Today’s entry starts on the patio of a pizza joint. The office for my day job is located a few blocks from Houston’s Montrose District, so my lunch hour is generally spent in one of the cafes and restaurants along S. Shepherd Drive or Westheimer Road. This particular restaurant has a covered patio surrounded by a wrought-iron fence with an old — as such things are measured in Houston — pink rose bush growing over it and up to the roof. Generally, the rose shields the patio from the view of passing cars, but today it is offering shelter from a misting rain to a pair of tiny juncos, their feathers fluffed up around them as they perch among the gnarled branches.
My library book is open on the red-painted table in front of me, but I’ll admit to being distracted by these tiny city-dwellers: now resting, now hopping from perch to perch, occasionally fussing at each other, always watching to see if I’m going to drop a bite or two from my meal. I’m reading Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris. I’ve been feeling distracted a lot lately. Not quite depressed, nothing I can really put my finger on, but the spark in my life seems somehow dimmed. I’m feeling fatigued, let down, restless with my life, my spiritual pursuits, everything — all of which are symptoms of what early Christian monastics referred to as the noonday devil, which makes the day seem to stretch into eternity, and meditation and prayer nothing but hour after hour of pointless endeavor.
It might seem odd that an unapologetically Pagan (aspiring) hermit should turn to the wisdom of other faiths, but there are precious few Pagan monastics out there, and we’re all currently in the same small boat – feeling a desperate need for our kind of spiritual expression within our faith community, but forced to set sail with very few navigational aids. And this feeling – whether you want to call it acedia, or ennui, or monkey-mind – is common among monastics of any faith. Frankly, I’ll take help where ever it’s offered.
And, as the late Ellen Cannon Reed noted in The Witch’s Qabalah, a good witch will steal anything that works.
Over the past few weeks, I had just about convinced myself that my day job was the problem. My days were spent more and more in front of a computer screen rather than in the field. The first and last forty-five minutes of my work day involved bumper-to-bumper traffic. I was exhausted when I got home. My colleagues were irritating. If I found a new job, everything would be somehow better – especially if I could find something that would allow me to stay home at the Hermitage. While all of these arguments swirled in my head, my practice faltered. Yoga was abandoned. Meditation was fruitless. After all, what was the point? I forgot how to flow. I forgot how to trust. I lost myself.
Thankfully, I had already heard of the term acedia. Once I was able to slow the monkey down a bit, its name came back to me. Names are powerful things. Knowing the name associated with the squawking in my head allowed me to turn my attention fully on it. Being verbally inclined, I began reading and a piece of advice, quite near the front of Norris’ book, caught my attention as I was sitting on a hard bench on a restaurant patio: Stay in your cell. Stay put. Stay where you are, do what you do, and trust.
Is my day job my cell? Maybe, maybe not. After all, a more direct correlation would be between the Hermitage and a monk’s cell, but part of what Norris argues is that the concept of a cell is really about the making of a commitment, and a job is a type of commitment. Will something better suited to my perceived needs come along? Maybe, maybe not. I have no way of knowing, and truthfully, when I gave my oath to Habondia and Cernunnos, I gave over responsibility for that. (Something else I’d lost track of.) I’m where They want me to be, where ever that may be and whatever that might entail.
What I do know is that if I were in some other job or even no job at all, I would not have been on a covered patio in the misting rain in the middle of Houston, watching a pair of tiny juncos sheltering in the arms of an elderly rose.
In the Garden:
The tomatoes are a bit past their prime, now, and the huge number of new fruits has slowed to a trickle. The corn is finally done. I’ll cut it at the ground and use the stalks to mulch the squash that are finally blooming. The eggplants are currently laboring under several fruits. They’re pretty things, and delicious. The okra plants are finally producing pods as well.
Around the first week in July, I started an experiment by planting a couple of pineapple crowns. Pineapples are bromeliads, which collect their water from the rainfall that collects in the cups formed by their leaf rosettes. The outer leaves of mine are brown-tipped, but the rosettes are still producing new leaves from the center, so they must be doing okay. If they do survive, it will still be several years before we actually get any pineapples from them. In the meantime, we’ll keep buying them in the store when they’re on sale and plopping the heads into the garden. By the time the first ones are producing fruit, we’ll be set to have a steady crop. If you want to try this in your own garden, just be sure to remember that they get fairly large and will be prickly, so plant either in a pot or in a place where they’ll have room to be themselves without getting in the way.
I also broke up and planted a large hand of ginger. The ginger has just started poking it’s head through the mulch and should take off soon. Compared to garden varieties of ginger, culinary ginger isn’t particularly showy. In fact, it looks grassy, so I imagine the first challenge will be resisting the urge to mow it. Ginger can be used fresh in soup or stir fry, or dried and ground in baking.
The most recent addition is a moringa (Moringa oleifera) tree. It’s a pretty thing, or will be if I can convince L’il Mama – the mother of the litter of kittens under my back porch – to stop trying to sleep on it. Right now, it’s at a 45 degree angle. I won’t get too much into the benefits and purposes of moringa – there’s plenty of information, both good and hyperbolic – available right now. The leaves taste a bit like lettuce. In USDA gardening zone 9a, the Hermitage is just inside the moringa’s zone 9-10 outdoor planting range. Carlos – the gentleman who charges me far too little to do the mowing – is positive that the first frost this winter will kill it. We’ll see. I’m hopeful.
I’m making plans now for the fall garden — garlic, potatoes, spinach, tat soi, Brussels sprouts, and Borage and breadseed poppies for the herb garden.
A few photos from around the garden:
Around the Hermitage:
Since the upcoming festival of Mabon – marking the Autumn Equinox – is a celebration of the fruit harvest, it seems appropriate to share my recent jelly-making experiment in this post. The American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) in the backyard produced a bumper crop of bright rose-pink berries. I had heard that the berries made an excellent jelly – contrary to some opinions, they are not poisonous, but as with any new food, care should be taken when they are first introduced into the diet. Some people seem to be sensitive to the berries, and have reported upset stomachs after eating them. As a side note, the leaves of the Beautyberry are reputed to repel mosquitoes when crushed and rubbed on the skin. I haven’t tried it yet, but with this year’s wet weather, you can bet I will be soon!
Because this was my first attempt, and the berries are important to the local birds and wildlife, I only picked a small number of berries this year. Because these berries are naturally low in fruit pectin – a naturally-occurring polysaccharide that causes fruit to jell – extracted pectin will have to be added. This can be done using the natural fruit pectins from apples or lemon peel, for instance, or by using a commercially available pectin. I went with Sure-jell this time, mainly because it’s what Mom used and I’m familiar with it. In the future, I’ll try my hand at extracting fruit pectin, but I like to focus on one new thing at a time. For the jelly, I altered this recipe from Table and Hearth slightly to adjust for the amount of juice I got from the berries I picked. With my adjustments, the recipe is:
1 cup Beautyberry juice
1.25 cups sugar (this is an approximation; actually, because I’m the annoying kind of cook, it was more like a heaping cup + a couple of tablespoons)
1 packet Sure-jell pectin
I started with slightly more than a quart of berries. To make the juice, I used enough water to cover the berries in the pan, heated them to a simmer, and mashed them with a potato ricer. After straining the pulp, I returned the juice to the pan and heated it back to simmering. Then I added the sugar and stirred until it dissolved.
The mixture was heated to boiling and the Sure-jell added. I stirred the mixture until it seemed to be thickening when poured from the spoon, and poured it into hot, sterilized canning jars. The jars were water-bath processed for about 20 minutes. Just a note here – the jars didn’t actually seal until they were pulled out of the water to cool. This is very common and doesn’t affect the final product.
The result is a delicious tart-sweet jelly with a slightly floral flavor. It’s fabulous with peanut butter, and I can’t wait to try it on hot, buttery biscuits. I’m going to try to root some cuttings this fall and expand the number of bushes so that next year the birds and I can both be satisfied.
This has been a long post, so thank you to anyone who actually made it this far. Here’s a parting image, just for you.