Memorial Day brings summer. It is filled with memories of good times, barbeques, beaches, and outdoor activities of all sorts. With the heat and humidity reaching stifling levels in the mid-Atlantic, this year’s Memorial Day weekend certainly delivered on summer’s start. This was my 50th Memorial Day. And while I observed it with a fair amount of food and friends, this year was different. I have made a point of remembering.
My grandfather, Seth Koch, was born in 1891. He served as an infantryman in the Great War, now known as World War I. He never spoke of it to me directly. A few summer ago, Pablo and I travelled to the mid-West to visit my Uncle, my father’s only brother. Stored carefully away in boxes in his basement is an archivist’s dream. Photos. Documents. Records. Handwritten journals. Accounting ledgers. My grandfather and his progeny are were (and are) prolific record keepers. In these boxes were hundreds of original photos that told the remarkable tale of his service fighting the Germans in the trenches along the French battlefront. His Army-issued gas mask was particularly evocative. It smelled of dust and age and human sweat. History suggests that the immediate origins of the Great War lay in the decisions taken by statesmen and generals during the crisis of 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife by a radial Serbian. The more immediate cause for the war was tension over territory in the racially, religiously and ethnically diverse Balkans. Ironically, the tensions in the Balkans that thrust Europe into this Great War have largely been forgotten by modern minds. The renewed tensions in the 1990s, and the American incursions into the Balkans, not understood in the context of these earlier tensions that sent my grandfather into France.
My Uncle and my father’s only brother, Keith Koch, was born in the early 1920s. He served as an Air Force fighter pilot in World War II and flew bombing missions over Germany during the final months of the War. He makes light of his service. During that summer visit as we looked through boxes of memorabilia, photos of his service drew scant glances. He would persist instead, much to the irritation of my Aunt Donna, in recounting his memories of a "special" female friend who he met during training. Old aerial photos of the German terrain they were to study and then bomb made me think of Google Maps. How far technology has come. How much we take for granted. World War II rose directly out of the ashes of World War I; a defeated Germany left demoralized and economically broken -- this environment serving as a perfect breeding ground for the German-nationalist fervor that would allow the rapid rise of Adolf Hitler. The rest is – as they say – history. Nationalist rhetoric began with themes of economic justice and revenge; then morphed quickly and darkly into religious genocide. Ironically, though we hesitate to draw such analogies in modern conversation, much of the Islamist-terrorist threat we face today is economic at its root but is now viewed by most as almost exclusively driven by religion.
My father, Wayne Koch, was born in 1928. He served as a Marine; fighting on the ground in China and Korea. The photos of his service are at once the hardest for me to look at -- and the ones of which I am most proud. I bear an uncanny resemblance to my father. Looking at these photos is a bit like looking at a past-life doppelganger. The family has carefully saved my father’s Marine dress uniform. From it, I know that he was quite thin during his service -- and smaller than I. As well, a few of his letters home to my grandparents have survived. He writes of the camaraderie and company of his fellow marines, and the strange sights and customs of Asia. He inquires about life at home on the farm. Out of the ashes of World War II rose the communist threat. My father fought to prevent the spread of communism throughout the Korean peninsula. Ironically, despite the fall of the monolithic Russian threat, we face today serious threats from a persistently communist and now nuclear-armed North Korea.
I have no military service to recount. My generation: too young for Vietnam and raised after the anger-filled, anti-war politics following Vietnam had put an end to the draft – we were “spared.” No one in my generation, none of my male or female cousins on either side, served in the US military.
Two of my nephews, son and step-son of my older sister, currently serve. One serves in the Navy on Trident submarine stationed in the Pacific -- no doubt watchful of the Korean peninsula. The other, after a tour of duty in Iraq, continues to serve state-side as a Marine.
I read recently David Levering Lewis’ God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215
. I was struck by the historical triangulation between the world’s three great (non-pacifist) western religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. I was struck by the endless history of war; the dogged history of pursuit for domination among these three. And, struck by how throughout history the balance has shifted as religious interested and alliances among the three have shifted.
It was George Santayana, Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist that said: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Several weeks ago, the Maitri Southeast Regional Yoga Conference was held in Washington, DC, and FireFly Farms was a proud advertiser in the conference program. The conference theme was “Yoga through Peace, Peace through Yoga.”
I took my first yoga class in 1991. Over the past twenty years, I have moved on and off my yoga mat with varying frequency and dedication, but since that first class I have considered myself a “practitioner” – keeping to my path with as much mindfulness and as a little judgment as I could muster.
Yoga – as most even in the western world now know – simply translates to “yoke.” This notion of yoking – or harnessing – oneself to anything is not a notion that the western mind takes to readily. Practitioners seek to yoke together mind, body, and spirit (or breath) through a lifelong practice.
One doesn’t need to look very far to observe the growing disconnection with (disdain for?) our American bodies. One doesn’t need to attend many yoga classes (certainly those taught in the Iyengar tradition) before hearing an instructor calmly observe: “pull your sacrum half an inch forward,” to realize what mind-body connection is about.
This notion of connectedness or yoking certainly has meaning for our inner-selves; I will leave that to the gurus. My “shout-out,” greetings, and admiration go to Mary Pappas-Sandonas
at Unity Woods Yoga.
What has compelled me to write is the idea of outer connectedness. What compels me is the yoking of each of us together, and the yoking of all of us collectively with our environment.
Years ago in November 2006, on vacation in some lovely tropical locale, I read a piece by Elizabeth Kolbert
in The New Yorker
called “The Darkening Sea.”
It struck me deeply and has remained with me.
In her essay, she describes the carbon-absorbing, acidifying oceans. She describes the affect that this acidification is having on the ocean’s calcium levels. And, as these calcium levels drop, she describes the effect on hundreds of species that depend on calcium for life: depend on calcium to form their skeletal structures. I was left to this day with the haunting and beautiful image of these dying coral colonies: each coral “joined to its neighbors through a thin layer of connecting tissue, and all attached to the colony’s collective skeleton.”
Not very long ago, the image of this beautifully interdependent coral was brought to mind in a very different setting. Here in Mountain Maryland, there is great on-going debate regarding Marcellus Shale natural gas development. Inside a presentation
prepared by Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn was a quote from Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D.
and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Department of Environmental Studies at Ithaca College, New York:
“The Marcellus Shale is alive. It is more like a coral reef than it is an inert bunch of rock. We are destroying a living ecosystem without any real knowledge of what role it might play in the larger functioning of the biosphere.”
I’m honored to be a part of FireFly Farms. I’m heartened to be at in the midst of a “local food movement” that is inspiring Americans to ask new questions about the foods they buy – to be more mindful of our “local yoke;” more mindful of the notion that any given country or region or state or county or community should – perhaps must – feed itself, care for itself, and actively work towards its own economic recovery.
Several years ago, in reading I came across the Sanskrit phrase: "pratitya samutpada." Loosely translated: "The delicate interconnectedness of all life." I had the phrase tattooed three times wrapped about my left arm.
I am humbled by my yoke.
So Mother's Day 2012 comes to a sleepy, sun-kissed close in Washington. I trust each of us has in some way remembered our mothers today -- living or passed on -- and in some way celebrated them. Mothers deserve celebration. Though they each are human and may be wrapped up in layers of complex emotion and dysfunction, they deserve celebration.
Honoring the mothers in my family...
My own Mother's Day musings got me thinking about our "original mother:" the female god-head, if you'll indulge me the archaic turn of phrase. For much of human history, world religions ascribed equal deference and power to the divine female as to the divine male.
The ancient Egyptians called her Isis. The Hindu's call her Shakti to this day. The ancient Greeks called her Gaia -- she was the goddess or personification of Mother Earth.
Wikipedia tells us: "Mother Earth is a common personification of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature by embodying it in the form of the mother. Images of women representing mother earth, and mother nature, are timeless. In prehistoric times, goddesses were worshipped for their association with fertility, fecundity, and agricultural bounty. Priestesses held dominion over aspects of Incan, Algonquian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Slavonic, Germanic, Roman, Greek, Indian, and Iroquoian religions in the millennia prior to the inception of patriarchal religions."
Dangerous ground, I know, but onward.
This Mother's Day left me a bit pensive. Despite our modern cultural and political assumption of religious superiority -- religious certainty -- I for one mourn the loss of the mother-god. Our fist-pounding, war-mongering, use and discard, testosterone-steeped world could use a healthy dose of the Mother, the feminine, no?
Several weeks ago, Pablo and I were fortunate enough to travel to Manhattan. While there, we visited the Greenmarket at Union Square. We were met by market volunteer, fan, and frequent shopper Louisa Shafia -- foodie, food blogger, locavore, and author or Lucid Food
. Louisa was kind enough to give Pablo and I a signed copy of this lovely book: beautifully written and photographed; emanating the wonderfully generous energy of its author.
The Union Square Greenmarket was wonderful. We came away with goat's milk cheese (of course), duck prosciutto, honey produced by bees farmed on urban rooftops, fresh lavender, heirloom apples, and ostrich jerky. I was struck by the magnitude of this wonderful producer-only market in the middle of Manhattan Island; struck by the odd familiarity that it evoked. We were in Manhattan, but inside the market there was the very same sense of welcoming, nurturing, community that I feel at any farmer's market I have ever attended.
GrowNYC is a hands-on non-profit which improves New York City’s quality of life through environmental programs that transform communities block by block and empower all New Yorkers to secure a clean and healthy environment for future generations. The busy cheesemonger from Vermont's Consider Bardwell Farm. We loved the goat's milk "Equinox" and the cow's milk "Dorset." Well done!
Louisa Shafia, author of Lucid Food, food blogger, locavore, and new friend -- with Anthony Reuter of GreenMarket.
Andrew's Honey from NYC -- inspired us! Makes me rest better knowing that honey bees are being farmed on Manhattan rooftops.
So I spent this Mother's Day a bit pensive, but as the day wore on and the market's energy peaked, waned and ended -- I was comforted. I took home my market basket of agricultural bounty, thinking about the wonderful meals we would cook to nurture our bodies and to share with our friends. I remembered Mother. I knew that though she is often forgotten and dismissed, like all good mothers she toiled onward.
Gaia was at Greenmarket; she is at every farmer's market, in every home garden and compost bin.
What did you do for Mother today?