Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thankful Thursdays

I live in a country, where once a year, on a thursday, we all are reminded to take a moment to be grateful.  To express our thanks.  To celebrate the abundance that is already (that was always already - for my english geekery friends) present in our lives.  On the third Thursday in November, most Americans gather around a table with friends and family to give thanks (and to gorge on turkey as well.  Speaking of which, I have a forthcoming post on the feast my sister cooked.)

As a student and a teacher of yoga, I am intimately aware of the power of cultivating a practice.  The conscious practice of gratitude in my life, has the power to be transformative.  There are plenty of studies and well written persuasions I could quote, but suffice it to say that cultivating a gratitude practice, or writing a gratidude journal, can help to heal many upon many of life's stresses, ills, traumas, and aches and pains. 

And so, stealing the name (Thankful Thursday) from a dear friend, I would like to try my hand at one of these weekly blog themes... 

Today, I am thankful for being so closely in contact with my electrical power source.  There is a generator and a battery bank and solar array within feet of my house.  And so, unlike the many who have been living, unexpectedly and unprepared, without power for many days on the East Coast in the wake of Sandy; when my power system goes down and leaves us without electricity, it is immeninently manageable to fix.  And I don't have to wait on some nameless person from a faceless company to figure it out. 
Today, I am thankful for my Darling man who tends to such electrical failures with a love and patience I find it hard to muster for that which is not animate. 
Today, I am thankful for the ease and convenience of electric lighting and refrigeration and watching a decades-old taped Nutcracker performance on VHS.

Today I am thankful for my students.  And for my teachers. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Birthday Feasting Scandinavian Style

One lovely thing about having a dear dear friend who has started blogging, is that when one makes a multi-course Scandinavian feast for her fiancee's birthday, she will brag (and blog) about it FOR you.  That way, one can humbly and modestly bask in the glory of her compliments. 

Check it out!  (and while you're there, poke around and read her lovely thoughts)

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Aurora Dance Overhead

The aurora dance overhead.  Towards the cabin, I see the overlay of a picture perfect postcard:  golden light shines from the windows of a log home in the dark, bright stars, streaks of green in the sky overhead. 

My back on a snow bank he made for me.  We look up to the sky. 

Orion just above the western horizon, he strides the night sky.  To the southwest, there is near-half moon just beginning to clear the trees.  It has moved from east of south to southwest since I got home.  And to the north, hovering above the ridgeline of our roof, hangs the big dipper.  There are other constellations, writ large across the sky.  This far north, the sky is seems bigger but the scope is both smaller and enlarged.  The star clusters that I remember from my childhood as being recognizable but easy to lose amongst the vastness of the firmament, here seem as if they could step out of the sky onto land, already larger than life size.  There are other star clusters I recognize... is that Cassiopeia?  The Gemini?  I want to find the scorpion that chases Orion across the sky, the hunter being hunted.  I want to remember the details of the story of the mother who turned into a bear and was hunted by her own children.  Each constellation has a tale to tell.  At least one.  I spent many many hours reading the Classical Greek legends and stories of the constellations.  But other cultures have other names for the stars.  I wonder what stories were once told in Scandinavia, on the steppes of Siberia, here in this cold land by the first people?  Ethnoastrology.  I believe my sister once toyed with the idea of developing a dissertation on the subject. 

I breathe into the cold.  Relax within my puffy down coat and fox fur hat and watch the dance of the lights.  A tendril crosses into the big dipper, and then a wave of curtains falls through the center of the cup and slowly moves across the sky.  Suddenly the sky between the stars of the dipper is a clear dark again.  The lights move with a time and rhythm all their own.  It is slow and graceful, and yet suddenly, the patterns will have entirely shifted.  Sometimes they seem to dance beyond and behind the stars, and sometimes I would swear they are a dancing bridge I could step onto to walk into the sky.

The aurora is the deep magic of physics.  It manifests visibly and seems both so immediate and so distant.  I imagine looking at this display without the knowledge of the solar and atmospheric interplays, without an intellectual understanding of electro-magnetism, and my breath catches with awe.  It is beautiful and a bit eerie and uncanny as well.  I can well understand the native stories I have read in the archives at the Rasmusen.  The aurora is a bridge to the spirit world.  The aurora is the spirits of ancestors and the dead – do not look at it lest the spirit ghost of an enemy hurt you or get jealous of your vitality.  The aurora is the manifestation of wars between spirits, and if you know how to read them, they can tell you what the future will bring.  One year in college I took a course on Alaska Native Literature, and we read a number of traditional stories.  I wrote a paper on the shaman as a figure in stories, and in researching that paper in the stacks, I read so many beautiful stories.  And so many terse stories.  And so many chilling stories.   I read a number of different taboos and warnings against watching the aurora, and as many or more descriptions of what the aurora is.  Some said that it was only safe for a shaman to watch the aurora, for only they were strong enough or protected enough to engage with the spirit world in that way.  All I can say is that, had I lived in the time of these stories, I doubt I could keep myself from watching the lights dance overhead, no matter the danger.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Aurora Overhead

Yestermorn, in the still- night dark of the very early morning in which we drive into town now that winter has arrived,
Crossing the blueberry muskeg lowlands past the creek before the river,
There was a patch of a brightly irridescent curtain dancing in the sky above the hill.

Yesternight, in the dark night of the very late evening in which we drove home after a band rehearsal,
Coming up the hill to the homestead,
 There were bridges of magic light crossing and recrossing the sky, moving on ly ever so slightly.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Seasons of Cold

This week has seen the temperature drop to more than twenty below zero.  While some –many – areas of the country are enjoying the promise and excitement of the first snow, entering into that hovering in-between month of November and others I am sure will not see their first hard frost for a month or more, we are well into winter.  I grew up in New England, where the seasons and the months followed the kindergarten pictures fairly closely.  Spring was ushered in with grey puffy rainclouds and mud boots in March, with tulips and pasque flowers in April, with flowers galore in May.  October was a riot of gold and red and orange.  November was chilly and wet and grey.  December saw snow and decorated trees, and January was always painted in light blues and whites with crystalline snowflakes.  I'm sure you know the pictures I mean.  Living now in the subarctic, I find that living a seasonal life shakes out just a little different.  It is the first week of November and already my seasonal/mindfulness display table with its candles between the dining room and the kitchen is covered in cloths of light blue and white, with blue and white patterned origami snow cranes.  That's the "January" of the kindergarten pictures. 
Our fall this year was long and lovely.  We had a week of "September" weather, with tall grasses going to seed, sunny days and cool evenings, and the merest hint of gold in the leaves.  Then we had a week or a little more of the bright bright gold of an Interior "October" followed by two weeks of "November" with cold rain and overcast skies.  By the middle of October, the temperature hovered between five below and twenty above, and there was a coat of snow on the ground. 
Now, sitting by the warm fire with a mug of spicy mulled wine, I realize that it is no wonder that I feel the pull of the winter celebrations so strongly – I am a month into true winter dark already.  We are losing more than eight minutes of daylight each day, as we draw slowly closer to the Solstice.   The holidays are 'supposed' to start a month or a little more into wintertime.  A fellow Fairbanksan blogging friend confessed that she has been listening to Christmas music ever since Halloween.  I too, have been cueing holiday stations on Pandora or Spotify when I am alone, and poring over pictures and thoughts of holiday crafts and baking and decorating and gifting.  I have always been slightly horrified by the store displays that pull out the Fourth of July the day after Easter and Christmas even before Thanksgiving has come.  I still am, a bit.  It is blatant over-commercialization.  But in this particular instance, in this particular clime, for this particular holiday, it makes sense.  I was waiting and hoping for the holiday displays to begin even before they did.  And I feel a little impatient for the weekend after Thanksgiving to arrive so that I can pull out the box of decorations and convince the Darlin' Man to help me pick out a tree. 
I think about the psycho-social origins of winter holidays in the Northern lands.  They were based around the Solstice of course, celebrating the return of the light even before Christianity had left its birthplace in the Middle East.  Whether you celebrate the days getting longer or the birth of your savior, the last days of our calendar's December are a time of hope and renewal, even in the depths of the winter hibernation.  Many of the traditions we think of are about this renewal or rebirth.  But many of them – the mulled wine or cider, the cookies, the warming spices of ginger and cinnamon and clove, the firelight, the family, welcome wreaths, even the gifting – are also about the drawing-in and the gathering-around of the winter season.  The weather out of doors is inhospitable at best, so we create our own warmth within.  We gather with loved ones to eat and to tell stories.  Most holiday decorations have meanings associated with the religious and spiritual significance of the holidays, from the colors to the evergreens to the stars, but also by decorating the space that we live in, where we retreat to away from the winter cold, where we gather with loved ones we make that space –our home- inviting and welcoming.  We allow it to be a space of retreat and respite, a place where spirits are lifted.
Which is all a fancy and very long-winded way of saying that this year I shan't be ashamed of my intense enjoyment, and early commencement of the winter season.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Food in the presence of fire

(A post from Sunday - one of the joys of living off grid in the way that we do, is that the internet is a luxury, and an intentional choice, that is only available in town - before or after work, or on my space-phone...  And so you see, posts are sometimes a few days late...)

A timeless Sunday spent watching kittens watch birds through the windows, drinking coffee and reading cookbooks.  Planning winter feasts.  Soul food, this sitting in winter sunlight with the warmth of burning wood; abundance in its truest form. 

The making of a meal is not merely the preparation of ingredients, but the feeding of a person and the celebration of life.  The abundance that exists within each and every meal is easy to loose sight of.  To forget that each clove of garlic, each onion or carrot or salmon or potato is the manifestation of so many rays of sunlight, so many grains of dark earth and drops of crystal water.  To forget that the giving of food to others, serving a meal, is an act of loving service that has gone on for millennia, defining our species, connecting family and community.  To forget that each bite we take, be it quick and hurried, or in the company of others with a lit candle, is an affirmation of our own lives, of our place within the web of life, and a poignant reminder to be grateful that we have this bite to eat.  And this. 

I spend some portion of my day, every day, in the kitchen in front of counter and stove.  Midweek, I try to minimize the time and energy after the long drive home, and explore what all can be made with a slow cooker, and how many ways to sauté veggies quickly over pasta.  But some days, when there is nothing to do after work and 8 pm seems a reasonable dinner time, or on the weekends when I like to think that I have nothing but time, I make meals that are a celebration.  Sometimes they are simple and sometimes elaborate, but each is made with love and each is eaten at the table with a lit candle.  Most meals I make begin with the chopping of onion or of garlic, sautéed in olive oil and sometimes a bit of butter.  When I first read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," I remember smiling in an instant feeling of kinship with her when she made the same statement about the beginnings of her family's meals.  In that rhythm of chopping and slicing and dicing the pungent beginnings of a meal, there is a space for ritual.  I am not as fast as professional chef, who dices garlic at dizzying speeds, but I am not slow either, years of daily practice have ensure a steady speed – but it is a constant speed, there is no rushing such a task, no shortcuts.  First the papery outer skin of the allium is peeled off by fingers that have learnt the trick of it, then the knife pulled from the drawer is sharpened, it slices first one way, and then another; sometimes it is accompanied by tears as it opens the heart of the allium.  Then golden oil sautees pungence into a richness and a mellowness to savor. It is followed by the dance of ingredients and boiling water, of herbs and pepper, and finally culminates in the pas de deux of meal eaten with my darling man over the flame of a candle.  The repetition of this process, day after day, becomes a ritual and an act that borders on the sacred; uniting me with my own self past and future, and with the countless men and women who have and who will eat food daily in the presence of fire.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

By the light of the moon

This morning early, as we were leaving the Homestead to go to work, my Darlin'Man checked the monitor for the electrical system...

Lo and behold, the light of the just past full moon was producing 2 volts of electricity thanks to the magic of our solar panels.