I’m sitting on the back porch of my parents’ house, the childhood home where I grew up and where the air-conditioning unit is almost as old as I am — so it’s no real surprise that, with weather in the mid- to high-90′s all week, the battered old thing has broken down.
The back porch is shaded by a dozen massive trees. Some of them were barely more than twigs when I planted them on Earth Day back in the second grade, and now they tower over the house, keeping temperatures bearable and giving shelter to a couple skittery gray squirrels and a small wren who is singing his quick little heart out. The non-native shrubs that used to line the property have all but died away in the constant shade, and I can see into the yards of the neighbors where people are lounging listening to Enya, dogs are panting and rolling in the grass, and kids are playing in inflatable backyard pools and dancing in the sprinklers and generally enjoying the hot holiday weather. I’m almost thankful that the broken AC has forced us out of the claustrophobic house and into the (relatively) cool breeze under the trees. As afternoon wears on into evening, my father comes out to grill up some traditional Independence Day picnic food (he throws on a few veggie dogs for my husband and me), and one by one the fireflies start to come out.
This is my community. The family, the neighbors, the trees, the squirrels, the little wren, the lightning bugs drifting above the wilting grass. T Thorn Coyle shared a beautiful Declaration of Interdependence in honor of the day, and it’s speaking deeply to me right now as the sweat beads on my upper lip and my skin grows slick with the heat and humidity.
I stick to simple seasonal foods in the summer time, tending towards raw vegan: fresh fruits and veggies chopped, sliced and diced into marvelous salads or blended into smoothies. But my dad is enthusiastic about the grilling, and on a holiday like this I naturally tend to think more about food. Around here they say about the sweet corn, “Knee high by the Fourth of July.” Food and fertility, the connection between fireworks, fireflies, fire festivals and the warmth of the earth beneath our feet, the land on which we thrive.
For me, eating has always been a social thing — in fact, I can forget to eat if I’m caught up in work and no one’s around to nudge me towards the kitchen. So I never did master the art of cooking (another reason I like the raw vegan: no muss, no fuss). But as Jeff likes to point out, we have friends who can cook. Thank the gods! Sharing a meal with friends is always a pleasure. I have fond memories of a Lammas afternoon spent shucking corn with dear friends and Pagan elders, and Ruby Sara’s celebration of bread and shared meals as the heart of many Pagan gatherings has always inspired me (even if I can’t bake to save my life).
I spent a lot of time talking about this theme in the latest episode of Faith, Fern & Compass. And since I’m feeling rather lazy with heat and fireflies at the moment, I’d like to end these musings by sharing some of my thoughts from the Pro Extension of that show:
It can be such a challenge to slow down and pay attention, especially because there’s so much to do and so many causes worth believing in and working for. Even the best of us can get caught up in that rushed rat race and start to feel overwhelmed and unable to slow down and appreciate even something as essential as the food that we put into our bodies that keeps us alive and sustains us through our busy days. And for me, this is one reason why fostering a sense of community and interconnected relationship is so important. Like Jeff said, we have friends who can cook.
Community helps to remind us that we don’t have to do everything. Because we’re part of a vibrant community full of people with many different talents and passions and skills, and we can all work and live together, contributing our own unique gifts.
You know, we’ve been talking a lot this season about our relationship with the earth and how living in community with other beings, human and non-human, can sometimes put limits on our behavior as we consider the ethical and practical ramifications of our actions and try to choose the best way to live. But the truth is that living in community can also liberate us. Because we no longer have to fend for ourselves and be entirely self-sufficient and independent. We can turn to others when we need help, others who might have skills or talents or wisdom that we don’t have.
And when it comes to food, we’re acknowledging that we live in community not just with other humans who grow and prepare that food, but also with the plants and animals that literally make up the food we eat. And that can give us a deeper sense of connection to the natural world around us. We can feel supported and sustained and nourished by the environment and the land, and step into our place as natural inhabitants of this gorgeous little planet that we call home.
So for me, it all ties together in a really important and deeply spiritual way. These questions aren’t just practical questions of how best to live while doing the least amount of harm. They’re also: What is our relationship with the earth? Do we acknowledge that the very limitations that are put on us are also something to celebrate?