Taking Inventory in the Root Cellar and in Life: Is It Time to Make a Pie?

I found a moldy squash in my closet a few days ago. There’s nothing unusual about that; it happens to me all the time. I practice the ancient art of live storage of vegetables. In the days before refrigerators, people grew vegetables that would keep in a cold cellar or attic. If the proper handling and storage conditions are maintained, a nice variety of vegetables will keep well into the winter. I’ve had squash keep into the spring. The thing is: with live storage, you can’t just tuck your fruits and veggies away and forget about them. Some things will go bad. You have to go through the produce in storage from time to time, make use of the things that are likely to go bad soon, and dispose of things that have gone bad. One rotten apple really will spoil the whole barrel.

It’s not a big loss if you catch it in time. The rotten apple or squash goes to the compost heap, returns to the soil to nourish growth in a future year. It may come back as a flower, or tomato, or weeds. It will probably also come back as a squash. Some of my healthiest plants are volunteers that come up from seeds in the compost heap. If you neglect the things in storage, however, you very quickly will end up with a mushy rotting mess. That too will go to the compost and come back in time, but you will lose a lot of your harvest in the short term.

That rotting squash got me thinking: Life is a lot like keeping produce in live storage. Our minds and our hearts are like attics and root cellars. We store a lot of things in them. We have to have some care as to what we are putting in storage and how we handle it when we put it in. Not everything deserves a place in our minds and hearts. We should have some care what we read, listen to, or watch and who we hang around with. And even if we take care about having the right things in our hearts and mind, we still have to clear things out from time to time. We store up dreams, ideas, things we want to try. We make bucket lists. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s healthy.

But the problem is we tend to hold onto things until they get moldy. They were good when we put them in, but they can stay there past their time. If we keep on hanging on to them after that, they ooze out onto the other plans and dreams and make those go off too.

Is it time to go through the things that you have stored away in yourself? Are there apples that are starting to get wrinkled? Maybe you should a pie with them before they go off. Do you have a squishy squash that needs to go to the compost? Don’t let it make your prize pumpkin go bad.

I’ve found that letting go of dreams or ideas when it’s time is a remarkably good way of making my mind a fertile ground for new intellectual, creative, and spiritual growth. Sometimes a dream gets reworked into something else. Sometimes a fragment appears in a new setting. Sometimes letting go of one thing make time and space for a new and better thing.

The art of finding the proper time is essential both for live storage and for a fully lived life. Your vegetables, dreams, ideas, and plans may have all been sound when you stored them away. But maybe you left them there a little too long. You missed the optimal time. Nevermind. Let it go. If you compost it, it will still enrich your soil. Maybe you stored away a little too much. You could have given a little of that squash to the neighbors. Maybe your idea was there to inspire others, but you kept it for yourself, and it went off. Nevermind. Let it go. If you compost it, it will enrich your soil. Maybe it was only there to enrich the soil in the first place. The important thing is to let it go without fretting. Fretting is just another way of keeping the rotting squash in storage. It’s time to let go.

Or maybe you have an idea that is still sound and will keep until a new season of your life. Don’t be afraid to keep it in storage while you attend to the things that need done today. The time will come when the other ideas are spent. Then you can bring it out and make use of it. If it gets moldy. You know what to do with it. Who knows what seeds it carries to spring up from the ground and bear new fruit.

What is still sound and ready to use today? Is it time to make and enjoy a pie? Is it time to roast some root vegetables? Better do that before the time has past.

Your challenge for today is to take 5 or 10 minutes to ask yourself: Do you have in your life that you need to take to the compost heap? Are there things that you need to make something of now before the ingredients go off? Are there things that your spending time on that you could keep in storage a little bit longer? Write it down or tell someone. And take the appropriate actions.

Enjoying Your Garden in Winter

I have a hard time getting myself outside in winter, but it is always worth the effort. I do enjoy going for a walk or messing about in the yard or garden with various clean up projects. I love the subtle beauty of winter with or without snow. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort to see the beauty that is there. That makes winter the perfect time to train your eyes for seeing nature and to plan for the upcoming growing season.

A winter garden takes some planning ahead. Now is the time to do it. One of my favorite things to do in winter is to snuggle next to a fire and read seed catalogues. As I’m are doing that, I dream about my summer garden but also think about plants I can continue to enjoy in winter.

 There are few vegetables that will survive into January in my location. On rare occasions, Brussels sprouts and kale will make it. Parsnips will make it through the winter, but if the ground freezes solid, they can’t be harvested. I can’t count on being able to dig them in January, but there is something especially rewarding about winter harvesting when it is possible.

Some ornamentals plants remain beautiful even after a frost. These include ornamental grasses and plants with ornamental seed pods or berries. What fun to go out in the snow and pick a bouquet of seed pods to grace your house in winter! Some weeds such as teasel and cattail can also contribute to a winter bouquet.

Weeds and seed pods for a winter bouque include teasel, mullein, goldenrod, hibiscus, rosehip, Japanese iris, and baptisia.

Here is your challenge for the weekend.

Go out in your back yard if you have one and notice whatever beauty is there. If you don’t have one, take a stroll through your neighborhood or a local park. Do you see anything that retains ornamental value in winter? Do you have trees of shapely form or gnarly bark? Can you identify them by their form and bark? Do you have any interesting weeds? Do you see anything you can gather for a winter bouquet? (If you aren’t on your own land, make sure you have permission.) Are your neighbors’ gardens more interesting than yours? Do you see anything that you might like to try growing in your own garden?

Resolving to Start Living Simply

Have you ever wanted to leave everything behind and go off to the wilderness and live in a shed or a tree? Do you like reading about people who do? What is the fascination of the simple life? Even people who would never dream of living in a shed themselves seem be fascinated with people who do it. Think of all the novels and chronicles that have been written about surviving in the wilderness and the like, not to mentions all the how-to-guides. There seems to be a human need for simplicity, yet we live in a complicated world. For most of us, the choice of a simple lifestyle is going to mean something other than leaving everything behind to go live in the wilderness. Are you are thinking of making a New Year’s resolution to live more simply, more sustainably, or more in tune with nature? I have learned from bitter experience that you are more likely to have success if you keep in mind two guidelines: Don’t make simplicity too complicated. Do make your goals clear and attainable.

Don’t make simplicity too complicated.

The idea of living off the land has fascinated me since I was a kid. I grew up in the country, surrounded by Amish neighbors. I read things like the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account of growing up in a pioneer family, and My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George’s novel about a boy who ran away to live in the New York wilderness. I didn’t just read novels; I read how-to books. I spent hours of my youth pouring over Reader’s Digest’s Back to Basics, which told you how to do just about everything. My career goal was to be a subsistence farmer. 

But life in the 20th/21st Centuries doesn’t quite work the way I think it should. Even the Amish are moving away from farming and finding trades. We have to find our own compromise between the need to engage with the modern economy and the desire for the simple life. I’ve tried numerous little experiments of giving up elements of modern convenience to be more in tune with nature. Those experiments have varied in intensity. One happened when I was living in Washington, DC. I give up electric lights, ate frugally, and wrote my notes about the experiment on paper grocery bags. Another experiment involved attempting to live in a shed on the back of my sister’s farm while growing my own food. I was in direct contact with nature, but…

The DC experiment was the simpler of the two. Database management by day and candlelight dinners by night is simpler than life with dairy animals and produce. Notes from the DC experiment describe the restfulness of allowing the sleep mechanism to be controlled by natural rhythm of daylight. Notes from the shed experiment express exasperation of a life controlled by the necessity of making butter, cheese, cheese, and more cheese.

I have discovered that you don’t have to do anything drastic to live more simply, more in tune with the natural order. Radical changes are seldom sustainable. Success depends on making the sort of choices that you can live with in the long run. Most of us wouldn’t last very long if we gave up heating our houses in winter, but we can live with the thermostat set a little lower. None of us could live without food, but we can live without many of the food frills that we accept as routine. The truly simple life makes time and space for happiness.  

Do make your goals clear and attainable.

Vague goals are not going to motivate you. Furthermore, you won’t know if you reach them. Impossible goals are not going to motivate you. We are motivated when we can anticipate success. The clear, attainable goal gives us something to look forward to. We know when we succeed and when we need to try again, try harder, or try something else. Having clear goals also gives us clear milestones. We can celebrate little successes along the way. Those little celebrations encourage us to go even further.

I’ll admit that I have a hard time setting clear goals. I am very much a process person and get as much excited about the doing of a thing as I do reaching a specific goal. Furthermore, I’m very queued into the fact that the world has a way of changing: The unexpected happens. The thing I count on doesn’t happen while the thing that I don’t even think of ends up saving the day. So I hesitate to make things too set in stone.

However, the best times in life have been the times when I said, “I will do X.” Sometimes I actually did X. Other times, X led to Y or Z. And that was as good or even better. For example, one year I made a New Year’s resolution to walk a half marathon. I did it. The next year I had the same resolution. Life got in the way. I never competed in the marathon, but I stayed in shape and saw many beautiful sunrises in the process of striving towards the goal. But as soon as the concrete goal wasn’t there, I got lazy.

Let’s make some goals right now.

If you are serious about about making in changes in your life, don’t wait until another New Year has come and gone. Set a goal right now before you navigate away from this page.

  1. Write your goal down. Anything. Start off vague if you want.
    •  Here’s mine: I want to start a blog about living a happy, natural life. That’s a nice vague goal; I’ve had it for years; I have a few articles in reserve and a great many more ideas. It isn’t quite as vague as “I want to start a blog.” At least it has something of a target audience and focus for content. But I could have stayed in the mode of “I want to start a blog about connecting with nature” for another 20 years. I had to get more concrete as things went along.
  2. Make it concrete and give yourself a deadline.
    • I decided I would start my blog at the New Year. So the blog isn’t exactly my New Year’s resolution. It was a resolution I made a couple of months ago. The New Year gave me a timeline and a theme to start with. That was concrete enough to get me started.
  3. Tell someone about it. Tell someone who will give you encouragement and accountability. If you don’t have anyone, tell me. You can do it in the comments or by contacting me at mary@journeybymoonlight.com.

Enjoy the Journey.

There is a lot of work left to be done. Life is a journey. It often feels like a journey at night, a journey by a light that waxes and wanes, a journey by moonlight. The more I choose to adapt myself to whatever light (or any other limited resource) is there and continue the journey the happier I become. The more I tune into reality outside myself, the more I become who I am.

I invite you to join me in a journey of discovery and personal growth through connection with nature. I’ll be sharing with you some of my own journey and discoveries, but I want you to make your own journey and take delight in your own discoveries. So I will always encourage you to take a concrete action. Today I want you to make a goal, give yourself a deadline, and tell someone about it.

And subscribe to my blog.

Happy New Year!