This summer I've been in a bit of a funk. I'm a gardener and the endless weeks of 100+ degree days, the lack of rain coupled with hellacious swarms of Asian Tiger mosquitoes had me running for cover. At home my garden was largely left to make it's own way to fall, and it's got the dead and stunted plants to prove it. Within the comfort of my air-conditioned, and mosquito free house I sought out inspiration to fight the fight again next season.
Gardening, and most certainly agriculture, can turn your entire perspective of nature on it's head. I would need all ten fingers and ten toes to count up the various assorted diseases and pest that have just this summer taken to stealing, eating, weakening, or outright killing my plants in the name of their own survival. Covered in Deet, wide brim hat, and a touch of poison ivy, heading outside can seem more like warfare than convening with nature.
To the rescue cam Susan Hand Shetterly's new book Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town. This beautiful book speaks to a love of place that encourages us to love the natural world of our own space, our own yards, neighborhoods, towns, and remaining wild places. Learning to understand, care for and respect the wildlife that surrounds her Maine home has been the work of Shetterly for the last forty years. A perfect quote on the front cover by Terry Tempest Williams says " I read [this] not only with great delight, but with a yearning to stay put and live more fully."
In one passage that has stayed with me Shettery, after describing the loss of the great alewife migrations, speaks perhaps to a common appraisal that what wild spaces left to us are not truly wild, possibly not worthy of our admiration, attention or protection.
Quote: " 'Nobody owns anyone, except in memory,' John Updike wrote. I suppose that goes for owning wild migratory fish in a hometown stream as well. We can spend our lives regretful. We can watch three ospreys and want a dozen. We can hear the shattering screams of twenty gulls and know that true cacophony is a hundred of them, each one insisting on its own insatiable hunger. We can want fish we can walk over, but those are [another's] memories, not ours. I would like to see what he saw, but I don't dare miss what is here now."I will admit that nearly every section of this book brought tears to my eyes if not for it's sadness than for it's beauty.
Next on my list Gary Naban. That's Gary Naban, period. Okay, I have only read two of his books. I have just started the third. Erin has read and loved the forth, and my friend Lucy who finally pushed these books into my hand swears (as many others do) that everything he rights is absolutely worth reading. His writings are also works on place and how where we come from effects who we are and what we should, or even can eat. His work always seems to be far ahead of the curve. For example, Naban wrote "Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods' for publication in 2001. That is, in the year 2000 Naban at only foods that could be harvested, foraged, or hunted from within 250 miles of his Arizona home! An interesting comparison to Barbara Kingsolvers' 'Animal Vegetable Miracle' which starts off describing how Kingsolver decided she must move her family from Arizona to West Virginia in order to live off the land. Granted, Naban also eats some road kill, and one of Kingsolvers stipulations was that she would not be feeding her kids from the roadside. She was referring to dandelions, but that's just the point. Naban's approach is to look towards those traditional and wild foods of the land, the prickly pear cactus, peppers, and wild animals and discover the benefits of such foods.
I just finished reading his 2004 book 'Why Some Like it Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity.' This amazingly interesting book delves into the genetic difference that cause people to respond differently to various foods and drinks, not as individuals, but as a people who share specific genetic adaptations to the environment of their ancestors. Why some people become anemic when exposed to fava beans, why others are so effected by refined grains and alcohol, and why some of us love to eat hot peppers and bitter greens, while others can't even stand the thought.
His book 'Renewing America's Food Traditions, Saving and Savoring the Continents Most Endangered Foods' was published in 2008. A big book filled with photographs, and recipes it's a sort of coffee table book on endangered foods. The Fish pepper I did the LGBG video on is in there, as is the Fainting Goat, and the Blue Crab. Divided up by sections like "Crabcake Nation" and "Bison Nation," Naban looks at some of the best traditional foods, and how those foods helped define different regions of our country.
Check out his official site here for many more books, videos, and information on his lectures.