Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

We had a beautiful Thanksgiving feast in England last night. Turkey,vegetarian nut loaf, stuffing, mashed "root veg" (basically anything that grows under ground boiled and mashed), lashings of gravy, red cabbage with apple, and sausages (a British innovation). Nothing green but nobody cared because the meal was fairly "green" with the veggies coming from the friary garden or nearby. I baked some pies. I was presented with a whole pumpkin and asked to make pumpkin pie! It was a bit of a palaver, roasting it, draining the flesh, pureeing it, and then trying to transpose the USA and UK measurements. Nobody seemed to have any idea about the oven and how it related to Fahrenheit, but miraculously the pie was delicious!

The turkey was a source of contention and a man and wife boycotted the meal because it wasn't organic. I sympathize with their commitment but felt badly they couldn't even bring themselves to be with the rest of us. Poverty isn't just not having money, it is mostly about living with our limitations and the limitations of others. We are none of us perfect, and the effort to live organically can sometimes fall into the trap of "all or nothing" which is unhelpful. Certainly in my own life it has been a big source of grief. I distinctly remember an occasion in my 40's when a friend looked at me strangely and observed: "I think you are beginning to mellow in your old age!" Ha. But we have got past the turkey incident for now and the conversation will continue with the drafting of "standards and regulations."

These contretemps about organic living are a part of everyday life here at Hilfield. The community here includes Franciscan brothers, married and single volunteers and longer term residents. They are committed to creating a sustainable, "green" life. They raise as much of their vegetables as possible, have plans for sheep and dream of a cow. Chickens provide eggs, and in the future some will be eaten I gather, but so far I have not been confronted with the need to pluck the chickens. I've done that in Melanesia, and on one memorable occasion when I was a boy and my parents got hold of 27 "moulting" chickens. It is not just about food, but about the land, how to care for it and use it to the highest potential, allowing for the claims of humans and all creatures for a place to live. One of the most intriguing initiatives is planting different plants together to attract different insects. The idea is not to get rid of the bugs, but encourage them to eat each other. Presumably they are so busy fighting each other they leave the cabbages alone. The peaceable kingdom is not about the absence of struggle and strife, but more about how we embrace it and contain it. I said to Br. Sam about the organic turkey tensions: "Disagreements like this beat the alternative: nobody gives a damn!" We agreed we'd rather have the important discussions than live with people who couldn't care less. The other part of the project here at Hilfield is about peace making and learning to bridge differences, transform conflict. Lots of opportunities for that living in community

I spent part of the day before Thanksgiving weed whacking a weedy pasture so that the chickens could be let loose on it. They are expected to tear up the ground, which will allow the grass to come up green and tender in the spring, to feed the new flock of sheep. Everything is interconnected. Unfortunately the weed wacker has a ferocious bite; the vibrations nearly tore the thing out of my hands, so after a couple of hours I was ready to pitch it into the pond, my hands blistered, bleeding and tingling. Pleading physical delicacy I traded that job for hyacinth planting.

Fortunately there is always more than one thing that needs to be done in a place like this!

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