought a big roto-tiller and tried the traditional surface of the earth garden.  Not good.  Got the raised beds.  They helped a lot by keeping grass and other things out of the soil.

That permaculture business made sense to me.  Design your gardens, your whole home around the way nature lays out the land in your area.  Become one with the land and use it to your advantage while giving back to it.  We’ve done some of that but I think it would have been better years ago, when we were just starting, still young enough to have the personal strength to work it.  It’s very complex and required more learning than I felt like giving it.

Now I’m focused on the bio-dynamic agriculture and horticulture of International Ag Labs. I would characterize my approach as pragmatic and eclectic, trying to integrate material from the traditional world, like the Guelph course, the more theoretical models like permaculture, organic and ag labs into usable information for our property.  There is just one permanent goal:  improve the land while providing ourselves with nutrient rich food.

The land and the plants will teach if you see what you’re looking at.  I’m still learning the language of our land.

September 2018
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