Friday, December 21, 2012

Awaken the Dreamers--a poem for the solstice

Awaken the Dreamers

One blue heron late in December

dreaming the sun down. One egret

walking into deeper water, rippling

the gray pearl of the pond

lit by a low sun moving across the marsh

on the even breaths

of these two birds.

I remembered the way

my grandmother said calmfortable,

the sound thick and slow as the Ohio

rolling through Marietta; photos

of a great flood one spring, young folks

paddling canoes down streets

rolling back to the river. Maybe

we can cross on that one, long syllable

into our own stillness, be calm,

be generous with our words,

roll them in our mouths

back to the source of the river

where the invisible rejoices

to come into this world.

Fill them again

with the sound of rolling water

and the wind that ruffles the feathers of the heron

deep in a dream of its own, watching tides

come and go with the moon as the earth

turns, longing for a way to say

how beautiful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wild Hearts Know to Break is to Open...

That Which There Are No Words For

All afternoon on the oyster farm,
a great egret watched me work,
hoisting bags of oysters out of the shallow water
on to the dock to sort.

It was dark of the moon, tide lower
than I'd ever seen it, exposing rocks,
a pile of culch I'd dumped at the edge of the marsh,
mud speckled with dead slipper shells,
crabs that could be hibernating.

Oysters, sealed tight, holding their
mouthful of saltwater in deep cups
polished smooth inside by flesh
passed through my gloved fingers,
sorting for market.

I wasn't thinking about thresholds,
how often we cross without knowing,
doors opening and closing
without a creak or click
as the latch catches and we wonder
what side we are on now.

My body had taken over:
bend, hoist, dump, sort--
back into the old bag to grow
another winter underwater,
or into a wider mesh
strung on a line close to shore
for market.

I broke apart those that had fused,
pulled the beards off muscles
and tossed them overboard, rescued small crabs
who clung or froze,
imagining maybe then I couldn't see them.

Minnows thrashed in my palms
opening above the water, pure light
and muscle.
I watched their hearts explode
when they hit the water.

I wasn't thinking about thresholds,
I was pushing oyster bags on my hands and knees
through six inches of water because the tide was so low
I couldn't use the boat, sucked down
when I tried to stand,
forced to crawl,
cursing and laughing as the egret
who had not moved in hours
took a few elegant steps, rippling
the calm.

Sitting up,
kneeling in my waders,
waist-deep in mud,
I closed my eyes,
not because I knew what was coming,
but to see in the dark as well.

The white feathers of the egret so fine and smooth.
The marsh, in mid-December, golden.

It was the day before our darkness
made itself known,
that which we'd say about after,
there were no words for--

Crow call in the east answered by one at my back.
Prepare to be emptied.
Why is the death of innocence the only way
to know we are loved?

Jen Lighty, Dec. 16, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

Some thoughts on Wild Seeds

I just finished reading Martin Prechtel's new book, The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaqic. The ideas he expressed in this book led me to realize why I was originally enraptured by foraging for wild plants--because when I eat a wild plant I am literally eating the consciousness of the wild, coming into contact with the earth's wisdom in a way that I cannot when I eat food produced by agriculture, even food grown organically with the best intentions to not abuse the earth. By living on Block Island, walking the trails and beaches and tidepools for years, some ancient part of myself awoke and told me to pick up a field guide and begin researching what the plants I'd passed for years had to offer to a belly and spirit hungry for true sustenance. Since then, every bite of plantain, bladderwrack, sea rocket, wild violet, chicory, lamb's quarters, laver and milkweed has been leading me backwards and down, down, down into my primal self where I am not ashamed to live on the earth because I am in right relationship with the holy beings who live inside all that sustains me.

Prechtel, who if you don't know his story, lived with the Tzujutil Maya in Guatemala before the death blow of war in the 1980s fell on their indigenous, life-affirming culture, founded on respect for what he calls the Holy in Nature, and maintained in secret for hundreds of years under the yolk of colonial oppression. The Tzutujil kept their seeds alive, meaning they didn't buy them from the store every spring, but harvested and saved and replanted, year after year, in a sacred manner that fed the Holy in Nature. As Prechtel writes, human culture was founded because of the contract we made with the Holy when we stopped foraging for our food and domesticated wild seeds into crops like wheat, corn, and barley, clearing forests and plowing fields, disturbing the balance that had existed between animals, plants, humans, and stones. This contract was shattered by industrial agriculture, causing us to feel, ever since, like we are not at home on the earth, making "nature" something outside ourselves. I agree with Prechtel, that while the current trend toward organic farming is a positive step toward healing the physical damage we have done to the earth and to ourselves, unless it includesan attempt to repay the unpayable debt to the Holy in Nature through ritual, we will never feel at home on the earth and will continue to feel broken and hopeless deep in our souls.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease that affects the digestive process. Always one to look for the symbolic in the physical, I began to ponder the reasons I manifested this disease, through my personal story and on a meta-level as a human being at this time on earth. My personal story I prefer to keep sacred for now, but on a meta-level I can see now that it makes sense that I would have an auto-immune disease, the immune system being what protects the body from   intruders. I see my dis-ease as a reflection of the sickness of the earth's body as it has been weakened by  thousands of years of exploitation by human intruders. In a way, my dis-ease is an act of empathy, taking on the earth's pain in the most direct way possible. As a metaphoric thinker I am attracted to holistic medicine which looks beyond the allopathic paradigm, which believes that disease is strictly a physical process, to incorporate emotional and spiritual imbalances that lead the body to manifest a dis-ease in order to come back into balance by healing non-physical wounds. One of the first "alternative" ways to heal ulcerative colitis that I encountered, considered a chronic diagnosis by allopathic physicians, was the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, devised by a woman named Elaine Gottschall. The premise of the SCD is that some people can't completely digest complex carbohydrates. The undigested particles that remain in the intestines attract bacteria which begin to feed on the body. At this point, the immune system kicks in to gear by attacking these bacteria, creating inflammation and the resultant sores in the digestive tracts of those with UC and Crohn's. By eliminating complex carbohydrates, the bacterias' food source is killed. Once the bacteria are gone, the inflammation ceases and normal digestion resumes. The main source of complex carbohydrates are grains, the crops we domesticated from wild seeds about 12,000 years ago.

At the time I discovered the SCD I didn't connect my need for a grain-free diet to the evils of industrial agriculture (I hadn't eaten enough wild plants yet, perhaps), but I do remember wondering at the epidemic of gluten-intolerance sweeping the western "civilized" world. Could gluten intolerance be a result of eating wheat that has been stripped of integrity on the physical and spiritual level by industrial agriculture? My thought was yes, this must be the case, and a disease like mine which required the absence of all grains was the extreme wake up call my lazy, modern self t needed on a physical level in order to truly feel the damage that had been done since we broke the contract with the Holy in Nature, since we let our seeds die through hybridization and spiritual neglect, casting us out on the surface of the earth as homeless wanderers, even though most of us live in very comfortable houses.

I needed those wild plants, quite desperately, it turns out, to awaken from the trance of consumerism that says that the earth is an unlimited resource over which we have dominion. I have wandered, eating handfuls of green along the way, sharing my food with butterflies and birds, but I am human after all, and I long to come back home to a community which recognizes I have learned something out there in the wild, which has a role for me besides that of outsider. I want to feel at home.

I have heard the mythologist Martin Shaw say that in today's world, the hardest part of the initiatory journey is coming home, the reintegration into what he terms "the village," simply because we have no place for souls that  have fed on the wild. While a part of me truly longs to go feral--to live in the woods with lynxes and wolves, another part knows that I won't be home there either. I've been despairing about this for a few years now, aware that I haven't made it back. I'm not sure if I'm not strong enough to make it through the initiation or if there just isn't a place for me. Whatever the case, I'm learning to trust my soul, and perhaps it's learning to trust me--and while I still don't have a clear vision of how I can embody my soul in human society in a particular way, perhaps because I haven't been able to let go of the worries of surviving on a physical, financial level, thus pushing the vision away through my constant fear and anxiety, I was given hope by Martin Prechtel's book that I can come home in every way by planting seeds, literally, in the ground, by tending for the plants and harvesting them, and by replanting those seeds in the ground in a holy way, over and over again until the Holy Beings inside them awake and begin to speak to me, and to you, because we are the seeds, flowering and dying so that life can go on. I'm not sure of how I am going to plant this garden since I have chosen to live in a place where I can't have my own garden. I suspect my garden will include a fair amount of the wild! But for the first time ever, I can see a way that I can plant myself in the human world that will not feel shameful. I'm hoping that others will want to join me, and that our gardens will  rebirth an awakening to the Holy in Nature in the hearts and minds of my fellow humans that will ensure we recreate a human culture founded on praise and beauty, reverence and awe at the ecstasy of life on Earth! I don't want to give up foraging, may always be slightly more wild than human. It is my love for watercress, wood sorrel, yellow dock, and cattail shoots that has led me closer to understanding who I am and what I can offer to the world. I know there are so many distractions that could pull me away from the truth, and I pray that I can be worthy of what I have learned from wild plants. They will always have a place in my garden.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Have You Eaten Wild Today?

    Wild Carrots on a bed of Clover

This is my favorite time of the year for foraging. I work as a gardener, and one of the fringe benefits is all the delicious weeds I get to snack on all day! Here are some wild carrots I took home and added to my soup for lunch.

While I love eating food out of the garden, wild foods satisfy my soul on an even deeper level because when I eat them I am connecting to the intelligence of the earth herself. Wild foods are not planted, they choose where they want to grow because it is the best place for them to flourish. When you eat a wild plant you connect back through aeons of time to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It's nearly impossible for us to imagine what their consciousness was like, I think, but many modern indigenous peoples speak of plants communicating with them directly. For me, eating wild foods is a step toward re-connecting with the earth's consciousness through these vivid tastes, sharp on the tongue, they awaken the wild within me who dares to dream we can return to truly sensing Earth as a living being.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spring Shadow

I have decided to expand the focus of this blog from wild foods of Block Island in the physical sense to wild food for the soul. With that, having just completed another wonderful, nurturing and stimulating weekend at The Block Island Poetry Project,, I feel moved to share the poem I read at the reading in the sanctuary (literal and metaphorical) of the Harbor Baptist Church last night.

It's actually the first poem I've finished in two years, not for lack of trying, and I consider it a breakthrough poem in other ways as well. For those who know my previous work, you'll see it's much simpler. I feel simpler, in a good way, more connected to my body.  Most of my past poems were coming from a traumatized consciousness that was located outside my body, floating above the earth, instead of connecting to it in a direct way through my senses and breath. Writing poetry and being in community with other poets has provided me with so much grace and healing I can barely remember who I used to be. Thank you. And thank you for reading this new. Take it into your bodies and breathe. Don't be afraid to lay on the earth. Believe your desires are beautiful, especially the ones you believe can never be satisfied. 

Spring Shadow

When the deer lowered her head to drink
she was so lean I could see
water ripple under her fur
as muscles let go
of all the times she had frozen.
I wanted so much to stroke
the bridge of her nose, the bones of her face
under soft fur. I wanted to lie with her
in the goldenrod, for her to teach me
how to touch the earth with my whole body,
belly down, as if I belonged to it.
But she leaped into the brush, and I
sank into the goldenrod
under the shadow of a dream
I didn’t want, knowing thorns
would tear my skin if I followed.
I wanted so much—
the source of tears,
to know if dreams began or ended
with thirst.