Archive for the ‘practice’ category

5.11

May 11, 2010

I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.

To practice means to perform, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired…

Many times I hear the phrase “the dance of life.” It is an expression that touches me deeply, for the instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived — the human body. It is the instrument by which all the primaries of life are made manifest. It holds in its memory all matters of life and death and love. Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of the achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration, there are daily small deaths. Then I need all the comfort that practice has stored in my memory, a tenacity of faith.

It takes about ten years to make a mature dancer. The training is twofold. First comes the study and practice of the craft which is the school where you are working in order to strengthen the muscular structure of the body. The body is shaped, disciplined, honored, and in time, trusted. The movement becomes clean, precise, eloquent, truthful. Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it. This might be called the law of the dancer’s life — the law which governs its outer aspects.

Then comes the cultivation of the being from which whatever you have to say comes. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it comes out of a great curiosity. The main thing, of course, always is the fact that there is only one of you in the world, just one, and if that is not fulfilled then something has been lost. Ambition is not enough; necessity is everything. It is through this that the legends of the soul’s journey are retold with all their tragedy and their bitterness and sweetness of living. It is at this point that the sweep of life catches up with the mere personality of the performer, and while the individual becomes greater, the personal becomes less personal. And there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith — faith in life, in love, in people, in the act of dancing. All this is necessary to any performance in life which is magnetic, powerful, rich in meaning.

In a dancer, there is a reverence for such forgotten things as the miracle of the small beautiful bones and their delicate strength. In a thinker, there is a reverence for the beauty of the alert and directed and lucid mind. In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.

At times I fear walking that tightrope. I fear the venture into the unknown. But that is part of the act of creating and the act of performing. That is what a dancer does.

–Martha Graham (b. May 11, 1894)

mob mentality

February 28, 2010

From today’s New York Times:

 The Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless farmers and the agricurious descend on a farm for an afternoon, has taken its traveling work party to 15 small, sustainable farms. Together, volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 person-hours, doing tasks like mulching, building greenhouses and pulling rocks out of fields.

 “The more tedious the work we have, the better,” Jones said, smiling. “Because part of Crop Mob is about community and camaraderie, you find there’s nothing like picking rocks out of fields to bring people together.”

In a rural hamlet like Roseboom, community and camaraderie are naturally occurring phenomena. One neighbor can be counted on to come by with his tractor and till up my plot in May; another is happy to share some old manure. Last year, I left town for a few days not long after planting some apple trees. When I got home my hose had been unspooled and stretched to their site; not knowing how long I was going to be away, my next-door neighbor walked across the lawn each day to give the saplings a healthy soaking. 

Next to these sweet habits of small-town life, the internet-based pop-up communities of today’s fashionable farmophiles might appear vaguely artificial. But this is the time in which we live, and it’s as much a part of our ecology as the climate in which we garden. The smart farmer gets to know his dirt and works with it, not against it. 

This weekend a big snowstorm hit Roseboom, so I stayed in New York. (We had snow here, too, but I didn’t have to drive in it.) And yesterday–via facebook–one of my neighbors offered  to pick up her shovel and attack the pile of snow at the end of my driveway. Good fences may or may not make good neighbors, but good communication is key, and we’re lucky to have so many ways of doing it.

confronting the cupboard

February 22, 2010

Every winter I’ve gotten a little bit better at provisioning. I don’t find it particularly difficult to cook for one (I’ve had a lot of practice) but I do find it challenging to do it for only 2 or 3 days and have nothing left over… nothing that won’t keep until my next escape to the country, that is. Starting with my first garden I began freezing several varieties of pesto. Two summers ago, I added stewed and dried tomatoes to my repertoire. This year I stocked the larder with winter squash, many kinds of beans, even jars of pickles.

By the time I arrived at the house on Thursday evening, I already knew it was going to be a night for cranberry beans, cooked with lots of olive oil and other fragrant things. I like this preparation best with bread for sopping, but it was too late to start bread so I settled on a bed of polenta instead.

One benefit of this kind of slow-simmering meal (besides its deliciousness) is that it really warms up the house. One drawback is that, after the long drive, my belly often requires immediate attention. Usually I have some cheese or nuts around, but things were looking pretty grim… until, at the back of the refrigerator, I found a carefully wrapped half-button of goat cheese. (This was obviously the work of an overzealous helpful houseguest—I would have probably deemed the piece too small for saving and enjoyed it as my reward for cleaning the kitchen.) It was hard as a rock, but it smelled the way it should and wasn’t growing anything extra, so I shaved it thin and took a taste. Creamy taste, crackly texture—very nice with a glass of wine while the beans bubbled.

When shell beans are fresh from the garden, I will cook them in olive oil only, but because these were a little dehydrated, I first covered them with water and simmered them with a few whole cloves of garlic and some thyme branches. I never got around to cutting and drying herbs this year, but as I always say, if you can’t find thyme for the important things, you’re just not trying hard enough.

Once the beans were tender, I doused them in oil and finished over very low heat until all the water was gone, then ladled them over polenta and added a few more thyme leaves.

The next day, leftover polenta with pesto from the freezer.

And breakfast potatoes make a fine meal any time of day.

My first winter in the house, I would always arrive with groceries from the city—a few pieces of fruit, a hunk of cheese, a beautiful boule. Now I have the confidence to skip that step. When it comes to putting food by, I’m still learning, as evidenced by the occasional storage failure…

But self-sufficiency is not so much about having done something right as it is about being willing to enter into the adventure.

next to normal

February 1, 2010

Ten years ago today, I was in a car accident that resulted in, in the words of one of my doctors, an impressive “constellation of injuries.” That same doctor predicted that once I graduated from the wheelchair, I would still have limited mobility, chronic pain, more surgeries, more pain… 

So I took up yoga in fierce pursuit of normal—“normal” being the range of motion I had had in my feet, ankles and legs before the accident. And yes, I’ve probably regained a hairs-breadth or so of movement with every passing year. But here’s what’s really cool: in the absence of full control of the feet, I’ve learned to strengthen other muscles that keep me upright when standing. When the ankles just won’t give in a seated pose, the hips have opened instead. And not too long ago, I figured out that normal isn’t something one pursues with ferocity. My norm is defined by the body I wake up in each day, by my genetic material and my experience (with a little influence from the barometric pressure). Sure, my gait would be different today if my legs hadn’t been smashed and screwed back together 10 years ago. But a decade on planet Earth is going to do a number on the human body no matter what. And when I consider where my body—my self—might be today if the accident hadn’t led me to yoga, I’m content with today’s norm.

hitting refresh

September 9, 2009

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I started working for a summer opera festival while still in college, and have organized my professional life around this summer idyll—if such an intense period can be properly called an idyll—ever since. So I’ve never lost touch with the back-to-school feeling; September, much more than the new calendar year, always feels like a fresh beginning to me.

Over the past few days, I’ve been emptying and scrubbing closets and cabinets. You have to be in the right frame of mind for such a task. The rules vary according to the object—a bag of dried chiles is one thing, a blazer another—but if it has gone unused for too long, whatever that is, it has to go.

Unless it can be used immediately. Saturday I found lots of half-bags dried fruits and nuts, plus a half-can of oats, so I made granola. The basic technique comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, the idea of using some olive oil comes from something I read in the New York Times, the ingredients and proportions were dictated by my pantry, and the seasoning… well, that was just me.

Savory-sweet granola

1. Toast a scant cup of steel-cut oats in a baking pan set over two stove burners.

2. Once they begin to color, add 2 cups slivered almonds and 1 cup walnut pieces. Stir until these color as well.

3. Mix together about a tablespoon each of honey and olive oil, then drizzle over nut mixture.

4. Lightly crush about 2 tablespoons fresh dried coriander, and distribute this, along with some salt, over the nut mixture.

5. Combine so that nuts and oats are slightly sticky all over. Hands are the best way to accomplish this.

6. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes.

7. Stir in about 2 cups of random dried fruit (I had cranberries, cherries, golden raisins) and several grinds of black pepper. Taste—maybe a little more salt? pepper?

8. Let cool in pan, stirring occasionally.

Fall cleaning is one way of marking the change of season. The Cherry Valley Harvest Party is another. And since it’s a potluck, it’s yet another opportunity to rid yourself of some excess. It’s tricky, though. Decluttering your garden for a potluck does not offer the easy virtue of packing up your unwanted stuff for Goodwill. For Goodwill, not only is the donator (of Dan Brown novels bought in an airport, of rayon dresses with colossal shoulder pads) anonymous, the recipients are theoretical: someone will surely be very glad for that coat with the enormous lapels. Surely.

At a potluck, no one is anonymous.  It is a performance, and for your neighbors—those who have always had their doubts about you, anyway, as well as those who have shown you so much kindness and generosity that if you sacrificed your few non-blighted tomatoes, it still wouldn’t be enough. If you’re going to get rid of squash in this forum, it better be good.

 Potluck Pasta Salad 

1. Pick all the summer squash that are ready to be picked (this year I have green scallop, along with the regular oblong yellow). Slice, salt, and sauté in olive oil. You only want one layer in the skillet, so you will probably need to do this in several batches. As you remove each batch, place in a bowl and tear lots of fresh basil on top. Continue layering warm squash and basil.

2. Start some water boiling for pasta. Put in a handful of peeled cloves of garlic, as well as some salt. When the water comes to a full boil, fish out the garlic cloves and throw in the pasta. The pasta shapes should be about the same size as the squash pieces.

3. Chop the garlic roughly, then use a fork and some salt to mash to a paste. Scrape into the bowl with the squash and basil. (If you like your garlic extremely pungent, use it fresh, without boiling. If you want it even more mellow, you can leave it to boil with the pasta… good luck finding it, though.)

4. Drain pasta. Add to bowl. Give it a stir. If everything isn’t nice and shiny, add a little more olive oil.

5. I should’ve mentioned this earlier, but I have a nifty pot with a strainer that fits right inside. So I can lift out the pasta and keep the boiling water for the next step. OR you could just start boiling the corn water at some earlier point. OR you could put another pot under the colander when you dump the pasta…. in any case, throw a few ears of fresh sweet corn into salted boiling water, then let it come back to a boil, then drain. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut off the kernels and add them to the bowl.

6. Stir, taste, adjust. If your party is tomorrow, put it in the fridge. If it’s in a few hours, leave, covered, on the counter.

7. Just before leaving the house, give the dish another stir, and taste. Do what needs to be done. The basil will have fully infused the squash by now. It will also be wilted and blackish, so add some more fresh green leaves, along with some crumbled feta.000_0920

When I dropped off my stuff at the Herkimer Goodwill, the guy accepting it shook his head. “I don’t know how people do it.” To my mute question, he replied, “Give away books.” Yeah, I don’t know either. For a moment I found myself rethinking my choices—but then I walked away. I had that same flash of the hoarder’s instinct when I tasted the squash—but then I picked up my Pyrex and off I went. Turns out that between the barbeque and the beets and the brownies, I didn’t even have room for my little masterpiece on my plate. And I didn’t miss it one bit. Let the new year begin—I got everything I need!

transitions

September 4, 2009

After a summer of being pulled in many directions, I’ve finally had the luxury of spending a week mostly at home. And after months of yearning for some relaxed time to putter in the garden and kitchen, I suddenly found myself craving foods some distance from the ground. I made macaroni and cheese (more than once). I enjoyed assorted pastries at the coffee shop. Coconut shrimp. Grilled cheese with bacon. An ice-cream sandwich with neon green mint filling.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, at least once in awhile. But what of my beloved garden? Was I just getting bored? (It is, after all, the season of squash…)

I think it’s actually something more complicated, something not unlike the semi-conscious self-protective distancing that can come to summer romances when participants fear a terrific new habit of being will not survive the winter. I know, of course, that I can maintain some contact with my soil in the cold months ahead—there will be shell beans and potatoes and winter squash, and if I get my act together there will be a freezer full of pesto, gleaming jars of beets, and who knows what else. But there will be no more lettuce growing outside my kitchen window. I’ll have to find my elbows and learn to shop at Fairway again. This is not a bad thing, but it is a little sad. As all transitions can be.

But why anticipate the chill ahead? Yesterday evening I determined to devote myself to the garden, and what began as mere duty immediately felt both comfortable and thrilling.

Time to bring in the coriander.000_0904

The green beans don’t produce much anymore, but I’ve left the plants because they provide an occasional slim, sun-warmed pod for snacking. As for the shell beans, there are dried pods on just a few of the plants, but I went ahead and brought those in, too. Starting the bean-bowls makes me feel better about the winter ahead.000_0905

Brussels sprouts still aren’t ready, but they’re fun to monitor.000_0899

The beets and carrots are thriving, but they can be left for later. The squash, on the other hand, cannot. I grilled a pile of them in the shadow the sunflowers, which are finally coming into their own, then layered them, warm, with lots of basil and a feathery fennel-tasting leaf that is part of my patch of salad greens.000_0908

Summer is on its way out, to be sure, but all the more reason to fully embrace its last days.000_0888

how much of what we did was good?

August 27, 2009

Gardening, like life, involves making choices, and often information pertinent to important choices comes to light later than we would have liked. In Roseboom, I am fairly isolated from major media outlets, and though I had heard a bit about the blight from my neighbors, I didn’t realize the scope of the problem at first. By the time I started looking up articles in the New York Times, it was midsummer. I had taken out a few of the hardest-hit plants, but overall I had adopted a laissez-faire attitude: if a plant had more green than brown, it stayed where it was. Then I began to read how the recent upsurge in amateur gardening might have actually contributed to the problem; novice gardeners, not recognizing the warning signs, actually provided incubators for the plague to gather strength and then hop to the next neighbor. I read this about the same time that a bucket of unsullied green tomatoes, brought inside after being plucked from an infected host, collapsed into slime in just a couple days time. And so, it was time for drastic measures. My remaining plants were in various states of health, but not one was pristine, so out they all went. No mercy. Feeling very responsible, I piled them in the farthest back corner of the property and forgot about them, mostly.  But not long ago, among the withering stems, I noticed a few bright spots. Not only had the yellow cherries failed to succumb, they were ripening fast, even as the plant they grew on shriveled to nothing. (Although it had spent a couple of weeks among corpses of the afflicted, it seemed bothered less by the blight than by being severed from the soil.) It recalled an image of a plump baby attached to the breast of a grey, gaunt woman somewhere in rural Appalachia. I’ve probably harvested about 50 little tomatoes at this point, and I’m glad for every one of them, but I can’t help but wonder what my windowsills would look like if I had left that poor plant’s feet in the ground.000_0875