Chokecherry residue

Walking composition

“As we’ve come to understand, there is no such thing as the unknown. Only the temporarily hidden.” —James Tiberius Kirk, Star Trek: Beyond

I keep smearing chokecherry residue on my laptop.

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We had our first hard frost last night. The morning walk was full of all the wonderful sharp crispness that wakes me up from the summer grumpies. Some years ago when I worked in an office in Boston, a fellow copy editor introduced me to the word estivate, a form of summertime hibernation. So useful for those of us who enjoy winter and tend to shut down and go into minimal mode in summer, avoiding the sun and heat, and wondering what compels all these people to go on beach vacations.

My spouse and I went on a beach vacation once, before we had kids. I brought Proust with me, which was a terrible choice for reading on the beach because it was a nice edition and I had to keep brushing sand out of it, and I ended up drinking piña coladas all day, which I don’t even like, because I was so bored. The main excitement was shifting chairs around to chase the scant shade, though we did go swimming with stingrays once, which was pretty amazing. Amazing doesn’t actually cover it. This was so long ago now I have to sit back and pause, remember the feeling of their wide bodies resting on my forearms. I haven’t spent much of my life near the ocean aside from a year living in Australia; everything in and of it is a wonder to me.

Instead of stingrays, this morning’s walk included watching a couple of bucks fight it out clacking their horns together, scanning for any hint of snow on the mountaintops (none), and a ridiculous couple of male turkeys fanning out their tail feathers and chasing females. (I know this is how they’ve evolved but I find turkeys delightfully absurd, especially the males when they’re flouncing around spreading their feathers.)

Blurry bonus photo—I was trying to stop the dog from chasing after them so this isn’t a great shot, but actually those tail feathers can be pretty impressive at full spread.

I was reminded of something I thought about while in Yellowstone last week: what if no amount of digital tech, no matter how deeply embedded, will ever be able to compare to what we can experience if we connect fully with the world we already live in? Isn’t every living day already the most miraculous experience possible? And how far are we from even beginning to understand that?

Maybe that’s just my high after watching the turkeys and the bucks, and seeing a full double-rainbow the other day, and how it feels to walk among aspen trees rustling away turning gold in the fall. And knowing the thistles are going dormant for the year—they and the knapweed have defeated me for the time being, but at least I get a reprieve for a few months.

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I keep smearing chokecherry on my laptop because I’ve been squeezing chokecherries to make jelly and the residue seems to be embedded in my hands. Chokecherry jelly is a pain in the everything, even more of a pain than seedless raspberry jam, and I don’t know any way to ease the process. The pits are too big to squish through a Foley food mill, though you can squish them around in a conical sieve. I don’t know that that’s any more effective than simmering them for a bit, squishing them with a potato masher, and then squeezing handfuls as thoroughly as possible in a cheesecloth, over a sieve. It smells delightful and reminds me of washing laundry by hand, which is an experience I’m glad I’ve had and even gladder not to have to do anymore. It’s all a pain.

Nobody needs to make jelly. You can buy jelly, even chokecherry jelly somewhere, probably, like at a farmer’s market in places where chokecherry trees grow.

So why do it?

Because it makes me feel like living, like being alive. One of the trade-offs of forced commodification of everything is that we’re not meant to do labor that can be done for us, even if the labor brings us pleasure. Jam is easily purchasable, as are meat and canned tomatoes. And pickles and sauerkraut, and pre-split wood for the fireplace. And fruit leather and rustic wooden tables.

You can theoretically purchase intimacy and attention. For a long time in the Catholic Church you could purchase your way into heaven.

Commodification knows no ends. There is something about chokecherry residue on my laptop, as I type with Gregorian chant in my ears and thoughts of mountains and rivers and this whole beautiful mess of a web that we’re in together, that pulls me back from a brink I can’t see.

Thanks to the web page previously shared with me, I tried another freezing-liquid-in-a-Mason jar experiment after destroying 6 half-gallon jars with chicken broth. This time I chilled water in the jar in the fridge first. It . . . didn’t work. Mason jars are expensive enough that I’m not going to attempt this again, but if anyone has tried-and-tested ways of freezing liquids like chicken broth that don’t use Ziplock bags, I’d love to hear them (I’m going to browse around Food52 for something, as per Elizabeth’s suggestion; I was given silicone baggies as a gift but found the slide-on top difficult to use, and the whole shebang even more difficult to wash). Ziplocks are some of my stubbornest household single-use plastics. For now I’m resorting to buying some hard plastic quart containers like restaurant kitchens use. At least they’re reusable?

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Some stuff to read, listen to, or watch:

  • Paris Marx writing in Real Life on the pull of the myth that a decentralized web is possible without intentional social and political goals. Quoting a prescient 1994 article by Carmen Hermosillo, Marx writes that: “Counter to the boosterism of Wired, the electronic community, Hermosillo argued, benefited from a ‘trend towards dehumanization in our society: It wants to commodify human interaction, enjoy the spectacle regardless of the human cost.’” I liked the overview of early internet iterations in other countries, like the Soviet Union and Chile.

  • Last week I shared a one-minute video by George Bumann of the Junction Butte wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park, but I didn’t realize he’s a well-known artist. His 9-minute TEDx talk isn’t the most TED-ish talk I’ve seen (that’s likely a good thing), but it went in delightful and unexpected directions.

  • LinkedIn alerted me to an interview on the Women Who Walk podcast with an old friend, travel writer Carolyn McCarthy. Carolyn and I met in travel writing class in grad school, and since then she’s been a Fulbright Scholar and written 50 Lonely Planet travel guides. Her newest gig is communications direct for Tompkins Conservation, and the interview covers her life, travels (she’s lived in Chile for 15 years), perspective on conservation, and the distinction between sustainable tourism versus conscientious tourism: “It’s also important for travelers to make good choices and travel more responsibly or travel in a way that they’re going to try to connect more deeply with these cultures that they don’t just demand services and hot water in a place where there’s barely any water because they have to use cistern.”

  • I finished the second season of This Land podcast, on the U.S.’s Indian Child Welfare Act and heavily funded legal efforts to overturn it as part of a larger mission to get rid of Native sovereignty entirely. It was a hard story, one I had to walk a lot with, but not remotely as hard as living it would be. Highly recommended as essential listening. I have a lot of thoughts, but they’re tumbling out into an essay mixed with an almost-finished Buying America from the Indians, so more to come later.

  • Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow writing in The American Scholar on 1950s sociologist Ervin Goffman and what masks—all masks, the faces and selves we present to the world—say about us: “If the pandemic has been an accidental sociological experiment, the results seem to support Goffman’s hypotheses. Even when people were not socializing, many were still focused intently on self-presentation—posting photos of freshly baked sourdough bread or of tidy closets they finally had time to clean. The virus gave us new behaviors to laud as socially valuable—physical distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing, and more recently, getting vaccinated. By the same token, it gave us new grounds for stigma: the refusal to do any of the above.”

  • Patrick Wyman recently published an edited version of his Substack essay on American Gentry for The Atlantic. I prefer the original—no diss meant to The Atlantic, which I generally enjoy—but the publication offered an opportunity for Wyman to expand on his ideas in an interview for Jacobin. The ending really nailed it, touching on the incredibly thick chain between local gentry and state legislatures (also county commissioners); I hope in the future he’ll write more about the actual consequences for everyone’s lives of these influences: “You instantly think, ‘This is a burgeoning member of the gentry and likely a future state legislator right here.’ . . . I think that guy, even if he never runs for Congress, even if nobody outside a pocket of a thousand people ever learns who he is, that guy has a lot of employees and people who are forced to work with him. . . . So the influence of this group in the aggregate is profound, because there are just tons and tons of tons of guys like that. That guy is everywhere.”

  • Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg writing in Nautilus about the research on how mathematically theoretical sandpiles behave when too much sand is added for them to remain stable. Even if you don’t read the essay, it’s worth scrolling through for the soothing fractal pictures of how sand avalanches and spreads, and there’s a related video of the avalanching movement that insists on creating order out of chaos.

  • The magazine Dark ‘n’ Light has a beautiful essay by Vena Kapoor—head of a Nature Classrooms project in Bangalore—on the “wonder and delight” of being taught to see spiders and their webs while researching the effects of pesticides on agriculture and human health. Despite how often we are awestruck by nature, even in microcosm, Kapoor writes, “we still seem to have a collective cognitive dissonance when it comes to nature, especially the many invertebrate life forms living alongside us.”