Celebrating Grains (as someone who doesn’t eat grains)

Today is the celebration of Lammas, the Grain Festival–or how I often have thought of it here in North America–the Corn Festival.  This is the time when local corn on the cob is finally ready!  In its European origins, “corn” meant wheat, and it was a celebration of the wheat harvest, complete with Lammas breads eaten during the rituals.  But lately, I have been following a mostly grain-free eating plan–no wheat, no gluten, and no corn.  So how might I celebrate Lammas?

I am planning to go outside for a fire this evening.  We had our first fire in our fire circle on the new moon on July 23rd.  (the photo is from that fire)  A fire always feels like an invocation of the sacred.  Perhaps it would work also to celebrate with nuts and fruits, which are like grain in that they are the seeds of the plant.  They are freely gifted by the plants to human beings.  All cultivated plants co-evolved with human communities.  So perhaps tonight I will celebrate that partnership between human beings and plants!

First Fire

Water for Future Gardens

Garden SpigotToday a plumber installed a new outdoor spigot at our house. The old one was buried behind the steps to the deck, close to the driveway, and not at all handy for future garden watering. This one is on the other side of the deck, close to where we are imaging planting fruit trees and other food crops. It makes me happy to see it there, all ready to use.

Before we installed it the spigot, we had to research what material to use for the piping–copper, PVC or PEX.  We chose copper because the PVC varieties and PEX piping seem more hazardous with leaching that puts chemicals into the water. This article was very helpful.  Since this spigot will be watering our food, we want it to be as non-toxic as possible.

Submeter

Submeter

It is also attached to a submeter we purchased from the Portland Water District. Our sewer bills are computed based on the volume of our water usage, and with a submeter, the water that is going into the ground (rather than the sewer) won’t be used to compute the sewer bill.  So spending the money for the submeter now should eventually save us money in the long run.  Now all we have to do is contact the city for an inspection, and we’ll be good to go.

(Except we won’t be planting gardens until next year.)

Wild Blueberries

Wild Blueberry Patch

Wild Blueberry Patch

Wild blueberries plants don’t really photograph well–the plants are low to the ground and often in a large patch.  The flowers are tiny and bell shaped.  I have been trying to grow them in our yard for the last several years with minimal luck. But this May it seems they are bursting with life all along the the street we live on. They don’t really like the luscious bed I made for them… they seem to prefer the sand scrabble mess along the side of the road. There are blueberries flowers everywhere, along with wild strawberry, and I see volunteer raspberry plants greening out in many and diverse spots as well.

Blueberry flowers close DSC07502If we were gathering our food, we are living in the right place. One year I did gather a pint of wild strawberries. Most years we leave them for the chipmunks and birds to munch on…it is a lot of work to pick them and they are so tiny. Same with the wild blueberries. Now it is easier to buy the cultivated varieties at the store.

I think about how people used to give a lot of attention to finding their food, when they were gathering these little morsels in earnest.  It might take a long time to get enough for a real dish.  But here all around us is such abundance, and such a gift of nourishment, if we are willing to receive it in small bites. Could it be that life is like that in other ways? That there might be spiritual nourishment all around us, freely given, in small bites, to those who are willing to pay attention for a while?

Avoid Spiritual Theft by Doing Our Own Spiritual Work

Indigenous spiritual traditions are inextricably woven into the network of relationships within an Indigenous community and in the particular land in which that community lives. They are a fundamental element of the Native struggle against the destruction of their cultures and homes. They are not meant to be exported piecemeal for some other purpose, however earnest it may be. If we seek to avoid spiritual theft, the best tool we can use is for us to do our own spiritual work. 

If we are seeking to reconnect to the earth, we must remind ourselves that non-Indian people are no less a part of the earth than Indians, even though we are not indigenous to this place. In reality, we all live here on this land and our lives are equally enmeshed with the fate of countless other beings around us. This land, broken as she is, is our only source of food and water. And this land is full of nourishment for us, both material and spiritual. We can love the earth, and be loved by the earth, even if she keeps some secrets from us. Step by step, we must rebuild our own culture’s relationship to the earth. Even though we might learn from the wisdom and experience of Indigenous peoples, no one else can do the work for us.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

One summer, I learned that by eating local honey, I could help the hay-fever I suffered from in summertime. By eating that local honey I could begin to make a relationship between my body and the plants which grow in that place. There has been a resurgence of interest in eating foods that are locally grown. Along with the environmental benefits, there are also these spiritual ones, this reweaving of a connection with our bodies to a place. It is our connection to a specific place, the place we live, which forms the doorway for us to hear the earth, to find her sacredness.

A sacred understanding of land is not entirely foreign to European culture. Until the advent of capitalism, land was seen in a more communal fashion. Europeans had their own indigenous traditions to connect them to their land, many of which survived even into Christian times. We see traces of this in our holidays even here in this country—the evergreen trees of the winter festival, the foods we prepare for special times of the year. Many people are seeking to relearn these old European earth traditions.

Othila DSC02547

Othila

There is a rune, part of the early Germanic ritual alphabet, called Othila, whose sacred meaning is “inherited land.” It describes the relationship between people and the land on which they live. In Germanic countries, there is still a legal right called the right of odal. It means that a person living on a particular estate has the right to stay and live on that estate after the owner has died.

In 17th century England, there was a movement of people called the Diggers, who were protesting the fencing off of common lands and believed that the land could not be owned by private individuals. A love for the earth has many roots in our European ancestors’ ways.

Sacred Animals

We may not be able to know and appreciate all the animals and plants, but we sense that something important might emerge if we can know and appreciate one animal. This has led some to have an interest in looking for a “power animal.” I think this interest comes from a desire to be connected to our fellow creatures here on earth.  Finding a power animal began in some ancient shamanic traditions but has become popular in the modern spirituality marketplace, where often the idea is romanticized. People look for the exotic and the wild.

But there is another way to find a power animal. First, you can start by thinking about your food. If you eat meat or fish, or eggs or milk, what are the animals that give you their life, so you can have food?

In our culture, it is difficult to honor the animals who are most important to us. Chickens, cattle, and pigs are the most widely eaten animals in the United States. Most of them are raised in horrible conditions. My purpose right now is not to talk about the nightmare of factory farming. But when we begin to open our hearts to our connection with other animals, we have to ask ourselves about the animals we eat for food.

Chicken

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Let’s focus on the chicken—the animal most eaten in the United States. Sometimes they have been given a bad image in the media—we call someone “chicken” when they are lacking in courage. But chickens lay eggs that feed us, and give their lives to feed us. When allowed to roam a yard, chickens will kill and eat the ticks that can cause Lyme disease. They have their own nobility and useful simple lives. A chicken would be a fine power animal. Except that perhaps we feel too ashamed of how the humans have treated them. If we respected the chickens, how could we consider the agricultural practices that confine them to torturous cages?

To eat is a sacred act. So often, we eat mindlessly. We don’t pay attention. When we eat, we take one part of Mother Earth, and unite it with another part of Mother Earth—our own bodies. Eating is necessary for life, and yet always includes death of some kind, whether of plants or animals. The great mystery of life and death can be present to us every single day, in the ordinary communion of eating a meal. But most of the time we are separated from that mystery because we can pick up our food in the grocery store, without any indication that this food is from living beings.

One of Henry David Thoreau’s practices when he went to the woods was, for a time, to try to catch or grow whatever he ate. He spoke about how needing to kill and prepare one’s meat was something that inclined him toward being a vegetarian. Some people do make that choice, out of respect for the animals. For my part, I try to honor the sacredness of food by thanking the creatures who have given their lives that I might eat. And because of that, I try to buy meats of animals who have been raised with dignity. In our culture, it can be a difficult thing to do. But it all begins by making one simple change—to recognize and celebrate the source of our food at each meal.

The Indigenous Innu people of northern Quebec did rituals in which they asked the caribou spirit to help them in the hunt. They believed that the caribou spirit helped them find caribou to kill and eat. They did rituals after they killed a caribou, and made sure that none of the bones touched the ground. The animal they ate was the animal to which they prayed. We can do that too.

Cats facing Window DSC03590When I watch our cats looking at the birds outside, it seems to me that they are doing something like praying. We don’t let them go outside—we’ve interrupted their hunting of birds. But when they shiver and chatter in excitement just watching the birds, it seems very much like deep devotion.