You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2011.
Slow food meets slow money. A new paradigm?
I think I am making gains in my health, but some days I seem to have no true energy. We are eating properly, but too many nights of poor quality sleep have left me a bit wan.
Good things continue to happen – the silkies are finally int he barn, and adjusting to this large pen, although they seem to stick together very closely. I am suspecting that I have three roosters and one hen, which will not please the girl once they mature! I may trade two roosters for hens, once I am sure. They are lovely birds, very elegant in their Quaker black and grey, with their feathery bonnets and fringed wing-shawls. I don’t have good photos of them yet.
This week was our granddaughter’s first birthday. She is just walking a bit, has twelve teeth and is already talking: “Kitty, daddy, Mum, doggie, give me!” And “car.” I made the doll above for her birthday gift.
I live on the banks of the St. John River, between Grand Falls, where there is a deep gorge through which the river falls, and the broad expanse of the same river at Perth-Andover, two villages joined by a bridge older than I am. The next nearest community is New Denmark, across the wooden decked one lane bridge across the river, and up steep slopes.
I was priest in the Anglican Parish of Denmark (New Denmark, Lake Edward, Medford and Limestone Siding). We go to church at St. Ansgars, New Denmark. While my side of the river is wild and wooded, with tiny upland or river side farms carved out of wilderness, New Denmark is neat and well-kept, a microcosm of its original.
It was a peaceful place to live. The two churches, Anglican and Lutheran, face each other across the main road. The Anglicans came first, but the bishop had to find a Danish speaking priest. They had the only Danish language Anglican service in the world. A very few original Danish prayer books remain. I occasionally had bilingual Danish-English services.
The neat farms and their hundred year old farmhouses remind me of Amish farms, except that occasionally some householder will break with the usual pattern of white house and black trim to have red trim and shutters. Few houses within the parish limits are painted anything but white or the shades common to red or yellow ochre.
Most of the land along the main roads is cleared in fields, with hedgerows between. When the Danes first arrived, they had expected cleared land as they had farmed in Denmark, where all the woodland was owned by nobility, and many of them had farmed as tenants rather than as landowners. They were not prepared to clear land, but over the last 140 years, they have opened the forests and maintained good farm land when in other parts of the province the fields were neglected and have returned to forest.
Like the Amish, the Danish farmers have a reputation for being frugal. After I was appointed to New Denmark, I visited back in Maine, attending church at New Sweden. “Well, now,” said one friend there, “so you are in New Denmark. I remember when the Danes all came here to buy our old farming equipment!” “And who is still farming?” I asked. “Oh, they are,” he agreed. Frugality does pay.
When I lived in the rectory, I had quiet neighbours. There was the Lutheran pastor’s family across the street, and a retired widow next door to her. Behind me were neighbours who never made a sound.
I didn’t mind living right over the cemetery. I had the most beautiful view from a rectory anywhere in the diocese – and my first rectory had been directly on the Bay of Chaleur. There is nothing more magnificent than the ever-changing light and shadow in this spur of the Appalachians.
I haven’t seen many bears around here. When I lived in northern Maine, ten years ago or so, I saw bears all the time. All the time, as in almost every day of the summer and fall. I sometimes wondered if it was me or we just had a large population of bears.
Since much of northern Maine is becoming fallow, with old fields growing into scrubby woodland again, there is more bear habitat and better food opportunities. Sows are having twin and triplet cubs, probably because of the increased food supply.
Bears are fun to watch from a distance. When I first moved home to Aroostook County, I spotted a black bear in the field across the road, digging up potatoes left in the ground from the previous autumn’s harvest. I watched it through field glasses for about half an hour, until it had found all it wanted and ambled back into the woods. The northern black bear is a fairly small bear compared to western brown bears and grizzlies, but it still outweighs the average petite female human, and I wouldn’t want to be in a position of fending one off.
The next summer, I came close to doing that. I was alone in the early morning, hiking down a trail just a mile or so from home. I wasn’t expecting to see anything larger than a duck. But in some swamp, I encountered a young male moose, blocking the path. I don’t argue with moose.
I turned back, but stopped before taking another step. There was a bear on the trail behind me. It was about ten yards away, a little too close for comfort. I was caught in one of those situations sometimes described as “being between a rock and hard place,” but the rock could trample me and the hard place could maul me. The ditches on either side of the trail were about six feet deep and full of murky water. Bear and moose can outswim a human, no context. A bear can run as fast as a moose.
The given wisdom in dealing with black bears is to shout, wave your arms, and clap your hands. I felt like a right fool, performing gymnastic cheerleading on a dirt trail in the Maine woods, for the benefit of a bear and a moose. It did no good. Neither animal even twitched. I kept my eye on the bear. It kept its eye on me.
I suppose the bear was more interested in the moose, and the moose scent confused it. It decided to get a closer look at this strange creature walking on its hind feet. It started to close the distance.
In a bear encounter, never take your eyes off the bear. Even if a large bull moose is behind you, watch the bear. I started walking backward, closer to the moose. The moose decided it didn’t need to find out what the bear wanted, so it jumped into the swamp and waded off. That left me with the bear.
I was still walking backward, hoping I didn’t trip on a rock or branch. The bear halved the distance between us, stopped, sniffed the air, and ambled off down the trail, in the other direction, until it, too, disappeared into the trees. The scent of Deep Woods Off must have been a clue that I was not something good to eat.
I paused on the path until my heartbeat felt close to normal, then cautiously went back down the trail toward home. Yes, past the bear’s entry point into the woods, praying that it was not just duping me into a closer approach. I didn’t see it again, though, and I made it home at a regular hiking pace, let myself in the door, and thought to make a fresh cup of coffee. I got as far as the dining room when my knees weakened, and I had to lean against the wall for a few moments. Once safe, my body decided it had been brave enough, thank you, and I could very well enjoy that adrenalin it had been saving for a mad dash.
Oh, it doesn’t end there. A couple of days later, my (then) husband and I were on the trail in the other direction from town. We were supposed to be running, but he hadn’t worn the right footwear so it had become a jog, then a hike, and then a stroll. “Oh, how cute!” he exclaimed. (He is the sort of man who says ‘cute.’) “Where? What?” I asked, as the Maine woods is notably devoid of cute. Awesome, beautiful and terrifying are the more accurate descriptions. He pointed to a dead tree near the trail. There were two bear cubs in the tree.
“Nigck!” was my next comment, which is what a choked back scream sounds like.
When there are bear cubs no more than a few months old up a tree, it means mama bear is not far away.
“Tssst! Start walking back!” I whispered. “Don’t run, don’t go closer, just turn around and leave.”
“They can’t hurt us!” (And as he said this, I wondered if there are no bears at all in New Mexico, where he was raised.)
“No, but their mother can rip our heads clean off our bodies! Just quietly turn back before she knows we are here.”
The next day, I went to a sporting goods store. They tried to sell me a gun, but I bought an airhorn instead, the sort that are sold to people who want to repel muggers. I doubt they would work well on a determined mugger, who will just break your arm and take your airhorn along with your wallet, but bears do not like loud, sudden noises, and will, according to many reliable sources, flee.
And a week later, a friend visiting from Germany (where they don’t seem to have bears anymore) came to supper with me. We went for a walk in the cool evening air, looping out the walking trail a short way. We were no more than a quarter-mile from the village, and I hadn’t brought my airhorn.
“Oh, look,” she said. “Is that a dog ahead of us?”
No. “It’s a bear.”
“Oh, great! I have always been wanting to be seeing a bear!”
I picked up a rock. She picked up a rock. “There,” I said, “We are ready.”
“Are they magic rocks?” she asked. “I don’t think we can throw them strong enough to hurt the bear.” This was true, but we still held onto the rocks. I shouted and waved my arms. She gave a piercing, two-fingered whistle, very impressive for a young, seminary educated Lutheran pastor. The bear ran away. We hurried back to the village, still clutching our rocks. At the door of the house where she stayed, we dropped our rocks, looked at each other, and laughed. “Our magic rocks saved us!” she said.
I wasn’t the only one who had close encounters of the third kind with black bears in that area. I had gone to a parishioner’s house on the lake to help her pack in preparation for moving to her daughter’s house in the village. I packed box after box of books and kitchen ware. I stacked boxes on the back step for her son-in-law to load into his truck. After a few minutes outside with his son, he called in the door, “Do you think you could go upstairs and get the shotgun?”
I went to the screen door. He was watching something next door. “What do you need to shoot?”
“There’s a bear trying to get in next door. I’ll scare it away.”
While Emmaline went upstairs for the gun, I went outside. There was a half-grown bear clawing at the neighbour’s screen door. A tantalizing fragrance of beef stew was in the air, wafting from their kitchen. I stepped up to my truck, opened the driver’s door, and blew the horn. Chris joined in with his truck horn. Little bear took off at a gallop.
“Well, why didn’t I think of that?” Chris said as Emmaline returned with the shotgun. Chris left it on the driver’s seat of his truck, though, until we were all loaded and everyone out of the area, first closing the neighbour’s door until they returned from a brief walk up to the corner store.
Another neighbour’s son had heard that there was a large bear in his father’s area, so he drove out one afternoon to see if he could find any tracks and to warn his father to stay indoors with his dog. As he pulled up to his father’s house, he saw his father asleep in a lawn chair just inside the open door of the garage, with his fat old retriever asleep on the garage floor next to him. Just outside the garage wall, out of sight of the old man and his dog, was a large black bear, also asleep.
Although I raised Shetland sheep up there on the mountains of Stockholm, Maine, I never lost an animal to a bear. One day I was checking my fences to make sure moose hadn’t pulled any down – a common event – and smelled a pungent, musky odour at the back of the pasture. Just outside the fence was a large old pine tree, with branches touching down around the base, forming a living green tent. That was where the odour was coming from. It was obvious as I examined the protected spot that a bear was camping there from time to time, with scat and tufts of shed fur mixed into the pine needles. The sheep seemed to have no fear of it, and it had never attempted the fence. My neighbour a couple of miles away, on the other hillside, had lost two ewes to a bear that had reached over the top of a solid board pen and lifted them out, one by one. Only a lamb survived, probably because it lay down flat, out of the bear’s reach.
The native Americans call black bear “Grandmother.” It is considered a wise animal, a messenger from the other world. I dreamed of bears quite a lot in those days, and I wondered if it was my fear. I tried to run from a huge black bear in my dreams, and always woke just before the bear caught up with me. While at seminary, a friend suggested to me that what I needed to do was not run from the dream bear, but to turn and face it. I did that, the next time I dreamed of the bear. And in that dream, the bear stopped, dropped to the ground, and looked up at me. I didn’t need to run from the bear; the bear was me.
We’ve had an exceptionally nice day today, with more of the same expected tomorrow. I harvested more beans and our first zucchini. It may be our only zucchini, but it was really good in the garden vegetable supper I made.
I’ll have more on this at “In a Plain Kitchen” later tonight. (http://inaplainkitchen.blogspot.com)
The goats enjoyed the sun and cooler temperatures. The grass and clover are still growing, so they had a lovely meal all afternoon. And they basked.
And one stretched out for a nap.
Another plain dress link by a good friend who is a Friend.
Quaker Jane has updated her cap page, with links and photos.
After a century of advancing from class bigotry, it looks as if Britons are in perhaps one final round of the battle for social equality. Despite great gains to grant equal rights under law for aristocracy and commoners, beginning with popular reform of the Church of England in the 19th century, class warfare has gained new ground in the cultural life of Great Britain. The recent riots and looting are evidence that class unrest is still pervasive. the Church of England and all Christian churches are losing ground, not because of the influx of immigrants of other faiths, but because so many British find the Church to be irrelevant, more concerned with preservation than with growth. Whether the perception is deserved or not, the great stone churches, solemn liturgies and vested processions seem beyond incomprehensible to many modern people, not just in Britain, but throughout the world.
Owen Jones, a young British journalist, addresses the topic of haves and a growing class of have-nots in Britain in his 2011 book Chavs (Verso Press). For those who don’t have any contact with the British popular press, a “chav” is a person, male or female, who lives in government-provided housing, doesn’t work, engages in petty crime and assault, drinks, smokes, uses drugs, is sexually promiscuous, and lacks any useful education. The popular image of a “chav” is someone between the ages of 14 and 50 in fake Burberry tartan clothing or other designer brand rip-offs, tattooed, causing ordinary middle-class people grief by harassment and theft. In dress, “chavs” prefer the sort of pseudo-athletic attire and ornate gold jewelry of American hiphop musicians, with the social attitudes and behaviour of the young people of New York and New Jersey who are lately known as “guidos” following the popular success of the television series “Jersey Shore.” But the horrified disdain that the middle class of England has for “chavs” goes far beyond the fascinated contempt that Americans express for the Jersey beach culture of Snooki and her companions. The respectable working class of England seems to be disappearing because of the promotion of “chav” culture, with those who traditionally classified themselves as urban working class identifying more with the middle class.
My husband, Nicholas, has dual citizenship in Canada and the United Kingdom. His parents came to Canada in 1957, looking for work opportunities. They both grew up in the East End of London, in Dagenham, home to a large Ford plant and a refinery. They lived in row housing where back gardens were devoted to vegetable growing and poultry husbandry. The men in the family worked at the car factory, on the police force, and on the docks. The women kept a spotless house, minded children, and kept up a united front of pinnies.
Bill Perks Sr. was a skilled labourer, though a slag accident in a foundry had badly scarred one foot. Hilda was happy to be close to her family in London; the Baileys and Perks had been in that area for centuries. But Britain did not offer much advancement for young people who came up through the charity schools. They had two children already, and were still living, post-war, with family. There was a major housing shortage in the East End, as the docks and rail yards were bombed extensively, and the collateral damage was in the antique row housing. Bill had served in the war, with an infantry unit sent into Germany. He was underage when he enlisted, just seventeen, but he looked older and by then no one asked too many questions if a lad looked fit for service. Hilda, a couple of years younger, was too old to be sent away to the country, and she had a wartime job in a local boot factory. One day, a bomb exploded in the street outside her home. She had thrown her hands in front of her face when she heard the impact; the windows of the house were blown in. She found grains of glass working through the skin of her hands for weeks afterward. Hilda’s brother Dennis Bailey flew in Lancaster bombers through the war, and one of the squad’s assignments was to blow up the dams that were instrumental to the Nazis’ heavy water scheme.
East Enders – Cockneys – had a reputation for earthiness and humour. They were the working class of the greater city area. The East End had been a haven for disease and crime in the late 19th century, but back then there were plenty of responsible people who were descended from the original riverside dwellers. They had plied small craft in trade up and down the river, or had been employed as stonemasons and carpenters in the building of London, living north of the Thames and east of the City wall. They kept up a tradition of manual and skilled labour.
Class distinction and class struggle have been part of British culture since the Romans. The Second World War went a long way to changing that, although Great Britain has retained an aristocracy, although since the late 18th century, commoners who were financially successful or otherwise contributed to the strength of the nation were elevated to the peerage. (And even in Jane Austen’s day, those recently knighted or ennobled were considered as less important than those who inherited titles; the inheritors rarely had to work for a living, while the new peers always had.) An immigrant population changed the linguistic and cultural landscape, as well. Britain had to change, or be left behind as the European Union, the United States, and what was formerly known as the Third World forged new links of trade.
In Britain, as in the other developed countries, there soon rose a new underclass whose traditional sources of employment were gone, as manufacturing and unskilled labour jobs went offshore to less expensive production markets. (It is a strange, convoluted concept, that the means of production are marketed like commodities. Labour has become a commodity.) There was a cultural backlash; the disenfranchised working class clashed with immigrants who would work under worse conditions for less money. As the unemployed evolved into another subculture, the employed and educated classes became alarmed. It used to be that being working class was no shame in Britain. One endeavoured to get and keep employment, and avoid the “dole” or social assistance benefits. There had always been both upward and downward mobility, as the sons and daughters of bakers and butchers chose higher education in the new universities, and the children of teachers, bankers and government employees took up skilled trade because that was what interested them, or that was where the good money was. There was class discrimination and stereotyping, but the national effort of Hitler’s war had pulled Britons together as never before. Class distinction became less important; class mobility became more common. The recent royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton demonstrates this. Her parents were British Airways employees who opened what became a very successful mail order business. William and Kate do not share common ancestors closer than the 15th century. William’s parents, Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, had a common 18th century ancestor, and Diana’s family was old and titled. Charles’s parents, Philip and Elizabeth, were as close as second cousins in one line, third cousins in another, with Queen Victoria as a common ancestor. Kate’s genealogy, although documented, was of little importance in the decision to marry.
Part of the backlash of achieving commonality in culture is that those who have always assumed on privilege do not easily give it up. Thus those who threaten privilege are demonized and are further marginalized. In looking for images of “chav” culture, I suspected that almost all the illustrations were staged, photographs of university students at “chav” parties or deliberate stereotyping for the photo shoot. Young men in tracksuits with Burberry plaid baseball caps, outrageously sized gold chains, pendants and rings, young women with huge hoop earrings in skimpy tank tops and shorts, with pillows underneath to make them look pregnant; all the models clutching beer cans and cigarettes. They photos remind me of the “redneck” parties of my generation, when female friends would go to a party at someone’s cottage in Daisy Mae cutoffs, with their hair in pigtails, the young men in sleeveless black t-shirts and torn jeans. The refreshment of choice was Southern Comfort or Jim Beam or Lone Star beer, and the music reverberating from the boombox was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty. For some it was just affecting a silly costume, but for others I think there was a genuine dislike for the stereotype of the poor American rural Southerner. It was “okay” to call them white trash because we were white, too.
Owen Jones wrote this in Chavs: “To admit that some people are poorer than others because of the social injustice inherent in our society would require government action. Claiming that people are largely responsible for their circumstances facilitates the opposite conclusion.”
Equality for American blacks took government action. We are still fighting the stereotype that claims that blacks and other non-European descended people are inferior in intelligence and ability. We are still fighting a stereotype that characterizes black culture as demeaning and immoral. Here in Canada, the first nations fight the same battle. Their language and culture was taken away by brutally separating children from family so that they would become “white” in speech and behaviour. Their own cultural history was handed back to them and marked as a failure, although it had supported them and their ancestors for generations.
Once a group of people are marked out as inferior, it makes it easier for the dominant culture to exploit them and deny them human rights. It is disheartening to see the trend continue and in fact take on new aspects, especially in the repeated marginalization and stereotyping of the most vulnerable people.
Unemployment in the UK is just under 8%, a bit of a climb over the past five years. Unemployment in the USA is over 9%, and may be even higher because of the way the unemployed are tallied in the US. Canada seems to be holding at about 7.5%. I acknowledge that middle-class workers can feel threatened when they are in an uncertain job market, and both Europe and North America stand cautiously on the brink of economic hardship. Those who are frightened always look for a source of trouble to blame, and the exaggerated response to what seems to be a manufactured “underclass” may be part of it. American conservatives often blame the “welfare” poor for high taxes, although social services is a small part of the American government’s budget.
But maybe we are all falling into unconscious elitism. My husband and I, both with master’s degrees, live in the bottom 10% of household income in Canada. We receive no benefits beyond his Canadian Medicare and his disability pension (a government insurance payout after he had worked for wages and paid taxes for 35 years.) I do not qualify for Medicare, and we pay for my medical care out-of-pocket. We do not receive housing subsidies, aid with prescriptions and other medical needs, nor any supplement to cover our increasing household energy costs. We get by because we deliberately budgeted what we could afford. Even then, we have needed small amounts of financial aid from the church to cover expenses when we had to pay for something beyond our usual budget.
Will we be demonized in the same way that working class Britons have been? If we can’t afford a house with a two-car garage, vacations in the Caribbean, expensive clothes, or new cars, will we be suspected of trying to cheat the taxpayers if we qualify for “benefits”? Will scurrilous rumours circulate about how we don’t pay taxes,how we apply for benefits we don’t deserve, or have strange and secret orgies of drinking and promiscuity? Possibly; those who have lived near large Old Order Amish or Mennonite communities, or any homogeneous Christian group, have heard such stories about the strangers in their midst. And just as most working class residents of the UK pay their taxes, don’t apply for unneeded benefits, and live fairly quiet, normal, even spiritual lives, so do various “outsider” groups in North America, from native Americans to Mormons.
I’m hoping that the “chav” hysteria will die out soon, as a precursor of greater tolerance in the world. It doesn’t look like it, though, with the conservative politicians in the United States continuing to incite disdain and fear of immigrant and underclass groups.
I am not the only one and certainly not the first, to experience “the silence of God.” St. John of the Cross, the Counter-Reformation divine, wrote of his experiences in The Dark Night of the Soul. When I read the book, about twenty years ago, I could understand it intellectually, but I had never experienced it. Even in depression and grief, God was a living Presence within me. I knew that I had to go through the valley, and He was guiding me. I would make it, despite moments of horror when I feared I wouldn’t.
Chris Armstrong (http://gratefultothedead.wordpress.com) has written three posts on the experience of losing sight of God as it affected three famous and dedicated Christians, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, and C.S.Lewis. They were afflicted as mature Christians, with years of faith behind them. Mother Teresa’s “dark night” lasted most of her years of ministry.
When I referred to Chris’s posts on facebook, I got a lot of puzzled responses from friends. “How can God be silent?” “God is still present, even if we don’t see Him.” Yes, true. God is always present; God speaks to us in scripture. But for a Christian who has known the ineffable joy of the presence of God for years, the withdrawal of intimacy is devastating.
If one expresses this loss, Job’s comforters come to visit. “You must have an unconfessed sin.” “Why did you ever think God favoured you in such a way?” “It is your spiritual pride, you have to kill that and humble yourself, or God wouldn’t need to do it for you.”
And if I now say, “This is my dark night,” someone will rush in with a solution to make it all go away. But it doesn’t work that way. I have spent almost all my life with the sense of the presence of God, and He has stepped away now. I had prescience, and insight. I could pray for guidance, and get it. I was confident in God’s will. And that is gone.
At first I blamed the church. And I may be right; so often the whole congregation, priest included, is going through the motions of worship, as if that is all faith is. The liturgy, music and sermon are about something else rather than the presence of God. It is about politics, or modernity, or praise of ourselves and not God. There is no centering, there is no epiclesis, a calling down of the Spirit, even when one is said. The Holy Spirit goes where it will; it cannot be tamed or commanded. When the gathering becomes about where the altar is placed, or which hymnal is used, or if we call God “you” or “thou,” we are there for our own purposes and not His. (“You shall have your reward,” He said.) When it becomes about us, it stops being about Him.
It’s been three years since I have felt the Spirit flow through the gathering like a cool wind from the ocean. I have gone through the motions myself, attending divine liturgy and receiving the sacrament often. That is where we meet Him, isn’t it? But all that focus hasn’t helped. To say, “What were you doing before that changed?” will net no answer. I don’t know what has changed. We moved away from more traditional services and being among those who have a more spiritual understanding of the church, but my own attitude is still traditional and spiritual. The church is still a hospital for sinners, not a tent for saints.
The presence of God has left my daily prayers and disciplines. I go through them obediently, but it is simply an exercise. I know it is efficacious to pray, and I see the results of prayer around me, but God has moved far enough away from me that He is no longer visible to me, as if He decided one night to fold His tents and encamp across the river, out of my sight.
Mother Teresa realized that the long silence of God was teaching her empathy. She entered into a poverty of spirit that matched the poverty of those she served. This is how the poor always feel, that they are excluded from the deserving righteous. The truly poor have no expectation that tomorrow will be a blessing, and almost certainly expect it to be at least as fraught with rejection as today. Since we are living in great poverty ourselves, I am aware that the blessing we may get, if not tomorrow, but sometime soon, could be illness, starvation, and homelessness. God’s children do not always prosper in this world, and many will die as martyrs to this holy war we call supply side economics. Those who cannot produce will die; they are superfluous.
I am denied the altar still. I find that almost unbearable. And then I wonder if the bishop is justified; that indeed I have committed an unforgiveable sin, that even God has turned from me. Discipline is just discipline, and not a path to renewed spiritual energy. Even my body is rebelling, rejecting modern life and its chemical matrix.
We live an isolated life, and yet I wish it to be more isolated. My self-criticism gets imagined as the critique of others, and it is not favourable. I wish to avoid Job’s comforters, who will call up Psalms and gospel lessons, offer platitudes and hollow encouragement. What I really need is a Virgil to guide me, or at least to say, “It’s a dark road; I’ve walked it, too, and someday you will reach the end.”