Essays for Hope and Reflection

Living, Dying, and Eating in the “Day of the Dead” Belt

To properly celebrate Día de los Muertos, we must do one thing: offer our deceased loved ones the food that feeds their souls.

Other regions of North America may claim that they are the Corn Belt or the Bible Belt, but here in Tucson, we cling to the buckle of the cinturón of Day of the Dead. In an arc stretching from New Orleans through San Antonio and Albuquerque, from Tucson to Yuma and San Diego, the Dia ...

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Flowers, Creatures & Contemplatives Embracing One Another in the Wilderness World

I.

 

“…the silence of the forest is my bride & the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love & out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in the beds all over the world.”

Thomas Merton (1997), Dancing in the Water of Life (journals)

 

Among the earliest memories imprinted in my mind: ...

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Jim Harrison was More Than Just a Pretty Face and Patagonia’s Finest Writer

Less than a week before Jim Harrison passed from our immediate presence, I had the pleasure of sitting at a picnic table at the Wagon Wheel Saloon drinking beer with him, his daughter, Jamie, his bird-hunting partner, J.B. Miller, and my wife, Laurie. Although Jim was likely suffering chronic pain from back injuries, as well as from shingles and gout, he spoke with great affection and gratitude that Jamie had come down from the Livingston, Montana, to spend time with ...

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Agrarian Ecology

One might wonder whether any twenty-first-century preoccupation with agrarian values, agrarian ecology, and agrarian ideals comes as too little, too late. Less than 2 percent of the North American public lives in rural areas outside towns, cities, and suburbs, and less than half of the world’s population now lives outside cities. But the New Agrarianism, which is emerging globally, is not restricted to the rural domain, nor is it necessarily a romantic desire to reenact social behaviors and mores associated ...

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An Apology to Young Agrarians

Dear Aspiring and Practicing Young Farmers,

Before anything else, I want to apologize for previously failing to acknowledge your value to our society at large, and to more fully support you in gaining traction with your endeavors. In four decades of writing about farming and ranching, I am afraid I have missed the mark by not writing about the issues most critical to your health and well-being. I have been so attracted to helping save the seeds, breeds, soil, and water ...

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Stalking Oregano in the Wilds of Mexico

Few American gourmands realize that most of the oregano they use to spice up sauces, meats, salads and vinegars—whether it be Greek or Mexican in origin—is hand-harvested from wild habitats. Although many varieties of oregano can be cultivated and irrigated as perennial crops, their aromatic oils become diluted as their leaves enlarge under well-watered conditions.

These same aromatic oils—called thymol and carvacol— become more concentrated, intensely flavorful and pungently memorable when the crisp, dry diminutive leaves of oreganos are harvested from ...

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Reading Pope Francis on Peace, Justice & Caring For Creation

Respect & Forgiveness for Flawed but Courageous American “Saints”

 

One of the more remarkable features of Pope Francis visit to North America was his request that we remember and reflect upon the lives of certain charismatic Americans whom few U.S. citizens would have placed into the same category of greatness: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and the newly sainted Junipero Serra. What do these five persons have in common? Why has each of them ...

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Becoming “Laudito Si” Franciscans of the Rivers and Seas in the Era of Mining Spills

The recent toxic spill of 3 million pounds of mine wastes in the Animas-San Juan watershed is roughly I received my “call” year ago to become a Franciscan after days of solitude and prayer in the wilderness of the Four Corners region. It is also the same watershed where I once caught five catfish for breakfast while co-leading an Outward Bound-style rite of initiation in tributaries to the east of Lake Powell.

So just how does being a Franciscan brother shape ...

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Water Justice

Pope Francis paraphrased:

“…access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.”

On the bottom side
of each flat rock
that has found a way
to reach its angle of repose
on the desert’s bottom floor
a sheen of droplets
forms at night
enough to fill a single cup.

That is your daily water ration
for the rest ...

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A True Keeper of the Desert’s Treasures Passes On

Amalia Astorga one of the most charismatic and quixotic singers, storytellers, artists and visionaries of the Comcaac (Seri) passed away in Desemboque this week, stranded by the hurricane damage to Sonoran coast and left without medical help.

One of several daughters of Jose Astorga, the artist who began the Seri ironwood carving tradition, Amalia grew up in the desert at Pozo Coyote and Desemboque, but later lived for periods of time near Puertecitos, Baja California and on the midriff islands in ...

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Ann Haymond Zwinger, 1925 – 2014

By: Gary Paul Nabhan

Ann Zwinger, whose writing appeared frequently in Orion, died this past weekend. Ann served on Orion’s board of directors from 1996 to 2003, and was awarded Orion’s John Hay Award in 1996.

I am sorry, but I cannot comment on Ann Haymond Zwinger unless I tell you how I met her and how she sent many of us on altogether new trajectories.

Imagine yourself a scruffy, somewhat lazy and spacy seventeen year old trying to make sense of the ...

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Dr. Barney Burns, Native Seeds/SEARCH co-founder, passes on, leaving us a legacy of hope and humor

By: Gary Paul Nabhan

In the second week of August, the Tucson community, the Greater Southwest, indigenous peoples and farmers everywhere lost a good friend, an extraordinary seed saver and a historian of Southwest food and farming folkways. Dr. Barney T. Burns was far more than a co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH. He spent over four decades linking native farmers and artisans to the audiences, human rights support networks, and applied scholars who cared about them and their future. Trained ...

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Coping With Heat in the Garden: Drought-Tolerant Crops, Resilient Perennials and More

You can employ several strategies for growing food while coping with drought and climate change, including planting dozens of recommended varieties of short-season, more drought-tolerant crops.

If we’ve learned anything as food growers in recent decades, it’s that climate change has placed not just one but many kinds of stress on our gardens and farms. “Global warming” does not adequately describe the “new normal,” given that many food sheds and farms have suffered from a ...

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A Young Agrarian Land Covenant

Food for Thought, For Becoming at Home in Our Place, For Thoughtfulness in Producing Food

With future generations in mind, may my family and friends never leave the land we steward poorer, nor its water scarcer than conditions were before we acquired responsibility for their care.

May we keep land meant to be farmed from being de-veloped, and re-envelope it with people dedicated to keep its inherent productivity in tact into perpetuity.

May we work as “greenhorns” to offer dignity, reciprocity ...

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Let’s nurture Tucson’s burgeoning food-production initiatives

There is something exciting going on with Tucson’s food economy. Not only are new locally owned restaurants, food trucks and community kitchens proliferating, but these are creating new jobs in the eight areas of metro Tucson that the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared “food deserts” in 2010.

One goal of the social entrepreneurs involved in food and farm start-ups in our community is to work toward reducing poverty and food insecurity in these food deserts.

It is time that the three colleges ...

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Eating local isn’t just trendy – it can help stop poverty

Arizona is filled with farmers, businesses eager to help

It’s been 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty. Might it be time for our state to figure how to best target its resources for the alleviation of poverty and hunger within our own borders?

That’s the question being asked by a hundred Arizonans — and hopefully answered through novel strategies. — at the first-ever Arizona Food and Farm Finance Forum this weekat Biosphere Two near Oracle.

With ...

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Food Chain Restoration: Reconnecting Pollinators with Their Plants

At dawn on this year’s spring equinox, a group of people gathered in Patagonia, Arizona, to declare the Sonoita Creek – Upper Santa Cruz River watershed the Pollinator Capital of the United States. An interpretive sign, erected in a pollinator garden on Patagonia’s village green, noted that hundreds of species of native bees, dozens of species of butterflies and moths, fourteen species of hummingbirds, and two species of nectar-feeding bats regularly frequent the native flowers in this semi-arid landscape. But ...

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Take Your Vows: To Farm is To Be Married

We are not alone in our struggle to achieve food security in the face of climate change. We are all in this together, growing food in partnership with diverse seeds, breeds, soil microbes, pollinators and other beneficial insects. But we need to acknowledge our interdependence with these other lives, because our fates are intertwined. In a sense, we are married to them, cohabitate with them and cannot physically or spiritually live separate from them. That is why I suggested that everyone at ...

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Coming Home to Eat Revisited

By: Gary Nabhan

Our mouths, our hearts, our bellies and brains
have been ruminating for centuries
over the same few simple questions:

Just what exactly is it that we want to have cross our lips,
to roll off our tongues, down our throats,
to fill our nostrils with hardly described fragrances,
to slide to a brief halt within our bellies,
to mix with our own gastric juices
to be transformed into something new
by the myriad microbes cohabitating in our guts,
to ...

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Agrarian Ecology

One might wonder whether any 21st century preoccupation with agrarian values, agrarian ecology and agrarian ideals comes as too little, too late.  Less than two percent of the North American public lives in rural areas outside towns, cities and suburbs, and less than half of the world’s population now lives outside cities. But the New Agrarianism which is emerging globally is not restricted to the rural domain, nor is it necessarily a romantic desire to re-enact social behaviors and morays ...

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