famine and feast

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fallen cherry petals on the herb spiral

Oh, the abandoned abundance of nature.  Autumn does not scatter leaves artfully here and there, but strews them in an eight-inch-deep blanket all the way to horizon.  Spring is not a few petals drifting on the wind, it’s a snowstorm of color that lasts for weeks.  Until it’s gone.  And then, sometimes, there is nothing at all.  For days, weeks, months on end.  For all that we cleave to the storied ‘balance’ of nature, there is nothing moderate or balanced in the least about natural systems.

Right now there are violets clustered everywhere, their drooping heads hidden beneath their rapidly greening heart-shaped leaves. I gather them by the fistful, walking by the stream, and when I turn to go home I see that I have made not the slightest dent in the wash of purple. Next week, they will all be gone.

Last year a friend had a particularly productive winter squash patch and we feasted on squash all winter.  Now our compost pile is overrun with squash seedlings, deep green and veined and beautiful, but doomed.  They are competing for sun, water, space, and most will not survive.  Beside the compost pile is a small mountain of grass clippings; I stalk the neighborhood with my wheelbarrow and cart them away.  There is always more than I can carry this time of year.  But a few months ago—nothing.

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I’ve been letting this sink in today.  Could it be that there is nothing wrong with me?  Could it be that is is natural to have periods of deep, flowering, intense productivity followed by a fallow season?  Could it be that there is no such thing as life balance?  Could it be that the many strands of life I struggle to weave together, the writing and the herbal business and the graduate studies and the creation of women’s health clinics and the travel and the passionate love affairs and the music-making and the farm and the raising of stout, self-loving children, could it be that this weaving happens over the course of a lifetime, and never in a single day?

For now I just breathe in the possibility.  And take in the overwhelming abundance of spring here in the temperate deciduous forest of my home.  The leaves started as a trembling suggestion at the fingertips of the trees, shuddering and yellow, and then, suddenly, they flooded the branches, lush and green and wide as my palm, undulating like water in the wind.  First the cherries bloomed, and then the dogwoods, and then at once azalea and forsythia and wisteria and lilac and violets, dandelion, chickweed lush enough to bite straight from the ground.  I cannot bike anywhere without giggling, drunk on this heavy-handed beauty, grinning so wide that there is always pollen between my teeth.

The violets I gathered came home in a basket and wilted in the sun.  I covered them with gently warmed grapeseed oil and left them to steep; the oil will take on their velvety purple color and absorb their emollient, soothing, anti-inflammatory properties.  I like to make this oil into salve with beeswax and perhaps infused chickweed or plantain oil; or blend it with lavender-infused vinegar for a beautifully colored, delicious,  healing vinaigrette.

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wilting violets (and a longleaf pine needle basket woven by my friend Pat, who is teaching me how)

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infusing in grapeseed oil

I will set a jar aside for the lean times.  And when they come, I will not fight them, though I have fought them all my life.  I was taught that if life is not full, you damn well struggle until it is.  If you are feeling low, why you paste a smile on until it passes. Famine cycles were always something to resist.

Yet now I can see that they serve a purpose.  They are a visioning time, a retreat, built in, like the bleeding time of women’s moon cycle, like the sleeping time in the cycle of the day. They are NECESSARY.  How, as an ardent student of natural systems, have I missed this for so long?  The grass could not grow so lushly without months of winter rains nourishing its roots as it waited for the sun, fallow and brown.  All of those squash seedlings crowding the compost pile will die–they are too eager.  There is not enough space between them.

A dear friend of mine once observed me working in the garden for a day and remarked with characteristic tact “If I had to work as hard as you do, I’d throw myself under a bus.”  Several years later I phoned her up and told her about the pleasure classes I was leading.  She laughed until she cried.  And then she signed all of her friends up.

Perhaps the balance is over a lifetime.  Famine/feast, feast/famine.

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6 Comments

April 26, 2013 · 1:44 am

6 responses to “famine and feast

  1. So pretty the way you describe it all.

  2. it’s insane. even the air is beautiful right now. Yvar was walking along today, singing, and suddenly he stopped and said: “Life is FUN.” and then he furrowed his brow and thought, and said: “No, life is SACRED.”

  3. Ebb and flow girl…ebb and flow…famine and feast indeed :). I am just about to get my twitchy trigger composting fingers on a major haul. I have to rake and collect it myself but I am dreaming of the gorgeous windfall of 2 enormous 100+ year old oak trees worth of autumn fallen leaves for Serendipity Farm! After that, I am off to hunt for any and everything that I can to fill up our new garden beds. This coming spring I am going to grow as much of our food as I can and my autumn collecting, like a squirrels mad acorn dash, is the stuff that future food is made of. Wonderful linkies by the way and I am starting to appreciate our “weeds” on the property even more. Almost enough rain to soften our summer baked porcelain soil and I can start planting out our food forest…a year of gorgeous possibilities is just about to unfold :). Love your spring journey and can’t wait to see where you meander next :)…by the way I LOVE violets. They are my favourite flower 🙂

    • wow, congratulations! that’s a lot of raking…pace yourself! 😉

      can’t wait to read about your food forest and all of the changes that are blossoming on your land.

      • I can’t wait either because then it will be finished and I won’t be up to my armpits in digging, lugging rocks and wrestling possums ;). Seriously though I am incredibly excited about the possibilities of growing more than enough food for us. I am vegan so I lived out of our small little garden (even though the possums stole with impunity from it at night time…) over summer and I could plant so much more! I am getting excited just typing this!

  4. have you tried peeing around the borders of the garden? i sicced Yvar on that task and we haven’t been plagued with rabbits/possums/coons stealing since.

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