Resistance to change
appears to be a fundamental
feature of human consciousness,
not just a response to anxiety.
The path to growth lies
in following your anxiety,
in venturing into the unknown.
– Brett Steenbarger
Shall I not have intelligence with the earth?
Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.
– Henry David Thoreau
It is spargel season in Germany. Spargel (pronounced “sh-pahr-gel”) is a white asparagus that is actually grown underground, one of the reasons it is white and not green. It has to be dug up by hand, cut off with a special tool and the rest of the plant reburied. The skin is thicker than on green asparagus and it has to be peeled off like peeling potatoes. Spargel has a light, special taste and the Germans have hundreds of ways of preparing it – soup, salad, whatever – but the most common is just peeled, boiled and usually served with hollabdaise sauce, boiled potatoes and thinly sliced cooked or cured ham. I had never eaten spargel until I had lived here over a year and friends prepared it for me. It was weird to me eating a meal where everything was white (they didn’t serve ham) but it was delicious and I was hooked! Interestingly, Spargel is one of those things that doesn’t grow all year round. The season usually starts about middle April and ends the end of June. The start of the season is usually a media event and June 24th is usually the day they celebrate the end of Spargel season.
I like that things aren’t always available. It used to be that there were lots of things you couldn’t get all of the time, only the special times when they were ripe: Blueberries in June, peaches and corn on the cob in August, pumpkins in the fall. Nowadays you can get almost anything almost all of the time. Apparently kiwis and such grow somewhere on the planet all year round. I remember not being able to find cranberries in Germany for Christmas baking. I had to order them online. Now they are in every store. Apparently the transportation methods – deep freezing and the like – have made it all possible to have fruits and vegetable from all over the world.
Somehow that makes life a little less interesting. Well, not really that but it dulls us to some of the joys of life. When I can eat peaches all year round – even if they don’t taste so much anymore like peaches – I will never know what it is like to bite into a full ripe fresh peach on a hot summer day, having the juice drizzle down my chin. Oh well.
And most vegetables and some fruit have been so hybridized that they don’t resemble or taste like they used to be. In an attempt to make fresh produce survive the long transport routes that they now have to go on, they have sacrificed taste and texture. Romaine lettuce used to be light and easy to tear. Now I need a really sharp knife. And has anyone tried to cut a tomato these days? Impossible.
At any rate, we will enjoy our 3.5 lbs of spargel we will eat this year (that is apparently the average intake of spargel by every German). And blueberries in my breakfast every morning are also nice. I guess I have thought of being more mindful to only eat what is in season. I have even thought of only eating what is available here in the area. But then I see those mangos and can almost taste that peppery flavor and somehow they end up on my grocery cart. Well, there is always next time!
We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.
― Richard Louv
The house I grew up in was near a small river surrounded by some woodland. It was actually called Turtle Creek but in Southern Minnesota no one would every pronounce it creek and we always just called it „the Crick“. We skated on it in the winter when it froze – my younger brother lost his front two teeth playing hockey there – and I remember playing in the long grass and on the bank in the summer. There was even a swimming hole in one bend but I don’t remember ever swimming there. I think my mother thought is was dangerous. I just remember thinking it was too scary to swim there and watched other kids do it with the hair standing up on the back of my neck.
We never played down by the crick at night. There were animals in the area, mice and deer, I am sure, opossums, I think. I know there were at least grass snakes because I kneeled on one once and got my sock all full of blood. I promptly burned my sox because I was in the long grass smoking my mother’s cigarettes – I must have been about 8 at the time – and I didn’t want her to know I had been there. Somehow she never noticed the missing sox. At least I don’t have a memory of getting yelled at.
I remember climbing trees and playing hide and seek and watching the water. I think we spent quite a bit of time there, at least when we were younger. At some point the marsh and river lost their mystery and we played mostly in other peoples yards – kick the can, capture the flag and war were the usual choices. I only remember that we didn’t go down to the crick anymore. No real idea why not.
Now I live again near a woodland, this time with a small stream. Again there is wild life in the woods, foxes and deers. There is also wild boar but they mostly sleep all day. And mice and snakes but the snakes aren’t poisonous. There are also large toads and salamanders because there is a marsh around the stream where they breed. And all the other miriade of creatures that populate nature. What there are not is children. In the five years I have lived here, I have never seen any child playing in the woods. Not a single one. And I walk in the woods a couple of times a day.
Some of the teenagers in town go into the woods to drink but rarely. I sometimes see their garbage laying in out of the way clearings. Maybe they don’t need to hide their drinking from their parents as much as we did. Underage drinking seems to be tolerated in Germany maybe in part because they can only get a driver’s license when they are 18. At any rate, of all the children in this little town who are the age we were when we spent virtually every free moment outside and racing through the woods, none of them do it.
Has the world changed that much? Are the things you can do at home, watch TV, play on the computer, talk on the computer, are all of these things more interesting to children these days than they were all those years ago? Is the fantasy and mystery of nature something you only see from the comfort of your living room even if the real thing is just outside your door?
Or is parent’s fear of what could happen to their children if they are not within sight gotten so great that they don’t allow their children to play in the woods? There are „dangerous“ wild animals and the local hunter seems to hunt pretty often but still. I never see them at the edges of the forest, exploring the stream, looking for salamanders, catching toads. Never. It might be a cultural thing. German housewives (can you use that term anymore?) are very conscious of dirt. Actually, I mean OCD about dirt. Our neighbor behind us hoses his dog down in the yard every time he takes it for a walk because otherwise it would bring in too much dirt. (Imagine that in an area where it basically rains every day so all the paths are mud tracks and you know how much work that man takes on!) Maybe the kids aren’t allowed in the marsh because they would come home covered in dirt – God forbid!
It is for me a „puzzlement“. But maybe the world has just changed so much I don’t recognize childhood anymore. Could be.
People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.
When we bought our house, Wolfgang’s cousin Amin, a carpenter, suggested that we buy a wood burning stove to help with the heating. Our heating system uses a gas heater to heat the water that goes through the system and heats the radiators. The idea was that heating the water with a wood burner would reduce our heating costs. We ordered an Italian stove with ceramic plates over the water pockets through which the water flows and Wolfgang said he would like to chop wood every year. So far so good.
The first problem came up when we found out that the chimney that is in the house couldn’t be used because at some point former renters punched out the walls and put an iron beam right through the chimney. It made it so narrow that even putting a stainless steel chimney inside it would not be accepted by the inspector. So even though we already have one chimney on the side of the house, we had to put up another stainless steel chimney on another side.
We hired someone from the internet to connect the word burner to the heater system. We were in the middle of renovating the house and were pretty much running around. The heater guy would show up and the first thing he would do is drink a coffee and smoke 3 or 4 cigarettes on the balcony and chat with Wolfgang. At least a couple of times, I would come out and say with lots of agitation, “Don’t we want to get started?” This guy told us he was about to buy a million Euro house and yada yada ya. He was supposed to be the head of a big service but he drove a van without a name or emblem off of it. This guy made me nuts.
In the end, I had to get my Italian speaking student to translate the instructions for the heater – which came only in Italian, really thinking internationally there guys! – and the heater guy stared at the instructions for what seemed like hours. Eventually the thing was in but then there was this piece that needed to be changed to make it better and then that piece. The cost of it all was half again as much has he told it would be in the beginning. We continued to have problems with the system and were trying to get him to come and fix it and then his wife called and said he had a stroke and would be out of commission for a while.
We still have problems with the system. Apparently the gas heater was put in wrong, or at least that is what the 5(!!!) different heater companies have told us that have come to look at the system to get it right. They have all said that they would think about how to fix it and send an estimate. Only one company actually sent an estimate. The rest seem to have just given up on ever getting it right. We have decided to kind of make do until we need to replace the gas heater. It is already ten years old.
That being said, the focus of our lives from January to April has become getting the wood “in”, that means out of the forest. We order about 10 cubic meters of wood every year and it has to be out before the wild animals start to give birth in the spring. The Forester has the trees chopped down for the people who order them and then the purchasers have to cut them into smaller pieces and transport them from wherever they are in the woods to their house. In the beginning we didn’t have an all-road vehicle but the car with a trailer worked pretty well. Then one year the wood was on a very steep slope far away from a drivable path. Wolfgang bought a large bag and carried over a ton of wood down the hill and over the brook on his back. Then as the time was getting short, he asked me to help. I “helped” one day and I said, “This is crap! We are buying a Quad if we have to rob a bank to do it!” The Quad makes the work significantly easier but Wolfgang got a name in the village after that year of “the Sufferer”.
We also have a reputation for having the most wood in the village because we heat the water all year with wood and have to have up to two years of wood drying and we store it all in our yard. Others tend to store it in the fields around. It has all paid off though. Our heating bill is less than half of our neighbors. And wood heat is somehow “warmer” than gas. At least it seems so.
The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!
– Robert Browning
Last November with the first cold snap there was silence in the woods. I had never really noticed it in previous winters. Maybe because this winter has been so mild the chorus of bird song that greets me every morning when I walk the dog up the nearest hill never seemed to die down, it was just suddenly gone. It was kind of a shock. One of those, you never miss it till… things.
I cherish my morning walks (even though sometimes I trudge up that hill like an old steam engine although it is really not that high). There is hardly anyone about. Those who have to work are already gone into the city; those that don’t have to work so early are still in bed. We are often greeted by the remnants of the wild boars nightly feast – the ground torn up and pushed around – or by a few deer trying to feed before the woods fill with dog walkers or nordic walkers or lumber men. The animals in the forest seem calmer this year. Maybe because the hunt that usually happens twice a year only happened once this year. Apparently, with the weather so mild it is hard to get the animals to run. When the hunt comes, the energy in the whole forest changes and it disturbs me. Maybe it is just in my imagination but I try to not be at home on those days and take the dog with me if I can.
But the thing is, here it is only the end of February and the walnut tree and the other early flowering trees are starting to bud. The bird songs are in full chorus. I can see a hint of green on some of the bushes and it isn’t just moss. Something lifts my spirits and opens my heart. There is something wonderful in the change of seasons. Let it come.