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.

Sauerkraut Meditation

What do you do when your nonstop-talking grandson comes to visit?

Play piano and sing.

Get on the treadmill at 1.5 miles per hour for three or four minutes, four or five times, between Tonka Truck races.

Read picture books aloud, Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants three times and Ninja at least twice.

Eat scrambled eggs and raisins.

And while ns-t grandson watches Sesame Street for his meditation, you make sauerkraut for yours.

Here is my simple kraut-making method:

Wash head of cabbage,  Cut into quarters, cut out core, then cut each quarter in half.  Slice each eighth thin, salt, and mash with a wooden masher or whatever tool you have available.

For one head of cabbage, use 1  1/2 tablespoons sea salt.  As you pound the salted cabbage, it releases its liquid.  Pack into wide-mouthed jars and press until liquid rises above the solids. I’ve found a typical three-pound head of cabbage needs two wide-mouthed quart jars, each packed about a half to three-quarters full. This prevents spillovers.

Use weights—glass or unglazed pottery, or a cleaned rock, if that’s what you have—to hold the cabbage under the liquid.  Put lids on the jars.  Either you will need to release the gasses each day or use lids with a gas escape of some sort.

Start tasting the kraut after the third day.  When it is to your liking, refrigerate and enjoy, usually in 3-10 days.