Archive for April, 2009

Animá Definitions: Forgiveness

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

 Introduction:  When I was a confrontational eco-writer I used to receive regular attacks from all sides, from anti-environmentalists to government officials and anti-spiritual anarchists.  While some it stung, I came to appreciate the degree to which I was stirring and challenging my readers.  I have, in fact, worried if my writings have somehow been compromised or lost their pithy bite, now that oppressive federal agenices no longer try to sabotage my venues, anarchists have quit looking for “deep ecologists” to confront, and we can sometimes go years with no negative responses!  That said, I may indeed have mellowed, as I no longer find any pleasure in those few cases of disagreement, projection or misunderstanding that arise.  The following is a piece I wrote a year or two ago, the fifth or sixth in a series of Animá definitions/redefinitions of crucial terms, a reminder that holding ourselves and each other accountable for our perceptions and actions is best for all concerned… but also a reminder of all the ways that forgiving can be a gift not just to a perceived offender but to us.  -JWH

Animá Definitions:

-FORGIVENESS
Releasing Anger & Holding Responsible

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

www.animacenter.org

Forgiving can be a very beautiful and healing thing, such as learning to forgive ourselves for some perceived inadequacy, or setting aside rancor as we come to terms with a harm someone has done, while welcoming their remorse or restitution.  A review of the dictionary definitions indicates, nonetheless, that it is not something we should either universally or casually hand out.  The word “forgive” comes from an early Germanic word meaning “to give whole-heartedly,” but was first derived from the Latin “perdonare,” meaning to pardon.  Thus the first of the definitions I found:

1. To grant pardon for an offense.

A pardon is a release from penalty and obligation, something that may be highly inappropriate in the case of repeated spousal abuse or the continued logging and burning of the world’s vital rainforests.

2. To cancel an indebtedness or liability.

If anything, surely those who cause a harm our of self interest or greed should be held liable and accountable, perhaps to the extent of having criminals do acts of service for the people they have robbed, and vainglorious Wall Street managers paying restitution to the public that they have hurt.

It’s important to remember that the opposite of forgiveness is neither hate nor holding a grudge, but holding someone responsible for the results of their words, acts and omissions just as nature itself does.  And we need to hold each other as well as ourselves responsible for those things unworthy of being excused or condoned, not by either punishing wrong doers or submitting to punishment ourselves, but by insisting that they – like us – are honest about their effects, doing all possible to make better, rectify, heal and thereby be redeemed.

Redemption through caring and courageous acts is one the most ennobling and compelling of human accomplishments, to the point of being a core theme of a majority of the finest literature and film… not that it can nullify what we’ve thought and said before, all of which likely has consequences for not only us but those around us.  Though I might wish otherwise, doing something right or even noble can’t erase either the reality or the results of earlier harmful actions.  Redeeming ourselves does not “wipe the slate clean” or allow us to “start over,” but then neither would that necessarily desirable, since we distinguish ourselves through the willful shift and conscious transition.  We gain inner power from not only what we do but from how far we have come, the commendable process of learning from our mistakes, and from what we have suffered or confronted in order to become more caring, giving and true.  There’s less measurable growth among those who have carefully avoided risk and thus error, while recognition and even admiration attends the great leaps made by some of those who have first done wrong.  This alone is enough reason to reject the common expression “forgive and forget.”  if we forget the wrongs or mistakes of ourselves and others, we will have forgotten that there was ever a cause for forgiveness, and that there was ever either the need or the room to repair, remedy and improve.

Upon close examination, we can see that forgiveness serves neither others nor us when it leads us to overlook what should be noticed and evaluated.  When it functions to condone what should reasonably be unacceptable, from larceny to ecological destruction and the mistreatment of children.  When we absolve the guilt of those people or institutions that should be admitting their role and making amends.  When we “let bygones be bygones” with inadequate consideration of what our acceptance of wrongful acts might result in in the future.  When forgiveness becomes a reason for tolerating what no self respecting being should tolerate, for excusing the inexcusable, the fouling of rivers, clearcut hillsides, racist attacks and date rape.  Whenever forgiveness is confused with forbearance of that which threatens diversity, impinges on liberty, maliciously or neglectfully endangers or dishonors life.

If it is “giving throughly” as the early Germanic translation would have it, than it would be a more valuable present if given sparingly, meaningfully, and only when wholly deserved.  Rather than automatically dismissing our concerns our issuing a blanket exemption, we might better notice, distinguish, discern, and decide on the appropriateness of what goes on in our homes, communities and watersheds.  In this way we would ourselves be taking responsibility… not for the acts of others, but for our small part in the co-creation or our world and our reality.

3. To cease to feel anger or resentment.

This may be what most of us think of first when we tell someone we forgive them, signaling that we ready to stop being angry and willing to let the issue or peeve go even though damage may have been done.  The German government asked for forgiveness from the Jewish community in hopes of advancing reconciliation after the Nazi atrocities.  Couples forgive themselves after an argument, “clearing the air” for a fresh perspective or sweet mending.

Even the most peace loving and spiritual among us, however, should still take into account the occasional value of natural, temporary, conditional and directed anger.  At its healthiest, anger is distress abated or eased through conscious application, a life affirming passion to protect and correct, a kind of medicine when employed to prevent or remedy an injustice.  Anger is a capacity that evolved over the course of millions of years to help motivate us to defend life and halt wrongs, not to demonstrate prejudice, wreak vengeance or vent displeasure.  For relief and resolution, not for punishment or vengeance.

All too often, of course, our anger is indeed misplaced.  And even when it isn’t, it is unhealthy to the degree that we hold onto it instead of utilizing it to foment and fuel to the point of resolution, neither purposefully acting on it nor effectively letting it go.  Resentment is even more problematic, having absolutely no value or function, and benefitting neither the person doing the resenting or the person or thing that they resent.  Resentment is the frustration, envy, discomfort and distress that we’ve failed to address or act on, and like unresolved anger it can distort, handicap or even poison us and the best of our intentions.

Nature and the Anima teach us to purge ourselves of all such resentment, and to explore, understand, engage and then work to rectify that which we are angry about.  It helps neither ourselves nor the world to pardon or ignore those acts and conditions that we know to be harmful.  But on the other hand, neither does it serve the community, earth or us to nurse and sustain that anger.  Hostility endangers not only the fabric of relationship and tribe, but the attendant stress can severely damage our emotional and physical health, our peace of mind, and therefore our very lives.  We’d do well to keep in mind such effects on our own well being – as well as the severity of a wrong or the degree of repentance – whenever deciding what, why and when to forgive.

Whenever prudent and justified, forgiving is a blessing of resolution and relief for all concerned. And at its best, it is not so much what we afford others, as it is a gift to ourselves as the loving and willing forgiver.

(You are welcome to share or even reprint this credited article wherever you like)

Why Not? – Straight Talk about Unlimited Possibilities

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

anima-awakenessreconectionresponse-sm.jpg

Why Not?

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

(www.animacenter.org)

When I was a young kid in military school, a wise teacher told me the most important question to ask in life was “Why?”  His wise-guy student, however, insisted the real question of relevance was “Why not?”  For example, why not let me take more electives?  Or work ten hour days in order to have an extra day out of school?  Why not let me make my own decisions, and then both deserve the rewards and pay the price for my actions?  Why not give Sergeant stripes for initiative instead of awarding them for for silent obedience?  Or give myself to a series of exciting adventures like my heroes in the books?

Some things never change.  For example, I don’t need to ask why the banking system collapsed or why failed bankers give themselves millions of dollars in bonuses, nor do do I wonder why both political parties allowed them to run away with our hard earned tax dollars just like I predicted months ago.  I and millions of others already know why this country is going to hell in a hand-basket, why most people care only about their credit card limits and WallyWorld shopping baskets, why nature suffers even at the hands of administrations with the best of intentions, and why even free-thinking citizens have been taught to believe that they’re insignificant and powerless.

More pertinent (or temperamentally impertinent) is “Why not”… as in why not grab the executives of disgraced conglomerate AIG, strip them of every ill gotten and ill deserved dollar, vacation house, racing horse and yacht, strip them down to a basic working person’s wardrobe and a single 1980’s Chevy family car?  Why not let the poorly managed banks go bankrupt, and then see what takes their place?  Why not develop locally based banks that loan only to – and invest only in – the local community and its needs?  Why not purchase houses directly from the owners, with them carrying the loan?  And why not get the heck away from credit for anything smaller than purchase of land, a business or home?  Why not live on what we can really produce, spend only what we have, spend only our money instead of the money of our children’s children’s children?  Raise gardens, wildcraft and barter?

Why not put the stress on local production, instead of worldwide markets?  Export only finished goods instead of raw resources?  Make decisions locally, for the good of the region?  Why not build things to last, instead of making tons of crappy things that don’t?  Why not be your own boss, believe in yourself, act to make your hopes a reality, buck convention to be your real self, risk income and credibility by fulfilling a crazy lifelong dream?  Why not see getting fired as an opportunity to move to the country, or to get out of that townhouse and move into a cheap 20 foot fishing boat?  Why not start creating a world different from the one being crammed down our throats, instead of remaining “victims” lost in a flurry of deadlines and narcotic cloud of banal television shows?  Why not cleave to the “old ways” and values of the distant past, when what’s modern is often of no value and what’s new should be questioned?

Why not honor and defend the essential liberties and rights as spelled out in the Constitution, regardless of popular whimsical opinion, regardless of legislation and repression?  Why not attempt the impossible, fight for what’s right, and stand up against all that isn’t?  Speak the truth even if it’s problematic, goes against the grain of our standard-cut populace, or gets us into trouble?  Why not voice our amazement, umbrage and outrage, to neighbors that need to hear it, so called “leaders” who don’t want to hear it, on pirate radio waves and in the columns of newspapers struggling to make it?  Why not plant our urban yards with native plants, encourage flower boxes on every stretch of concrete, or even start tearing some of the suffocating concrete up?  Put the earth first, and see ourselves as integral flesh and blood of that earth?  What about standing-out for a change, instead of always fitting into some slot, or buying what we really want and need instead of what’s considered trendy and hot?

To quote country-western singer Dwight Yoakum in a line of one his hits, “Why, Baby, why not?”

(copy or forward this as you please…)

Marriage to the Land: Part 3 of 3: The Active Art of Love – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

 Marriage to the Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Part 3 of 3: The Active Art of Love

hopsarbor-sm.jpgI likely say both “I love you” to both wife and land a dozen times a day.  My eyes play over every change of clothes or leaves, river swell or new dress, and I comment again and again on the smile that delights me, the smells of river and woman that arouse.  I draw pictures and write essays full of praise to acknowledge and even immortalize.  Drawings of blue eyes and flowing hair, of canyon bobcats and coursing river.  Stories written of feminine wildness and this special wild place.  Promises and endearments carved or painted and then left somewhere for a certain someone to find.

Marriage, after all, is not only a commitment to another’s well being but to romance as well.  It is incumbent on the spouse to tend not only the body of the beloved but the heart, honoring the other’s unique qualities and complimenting their beauty.  “Settling down” with someone is about settling into patterns of attentiveness and care, affirmation and celebration…. not settling for less.  Similarly we husband the land not so much by tilling as by extolling.  A paramour might leave flowers in the path of the returning beloved, faithfully kiss her mate’s eyes open each morning, or sing his praises with a mad passion.  The lover of a place bows to every new bloom, presses lips to tree bark, honors the setting of sun with a whirling dance, honors root and flight with bared toes on bare ground and the borrowed melodies of the meadow lark.  Such careful attention and creative expression is nothing less than art…. and this constant blooming, the art of marriage.  The goal is not only to make the relationship work, but to make it beautiful as well.  Not only meeting the needs of the other, but delighting them with our means of doing so.  In our marriage to the land, the care we gift it includes our attentiveness, passion, protection, and the artful celebration of what is surely our shared being.

In relationships as in paintings, the art is in the acknowledgment and glorification of the other’s inner essence.  The artist or mate draws out not only the actual appearance of the  beloved but also their feel, their spirit, their beauty that preceded the maturing of the features and will long outlive the perfect skin of youth, shining through a road map of facial wrinkles or mountain erosion to come.  Not only the lines and color of a landscape but the character that breeds and defines its landed features, with the spirits of place honored in deft strokes by those loving the hush of compost and gray of winter as much as the brilliant greens and bursting songs of Spring growth.  And it is just as true for our poetry, correspondence and diary entries, for craft and song and dance dedicated to the revealing of that inner power connecting us to the all.  Take the ancient dances to the hunted animals for example, the chants to the rain gods, magical paintings on mats of bark and myths telling and retelling tribal truths over a council fire, the ways in which we court our chosen man or maiden — all are stories, and it is story that centers us in our beliefs, in our world, in the progression of past, present and future.  They are the threads that stitch us back into our contract and our place, a portion of life’s crucial lessons handed down through the inheritance of craft more than genes.  Since the very beginnings of what it means to be human we have venerated and exalted Spirit, the living land and our conjugal loves through that confluence of feeling and demonstration called art.

The ancient ones they call the Mimbres peoples created a black on white pottery style that is still held in high esteem by modern art experts and connoisseurs.  Featuring fantastic images of wild animals and mythical entities, they inevitably evoke the Great Mystery.  The fired clay fragments scattered throughout our refuge tell of a life of honoring, each one a picture-puzzle piece still vibrating with the intention of its designer and the accumulative energy of years of reverent touch.  The first inhabitants of this canyon spoke their fealty for the land in rock art carved out of their collective and individual souls, lightning bolts and the seed-carrier Kokopelli painted on the insides of caves.  Here too are the forms of the artists’ fingers and palm, their signatures, the marks of their  selves, in graphic hands reaching out to their descendants across the chasm of time.  They left enduring images of their priorities and loves, deities and dreams.  They left their holiest expressions of wonder and communion, the evidence of a marriage with place consecrated in timeless artistic expression.

And of course there was beauty before there was ever an informed audience, in the way the setting sun sparkles on the cottonwood leaves, in the explosive and the sublime, the sensuous inner curves of the datura blossom and the upthrusting lava that first helped form these canyon cliffs.  In a wooden cholla cactus skeleton seemingly braced against both wind and sky.  In the way the morning mist clings to the mountains, and how the willows sway back and forth in the wind.  In the purslane stems forming a crimson star burst on the ground, and the juxtaposition of branches on ponderosa pines stout and tall.  In the orange feathers of clown flickers, and the purple undersides of lamb’s quarters after they go to seed in the Fall.  It is little different today save for our rapt attention and silent applause.  Resident and guest alike are touched to the degree that they are open and aware…. with each glinting rock, each flex of river muscle food for the observant eye, inspiration to the feeling heart, and food for the hungry soul.

Art is a matter not only of form but of deliberate expression.  Even a child’s crayon scribbles are art when they contribute to her sense of self, satisfy her inner muse, or are made to express an idea or feeling to her mama or papa.  This canyon’s river ripples and Zen-like displays of white fuzzy seeds are beautiful even without an audience, and have no need for our appreciation or approval.  But with no conscious intention of their own to impart, it is only as photographs in this book that they truly become art.

Art is conscious expression.  Therefore there is art in the sensuous ways a wife might move when in the presence of her lover.  Art in a mother’s calligraphy, in the extra swirls and embellishments that make her cards and envelopes stand out.  Art in carefully arranged wildflowers, in the way a little girl mixes, matches and layers her clothing.  In the balanced way we lay out the colorful foods on our plate, and on the walls that we decorate.  Art can be not only what we witness or create, but the very how and why of our lives.  How we dress or carry ourselves.  How we eat and think, and move when there’s no one around to watch us.  How meaningfully and expressively we speak to each other, and how well we listen.  The music we like, and the rhythms of our own day to day existence.  In the vernacular of the artist, attention to the forms our being and doing take is called “style,” though its not nearly so proscribed or restrained as that makes it sound.  Another way to look at an artful life and marriage is as a condition and practice of “grace,” sometimes defined as “seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement,” “an excellence bestowed” or “a prayer of thanksgiving.”  It is to walk, as the Hopi say, “in beauty”… and to walk in gratitude, forever, together.

My decades in this canyon have taught me that whole relationship – whether with a spouse or our mated place – is founded on trust, deepened by respect, furthered by communication, bound fast through commitment and loyalty, blessed with surrender and sacrifice, lived and expressed in the most wonderful and artful ways.  It is love both given and received, and not only beautiful but seen.  In this marriage to the land I say, “let nothing come between.”

(photos (c)2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Marriage to the Land: Part 2 of 3: Re-envisioning Sacrifice & Surrender – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, April 10th, 2009

 Marriage to the Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Part 2 of 3:
Re-envisioning Sacrifice & Surrender

sunflower2-sm.jpg“Marriage is a relationship.  When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship.”           
-Joseph Campbell

It’s possible to go from girlfriend to girlfriend or place to place with neither commitment, sacrifice nor surrender, but a healthy marriage to anyone or anything depends on elements of all three.  We commit to be with someone or some place not just when its most convenient, profitable or enjoyable but “for better or for worse, in sickness as in health.”  When our beloved suffers illness and debility, rages with frustration or quakes from some old and unhealed wound, we hold him or her all the closer.  We meet those needs that we’re able, help heal what we can, abide that which we cannot help, and love the whole .  When our home is hurt we rise to stem the damage, and hold it all the closer as it trembles at the approach of bulldozers, concrete mixers and those furtive men with their seemingly limited feelings and limitless ideas.  The committed hold tight even when faced with an invasion by the most inglorious industries.  I know that a wildfire could blow through our precious canyon home, level our houses and destroy the forest I helped plant a quarter century before and still we would not leave.  We’d stay to bathe its burns with our tears, replant its soil with seed and hope and come nightfall, make our bed on its blanket of ash.

Commitment inevitably requires sacrifice.  If nothing else we sacrifice what we once planned or wanted to do in order to give our time, energy and focus to something that matters even more to us.  To “sacrifice” means literally “to make sacred,” through a deliberate, ritual and voluntary gifting.  As a teenager I hated the term, partly from hearing mothers say in barely disguised disgust how they had “sacrificed” their dreams for their children, and husbands who claimed to have “sacrificed” their lives for the sake of their wives…. using others as an excuse for not having taken the risk to go for what they claim to desire most.  Sacrificing isn’t “giving up” something as if under pressure or obligation, but “giving” it as a gift from our heart…. a meaning-filled offering to others, to Spirit, to home and to purpose.

It’s also true that there’s no sacrifice in inadvertently gifting, or in gifting that which we have no real desire to keep.  To sacrifice is to consciously give of those things we might otherwise rather hold on to, for the sake of our intention, priorities and promise.  Young and relatively clueless as I once was, I nonetheless knew that moving here onto this isolated piece of land would mean sacrificing my gallery and art career, income and social life, and access to cultural activities as well as medical facilities.  Thus instead of feeling victimized or penalized by unseen consequences, I felt empowered by the ritual of choice.  I could value my time and my role in the canyon in even deeper ways, knowing what I consciously gave, and continue to give, in order to be here.

There are no empty holes in life, and as the saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.”  If a species disappears, its niche is quickly filled by other life forms.  A basin is sure to eventually fill with rain.  Canyons summon rivers as soil beckons seed.  Thus it is impossible for anybody to give something over, without getting something in return, and with each thing sacrificed we’d do well to look for what might have been gained.   To sacrifice a prerogative, is often to garner respect.  With the sacrifice of one’s plans come the gifts of adventure and spontaneity, serendipity and surprise.  Sacrificing the boost in salary that a move to another region might bring, we gain a renewed awareness of and appreciation for where we already live.  It was through sacrificing my habitual urge to roam that I finally came upon the true meaning of home.

I had just as hard of a time with that other prerequisite of deep matrimony, “surrender”– which I confused with defeat, subjugation and shame.  I would never give up on any task no matter how painful or difficult, and when grabbed in a headlock by school bullies I’d have rather died on the spot than ever “say uncle.”  My images of surrender included cowardly troops on a field of battle, throwing their guns on the ground and marching off with the enemy in hopes of lenient treatment and a hot meal.  In reality surrender is hardly for the beaten or resigned, ambivalent or tentative…. and the stronger willed one is, the more fierce our intention needs to be.  It’s more akin to sacrifice, its roots found in the Old French surrendere, meaning “to deliver.”  Matrimony and allegiance to place have nothing to do with defeat and everything to do with giving.      While submission leads to subordination, surrender is a sharing of gifts that results in recombination.  We invariably become a component of that which we surrender to, and likewise what we surrender to becomes a defining part of who we are.  Therefore one must take care always to surrender to truth and service, but never to illusion or greed.  Surrender not to property but to land.  Not to force, but mission and purpose.  And not to separation, distraction or bitterness…. but to connection and placement, contentment and love.

(to be continued)

(photos (c)2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Marriage to the Land: Part 1 of 3: Promise & Commitment – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, April 6th, 2009

 Marriage to the Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Part 1 of 3: Promise & Commitment

riverpondeve-sm.jpgOur relationship to the land, like our relationship to other significant people, is in some ways a reciprocal contract.  But while it’s a hopefully lasting agreement, a healthy relationship with place is more of a marriage, binding similar rather than disparate parties, and formalizing promises between like hearts with shared values, desires and priorities.  It is a commitment unenforceable by law, and yet fastened by love, a lasting emotional and spiritual coupling and – in time – a mixing of the bones.  In its deepest measure it actually outlasts the flesh, not like the ghostly or risen but like energies alchemically enjoined, like a song that continues to reverberate down the canyon long after the singer has turned and gone.

Already once divorced at age 23, I cannot claim to have always lived up to the intent and goal of matrimony, but when I’ve promised I’ve given my all.  And likewise in my marriage to this land, nothing is held back.  I have given myself completely, while opening completely to the gifts of this place.  With full commitment, full belief, and full certainty that this marriage between inspirited ground and devoted man – and between those who tend that ground – will last.  Not until “death do us part” but somehow, some way, forever.  Holding on to each other not “by our teeth” but by hugging.  And more than that, by intertwining form, spirit and purpose until there can be no telling where the one starts and other stops, the lover and the beloved.

When the relationship is at its best, coming back to one’s home or home to our spouses is a return to our selves – to the wholest expression of what it means to be.  We feel the other, the land and lover, as integral extensions of this expanded self.  When we leave we carry them with us in our devoted hearts and minds.  When we are gone from the place we love most, as when apart from husband or wife, we ache for reunion.  We awaken to the comforting breathing of spouse, wind and land, work best all day for them or with them.  We can lose them to failed health or forest fire, and yet we hold them still.  They’re in the dreams we love to remember, and their absence is usually the mark of a nightmare.  We sleep deepest in the familiar arms of the mate or home that fullest knows us.  We plant ourselves in them, and feel them grow inside of us.  If we were to do something so vulnerable as to write a poem, it would be for that special him, or her, or there.

Far too many ceremonies retain the forms without the commitment, pledging allegiance to a country or cause without really meaning it, mouthing the sacraments of a church and then doing the opposite, pledging  a lifetime and then breaking apart in a few years or less.  When it comes to a relationship you want to last, as our relationship to the land, we’re well served by at least one line of the traditional oath, taking it one step further by promising and knowing that “even with death, we shall not part.”  We promise to give ourselves fully to one another, to respect and to nourish each other’s unique needs and vital expression, to share adversity and fortune equally, and to defend each other’s honor and form against all outside threats.

In any healthy marriage we praise the qualities and gifts of the other, consciously celebrate our relationship on a daily basis, infuse every moment with an attitude of deepest thankfulness, and seek to give back equally to the other with no resentment or restraint.  Whether a marriage to a person or to the land, part of what we give back is care, and this care is most significant when it is truly heartfelt.  However we might manifest them in the physical realm, the essential exchange of gifts are at the core emotional and spiritual in nature.  What we properly give back is the best of our selves, and our lasting devotion… voluntarily, out of love.

willowsbeaverpond-sm.jpgThis is not to say that we can’t yearn as much for a lover we’ll never marry, or ache as sweetly for someone who consistently spurns our attentions, but for something or someone to feel irreplaceable they first need to feel promised and attached.  An observant traveler should feel at least a slight tug in passing through each region, an entreaty from colorful roadside aspens and enticing lakes, but no other person or place can equal the pull of either mated land or fated mate.

I came to this river canyon a suitor, but quickly promised to serve her in deed and in heart – first as caretaker, and then as spouse.

(to be continued)

(photos (c)2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Wild Nettle Season: Nettle Yogurt Dip Recipe – by Loba

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

 We’ve been wildly busy this week, and Kiva sends her apologies for delayed email responses.  Besides hosting valued student guests, we have doing the final layout of the kid’s book “I’m a Medicine Woman, Too!”, adding additional resources and art, getting it ready for release in one month!  A big welcome to our latest Correspondence Course students, and love to everyone from all of us!

Wild Nettle Season:

Savory Buckwheat Cakes with Nettle Yogurt Dip

by Loba

(www.animacenter.org)

lobarhinettles.jpgDespite their somewhat scary reputation, Stinging Nettles are beautiful and healthful plants. Packed with Protein (more so than even beans!), Iron, Calcium, Magnesium and vitamins A and C, these glowing native plants are one of the most nutritious and tasty greens available anywhere. Native Americans knew about the bounty of the Nettles and used them for fiber as well as food.  Each Springtime, Rhiannon, Kiva and I can all be found excitedly watching the young Stinging Nettles come up beneath the oaks and willows. The moment they’re big enough we pick a bagful for this delicate and flavorful dip! We’re always sure to pick the young Nettle shoots with sturdy gloves on so as not to be stung by the formic acid (the same substance that fire ants contain) that is released by the tiny hairs that cover Nettles. Don’t worry, the sting in Nettles disappears completely when they’re boiled. We love Nettle Yogurt Dip on homemade challah toast with cheese and toasted almonds, whether for dinner for breakfast… but also try it on a hot baked potato, topped with a poached egg.

It’s truly been a wonderful year for nettles!!!  We’ve been harvesting and eating them like crazy! What an incredible joy it is to spend the afternoon crouching under the juniper and oaks, soaking in Spring’s sweet sunshine and the glorious green magic of the nettle plants, who seem to be growing taller with every moment that passes by! As soon as we get enough for a giant potful, we go for a splash and a dunk in the crisp cold river, and then plan the evening meal all refreshed! We’ve been cooking up the nettles over the fire, sometimes outdoors, or inside on the wood cookstove when it’s too windy. Some of the cooked nettles get bagged up to go to Ryan’s freezer, and many others get eaten!

Right now, here in the canyon, it’s the ultimate time to harvest. The plants are incredibly abundant and about 6-8 inches tall. At this height, the stalks are still tender enough to enjoy as well as the beautiful leaves, and can even be used in the following very tasty dip. I’ve been using a hand blender to make sure the stalks are thoroughly ground up. Here’s the recipe for you, from that eternally-in-progress cookbook of mine!

nettleflower.jpgNettle (or Spinach) Yogurt Dip
(Serves 2 or more)

1 cup of steamed nettles (or cooked spinach)
3/4-1 cup yogurt (or goat milk yogurt, or a mixture of yogurt and cream cheese, or sour cream and soft goat cheese!)
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced
Lemon juice, fresh, to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Steam the nettles or spinach leaves until they’re tender, usually about  15-20 minutes. Place the nettles with the yogurt in a bowl and blend well with a fork, or mash in a mortar with a pestle. It’s hard to get spinach soft enough to blend with a fork, so you might want to use a blender or a food mill. Cook the garlic over low heat in a buttered skillet until barely golden. Add the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. After working everything together, taste and adjust salt, pepper, and lemon juice to your taste.

This morning we had the most delicious breakfast! I had made a double batch of nettle dip some days ago, and remembered a wonderful-looking recipe in Sandoor Katz’s incredible book Wild Fermentation. He uses homemade kefir in making these great savory pancakes called Drawoe Kura, from Tibet. I thought, how great these would be made with nettle dip instead of kefir! We ate them this morning with some extra nettle dip and melted butter, a bit of warmed-up leftover red wine-braised chicken, with a mug of today’s freshly boiled nettles in their cooking water served on the side. Homemade chutney and some kalamata olives were very nice with all of that, too, but entirely optional! Rhiannon was enjoying her breakfast so much she said wistfully, “I wish I could eat this forever”.

Savory Buckwheat Cakes with Nettle Dip:

1 cup Nettle Dip (or yogurt or kefir)
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup water
olive oil, for cooking

nettlepot.jpgWith a whisk or a fork, combine all ingredients. Heat a large skillet to medium-high, and pour about a tablespoon of oil in the pan. (I used some homemade Rosemary Oil). Ladle a small amount of batter in three or four places in the pan, for small pancakes. Let brown on one side before flipping and browing on the next. Serve with butter and more Nettle Dip, some fresh ground pepper, and whatever else you might fancy.  Enjoy!

P.S.

If you think you don’t have a nearby Stinging Nettle patch look again, they’re more common than you probably think! Try searching for them in shady spots near a river or where there’s moisture. In the event that there really isn’t any in your area spinach makes a good substitute.

-Love, Loba

Spring Nettles & Cooking – By Rhiannon Cadhla Hardin (age 8.7)

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

resoluterhiannon-sm.jpgSpring Nettles!!!
This is the best nettles year we’ve since I’ve been here. We are hurrying to pick them before they get tough, taller, (which makes them harder to pick) and get seeds.  There has been a lot of people coming and going so it’s a bit hard to keep a routine of picking nettles every day.:) We try to  get at least a bag full of nettles every day. We can make all kinds of delicious things with nettles. Not to long ago we made nettles dip pan cakes! It was soooooooooooo good, if it hadn’t been for my belly reminding me not to eat to much I would have ate them all.  I also wrote a Report on nettles:

Nettles are a wonderful plant full of nutrition and many other things. I will tell you about its medicinal properties and food uses.  The nettles botanical name is Urtica dioica.  Nettles contain formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, vitamins A and C, minerals and other things. Nettles are highly nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, silica and potassium, and have been used for centuries as a nourishing tonic for weakness and debility and other things.  Nettle juice applied to the skin relieves bites and stings,  including nettle sting. The stinging hairs of the fresh nettle contain formic acid and histamine and have been used traditionally to stimulate the circulation and relieve arthritiis and other things.  It blooms early to mid spring. We love picking them, especially when they’re little. We like to make nettle dip, and not too long ago we made nettle quiche.  This is the very best nettle year we’ve had since I’ve been in New Mexico. Nettles are good in many ways. You can make nettle soup or have plain nettles on the side with butter and salt. Picking nettles is one the jobs I really like! I try to get at least a bag full every day. Its a lot faster if you wear  gloves when you’re picking them and if you don’t ow! Though there is ways you can pick them with out gloves and not get stung. It’s so nice to think of sitting on a stool eating warm nettle soup on a winters day. Yum! They also are very pretty! I love taking a rest some times and looking at the nettles. How beautiful you are!

I hope this inspires you to use nettles in many ways. Now that you know nettles can be used both in medicine and food.

rhiannonswimcake1.jpgSpring cooking!
I have been writeing a cook book, like my Mama Loba. I’m very excited one of the recipes that I’ve made goes like this:

Golden Cookie Tart Crust:

1 1/2 cups spelt flour
1/2 cup melted butter or oil
1 egg
3 Tbs. brown sugar
1/4  tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
For Anise Cinnamon Crust- add 1 tsp.
grated ornge peel, 1/4 tsp. anise extract,
1 heaping 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.

Other Optional Additions:
lemon peel
fresh or dried ginger
cocoa powder chocolate chips
kahlua
crystalized ginger
honey
coconut flour.
mix the wet things in first then add the dry things.
form in to cookies and put on a greased cookie sheet.
Then put in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minuets.
Take out and enjoy.
I hope you all are inspired to use and enjoy the recipe.  Goodbye for now!  I’m off to my treehouse…