Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

cows, vegetarianism & tangled ethics ~

America has a love affair w/ meat. We eat — literally — tons of it a day. About 1/2 pound per capita. Considering how many of my friends are vegetarians and vegans, that means someone is eating a LOT more.

I have a conflicted relationship w/ meat. I like a good prime rib as much as most Okies — more than many :). But I also don’t like cruelty. And I’ve heard, too, the argument that meat takes more resources. Which is true, but only if you raise meat the factory farming way.

I try to buy local meat — from Okie farmers, who raise their animals on real farms. Not ‘grow’ their meat on factory farms <shudder>. And while driving back from vacation the other day, winding through miles and miles of what Okies tend to call cattle ‘ranches,’ not farms, I had this epiphany: beef is about the only thing you can raise on a lot of Okie land. Unless you irrigate, which has its own environmental impact. Cattle are the logical way to turn dry pasture into food. IF you don’t use corn to feed them up, and don’t run so many you have to buy winter silage. Run what you can feed on your own land, and they’re a relatively reasonable energy conversion mechanism :).

And cattle are a renewable resource, if you think about it. But yes, they’re sentient. However, new research says the same thing (on a lesser scale, of course) about plants. Sagebrush, to be exact. They warn their relatives about danger. Seems to me that means a couple of important things: they know danger. They don’t like it. They feel a kind of ‘fear’ and communicate that.

So to me, who will no longer eat poor piggies (see the earlier guilt-ridden post), there’s a bit of solace in the idea that cattle may, in reasonable quantities, be okay to eat. I was feeling a bit guilty about the GREAT prime rib I had on vacation :). But thinking about the dry Oklahoma pasture, and the 10-day forecast of 100˚+ weather (and no rain), I’m remembering the miles of pasture and thinking about the uses of cattle.

This is prairie country, where bovines (buffalo) roamed the tall grass prairie for millenia. Cattle aren’t a lot different, if you think about it. So I probably won’t stop eating beef — at least not completely :). And I’m letting go of the guilt for the prime rib on vacation. But I think I’ll be eating less meat in general. And trying to give thanks for the deaths that sustain my life. Even the corn & tomatoes I hope to buy at tomorrow’s market :).

 

summer in a tote ~

I love farmers’ markets. When we go on a trip, I try to find out where the local farmers’ market is. In Portland, for instance, the Saturday Farmers’ Market is on the Portland State campus. And it’s amazing. You go early, planning to eat breakfast (and more) while you’re there.

Today was the Wednesday market in town. Not as heady as Saturday’s, but great for people who really cook, and need to stock up on tomatoes again. And impulse-buy fresh corn for a gluttonous lunch of corn, butter, tomatoes, and sweet blackberries & cream for dessert.

It really is the taste of summer, for me. You cook the corn picked probably late yesterday — maybe even early this morning — and pop it in boiling water for 2 1/2 minutes, just long enough to heat it thoroughly. Then slather it w/ sweet butter and eat ear after ear :).

I bought the corn from a friend’s cousin, who runs an organic farm w/ his wife. They’re a young couple, and they have great produce. Plus they frequent the Wednesday market. We also have a share in a CSA – a nearby family farm run by another young couple. Emily & Mike sell at the Saturday market, a much larger event: music, food of every imaginable type, dogs and kids and flowers and happy chaos. But you have to get up early to get the best stuff!

I’m passionate about food — not only because I love to eat, but because food is a way to make a genuine difference in the world. Buy local, sure. But also buy from people who care about the earth, who don’t use heavy pesticides or chemical fertilisers. The earth is our first home, and almost every religion asks us to be good stewards. So much American food is artificially cheap: we don’t pay the cost of its transport north from Mexico, or east from California. We don’t pay the price of chemicals leaching in to the ground water. Many of us don’t even worry :).

But I do. So I’m grateful for industrious & optimistic families who spend the hot Oklahoma summer nurturing the tomatoes I love, the corn I inhaled for lunch, the basil I use instead of lettuce on summer sandwiches. I’m trying to eat more mindfully — hence the piggies ban :( — and remember that every action I take (even inaction!) has an impact.  Locally grown organic produce is one way to love the earth that houses us. But I have to confess: it also tastes better :)…

 

 

a tree, a pencil, an hour ~

Meditation is hard for me. I’m not good at sitting still. I’m not particularly good at walking mindfully. What I do best is be in nature. Want someone to watch birds with? I’m your girl. Sit and watch a mountain breathe? Sounds great. But sit on my butt on a cushion/ a chair/ a zafu? Hmmm…

So I have to trick my monkey mind :). I’m a firm believer in what Thich Nhat Hanh says about washing the dishes: just wash the dishes. Don’t anticipate dessert, he admonishes — just wash the dishes. It’s the same with being still: just be still. Focus.

So when I go places, if I can, I draw. Badly, but I still draw :). This weekend, I sat in a white rocker on a turn-of-the-century (1886 :)) balcony and drew. With a pencil. In a new art journal.  The first drawing, still unfinished. And I was still. Sure, my hand moved — my thumb, the measure of which divided my page into fourths, and the larger tree into thirds, fluttered above the page like a pale moth. But my monkey mind settled, drawn into the drawing…focused on the cross-hatching that isn’t at all like coniferous needles, and the scribblings that aren’t quite leaves :).

This is one of my favourite meditations: being outside, watching a tree dance with light and shadow, or a mountain play canvas to the painting of sunlight across its slopes. I can sit still for an hour in front of Mt. Hood, for instance, and I have the bad art to prove it :). Like I can sit on the deck, and follow a bird through the trees, on to a feeder, then back into the tree above. The heart of focus: staying the mind on an object outside itself. Letting go.

The art may not be good, but the stillness is ~

fireworks, patriotism & the Fourth of July ~

It’s a shameful confession, for an eco-nut (a friend’s husband once called me an ‘eco-terrorist’ because I’ve supported Green Peace since the get-go :)). I love fireworks. Yes, they’re probably horrible for the environment. Yes, they’re totally ephemeral. (I think of them as a kind of Buddha board art — see below :)) YouTube Preview Image

But they’re so lovely — the perfect dandelions of colour, exploding against the hot summer sky. The neon colours that almost defy naming — sear and tang and bright and fire :). And while I know the origins of fireworks –  Chinese through & through; they still dominate the business — they seem quintessentially American to me. A fitting celebration of the country’s birth. Pyrotechnics, colour, loud noise and beauty that goes up in smoke :).

In fact, the entire idea of July 4 celebrations has become a politicized issue, research shows. Republicans see themselves as ‘more patriotic,’ and flag-waving is the way to show it.

I don’t mean that to sound unpatriotic or cynical. Much of my life has been spent outside the US and I have always been glad to be able to ‘come home.’ When we had other options, my husband & I made the choice to return to the USA to bring up our two sons. We didn’t want them to be, as I am in many ways, expat brats :). We wanted them to be firmly rooted in America, with all its complexities.

As the Fourth looms, I wonder why we define patriotism so narrowly. A neighbour flies a large American flag, but brags about stiffing the nursing homes where he does medical care. I doubt George Washington would find that laudable. A family member truly believes that only Christians should be allowed to vote. That lets out Thomas Jefferson, a deist but not a Christian. Another advocates mandatory birth control for welfare recipients. None of these seem to me to resonate w/ what I think of as real American virtues: hard work for fair wages, a reasonable profit for quality goods, freedom of religion and freedom from governmental mandates. Ironically, the more people I know tout ‘patriotism,’ the more likely they are to limit American rights to people who look and act and believe as they do.

So I offer you my ultimate American patriotic icon: the Bill of Rights. Freedom of religion, freedom of press, due process… For me, that’s what it’s all about: I may not agree w/ what you do w/ your rights, but I will celebrate them joyfully with you this hot Oklahoma Monday. After all, three generations of my family have fought to uphold them…:) So celebrate our glorious right to disagree ~ Happy Fourth!

 

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