Season of Renewal

I’m sure I’m not alone in how much I live for signs of spring right now. We’ve had several freeze warnings this past week, prompting me to go out and snap some flower photos for posterity (though the flowers actually did make it through for the most part).

Serviceberry blooms last week (they’re browning now, right on time)

Even through the windiest, shittiest weather (snow? really?), I’m amazed that the blossoms on my little serviceberry still cling on. Well, until it’s their turn to fall.

I had in mind to write something about how the magnolia blooms turned brown and fell, and how the little tree next to it took up the mantle of holding beauty, but I don’t think that’s quite it. Though I do like the idea of taking turns—sometimes I’m shining, sometimes you are, sometimes we take a turn down in the dumps.

That doesn’t seem quite right though. Not the correct metaphorical use of a cycle that renews itself every year, fallen blossoms spreading seed, feeding soil. Just doing what they do.

I’m more thinking in terms of resurrection, redemption, rebirth. I started to noodle on this last Sunday, which was Easter in many traditions. Orthodox religions will mark the day tomorrow. Passover takes the theme of renewal as well. Whatever the faith tradition, this time of year fairly screams resurrection.

Vibrant.

Easter and Passover are not my holy days (though I have fond memories of pancake breakfasts and Easter dresses). But of course people began celebrating the season of renewal long before these traditions.

As a half-assed gardener and a sometime forager of spring greens, I feel more in tune with nature’s awakening than the religious rites that have been overlaid on those ancient rituals.

Quick funny aside: When my young cousin, raised on a green and vibrant Caribbean island, came to Indiana one winter on a visit, she couldn’t help but notice all the bare trees. She finally asked my dad: “Why don’t you cut all those dead trees down?”

Having never experienced that cycle of apparent death and rebirth, she had no concept of waiting for the greening.

The yearly miracle

Maybe it takes a bit of faith, or simple experience, to know that renewal is just beyond the horizon of darkness. To understand that what looks like a death might be, instead, a state of deep rest.

What’s more of a resurrection than the annual opening of a bulb left seemingly lifeless in the ground?

The thing about renewal: It only comes after a deep, dark place of quiet that can feel so deadly to a culture accustomed to going/doing/racing/running/grabbing/shouting.

Even while spring bursts forth all around us, many of us are curling inward to that space of quiet, being asked (or ordered) to stay in one place, curtail our social impulse, limit contact. In a time when our forebears gathered in celebration of surviving another winter, we can’t join hands and sing, or pass the glass between us.

My Virginia bluebells look delicate but they’re hardy.

Recently I’ve had a recurring dream of a street fair, neighbors pouring out onto their sidewalks laughing, talking, feeding each other. There’s music, light streaming from windows, kids on tricycles. A feeling of joyous conviviality.

I do feel that some sort of resurrection is on its way, and it could well be a massive reordering of all that we think we know. We have been so impoverished by a culture built on acquisition, greed, exploitation. Even those of us who live comfortably have a hard time finding peace in a world marked by massive injustice. And for the people and places that get squashed by such a system, there’s no question that the dominant societal narrative isn’t working.

The writing’s been on the wall for a while now: Business as usual is not a viable prospect.

How long will we need to gestate before the (re)birth? And what will emerge out of this inward-coiled time?

Gratitude: I’m grateful for the generosity of nature this time of year. For our salads I’m picking pea shoots from a bed sown last fall, baby lettuce I set in earlier this spring, plus accoutrements from my perennial chives, salad burnet and sorrel plants. Not to mention wild ingredients foraged from my yard and nearby: basswood leaves, trout lily leaves, violets, dandelions, chickweed, and redbud blooms. Everything but the olive oil-lemon dressing coming from within 100 feet or so of where I sit right now.

My “100-foot salads”

Tip of the Day: Uh, go outside, if you can. Spring is poppin’.

Resource of the Day: Local folks, check out this offer from local herbalist/forager Thea Newnum, who will accompany you into your yard for a social-distanced foraging lesson. She’ll help you know what to safely harvest from the undiscovered wild edibles growing there. You will never look at a weed the same way again.

The 100-Foot Salad

(Or: “Eats Shoots, Blooms, Weeds, and Leaves.”)

You’ve heard of the 100-foot diet? Proponents strive to eat food grown or produced as close to home as possible. Much of the year, that is my goal. And the farmers of central Indiana offer much of what I need, from meat to eggs to dairy to fruits and veggies. There’s even a local oil option now, and certain grains and beans can be sourced locally as well.

This time of year though, I’m enjoying my 100-foot salads.

Every spring I plant salad greens in my Garden Tower and an old salvaged sink. My tradition is to go to the winter farmers market and buy starts from a farmer of my acquaintance, Laura Karr. I wrote about her farm, KG Acres, for this Farm Indiana piece. She was also the source of my perennial sorrel plants, which give a lovely lemony flavor to salads in early spring.

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OK, so the lettuce itself did not originate within 100 feet of my kitchen, but once a plant is in the garden, I claim it.

Even before the lettuce and spinach are ready to eat, I feast on chickweed that grows in my yard. Well, “feast” might be an overstatement: I graze. This succulent little salad green got its own shout-out in a Hoosier Locavore blog post, as the foraged food of the month. In February. Back then I was snitching chickweed from a farmer acquaintance’s fields, but now I have my own little clump growing next to a raised bed, and I pinch off the tips for every salad I make. Yum.

I also have chives (and chive blossoms!) that come back year after year just outside my back door. (The potted chives has developed a modest wintertime Facebook following of sorts, because I post photos of her on snowy days as Lady Chives of the Pillbox Hat, just to be silly.)

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“Lady Chives” in February, with an undignified mullet peeking out from her pillbox hat.

My catnip reseeded itself all over the yard last fall, as did arugula, as did lamb’s quarters. (Don’t think me weird, but I eat catnip leaves in salads. It’s a bit cheesy tasting. And suits my feline nature.) The young lamb’s quarters add pink interest to my salad plate, but I’ll let several of them grow tall  so I can eat them as cooked greens later in the summer. And who doesn’t love the peppery taste of arugula, especially if it’s free?

Pea shoots are another thing showing up my garden, and I think they reseeded themselves from last year’s Austrian winter peas. I am a lazy gardener, but sometimes that pays.

The coolest part of my 100-foot salad, though, lies across the street in a greenspace by the creek.

 

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Trout lily, in a photo snapped before my “salad bowl” across the street was mowed by an enterprising neighbor. Dandelion says “Hey, I’m here too!”

I can pick trout lily, violet flowers, and redbud blooms while they last. Maybe the fleeting nature of these delicacies gives them their aura of specialness. The redbuds are already on the wane, and last weekend a neighbor mowed the greenspace, so my trout lily salads are done for.

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Redbud blooms, the pinkest salad topper ever.

I also love to pick baby leaves off of a basswood (linden) tree over there. There’s something so novel about eating tree leaves in a dinner salad. They’re heartshaped, succulent (if picked small), and delicious.

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Seriously yummy basswood leaves. Later in the summer (actually very soon) it will be hard to find a small leaf this shiny and new on the low branches of “my” tree.

For a while I had sweet Jerusalem artichokes that I dug up in early spring and sliced like water chestnuts, but they’re gone now. But there’s plenty of other wild goodness in my yard and surrounding area. Small dandelion leaves (bitter!) and wood sorrel (tangy!) round out my salad bowl.

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I love to go out foraging with my little colander.

Eating a salad like this nourishes me twice, kind of like Thoreau’s wood chopping warmed him twice. It’s a delicious outing, carrying my colander out into the world to pick nature’s tenderest.

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I give you the 100-foot salad.

A Love Story

In the wake of a day devoted to romantic love, I’m thinking of a love story I heard years ago. It was in a yoga class in Point Reyes Station, CA, where I was on a writing retreat. The yoga instructor was fond of telling wisdom stories, spinning out tales over the course of a class. Two days before I was to return home, she told a story of the Hindu god Krishna.

She characterized Krishna as something of a playboy, full of mischief. In a particular village, his flirtations with the local maidens caused havoc.

I remember one example of his naughtiness: He stole the milkmaids’ clothing as they bathed in the river. He refused to give the clothing back until they came out of the river stark naked to beg him.

Then there was his flute-playing, which mesmerized the women of the village. The women, enthralled by the magic of his flute, left whatever they were doing to dance with him on the banks of the river.

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Lord Krishna with flute, via Wikimedia Commons, photo by Virumandi1

“Even in the middle of lovemaking,” the yoga teacher said, “any woman who heard his flute would leave her husband to come to Krishna and dance.”

After teasing all the milkmaids with his evidently irresistible beauty and charm, Krishna ran off with a particular milkmaid named Radha, who (though married) was completely besotted with him. If I remember right, when they left, the other milkmaids were bereft.

But in the end, the story reveals our relationship with the Divine, our one true love. The yoga teacher spoke of expanding into that feeling of being in love—only instead of falling in love with a person, we’re in love with everything.

Years later the milkmaids were said to have located Krishna in their own lives, no longer needing his physical presence to feel the magic of love. “Krishna is in my needlework,” they told his emissary. “Krishna is in my cooking! Krishna is in my flowers, he’s in my grandchild.”

(One hopes, for the sake of those poor husbands, that the milkmaids also found Krishna in their married life!)

While I was writing this post, I went into the kitchen and saw my glass of water lit by sunlight on the counter. So beautiful.

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About that mean trick Krishna played on the river-bathing maidens: As an allegory, it imparts a spiritual teaching. When we expand into love and passion, we are brave enough to appear unclothed—to be vulnerable enough to show ourselves in our true form.

The Krishna story turns out to be all about Big Love, finding magic in the everyday, feeling all the passion that comes with falling in love. When we’re falling in love, all our senses come alive, and we vibrate love-love-love, all the time, and nothing can interrupt that feeling.

(I remember a bulletin I heard on NPR last year about the European migrant crisis. Two newlyweds were among the displaced people interviewed. They viewed their trek across Europe to an uncertain future as a grand adventure. Being in love made them soft, hopeful, present, and open.)

How wondrous to imagine living this way without regard for outer circumstances. It would be bliss.

Still life inhales and exhales. We may not always notice the things that freely offer their beauty to us. We may go for weeks in a humdrum frame of mind. Or we might be in chaos, barely able to tread water.

But the minute we return to noticing and appreciating, we can expand again, and set ourselves anew to the Love Channel.

***

I had the opportunity to write a Hoosier Locavore blog post, which was all about the delicious and abundant chickweed. I link to it here because, in retrospect, I see that I find Krishna in a common weed.

Foraging on Two Wheels

Yesterday evening I joined Greg Monzel and friends in an activity combining two of my fave things to do: riding my bike and foraging for wild edibles.

It had been rainy all day and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. Especially since—even though I love cycling—I had never mounted my bike on a car carrier to drive it somewhere. (The foray started at White Pine Wilderness Academy, which is not in my neighborhood.) I also had to go to my local bike shop and get lights mounted (another first: cycling after dark!)

It all turned out to be worth the effort: I got to hang with some excellent folks, experience the woods after dark, and taste some interesting things. I was not brave enough to munch on a pillbug, however. Save that for another day.

Below are some photos from the evening. Sadly I didn’t get any of us on two wheels. You’ll just have to take the dorky bike helmets as evidence that we really did cycle to our destination, before dismounting and exploring.

Greg showing ??

Greg showing us polymnia canadensis, or white flower leafcup, which has some medicinal uses

Greg is an herbalist with a passion for learning, which makes him incredibly knowledgeable about plant lore, uses, history, and science. Also, the muck boots were a really good idea. I may have to practice cycling while wearing mine.

Maria inspecting winged euonymus

Maria inspecting winged euonymus

The berries are not edible, but I believe there are some medicinal qualities to certain parts of this plant.

Mighty burr oak

Mighty burr oak

This was the first of several oaks we assessed for acorn availability and tastiness. I ate part of an acorn before realizing that it’s best to leach the tannins out first. Oops! Nice texture, though!

Greg with promising fungal find

Greg with promising fungal find: Could it be the medicinal turkey tail?

While we were standing here, Maria found a step-by-step turkey tail identifier on her smartphone. How’s that for appropriate use of technology? Unfortunately we still could not definitively ID this fungus.

A closer look: might be turkey tail, a mushroom known for its immunomodulating effect

A closer look: possibly turkey tail, a mushroom known for its immunomodulating effect

No one was brave enough to take a bunch home to make into a decoction. But I did learn that ALL mushrooms have beta-glucans in their cell walls, and this is one of the things that gives them immune-boosting properties. (Tip: Cook shrooms for a long time over low heat, with water—that’s the key to accessing the beta-glucans.)

Shaking the pawpaw tree

Shaking the pawpaw tree

We struck out on pawpaws, but I’m told the week before, there was quite a haul.

Wood nettle. Watch out: It bites!

Wood nettle. Watch out: It bites!

We may be gathering seeds of this plant in a week or two. Yum!

Did I mention that “Fall Foraging Forays—Bicycle Edition” is a whole series, and you can drop in on the rest of the sessions? Check out Greg’s website for details.

The Miracle of Seeds

I’ve been thinking about how tenacious life is, encapsulated in a tiny seed. Some seeds I plant, but others sprout all on their own.

I’m probably the only person on my block who gives a cheer when she sees these coming up.

Lamb's quarters

Lamb’s quarters

These are lamb’s quarters, considered a weed, but deliberately planted two years ago in my garden. This is the second year they will have reseeded, and I can’t wait to taste them again when they get a little bigger. (They’re terrific fried crispy in my cast-iron skillet, with a couple eggs cracked over them. And incredibly energizing, as all edible weeds are.)

Here is part of another patch of self-sowing plants that are on their third (or fourth?) year of growing freely in my garden: arugula.

Arugula volunteers in leaf mulch

Arugula “volunteers” in leaf mulch

I wasn’t sure they would come up this year because I mulched so heavily last fall with shredded leaves. But lo: I pull away the top layer and find them rooted right in the leaf mold.

Miracles like these show up all the time, if we know to look.

“There is no way to re-enchant our lives in a disenchanted culture except by becoming renegades from that culture and planting the seeds for a new one.”

Thomas Moore, author and psychotherapist

Perhaps growing food for people in need would fall under this “renegade” notion? Here is a seedling started by a southern Indiana farmer and planted by a volunteer for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

Cabbage seedling planted by a volunteer at a food bank garden

Cabbage seedling planted by a volunteer at a food bank garden

And one more: Late last fall I blogged about starting Austrian winter peas and my happiness at their growth in cold weather. They are generally not grown for a pea harvest, but intended as a cover crop with benefits—pea shoots are sweet and tender.

They didn’t do much during the winter, but this spring they are the healthiest of plants in my garden. I have snipped them nearly every day as salad and smoothie additions, and they are growing as fast as I can cut!

Austrian winter peas in spring

Austrian winter peas in spring

With seeds on my mind, no wonder this statement in a new mother’s Facebook post snagged my attention:

“I did not know until I got pregnant that the first organ to develop is the heart. It’s as if a heart seed gets planted and from the heart grows the human.”

Laura Henderson, founder of Growing Places Indy

Miraculous.

Reconnecting

Today I enjoyed time with two friends in two separate food-related endeavors. One of them crazy enough to get up early and go questing for a supposedly killer purslane haul. The other tenacious enough to spend several hours shredding produce in my kitchen to make two varieties of sauerkraut.

Two crocks of veggies are fermenting on my table right now.

A batch we made together another time.

A batch we made together another time.

The purslane was a little “gone by,” but we are salvaging it as chicken feed.

And in both cases, we had a great time together, reconnecting.

It made me think of something I just read in an e-newsletter from an eco-village called Dancing Rabbit.

Relearning harmony with the earth at this time in existence is a great undertaking, in a world where bug spray, Big Macs, smartphones, and petroleum are readily available.

Young Thoughtful

It is a great undertaking, I agree. Everything in our culture pulls in the opposite direction. But friends can ease the way. They make swimming upstream companionable.

What about you? In what ways do your friends join you in living a bit more lightly on the planet?

No More “Long Hard Slog”

Several readers told me that Tearing up an Ancestral Contract resonated with them. Here’s another inheritance I’m reevaluating: the much-vaunted Protestant work ethic.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad I have a strong work ethic. I’m grateful that the folks in my lineage weren’t afraid of hard work, and that I inherited a bit of that spirit. I like to buckle down and get things done.

Saturday my neighbors and I participated in the Great Indy Cleanup. Photo by Heidi Unger.

Saturday my neighbors and I participated in the Great Indy Cleanup. Photo by Heidi Unger.

But sometimes, work isn’t the thing that is needed. Maybe it’s play. Maybe it’s stillness. Maybe it’s receiving. Maybe it’s rest.

I have known this, of course, in my head. But to really bring that knowledge into the body and energy field? That’s a different thing than intellectual understanding.

I completed two big projects a few weeks ago. I’d spent several weeks extremely focused, with most days quite regimented in order to fit everything in. And it felt good to work hard and get to the finish line.

With the deadlines past, I enjoyed a few leisurely days. It was hard not to feel like I was shirking. I worried that I was not getting important work done. I’d grown accustomed to pushing. So if I allowed myself to enjoy a slower pace, a few long walks in the sunshine, something felt “off.”

Redbud blossom photo by Heidi Unger.

Redbud blossom photo by Heidi Unger.

But I knew I didn’t want to live the rest of my life constantly driving myself beyond my capacity, as has been my habit lo these many years. I remembered the energetic principles I’ve been learning from energy healer friends like Merry Henn and Dawn Ryan. And I took a look at some core beliefs.

I’ve practiced self-testing my energy field (also known as muscle testing) for several years. At this point the skill is reliable enough to serve me in all kinds of capacities. For example, I can test my resonance with various beliefs.

The residual effect of my inherited work ethic manifests like this:

  • “It is impossible for me to be happy and rested and still meet my commitments.”
  • “I must work to the point of exhaustion in order to get my work done.”
  • “I must push my body to the point of illness to prove my worth.”

All of these statements “tested strong,” meaning my energy body resonated a big YES to each of these unhealthy beliefs. But these beliefs no longer serve me. I wanted to change them at an energetic level.

I used Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to quickly shift them, then rechecked: They tested weak. I worked with variations of the statements and did more rounds of EFT. Eventually I came upon:

  • “It is impossible to live in tune with my life purpose and feel happy and rested.”
  • “Aligning with my life purpose is a long, hard slog.”
  • “I must disregard my body’s need for rest if I intend to fulfill my life purpose.”

Well! I shifted these too, until I resonated something completely different. I now equate fulfilling my life purpose with deep joy and ease, a healthy body, connection, flow, and other such deliciousness.

Clowning with invasive garlic mustard. My job at the cleanup was to pull it.

Clowning with invasive garlic mustard. My job at the cleanup was to pull it.

What about you—what contracts and core beliefs are you holding or releasing?

(Interested in learning a simple way to self-test? Check out this video.)