The Land as Teacher

The year has been spent learning about the land.  It was a promise I made to myself this past year, and I am relieved to have been able to live it.  I had grown tired of city life and needed a breather, a return to a life that is marked by weather, blooms, birds, and

vegetables.  It was a quiet choice that many are taking.  Answering a call to a different kind of order, of intricate systems within nature, and within oneself.


2012 wrap up

There is nothing quite like ending a year with a bit of closure.  For me 2012 was a year where great strides were taken, and some issues came back after I thought I knew better.

I learned that my heart worked perfectly fine.  I learned that I could love other people's children as if they were my own.  I dug deep and tried to mentor, to set a good example, especially if that meant standing my ground for positive values and ethics...even under considerable fire. I loved so deep that I thought my heart was going to burst in two, then loved some more. I loved angry kids, troubled kids, cuddly kids, and shy ones.  Most importantly I learned how to navigate the difficult terrain of loving a child who is incapable of love.  That one was no picnic, and I shed many tears, but learning of an other's emotional shortcomings rarely comes without facing some tough emotions in your own right.

I learned a great deal about personality disorders this year.  I learned as much as I could, but was still reeling when a beautiful soul decided to take her own life.  No matter how much I read, I could never understand what she felt.

There were many ethical issues that I had to navigate through this year.  I had to learn how to say "no" quite effectively in both work and personal circles.  I had to remind myself of the diplomacy skills that I hold dear to my heart.  I was surrounded by people with grossly different political views from mine, from Washington state onwards.  I bit my lip so hard so many times as I let others speak, but made sure not to let them speak for me.

I learned a lot of things.  I put my money where my mouth is and wasn't a dreaded "talker."  I dug in dirt, built gardens, edited video, bottle fed baby animals, and fixed a car.  I returned to teaching for a brief reminder of the power of sharing knowledge. It was a hands on kind of year.

I made a lot of great recipes this year.  My stomach ruled 2012.  I went well out of my way to tamper with tried and true recipes and make them suitable for others with intolerance. I remembered old friends like molasses cake and Irish soda bread, and maintained the continuum that food creates in our lives.

I was very kind to animals this year, caring for numerous creatures of all sizes and temperaments.  One such memory is of rescuing a horse from a hail storm.  The look in the horse's eyes was unforgettable, it is burned into my soul.. I fell in love with the intelligence that animals display, if you bother to watch.

I returned to old friends to remind them that they are forever in my heart.  I told them that they are worth traveling for.  I logged many miles to remind people that they are unforgettable.

I had to learn how to deal with another person's addiction this year.  It is a touchy issue that I had to revisit. Finding the balance between having empathy for an other's choices, and enabling those choices was a very fine line to make. It was also a matter of quality of life for myself.

I took considerable risk this year.  I went out into the unknown, simply because I knew it was time.  I had to find courage, and believe in myself.

So as I sit looking forward into the new year, I see several areas where I can do better this year.  More experiences that I would like to have in my life, and qualities that I want to nurture in my own person...but more on that later.



Me and one of my projects of 2012
I looked back upon my own writings this morning, something that I rarely do.  The words and feelings get put down, but then are swept away by the wind.  I look back upon my return to New York City so many months ago, and think of the many changes that have occurred in these last few months.  In many ways, I lived quite freely in the world this year, but in other ways I felt distracted  by the constant change around me.

There were three ruling forces that set the tone for the year:

1) adventurous, not well thought out travel
2) reestablishing a connection with the earth
3) making the effort at learning things that I had always wanted to learn, but had somehow avoided

So what came of it?  Many videos, struggles to learn another language, conversations, gardens, meals, tears, smiles, and one tiny old car saved from the scrap heap. Not a bad year.


Life Lessons, April

Life lessons, April 2012


On Farming

Me helping out the runts, March 2012

I have an interest in soil revitalization.  I didn't realize it until I was living in Hawaii and trying my best to start a garden.  As I plunged the shovel into the ground, I anticipated finding rich volcanic soil, but instead it was grossly depleted due to heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and herbicides.  It was hard for me to accept Hawaii’s love affair with Roundup, known there simply as "spray."  You would hear spray referenced in everyday talks as if it were a dear friend.  "Spray saves everyone so much work," they would say, including a lot of work for the County of Hawaii that hoses down every single roadside on the island with poison.

The depleted soil was the catalyst for me to seek out the lone organic gardener at the farmer's market, who consequently opened up the world of tropical organic gardening for me. It didn't take long before I learned that severely damaged soil was only one of the issues I had to deal with.  There were also predators with the dramatic name, "Africanized Land Snails" that were golf ball sized numbers roaming the garden in packs.  On the other side of the coin were centipedes that are the length of your hand, that would sting the heck out of you, but if you could get on their good side and give them their space, they would defend your greens.  All this took place on the side of a volcano.  It was like gardening in a fairytale. I wasn't going to give up, but I did need to understand how they all worked together.

I was raised on a farm in Southern Wisconsin, and for the first ten years of my life, it was everything that I knew.  My family and many other families got taxed and zoned out of farming due to the nearby city's expansion to make way for what are now known as "Box stores" and "McMansions."  By the time I was seven years old, I knew the end of our farm was near.  You could read it on people's faces.  I recall many a stoic, weathered farmer advising me to "never marry a farmer."  In the third grade, I had not yet made any plans to marry anyone, but I did know that they didn't mean it; they were just speaking with a broken heart. Those were hard days to witness, as each one seemed to bring another bulldozer to take out another farmhouse.  My brother and I coped by imagining ourselves to be bionic farm defenders that could halt the destruction with our imaginary ray guns. We would at times booby trap the machinery like little farmer vigilantes.  Unfortunately for all, it didn’t halt the city expansion. I often wondered why those old farmers never told me not to marry a land developer.

We grew up and my brother and I were the first generation to graduate college.  I studied business because I thought I should, and then went on and studied art because that vigilante part stuck with me for life.  I used art as a gateway to travel the world.  It allowed me to continue to study natural science and view all experience through the lens of art.  It provided many opportunities to inspire and educate others.  Art became a beautiful way to share my world view.

I made opportunities to travel to faraway places so to make my artwork, but also to simply learn about the world by living as other people live.  It allowed me a valuable education that I have drawn from and continue to build upon every day since. I often just showed up as an extra helper, and by doing so, I was able to have extraordinary experiences like herding sheep with four wheeler in Southern New Zealand, carving out a garden from a 7ft tall nettle forest in Ireland, hunting eels in the flooded taro beds of the South Pacific islands, bring in a Wahoo on a hand line somewhere near the island of Takutea, and rolling up the pant legs to plant rice in terraced fields of Java.  I feel lucky to have inherited my Father’s curiosity for all things, as well as being able to maintain enough of the inner fire that it takes to live these dreams.

In Hawai'i, my art got increasingly influenced by the land and waters that surrounded me.  Many creative ideas appeared when I was digging in the mud or harvesting passion fruit or avocados.  There wasn't a rift between art and gardening; they worked in harmony together because they both were creative endeavors.  I soon found other artists who also loved tending their gardens.  Many were potters who's hen's clucked and picked alongside fired pots and clay faces that peered out of tomato vines. I got to know the bee guy, Connie “the native plant lady,” and I had the bat guano man on my speed dial. I was hooked.

I left Hawai'i to attend to family matters, and soon realized that I was quite lost in New York City in an apartment without a garden.  I made efforts to explore Urban Gardening within our Nation’s largest city. I made a windowsill herb garden, and volunteered my labor at big rooftop farms where I turned giant rows of compost several stories up in the sky.  I became a regular customer at many farmers markets and used the New York Public Library to research sustainable living.  I was interested in solar power, so I took a six week course in green construction.  I learned how to carry half my body weight up the stairs repeatedly, how to calculate voltage drops, swing a hammer and how to seal and insulate a room.  I graduated with top marks in solar electricity and mathematics.  Upon graduation last year, I was hired by the City of New York’s to help train a thousand volunteers on the ins and outs of retrofitting NYC's buildings to be more sustainable.  The program focused on reducing their summer energy costs by cooling the roofs through white roofs, known also as cool roofs.

When this program ended this past winter, I took the opportunity to complete my underwater film project in the cenotes of Mexico.  The cenotes are underground interconnected rivers that supply fresh water for the entire Yucatan Peninsula.  I was able to give talks at science symposiums and give visual presentations about the beauty and importance of our waterways.  The time away from the city gave me the hours of reflection, and the physical distance to evaluate what I would like to occur in the next chapter in my life.  I realized that I am collecting an interesting skill set that includes many areas within the permaculture curriculum, but I could benefit from a more formal course of study.

This week I am happily visiting urban farms, feeding chickens and spring goats.  A friend forwards me information about internships.  My muck boots are appropriately muddied and waiting at the door. I excitedly pour through seed catalogs like I used to do on many a childhood winter day, dreaming about summer and all of the possibilities that my hard work could bring forth. As I sip another cup of tea, I reflect on the words of the old farmers, noting that they advised me never to marry a farmer, but they never advised me not to be one myself.



Becan, Yucatan Mexico, Anna Peach 2012

I speak about the trials of returning as often as I speak of the emotional pull of  leaving.  I seem to be forever in the grip of one of these two distinct poles.  We often say that to return is to go back to the comforts of what we know, but with all of the changes that we undergo while away, I find myself returning as a dramatically changed person that has more than a little trouble trying to fit back into the rushing tides of pedestrians.  With that, I view my environs with new perspectives, and often a great deal of confusion as I try to smush myself into the way things were.  As is the case with my return to New York City.  I was barely circling above Laguardia airport before the city pulled at me.  I had undergone a transformation by living very closely to the land in a foreign country for several months, and now the grey sprawl again took over my life.  It was never a very comfortable fit for me in our nation's largest city, but I continue to try regardless.

As I sat in the glare of the mid afternoon sun, I asked myself, "what in the hell am I doing?" while we were all supposed to be seeking out the Freedom Tower off the left of the plane.  And so I  begin the return process.  It sounds bleak, and  unfortunately it certainly was as bad as it sounds.  It opened up the can of worms that we all try to avoid discussing, that being the "why do we make the living choices that we make" question that is often so very hard to answer.  Why do we continue to return to places or people that are not such a great fit?  Why do we go to great lengths to justify the reasons for not living to our fullest potential.  It is a dangerous question to raise in the Big Apple, for most people cling to the city using the same justifications that we use to justify remaining in a failing romantic relationship.  Often the answer is as simple as we have invested far too much time into a situation that we thought would eventually pay off.  It hasn't yet, but yet with our heads still barely above water, it seems more tempting and far easier to stay put in the lackluster situation than to forge ahead into the unknown.  When you break it down to the simple truth that change is scary, it seems nothing short of cowardly to sell ourselves short.

With that being said, I am neck deep in change as I write.  For I couldn't very well write on the subject without at the very least guinea pigging myself to the hilt.  What will come of this?  I am not sure, but the very simple fact that I am writing about it seems to show that I am already in a better place for it. 


Keeping Afloat

The return to one's own dreams is rarely captured for anyone other than the one who holds the dream in their own heart.  In this case, an image is available to share the joy of my return to the things that I hold sacred.  It wasn't an easy return, with many days spent healing and recuperating.  But perhaps it was a return that was earned through believing that it would happen one day...when I was ready.