Friday, November 30, 2007

Giving Gifts, Giving Thanks

As the holiday season sets in, we turn our eyes toward home, hearth, family, and our inner circle. Akin to other seasonal migrants, we travel to other places or open our own dwelling for gatherings, story telling, gift giving, and meal sharing – revisiting the familiar rituals that revive the meaning of this time of the year.

This celebratory season starts with the remembrance of our dead, of the ancestors; then the celebration of life, of harvest, abundance and giving follows, concluded by the observation of rebirth. We decorate our homes with symbols of light and life, symbols that often have been transplanted here by other cultures. Their representation is very powerful, yet it begs the question – what is the meaning of this season for this land, for this people? What is the ritual, the story, the tradition that is uniquely distinct and meaningful for this land?

What gifts and food stuffs really come from this land and our hearts, not from the store – that is the question that come to my mind every holiday season. With each year I take it a little bit further – with a commitment now to only give hand-made gifts. Our extended family is diverse and varied in its preferences when it comes to gift giving, so it is hard to figure out at times how to meet expectations and stay on track, but I am getting better at it!

My gift making began in early July, with garlic harvest and braiding, and packing peach chutney and preserves in pretty little jars
This went on for the few months of summer, as my collection of edibles grew. Then I got some yarn from a local spinner, and started knitting – toys & clothing for the kids, scarves for adults,a couple of dearly loved but no longer needed books will be re-gifted, a fabulous baby blanket made of recycled fabrics and antique lace for the youngest in the family.

My husband Scott has made a few simple but very cute bird feeders out of scrap wood; he is also finishing up a hand bound version of his travel journal for this year. Some of our artisan home-made goat cheeses will be given away, or served. We are not against shopping, so a few exotic items will make it in the mix, but for sure there will be no buying “something” just to mark off a name on the list of family and friends.

Somehow making gifts and decorating our home with our own hands allows us to instill a little of our love and gratefulness to friends and family; it is a very special gift to very special people.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thanksgiving Meal

Last week I took our young male goats to a butcher – an end of a short and eventful era on our farm. The butcher, Mark Padilla of Arroyo Seco, is exactly the kind of a person one would want to help with the task. Mark moves slowly, he just exudes kindness and comfort, and he handled our two upset wethers with calm respect. I did not stay at Mark’s to watch. He called five days later and told me to come and pick up the meat. Two boxes full of home raised meat, with cuts wrapped in nice white paper was what remained of Jesús and Moses.

All summer long, as the kids were frolicking in the pasture, I have been receiving various suggestions regarding how to raise meat goats best. Most of the advice had nothing to do with their nutrition, but rather focused on how to protect myself emotionally from the fact they were born to finish their lives under a butcher’s knife; that their destination was to nurture us with food.

Don’t name them, don’t pet them, don’t touch them, don’t get attached to them – was a litany of clever tricks. For a fleeting moment, I considered these ideas. One day, the kids got wet in a torrential summer downpour. As I was sitting in the barn, trying to comfort frightened and whimpering kids, both on my lap, I realized that I would be robbing myself and them from a relationship in which they are recognized by names, hugged, petted, loved and treated as if they really exist! This was a turning point. I did not make house pets out of them, nor have I subjected them to an unnamed, somewhat mechanical upkeep without acknowledgement. In fact it felt important that I may experience emotional discomfort when the time comes to let go. That sadness became part of the payment for their sweet, goofy lives that they gifted to us.

As I looked at the boxes filled with their meat, I wondered – which one is Jesús, which one is Moses? Why would it matter I don’t know, except to acknowledge one more time – thank you, Moses – you were a simple-minded sweet creature, you only cared about food and a good belly rub, and you were very handsome with your pink nose and salt-and-pepper ears. Thank you, Jesús – you were very smart, and inventive of new tricks, you loved freedom, and you too were very handsome!

I live in a small co-housing community in Jacona, NM. Next week, my husband Scott and I and our neighbors will all sit down for a goat stew meal to celebrate this summer, with its stories of the wonderful things animal and plant worlds offered to us. Remember, how our Mama Turkey sat on someone else’s clutch and hatched eleven baby guineas? Or how we got oyster mushrooms growing on an old cottonwood stump? Or how the goat kids used to make a terrible ruckus every evening at milking time, protesting the loss of what was theirs? Or how a horned owl moved in and tried to take away a chicken? Or how our tomato plants just kept producing until we did not know what to do with the fruit? To all of them, plants and animals, our thanks go with every meal, because every meal means more to all of us now, after we told our summer stories and said good bye to two goofy, beautiful and joyful goat kids.