Salad and revolution


  • Dirt

  • Compost

  • Seeds

  • Rain

  • Sun

Beet greens and scraggly carrots. Carefully cleaned of dirt and possible toxoplasma critters. Shreds of lettuce, separated from the ragged leaves nibbled by slugs and/or slug-eating ducks. A bit of chard, kale, sorrel and dandelion greens that survived the summer scorching. The beets themselves grated fine. Fresh basil by the handful, green onions and chives, picked clean of grass. Prickly fresh cucumbers, small orange peppers and the prize of the table—bright red tomatoes, so fragrant they almost knock you over.

That’s not all even from the garden. Though I’ll admit that the recipe must vary some here. There are boiled eggs from the ducks and the hens. Sliced thin over the salad along with thin-sliced apples.

Image by Laurel F. of

Image by Laurel F. of

Add a variety of brown and black seeds. Sprinkle on some fresh, salted white cheese, olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. And there are few things this good. I can honestly say that for a tiny sum I can eat the same way I would eat if I was a billionaire. Most billionaires don’t, but that’s their loss, isn’t it?

OK, I’ll admit that I can’t do this year round and early fall is the season of bounty, but with a bit of work it can be stretched to most of the year in most climates.

After the picking, sorting, washing and chopping I finally sit down to savor the flavor. There are rolls slathered in hummus and sweetcorn with butter to go with it.

But the bonanza of taste goes bitter on my tongue. The kids have come in with cries of dismay and faux disgusted noises. They yell a few naughty words as I shoo them off to the bathroom to wash their hands. The complaining doesn’t let up all through dinner, though they’ve often eaten similar food and enjoyed it, even given compliments. Now they’re in school and they’ve learned what is socially acceptable and what isn’t.

My husband glowers at me morosely. Not because he doesn’t like the food, though. Some men might complain worse than the peer-pressured kids, but he’s very health conscious and he’d have this most nights if the children would let us. His glower is more for the work involved, for the fact that I reminded him he was going to turn the compost pile and cut some grass this afternoon and he lounged on the couch instead. And because we lost a few hens and need to get a couple more before winter. It isn’t the expense he minds. The cost is minimal and the farmers bring them right to the church near our house, so I can walk to pick them up. But it is another reminder of the garden he has come to hate.

When we first bought our little plot and set up the garden, he was full of plans and ideals. Once he even wanted to take over his father’s farm and go completely “back to the land.” I grew up that way and I was a bit nervous but possibly game. His mother talked us out of it. Later he wanted to buy a little farm closer to the city and keep his job, but do real homesteading on the side. I was all for that, though it would have been hard on me, not being able to drive.

In the end, this little suburban plot at the edge of town with a dry garden spot on a steep hill was the compromise. And I make do.

It doesn’t take all my time, probably an average of two hours a day through the warm part of the year, where some days it takes barely half an hour to water and feed in a rush and a few days where I am working out there all day. In the winter there is down time but now that there are animals too, no part of the year is ever entirely without chores.

I never thought I’d say it but I like it that way. Even when the sleet, the coal smoke from the town and the icy hill are worst in the winter and I’ve still got to take care of chickens and ducks, I am glad. I know that nothing beyond living creatures that depend on me would get me outdoors in such weather and I’m glad something pulls me out there.

I feel capable and grounded. It’s the only way I know for sure that my confidence in myself isn’t based on either flattery or delusion.

But year after year, my husband’s interest has waned. Granted, things have been hard, harder than anyone would plan. The kids didn’t come easy and when we finally did adopt them, they came with troubles and health issues and grief. Work only gets harder every year and there isn’t much juice left over at the end of the day.

Maybe he always saw the gardening or homesteading as a kind of romantic idea. And when the sticks are down, romance tends to dry up.

But for me, it has always been more about skills and preparation. If this year my cucumber crop was nearly a failure, the key is learning why and learning to do better next time. These days the garden is a help to our diet.

We eat the best organic veggies money usually can’t buy half of the year and can a bit as well. But the peace of mind is the bigger prize for me. It isn’t that I think we’d do particularly well in a climate meltdown or other economic crisis, but we’d stand a bit of a chance, we’d have skills worth something to others. That does lower my anxiety level.

Beyond that, food is the thing that controls humans best. Our current food systems through the mainstream economy are heavily controlled by corporations, which are invested in keeping us used to processed foods we can’t make ourselves with flavor chemicals designed to trigger addiction in our brains. Food supply has been used to control and manipulate populations in every major economic crisis, war or totalitarian regime in human history.

Growing your own food is tasty, healthy, confidence boosting and occasionally fun. It is also the most radically independent act a revolutionary can take.

Waiting for the first herbs


When the fragile light first glides,

whispering across the land,

the cold sunlight of March,

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam


as sleet still stings like sand,

I walk in the bare woods,

before the first buds awake.

Tiny rosettes of nettle nestle

amid the leaves I rake.

In the garden little pokes

above the still cold dirt

but tiny chickweed leaves

to heal some small hurt.

Still the tops of most herbs

stand dry and winter browned,

waiting past the last April snow

safe beneath the ground.

Then coltsfoot and lungwort,

brave and hearty those two,

raise their faces to the sun

pale yellow and purple blue

Rosemary and lavender,

as your leaves slowly green,

beware the last blast of winter

that we have not yet seen.

I’m waiting for the leaves

to wave green flags of spring

I’m waiting for the flowers

and breath to rise and sing.

The world needs more poetry these days. I may not be able to do all the things I have wished to. But I heard that we now have a local chapter of Extinction Rebellion. My post is short because I’m off to check out their website and sign up to do my bit on the home front.

A candle in the frost

Most evenings I teach English as a second language in order to stretch the family budget a bit. The lessons are based on the same principle as my blogs and newsletter. A cup of tea and some food for the soul are crucial. 

One class has been going on for seven years at a local community center. It's a small group of women who meet every week for tea and conversation with my interjections on grammar for spice. And this is by no means a group of only  young ambitious women. Our elder is seventy-three and she's the only one who consistently does her homework. 

Candle in greenhouse 1.JPG

A couple of weeks ago a hard frost came through in mid-April and killed just about everyone's tomato and cucumber starts. Only the eldest was spared.

She hunkered over her notebook filled with carefully noted English sentences and fairly cackled with delight, "Too early for seedlings last week. Now I'll put them out and then when the last frost comes with the three frozen men, I put a candle in the greenhouse. That will keep them snug. Just a little candle."

I had fared better than most because I hadn't had time to put out all of my seedlings yet. But by the first week in May I had to plant them. And I thought they would be fine. The weather had obviously turned to late spring with grass shooting up and everything starting to bloom.

But then out of the north it came--a huge storm of rain and sleet. We were on a bike ride with friends at the time and expected only a little spring shower. We stashed our bikes beneath an awning and took shelter in a restaurant for soup and hot chocolate. But then we watched with trepidation as a deluge flooded the road. Sleet fell white amid the pouring rain.

And the air behind the cloud bank was ice cold. For three days it stayed and I learned this is what the old-timers here call "the three frozen men." There are always three days in May when a wall of Arctic air comes down to destroy crops and cripple orchards in Central Europe. It often falls on the days named after the Czech saints Pankrác, Servác and Bonifác--three grim old men with severe faces.

I hurried to cover my tender squash seedlings that evening. But my greatest fear was for the tomatoes and peppers in a small greenhouse. It isn't just frost they won't tolerate but anything close to it. 

Feeling a bit like I was reenacting a folk superstition, I took a candle and a prayer to the greenhouse late in the evening under the light of the full moon--now shining in a clear, frosty sky. My breath froze in silver clouds as I stepped inside. The frost was already creeping in.

The next morning I woke up to a world gone unseasonably white. The blossoming plum trees were coated in ice. The grass was crunchy under foot. Even the soil had frozen half an inch deep. According to local measurements, the frost had lasted at least 6 hours throughout the night. It was much harder than I'd expected.

Some of the covered plants suffered frostbite. Anything vulnerable that wasn't covered was entirely gone. But the peppers and tomatoes were fine with the candle still burning in the dawn--a tiny flame but just enough to keep the frost at bay.

I look forward to going back to the tea-and-chat circle next week to compare notes and tell how it really is the case that we need the wisdom of old-timers.

In hunter-gatherer societies and even in the days when most people lived through farming, elders and their experience had a crucial place for precisely this reason. But today with chemicals and technology so much has changed that it's hard to remember to listen.

Yet these are the days when a frost of another kind is coming down--the chill of authoritarianism and xenophobia. There are signs from all sides that times will be hard. 

For me this is a timely reminder to pay attention to those with long experience. And to simply listen to long-burning candles in the frost.