How Do We Coexist?

Two evenings ago I was a hundred miles from home, wearing the raw silk suit my man brought home for me from an art show and that I rarely have a reason to wear. I was sitting at a table with two other poets and their spouses, eating steak and salad and trying to ignore the desserts on the table, waiting to hear which excellent poets, writers, and artists would win an Oklahoma Book Award.

I was a finalist in the poetry category for my collection, Not a Prodigal.  I signed a few books.  I talked to poets and writers, my people.  We shared hugs and good wishes.  I didn’t win, but a friend, Hannah E. Harrison, did, for her picture book, Friends Stick Together.

A long evening, and it was past midnight when Dale and I finally left the turnpike, navigated a stretch of shoulderless highway, and turned onto the dirt and gravel that takes us home.  We fell into bed, exhausted.

About six, I heard my name, and in that haze between sleep and waking, I thought it was a dream. But I heard it again, more insistent. My husband was standing at the window pointing to a charming young raccoon, a slash of black and white across his face, who was trying to figure out how to get into one of the chicken pens.

I let Nike out.  She sent the raccoon back to his hollow tree along the creek bank.  She enjoyed the run and a perceived victory.  On this day, no harm was done.

There’s a balance between the wild and the kept on our place.  I had to kill a sick opossum last year.  It broke my heart.  I have to keep my cats in the house and my chickens in covered runs to save them from the opossums, the raccoons, the coyotes, and the hawks that share this space with us. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We all belong here.

On this rainy Saturday, I slipped into jeans and tee shirt and heavy Carhartt hoodie and went out to inspect the fences, rake away hay to see if there were entry points into the runs, and to carry stones and blocks from the piles I’ve collected to shore up weak places.  It was a good day’s work.

Like my literary life and my farm life, the natives and the immigrants on our place coexist.  It is not without questions and occasional struggle, like when I’m hauling a big black snake out of the chicken pen and dropping her over the fence, knowing she’ll be back.  But I’m willing to do the work to make it work.

If only political parties, countries, armies, and religious sects would do the work they should so the world could coexist as we do right here, in Oklahoma, on a rugged square of clay and trees and water.  It requires give and take and a lot of hard work.  There’s drama and heartbreak, fear and fatigue sometimes, but mostly there is contentment and beauty that I wish all the world could share.

Knowledge and Cheese

In my twenties, when I was writing cooking columns for a weekly newspaper and had access to good, rich Jersey milk, I made cheese.  And butter.   I learned the latter skill from my grandmother, and I’ve passed it on to several groups of elementary students.  The cheese-making skills came from books and experimentation.

Now, because I have access to good local cheeses, it has been a while since I felt the need to make my own. I wasn’t sure I remembered how, so I decided to spend a Monday afternoon getting reacquainted with the skill.  My instructions came from Claudia Lucero’s One-Hour Cheese. I started with a quart of whole milk from our village grocery store and a recipe called “First-Timers Cheese in 5 Steps.”

The recipe requires only milk, vinegar, and salt.  I added Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning (shallots, dill, and other lovely tastes). I followed the easy directions, and it was as easy as the name implies.  In twenty minutes, the man was tasting what I’d created.

Lucero’s book has a list of necessary tools, but this easy recipe requires only a 2-quart saucepan (I used stainless steel), a bowl, a slotted spoon, and measuring utensils, of course.

The tasty curds were lovely on our dinner salad.

My next experiment will be to make cheese using whole powdered milk.  Will it coagulate?  Will it taste as good?

Why now?

  1. If there are disruptions in the food supply, wouldn’t it be nice to know that your food storage can produce real cheese?
  2. And because I’m reading Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening and I came across this tiny treasure of wisdom:

“Reliance on self-reliance…presumes that you have an ample supply of every necessity and that other survivors (who will all be in the same boat) will let you keep it to yourself. (Should you even want to, considering that you will all need one another’s help?)”

Desperation and greed both make grand entrances when times are hard.  There is less desperation and less danger if we work together in communities, when we invite the wanderer to be part of the community.

More important than sharing your supplies will be sharing your knowledge.  It is the one thing you can never have too much of.  It is the thing that marauders can’t take from you so long as you are alive.  And your supply of knowledge isn’t diminished when you share; it grows.