Where do we go from here?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

T'ai Chi Cranes

I'm not going to have time today to write the post about our visit to the Refuges last weekend, but Julia has sent me the link to a little video she took down there, and posted to YouTube. Don't they look like a group of people in the park doing T'ai Chi? Make sure your sound is on when you play this video. If I get up early enough tomorrow, maybe I'll have time for a real post.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

For Salinger, with Love and Squalor

I crossposted a piece this morning at both of the group blogs for which I write, Women on and The Blue Voice, on the death last night of Howard Zinn. When I had finished writing that post, I discovered that J.D. Salinger, another writer who had greatly influenced my (very) young life, had died today. If you are anywhere near my age, you probably read Catcher In The Rye at an important moment in your adolescent life, and chances are it had a lasting effect on your teenage years, even into young adulthood. It was published in 1951, when I was only eight. But I read it the summer I was fifteen, read it in secret at night, against my mother's express injunction against it even coming into the house. I read it with passion and the joy of discovery - the discovery that there were others out there in the greater world as rebellious and alienated as I felt myself to be.

In school we were reading The Scarlet Letter, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and other such Masterpiece Theatre classics - Reading Salinger was falling into a book that actually spoke the authentic language of my teenage anger and confusion. It had a huge effect on me. I copied out whole chunks of Holden's stream of consciousness into my diary, identifying completely with Holden and his lonely struggle against the phoniness of the world around him.

In college I went on to read the two novels that feature the Glass family, Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenter, and Seymour, as well as Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories - falling in love with Salinger's manipulation of the short story form. I practically memorized the story For Esmé with Love and Squalor, and discover that I still retain many of the lines. I wrote many stories during those years, trying to copy Salinger's style and manner, and of course failing miserably. Salinger went into seclusion in his New Hampshire home after writing these books, though he often claimed he continued to write, strictly for his own needs and pleasure.

I am now sixty six years old, long past my years of teenage angst and confusion (not that I don't have plenty of angst, not to mention confusion, but it's way different now) but if the rumor is true that there are fifteen books written during his years as a recluse locked in a safe in Salinger's house - I have to hope that his agent will find them and get them published. It's interesting to speculate on what they might be like, what Salinger became in those lonely New Hampshire winters, where he journeyed in his strange and wonderful mind. At the library today, I looked for any of Salinger's works, but found none on the shelves. When I asked about this, the librarian told me they had all been checked out today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Visiting The Cranes,

If anyone actually reads this blog, he/she/they might be wondering where I've been for the past week. I mentioned in an earlier post that we would be heading down to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, and that is exactly what we did. Our friend Julia came out from Austin to go with us for a visit to the wintering sandhill cranes down there, before they head back north next month. I don't have time right now, heading to a dental appointment, to really do justice to the trip. Julia took a million photos, will send them on to me, as well as uploading them at her own blog, South Austin Backyard Naturalist eventually. I hope to have time to write it all up here later today. Unless I need to spend the remainder of the day with my head under the covers - my usual reaction to spending time in a dental chair.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ten Things

This post comes as a result of a note from Aine of the blog The Evolving Spirit.Her blog was the recipient of what she calls an award, though I would call it a meme, which involved listing ten things that make her happy, then passing the meme on to ten other blogs. As I was sort of in two of her ten blogs, I'm only doing the listing part here at this one, and hoping that at Women On, where I also blog, we can come up with ten other blogs to send this to. This was a wonderful assignment, causing me to reflect on the many things in my life that daily induce happiness. The difficult part was choosing only ten of them!! I didn't include chocolate, or flowers, or bodysurfing....oops, I think this is cheating. So here are my chosen ten, and though I'm not officially sending this on, anyone who chooses to play is welcome to do so.

1. Children. Almost any old children, anywhere - and this includes babies. My own nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of course are great sources of happiness. But children anywhere, in the supermarket, airport, restaurants, playgrounds, always bring a smile to my face. They are often under-appreciated by those accompanying them, so I often try to bring a smile to their faces as well, making a silly face, whispering a bolstering word or just a grin.

2. Birds. Birding is one of my main pastimes, and I do it anywhere I am, including my backyard, where we often have large crowds at the birdfeeders, fountains, and in the big cottonwood. In the spring and summer I plant for them, and last summer's many different kinds of sunflowers brought flocks into the yard well into the fall.

3. Working in the garden. Working hard, getting dirty, sweating. In the spring and summer I work outside as much of every day as I can. Middle of the day in the full sun and heat is out, of course, but early morning and evenings are simply heaven. The hummingbirds keep me company as I work, so - there - that's two things at one time, garden and birds.

4. Rain. This one is a corollary to number three - as it is so dry here that I, along with all my plants, constantly yearn for rain. Whenever it actually rains, like this morning, I am so happy I often go out and dance in it. Well, not this morning, as it was quite too cold to dance. But my heart was dancing. We've had no rain all winter, so this week's storms are manna for all our dormant roots.

5. Green chile. This is strictly a Southwestern source of happiness. Since coming to NM I have discovered the joys of cooking with green chile, and am constantly experimenting. I love how it smells here in the fall, with green chile roasting in the parking lots of every market and farm stand. It is a wonderful smell, one that you can practically taste, saying ahhhhhhhhhhhh: tamales! stew! soups! warmth in the winter's cold!

6. Meaningful Work. I've done a lot of things in my life, but mostly I have taught. For the past ten years I have taught English to speakers of other languages, starting in Delaware, continuing here in NM. My current job is at the University of NM, teaching immigrant employees of the University, service employees for the most part - and wonderful people with such enthusiasm for learning this language, for helping their children with their schoolwork, for becoming citizens. This is work that makes me happy into the marrow of my bones. I love it.

7. Singing. Best of all is singing with a group, but so far I haven 't found a compatible group to sing with here. I tried one out, but didn't enjoy the music selections, and they expected the singers to learn parts a lot faster than I am capable of. So, I just put in a CD and sing along at the top of my lungs, or make up words to the tunes that are always playing on the jukebox of my mind. I sing when I'm happy, and it makes me happy to sing, so it's a full circle.

8. New Socks Especially in the winter, when my feet are always cold. We just got a bunch of delicious warm new boot socks on sale, they're great colors, soft and cozy, and every time I put on a brand new pair my feet and I hum with happiness.

9. Farmers' Markets. There is almost nothing more beautiful than the piles and basketfuls of freshly harvested vegetables and fruits, braids of garlic, loaves of bread, jars of jam, artisan cheeses, handmade pastas that show up every weekend, and some of the weekdays, at the growers' markets here in town. Even on a day when I don't purchase anything, just browsing the stalls, talking to the growers, smelling the earthy richness of it all makes an hour or two at the market a peak experience.

10. The Moon, which is currently a beautiful silver waxing crescent. It's not hard at all for me to understand why people once worshipped the moon - I think I probably still do worship it, in my fashion. The full moon rising over the mountains in the winter has been the subject of much famous photography, but nothing beats the breathtaking experience of seeing it in person.

Heading For The Hills

In order to get away and stay away for lengthy periods of time from the TV, computer, radio (in the car I listen to NPR all the time), and news of postearthquake Haiti, we spent most of the weekend hiking in the Sandia foothills. Ever since last Tuesday (has it already been an entire week?) I have been utterly compelled to stay connected to every bit of news I can find, and just needed some surcease. Unlike the dead, injured, homeless Haitians, I have the enormous good fortune of being able to seek surcease from my merely virtual connection to this catastrophe.

And as an aside I must say here that if this doesn't make us all stop in our tracks and realize our good fortune to live in this affluent, well-equipped country, what ever will? In 1989 San Francisco suffered an earthquake of a similar magnitude, in which sixty some people were killed, and nearly 4000 injured. Compare the numbers coming out of Haiti now (the estimate of the dead now stands at 200,000) with those, and the mind boggles. I could write an unending post on the tragedy that is Haiti, but other people are doing it elsewhere far better than I could. I tend to be a chronic complainer about many petty things, but please God, I will be able to realize that I actually have next to nothing in my life worthy of complaint.

Back to our escape from the media. I'm still on winter break, and Gail is off on Fridays, the weekend weather was gorgeous, and we had nothing beyond a few minor errands to take care of. So, we got out the guidebooks we've been accumulating since we moved out here, made up some (a lot!) trail mix, and plotted three hikes up into the foothills of the mountains that hover over the eastern edge of the city. We have made lesser attempts to hike a few of the many trails up there, but they were really more on the order of long walks. This time we did three day-hikes, each one longer and more ambitious than the preceding, and felt exuberantly proud of ourselves, not to mention how good we felt just from all that exercise, sunshine and fresh air. I have found the mountains to be a source of healing and comfort ever since the first time we traveled out here, which was just after the death of a very dear friend. The enormity of the space out here in the West, like the enormity of the ocean, makes clear how very small we humans really are - lets me know that I really am (as Lily Tomlin says in The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,) only a Speck.

The summers are so hot here that the fall and winter are the only times we can bear to do this sort of thing. Plenty of other people hike all year round; our neighbors spend every weekend in the mountains hiking and camping. That's not gonna happen for us, but from now until the spring winds begin scouring us, and the heat starts pounding down, we're going to continue exploring the foothill trails that are so close to town; branching out to some of the closer state parks and some overnight camping as we grow braver. This proximity to natural recreation was one of the main reasons we moved here, besides proximity to the grandchildren in Denver, and it's time to start enjoying it. This weekend a friend is coming from Austin for a visit and our weekend nature adventure will be a birding trip south to the Bosque del Apache NWR. But of that, more later.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Turning of the Wheel

Well, the wheel of the year turns on towards spring, and I have to admit the winter holidays are really over and turn myself toward the task of taking down our decorations. This year, for the first time in at least twenty, we had a festive Yule tree, which because of our young cat, Sadie, we set up out in the front portal. We could see it through the big living room window, and enjoy it every time we came in or out of the house. Having it in the house would have been just too much for all of us, she would have had everything on the floor repeatedly all through the holidays. We chose a fairly small piñon pine, New Mexico's state tree, fresh from the hills around Taos, and had a wonderful time pulling out our ornaments and lights and putting them on our little tree. Because the tree was out in the cold air, there has been no drying out and dropping of needles; and it's still as fresh as when it started. After we take it down, it will become first a bird feeder, then mulch for the gardens.

The adornment I am most loathe to remove is the wreathe on the front door, pictured above. It's wound with a string of battery-operated tiny blue lights, and is such an upliftingly cheerful symbol of the wheel of life, the circle of the year, the cycles of nature. I often wonder how many people know how connected to our pagan origins the celebrated decor of contemporary Christmas
actually is? The greenery, the lights, including candles, ornaments, yule logs, all a faint remembrance of honoring of the sol invicta, the return of light, the hope of life continuing, the return of spring, the planting of a new year's crop, the turning of the wheel.

Before AOL trashed its Journals component, I wrote there in a journal I called "The Windmills of My Mind." I moved its contents over to Blogger when the Journals were closed out, but no longer show it as a public blog. I wrote several entries there on the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice, including this one, from five years ago, on the evergreen wreath. I think it bears reposting here today, as I contemplate taking down our wreath, and moving on into the new year in both my heart and my actual life:


The wheel of the year has almost fully turned, and once again we approach the Solstice. Last year I wrote on the ancient traditions of Solstice through history, and all over the world. Now that my year has slowed down, and I have some time to think and write, I will return to this wonderful and rich treasury of lore. This time I want to focus on some of the themes and decorations still common at the winter holidays, show how they have come down through the ages from times and places when Nature was still recognized as a force and an influence upon our lives. Solstice of course celebrates the turning of the year, the return of the sun; the promise of light, warmth, life, overcoming darkness, cold and death.

Because I just unpacked and hung on our front door a lovely handmade wreath sent by a friend in Maine, I want to start with just that, the making and decorating of our homes with wreaths of evergreens. The wreath itself is in the shape of the oldest of symbols, the circle. A symbol to be found in every culture on the globe, from ancient times to the present. A symbol representing so many things, all of them related: the cycles of life, eternity, the goddess herself, death and rebirth, the moon, the sun. So, we make a circle to symbolize the rebirth of the year, the return of the sun, the unbroken cycle of life. We make it with evergreen boughs, branches from the trees that hold the promise of renewal in the depths of Winter. For our early ancestors the existence of plants that did not wither and die, drop their leaves and appear dead, with the onset of the long dark days of winter, served as a metaphor for the undying deities of the natural world. In nature religions every one of our familiar green branches has a meaning, a symbolism: pine, fir, cedar, juniper, all symbolize continuity of life, protection and prosperity. Holly symbolizes many things, among them the old solar year, protection and good luck.

So – don’t put up those plastic wreaths this year. Take your children, go out into the real world, cut boughs and branches of the evergreens that grow in your area (you can’t hurt them, the more you prune the more they grow), form them into the shapeof the wheel of the year. Place them on your doors, your walls, your altars, to celebrate the continuation of life, to ask for protection and prosperity. The colors red, green and white are the Druidic holiday colors – so, put holly berries and ribbons on that wreath, ask the Great Mother to help us through another turning of the wheel.

I would be remiss not to mention how the wreath has also transformed into a Christian symbol over the ages, through the lovely ceremony of the Advent wreath. Advent is the liturgical season of preparation for the birth of Christ, and here the wreath is a symbol of God, the eternal, and of eternal life in God. Four candles are placed on the wreath, three rose colored, one purple. The wreath usually has a place of honor at the middle of the family table, and one candle is lit each Sunday evening during Advent. We did this all through my Catholic childhood. I have to say that making and lighting the Advent wreath is one of my fondest holiday memories.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Our Ties to Haiti

At the group blog WomenOn, I have posted some links for people looking to donate financially to help with the relief effort in Haiti. However, amazingly enough, over two million in donations for aid to Haiti has already been raised through our mobile phone accounts. Information has spread mainly through word of mouth on the internet social networks; and this method of helping out is easily available to anyone with an account with a major wireless carrier. NYT article with links to all necessary info here.

If, like most Americans, readers only know the contemporary history of this island nation, they probably know it, as Robert Parry notes in the first paragraph of his brief history of our early historical connection with Haiti:
... because of some natural disaster or a violent political upheaval, and the U.S. response is often paternalistic, if not tinged with a racist disdain for the country’s predominantly black population and its seemingly endless failure to escape cycles of crushing poverty.
Parry's article gives us an interesting glimpse of our country's little known early history with Haiti, history of which I was completely unaware. Haiti and America's Historic Debt.

I know of the twentieth century connections, the occupation of Haiti by American forces, from 1915 to 1934, under Woodrow Wilson, and the "peacekeeping" military mission in 1994, under Bill Clinton, but this early history involving Hamilton, Jefferson and Napoleon was entirely unknown. Perhaps at this time of devastating catastrophe, we can finally repay our historic debt to this country whose history began in slavery and bloodshed and continues in poverty and political strife. The current day Bill Clinton feels that there is hope for Haiti, even after this tragedy (What Haiti Needs) Let us hope that he is right.

(Crossposted to WomenOn.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's In Your Piles?

This is something I used to do back in the AOL JournalLand days, when I had a good coterie of readers and, dare I say, virtual friends. I think I did this on The Bibliophiles, my book journal. It's a fun activity to do once in a while, see what interesting things we have in our various piles, how they change over time (or not). I just finished A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, and have some thoughts on it in my other blog, here. It's kind of a relief to turn to Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford as a less taxing read, the first book in my first pile. As it's winter and about my only outdoor activities are walking and hiking, my main offtime activity is reading - so there's quite a few piles around the house:

On the nightstand:

The Monster In The Box, Ruth Rendell
Alimentum; The Literature of Food, Issue 9
Owls and Other Fantasies, Mary Oliver
What We Eat When We Eat Alone, Deborah Madison/Patrick McFarlin
Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn
Deep Economy, Bill McKibben

By the couch:

Xeriscape Plant Guide, Denver Water
New Mexico Gardener's Guide, Judith Phillips
Native Texas Plants, Sally Wasowski
New Mexico Bird Finding Guide, NM Ornithological Society
Desert Wetlands, Niemeyer & Fleischner
Poems FromThe Cranes Two, Judith Roderick
The Quilts of Gee's Bend

And, worst - or best - of all, the pile of new books I've bought, or from the library, waiting to be read. I call this my "Reason to Keep Living" pile:

Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro
In The Kitchen, Monica Ali
Hardball, Sarah Paretsky
A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood. I started reading this one, before she came for an appearance at UNM, then set it aside when a flood of library books from my hold list showed up all at once. I will return to it when I get a library dry spell. (Cross-posted from WomenOn)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Reading A.S. Byatt, with correction added Jan. 12

Because I've alluded to A.S. Byatt's latest novel, The Children's Book, in a couple of earlier posts on this blog, here and here, I feel I should perhaps provide a little more information, in case any readers might want to check it out themselves. Her 1990 novel, Possession, was hugely popular in both England and America, and won the prestigious Man Booker prize that year. My partner and I were running a women's guest house in North Truro, on Cape Cod at that time, and for a couple of years I found Possession in every room I went into to tidy or turn over. I didn't have time then to read such a large novel while working all the time (the way one does when one owns a guest house), but did finally take it on later.

Any adjectives I might choose sound trivial and trite when I use them to talk about that book, and again if I were to try to describe this latest, even longer and more complex, novel. Byatt's longer fiction is certainly not for everyone, with its massive infusions of historical, literary, and cultural information, its inclusions of writing within writing -letters, poetry, fable, in this new book also children's stories, all emanating from Byatt's astoundingly fertile powers of creation. As the Feminist Review says of the book: " it is a story within a story and is layers upon layers where so much is happening that the reader is afraid to blink her eye for fear of missing something important."

This novel was shortlisted for last year's Booker prize; although it didn't win - Alice Munro's new book of stories, Too Much Happiness, was the winner, and the next volume in the pile on my desk waiting to be read. (Jan. 12 Correction: Alice Munro won the Man Booker International Prize for 2009. A writer of whom I have never heard, HilaryMantel, won the Booker itself, for a novel called Wolf Hall. One I shall have to search out.) It is entirely beyond my powers to summarize this intertwining series of plots and characterizations; and the review that I find has managed to do that best is Her Dark Materials by Alex Clark in the British paper The Guardian. Another piece that served to enlighten and explain some things about the novel for me was this interview with A.S. Byatt herself from the Man Booker Prize website. I struggled with this book, but I must say it kept me enthralled, captivated in fact, for the two weeks it took me to read it. The first paragraph in Clark's review may give you a glimmering of how light a read this is not:
The moral seriousness of AS Byatt's fiction derives much from her concept of responsibility; and responsibility, for her, is most importantly the business of marshalling and applying one's intellect to every area of one's life. Her new novel, a staggeringly detailed and charged re-creation of the period between the end of the 19th century and the first world war, overflows with people attempting to define their responsibilities, whether to fulfil them or to evade them; with those in pursuit of enlightenment or seeking to manipulate it; and with some simply attempting to unearth who they are and what they should do to survive.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Literature of Food

We had an early dinner at the Nob Hill Flying Star on New Year's Eve, fabulous bowls of matzo ball soup and a shared slice of falling up cake. The food was, as always, delicious, the soup just what a cold evening needed, the cake a perfect celebration for a year's beginning. But as much as I love Flying Star's food, I may love their magazine rack more. I have always been a magazine addict, and this rack turns me into a slavering junkie. I could spend hours browsing, many more dollars than the budget allows, if I were given my head in this situation. I rarely buy the expensive magazines that are my favorites, literary journals, environmental and political philosophizing, cooking magazines. But, while warming my tummy with bread and soup, I picked up the current issue of a journal (well, bookazine, I see it's called on the website) I've glanced at, longingly, on previous visits: Alimentum; The Literature of Food. This issue, Number 9, had as its centerpiece an interview with Deborah Madison. It cost an astounding ten bucks. I began to read the interview, but it's hard to read while eating soup, and I gave up. But I couldn't leave that unfinished interview, and really wanted to see what the rest of the issue had to offer. I bought the magazine.

After finishing A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book yesterday, I was too entirely exhausted (both intellectually and physically), depleted, devastated and shell-shocked to start reading another book, so I took Alimentum to bed with me. I'm sort of saving the Madison interview for desert, but I read several poems and short stories as appetizers and first course. So far I'm not really impressed by the literary level of the work, but I have a ways to go before a final decision. The website gives only short excerpts of the pieces, which I find irritating. I'd find an entire piece or two a lot more indicative of the work as a whole than these little bits and pieces. The artwork, however, is wonderful. I might subscribe to it for that alone.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Deepfreeze Day

It's miserably cold all over the land, especially in the Midwest, although the arctic air has dropped all the way down to Texas, it's also spreading through eastern New Mexico; and in Florida the crops are freezing, and iguanas are falling out of trees. Yes, apparently the cold-blooded reptiles become immobilized and lose their grip when the temps fall below forty. In honor of this wretched January weather, to make it a little more bearable, all I have to offer today is Mary Oliver's

Cold Poem

Cold now.
Close to the edge. Almost
unbearable. Clouds
bunch up and boil down
from the north of the white bear.
This tree-splitting morning
I dream of his fat tracks,
the lifesaving suet.

I think of summer with its luminous fruit,
blossoms rounding to berries, leaves,
handfuls of grain.

Maybe what cold is, is the time
we measure the love we have always had, secretly,
for our own bones, the hard knife-edged love
for the warm river of the I, beyond all else; maybe

that is what it means the beauty
of the blue shark cruising toward the tumbling seals.

In the season of snow,
in the immeasurable cold,
we grow cruel but honest; we keep
ourselves alive,
if we can, taking one after another
the necessary bodies of others, the many
crushed red flowers.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Edible Institute 2010

I am so excited right now, it's hard to type. Do you live in one of the cities or areas covered in an Edible Communities magazine? These are all across the country, even a couple in Canada, and my closest is very close: Edible Santa Fe. I have been an aficcionada of this publication since I picked up my first issue, soon after we moved to New Mexico. I read every every word of every issue, then lovingly tuck them into a pile on top of the kitchen bookcase where my cookbooks are kept. The stated purpose of the publishers is this:
EDIBLE COMMUNITIES, INC. is a publishing and information services company that creates editorially rich, community-based, local-foods publications in distinct culinary regions throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Through our publications, supporting websites, and events, we connect consumers with family farmers, growers, chefs, and food artisans of all kinds. We believe that every person has the right to affordable, fresh, healthful food on a daily basis and that knowing where our food comes from is a powerful thing. We are a for-profit, member-driven corporation - individuals who own our publications are local-foods advocates and residents of the communities they publish in - a business model that not only supports our values, but also preserves the integrity of our member publications and the communities we serve.
and they live up to every glowing word of that mission statement. It was in the pages of Edible Sta Fe that I first discovered Deborah Madison, who has fast become my favorite food and cookbook writer, and every issue brings information about a local farmer or food/wine producer whom I am delighted to meet and add to my growing store of local resources. So, yesterday while browsing the website, I came upon the announcement that later this month the first Edible Communities Institute will be held - be still my heart - right here in New Mexico. In Santa Fe, to be exact. At The Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort Hotel & Spa, to be even more exact. If you follow the link do be sure to read the history of this place. If you are a Willa Cather fan you will already know some of it (A Death Comes for the Archbishop reader particularly.) This event is billed as: "a gathering of influential writers, thinkers and eaters celebrating sustainable ideas." And here is the announcement and agenda for the Institute, featuring an amazing roster of speakers and panelists, who will be discussing the issues that are currently closest to my heart, mind, and stomach: why sustainability matters, the importance of local and organic foods, the pushback of industrial agriculture, labor and human rights issues in the sustainable agriculture movement, and not the least of these, a panel on The Southwest Foodshed, Sustaining the Agricultural and Culinary Heritage of the Southwest, with Deborah Madison as one of the panelists.

I have to go now, make my online purchase of a ticket to this event, plan how I will explain the fifty buck extravagance to my partner, when we are sworn to a winter of belt-tightening. Don't worry, I'll think of something. Just getting a chance to go into the Bishop's Lodge is worth it to me. Then you throw in Tom Phillpott, Deborah Madison, Lisa Hamilton, and Fred Kirschenmann - how can I not go?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Not A Lot of Comfort or Joy for the Hungry

The "holidaze" is finally over, and though it has been wonderful for both of us to be home, enjoying time to read fat novels by the fire, go to movies, take naps, cook hearty soups and stews, breads that make the house smell like heaven; I'm just as happy to leave the forced cheer that is endemic to this time well behind us. We don't do a lot of holiday shopping, but even the most trivial grocery store errand has an enforced accompaniment of tidings of comfort and joy, or sleigh bells ringing, snowmen melting. It begins soon after Halloween, and may not have ended yet; I won't know til I have to set foot in a commercial establishment.

Yet the truth is that for many in this the richest country on the planet, this period of several winter weeks is merely an extension of the pain they endure every day of the year. With more time to browse the Internet, read up on issues, I have become ever more aware over the holidays of the constant rise in what our government, unwilling to use the word "hunger," calls "food insecurity." While I have been cooking green chile stew, black-eyed peas, pumpkin bread, and albondigas soup, many families with small children have had only what they could glean at local foodbanks, or purchase with their food stamps.

The facts and figures on this are available to anyone who cares to find them; Feeding America, formerly America's Second Harvest, has a Hunger Factsheet that will provide a loud wakeup call to anyone who cares to read it. The New York Times has been running a series of articles on what they call The Safety Net, the most recent of which both deal with the growing dependence of many Americans on food stamps. The first, Food Stamp Use Soars, is scary enough, but the article published yesterday, Living on Nothing But Food Stamps, documenting the rise in the number of Americans who have no cash income whatsoever and are feeding themselves and their kids on their monthly food stamps alone, is way past frightening. This latter article includes interactive maps of the USA that will show you how your own state, and county, is faring on this issue. My state, New Mexico, has experienced a sharp rise in families living on food stamps, a fact that doesn't surprise me at all, as I recently learned that NM ranks third in states where children are receiving both breakfast and lunch on the school program that furnishes free meals to families in need of them.

I think this is a situation that we don't really comprehend, unless, or until, we are living in it, or in close touch with our local food banks, or choose to make the effort to find out the reality. Food banks are in desperate need of donations; all over the country they are falling short of the supplies they need to feed those who come to them for help. Feeding America has an action center, and a food bank locater, where you can get in touch with your local resources, either for help, to donate, or to volunteer. As little fondness as I have for WalMart, I have to note that they have recently donated 35 refrigerated trucks to Feeding America food banks across the country, including Roadrunner Rood Bank, my own local bank. As part of the truck donation, a full truck- load of food was also given to the food bank and included items such as applesauce, green beans, corn, oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese, cereal and other items totaling more than 17,200 pounds food. It is estimated that the 35 trucks donated to food banks nationwide will help transport up to 52.5 million pounds of food every year.

Early this year Feeding America will release their latest report on hunger, Hunger in America 2010. It will be of great interest to see how the numbers have increased in this report since the last one done in 2006. The statistics will be frightening.
(Cross-posted from Women On)