Browsing the blog archives for June, 2010

Feasting, Cherry Pickers and Connection

Robert V. Taylor

Who we are, is reflected in how we feast and approach food.   It mirrors our spirit and how we engage with life.  The sights and sounds of cherry pickers harvesting this year’s crop have expanded my awareness about this.  The cherry pickers have invited me to new delight about the oneness that a spirituality of feasting invites.

The cherry orchards of Eastern Washington are a lively ecosystem during harvest.  Workers on ladders reach in to the trees to fill their buckets with the prized fruit.  Portable toilets are moved to follow the pickers.  Roads are commandeered by refrigeration trucks hauling fresh fruit to warehouses and markets.   Mobile taco stands roam the orchards selling enchiladas and burritos to workers on break.  Local grocery stores and bodegas bustle with business from seasonal workers.

The sounds of the pickers at work are what captivate me this harvest.  I hear their chatter from ladder to ladder in surrounding orchards. Grueling work in often scorching heat does not dampen the animated talk rising above the sounds of music from a portable radio.  Laughter from the orchards punctuates the day. By two o’clock in the afternoon the nine hour day ends before the sun parches the workers, creating more nuanced conversations about which orchards will be picked at five the next morning.

The rhythm of the harvest reflects a micro-ecosystem about food.  The sounds of the cherry pickers have awakened a new awareness into this more expansive ecology.  At the Safeway, Whole Foods or farmers markets in Seattle my surveying of the produce is different. My urban experience of the produce aisle is seen through new lenses.

My spiritual practices about food have begun to shift perceptibly. In preparing any meal I practice giving thanks for the earth, for farmers, for those who’ve brought the food to market and for those who will eat together. It’s less perfunctory than a quick blessing of a meal. It invites mindfulness of being a grateful participant in a wide circle of food.  Harvest has given me new attentiveness.

Cherry harvest conversations among farmers and their team evolve as if in their own growing season. Unexpected summer rainfall created anxious talk about crop damage.  Would the crop be salvageable enough to warrant hiring workers to pick?  Would the crop be left on the trees to rot?  How much are warehouses paying per pound and how much are they discounting for cherries deemed unfit to grace a produce aisle.  All this has given way to grateful, satisfied conversations about a good crop making its way to people’s homes.

A spirituality of feasting always includes expectancy about the conversations that will emerge. In preparing a feast for those beyond our household I think about each guest as I chop, sauté and prepare.  I adore this practice which creates a heart open to the surprise of feasting and talking together.  Cherry harvest has opened a new window into this practice. 

The conversation and worries of the farmers, the image of pickers on ladders with their buckets, the aroma from the taco trucks, the music and conversation from the orchards, the laughter punctuating the air gives me new awareness.  The spirituality of food and feasting is suddenly richer.

The laughter, surprises, conversation and connection around my table remains a gift.  But now it is joined to the rhythm of life of those in orchards and fields producing the many ingredients that contribute to the food.  The liveliness around my table becomes joined to that of people who will remain unknown.  The aisles of the supermarket and even the stands at the farmers market are no longer solely about the item sought.  The produce reminds me of an ecology of connection of which I am a part.  I have an expanded awareness of inter-dependence, of oneness with a circle of people and the earth itself.

The way we approach food and feasting reveals much about our spirit. It reveals even more about mindful gratitude for the oneness of our inter-connection. Food and feasting reveal even more delight and generosity than I had ever imagined.

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Messing With Nature?

Robert V. Taylor

Low flying helicopters and guns going off have woken me each morning for the last few weeks.  It’s felt like living in a war zone.  This battle is being fought by cherry farmers in Eastern Washington trying to save their crops from rain damage.  Like the unsuccessful battle to halt the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico it is a jarring reminder of the fragility of our connection with the environment.

Unseasonal cold weather and persistent soaking rains have been unexpected visitors in the High Desert of Eastern Washington.  Hay, asparagus and cherry crops have all been affected. At four o’clock each morning for the last several weeks the sound of helicopters hovering over the nearby cherry orchards has startled me.  Their rotator blades create a wind storm intended to blow water off the cherries.  Water collecting where the cherry fruit and its stem meets are what causes the cherries to split open making them unmarketable. As if in defiance of nature, the drone of the copters is a desperate and expensive measure to save what was supposed to be a good crop this year.

Some farmers believe it is worth the effort.  One farmer told me that farming has heightened his respect for the forces of nature and the environment.  He told me that his role is to do the best possible job of the things he can control – like pruning, irrigating and growing organic crops – and that “It’s not possible to mess with nature.” It is a philosophy quite different from those who believe we can control nature.

It is a long journey from the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington to the Gulf of Mexico and the devastation being wrought from the arrogant and reckless lack of concern for solutions that BP has displayed.  Or is it?

One farmer suggested to me that his decades of growing crops had only intensified his commitment to protecting the resources of the land.  “You love this work and the land and you want to be passing it on for generations to come” he said.  “It’s not about short term gain” he added.  He went on to wonder out loud how the oil covering the waters of the Gulf will affect condensation and therefore impact rainfall thousands of miles away. It was not a stretch for this sporting fisherman to muse about the fragile ecosystem of the ocean waters. 

As he and I stood outside talking on a very atypical wet evening in the High Desert of Washington, he revealed a profound understanding of the fragile ecology of all of life and the environment.  This no-nonsense farmer conveyed a reverence that has come from decades of stewarding the desert earth.  He certainly doesn’t mess with the environment.

The helicopters have stopped their low-flying mission over the cherry orchards because the rains have ceased.  The guns continue to go off, used by farmers trying to scare the birds hungering after the delicacy of cherries.

Gulf Oil Spill

My conversations have made me wonder about the seeming divide that exists between some oil company executives displaying little regard for the ecology of the environment and the people of the Gulf Coast whose livelihoods depend on maintaining that delicate balance.  Or is that a false and cheaply convenient fault line? 

Perhaps the truth is more nuanced.  The “us” and “them” dividing lines that are politically convenient to politicians and environmentalists are not much of a solution.  They might serve a purpose in riling people up over an environmental tragedy.  Even among the cherry farmers working the same High Desert lands there are gradations of opinion on what it means to care for the earth and the crops. 

My farmer friend embodies an innate understanding of the delicate ecology of life of which we are but a part.  The low flying copters and the guns going off in the orchards might be a metaphor for the battle over an ethic of respecting the environment and our part of it. Perhaps that’s the larger question about not messing with the environment?

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