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Category Archives: Nurturing Nature

Nature is what nurtures us when we need it most.

Being Drawn In

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This past weekend, I stood in silence. Staring at a small selection of drawing supplies. I had wanted to buy some artist pens. Mine had dried out. Mine that I bought eight years ago, to illustrate an archaeological dog burial.

Clearly, it was time for some new drawing tools. But there were no pens to choose from there.

I almost walked away.

But I kept looking.  Maybe I missed something.

Maybe… I could buy some pencils.

My inner critic’s voice began, “We have boxes and boxes of pencils at home.”

“Yeah, but not pencils for drawing.”

“How can a pencil NOT be for drawing.”

-Hush-

I looked again.

I was almost in tears with the thought of buying them.

(Treating myself to art supplies can be a pretty intense experience.)

A small “artist pencil kit” caught my eye.

Three pencils, a kneaded eraser, two graphite sticks, and a woodless pencil.

$7.49

And cue the critic:

“You’re going to spend almost ten dollars on something you don’t even need? Something that the kids are going to break, the dog is going to eat, and you are going to lose!?”

“Yes, Yes I am. Because I want to draw. Because I need to draw. AND it comes with a tin case.”

So now, I have a brand new set of pencils to entice me when I get that little whisper of a sense that I might like to draw.

Brand new drawing pencils

Brand new drawing pencils

And how glad I am. For I got that sense tonight, when I couldn’t sleep.

I started thinking about leaves.

Again.

This all started late last week when I was walking down the road with my two boys. We took the back alley on the way to the bakery. I had spent most of the week feeling under the weather and was quite unaware of the autumnal changes taking place outside. Lesson one in complementary colors

“Wait! Wait! Kids! Come here!” I called out. They must have thought I found a frog or a grasshopper, because they sure came back quick.

“Do you see how the color of the leaves is so yellow? And it makes the back of that building seem more purple than it ever has before?”

My oldest, interested and sure it must be some kind of magic, replied “Yeah, I do! What’s that about, Mom?”

“What colors make purple?” I ask.

After a little thought and some guessing, he came up with “Blue and Red”

“Yes! Is there any yellow in purple?”

“No….” (He says it in a voice that shows that thinks he might be getting tricked.)

“And that is why the yellow and purple make each other stand out so well!”

And thus began our seasonally appropriate lesson on colors.

IMG_0334And several stops on the way to the bakery.

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IMG_0336 And a trip to the park. IMG_0349And some lessons on photography.

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And a photo session that became what my son called the “Color Catch”

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And left me thinking of leaves and trees.

And thinking of times when I was learning my leaves and trees.

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And so, here comes that whisper.

Draw.

It’s caught on something.

Draw leaves.

It’s drawn to a time.

A time when I took certain routes around the campus of Southern Illinois University, just to visit certain trees.

I may have been dating a forestry major.

But to tell the truth, I was in love with the trees.

So I started thinking about my beloved tulip poplar.

Just outside the Liberal Arts building.

I’d visit it everyday.

I miss the unique blossoms and the strange seed pods.

But I remember the leaf shape so well.

A few image searches left me longing.

Wondering how that tree is now.

Leaf Study Tulip PoplarAnd drawing the shape and uncovering the vein pattern.

I was suddenly grateful that I was treated myself to those pencils this weekend.

I needed them, for not just any pencil would do.

Memories of my wonder that exists in leaves continued to grow.

I thought of sweet gum.

This spectacular tree can have any range and combination of colors at any time in the fall.

It was a childhood favorite of mine. 750px-American_Sweetgum_Liquidambar_styraciflua_Fruit_Context_2500px

We had one at the house where my dad lived. Each fall, I would collect the funny round, poky, seed capsules and deposit them in hoards in the backyard. I loved them. 800px-Sweetgum_Seed_closeup

Come spring when my dad mowed the yard and found those caches of prickly seed capsules… well he didn’t like it so much then. But, I bet it would give him a big laugh now.

And so, I gave my try at playing with pencil shading the beautiful leaf shape and delicate intricacies of the seed capsules.

And was quite pleased with the process. Sweet Gum

And quite delighted to rediscover the joy of being drawn into to nature, one smooth graphite stroke at a time.

Coming to Fruition

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The world is full of coulds, woulds, and shoulds. Some of which exist in truly meaningful ways.

But many of them:

Oh, I really should…

If I just could…

I really would…

They only seem to perpetuate invisible barriers.

Who says I should?

Who says I can’t?

Then why don’t I?

Who says I can't climb a tree?

Who says I can’t climb a tree?

We all have dreams, and there is no good reason these dreams cannot be part of our reality. No matter how big or small. No matter how silly or strange.

You want to do something?

Then why don’t you?

I know it is not that easy. In fact, just a month ago I felt trapped by my own invisible barriers.

Terribly trapped in a silly conundrum.

I wanted to pick fruit, but yet everything seemed to stop me.

Chokecherries grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open. Their tart fruits have a single small pit and make you pucker at the first taste.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open.

The fruit beckons from a far.

It is wild.

Yet that is not what stops me.

I know it well. Its name: common, genus, and species.

Leaf patterns and ecology.

Even uses and recipes.

What stops me is fear.

Fear that regulations might state that I cannot pick there.

Fear that those trees might belong to someone else.

Fear that I might be confronted with threatening words and gestures.

Fear that someone might come with questions,

Whatcha gonna do with them?”

“Um, eat them kind sir….” (please don’t eat me!!)

“Howsya know them berries ain’t gonna kill ya?”

“Er, I study these plants, you see, ma’am. I’ve even taught about them.  Plus I always double check my identifications.”

“Why go to all that trouble, when you can just buy some fruit at the store?”

“Well you see, I can’t buy these in the store. And I really like them.  I think they might be better than anything you can buy in the store.”

“Why don’t you just give me MY berries, and we won’t have us any trouble…”

“Am I getting mugged? For wild fruits?”

“Why don’t you just get the hell out of here…”

“Is that a shotgun? Oh shit…”

These delusions seem to quickly escalate out of control. They became paralyzing. Keeping me from doing what I wanted.

But because it was something I wanted to do, somehow in my mind, it must be wrong.

I created a barrier, to keep me from doing what I really, truly wanted.

That barrier was fear.

The day I overcame that fear, I was with my husband, out alone for a North Dakota drive. We were stopping along little lakes, thinking about future places for family camping and seeking out a nice little fishing hole for the afternoon.

First, I saw a chokecherry tree, then about three more.

Beautiful and bountiful.

I discretely picked some and put them in an empty water bottle.

Then I saw some rosehips, and always having wanted to make rosehip jelly, I collected another pint or so of them.

I felt so sneaky and cautious. I was on high alert.

Certainly, I was doing something wrong.

All the while, Hubby was getting out his rod and tackle box and began searching the shoreline for a good place to test the waters.

“Rachel, you had better come see this!” He hollered.

I was convinced he had found a sign that stated the area was a protected nature preserve, and that anyone found disturbing any animals, plants, or rocks would be fined $10,000 and spend up to a year in jail.

My heart sank.

Walking toward him, holding my breath, I failed to see what he wanted me to see.

Black Currants.

All along the shoreline.

Bushes loaded with the earthy, rich sweetness of black currants.

I must have been dumbstruck, because he had to urge me on,

“We have some plastic bags in the car. You should go get some.”

Excuses ran through my head.

Someone must have planted these here.

No, someone’s grandpa planted them here 120 years ago.

I’m sure of it.

Heck, the lake is probably even named after him.

BUT WAIT- BLACK CURRANTS.

I looked again, thick along the shoreline, into the trees.

And on and on.

I looked for evidence to show they had been picked before (and by extension, it would be okay for me to pick some too.)

Indeed. Some branches and clusters showed signs of picking.

And since I didn’t think there were many bears around that had been gorging themselves on currants, I took a gamble that humans had indeed been picking these currants.

I would not be thrown in jail if I picked these fruits.

On I went down the shore. Bag in hand. Ready to work.

Picking currants is not easy work. The fruits are barely noticeable from overhead, as they cluster beneath the leaves.

Black Currants

Black Currants (Ribes americanum) thrive along
stream banks, in moist ravines, wet meadows, floodplains, and woodland edges.

Two hours of bending, sitting, kneeling, and gently pulling the leaves back yielded just over a quart of berries and a criticism came to mind,

“That’s an awful lot of work for just a couple berries.” 

I silenced the critic within by popping a few more fruits into my mouth.

I was overcoming that barrier.

Even the point that a truck came down the dirt road, I resisted the urge to jump into the bushes to hide.

I acted as though I paid no mind.

But I was focused on my breathing, so to not have a full blown anxiety attack.

I destroyed the barrier.

I no longer had to dance around with the shoulds, coulds, and woulds.

“I would love to collect wild fruit to make jelly, someday.”

“I know I could identify them, afterall, I taught ethnobotany for two years.”

“I should just get enough courage to go do it.”

“Or maybe I shouldn’t bother.”

No more.

I tapped into my strengths and knowledge.

I found a resource and harvested it.

I overcame the barrier. And opened a door.

I found a truer, happier version of myself.

I ventured into new possibilities.

Soon I saw opportunities all around.

In campgrounds, parks, fairgrounds, vacant properties, and along the roadside.

Suddenly the world offered a bounty of crabapples, chokecherries, Chokecherries

rosehips, currants, wild plums, buffalo berries, American cranberries,High Bush Cranberries and wild grapes.

Wild Grapes

Even cultivars of raspberries, apples, grapes, and plums came our way.

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The world is full of possibilities. What a valuable lesson and sweet reminder. A bounty that will last far into the future.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

– Paulo Coelho

Zucchini: In Abundance and Scarcity

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Zucchini: In Abundance and Scarcity

If Mother Nature has taught me anything, it is that success cannot be rushed.

Life happens at its own pace. It is up to us to try not to force it through commitments, deadlines, and expectations. Sometimes all we can do is our best, with what we have to work with.

Such as I am at this moment. I find myself riding in the back of the vehicle with two kids, who are happily enjoying their snacks. My husband is giving his mother the grand tour of small town North Dakota.

For the moment we are in Harvey. I admire the gardens that we pass by- gauging the height of the corn, the weight of the peppers on the plant, and color and ripeness of tomatoes. I am reminded of a request by the new local foods marketing specialist at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture to participate in the Specialty Crop Blog Challenge.

SpecialityCropChallengeLogo

I am a bit delayed, just as so many things have been this growing season. July’s challenge topic was Zucchini, perhaps one the most prolific specialty crops. In fact, if I ever met any one who made a career of growing this green summer squash, I might question their sanity. But then again here I am, tucked in the backseat, writing my July assignment in August on my iPhone… so feel free to question my sanity as well.

But for the common vegetable grower zucchini is like a promise, never to be broken. There will be an abundance.

At this time of year, abundance can come in the form of boxes of bounty, jars of pickles, and loaves of bread. It is a time of year that takes me back to my childhood– back to my grandparents’ garden.  Their garden was one of my happy places as a child. I was always at peace there, comfortable in the scent of dill and tomato plants. Delighted by the textures of concord grapes, the sounds of the birds, the abundance all around.  My grandparents never let me leave their home without a box of tomatoes, and cucumbers, and of course, zucchini.

When I have the opportunity to visit now, I still seek out the garden, even though Grandpa isn’t there to make sure I notice the radishes and keep me from stepping on the beans. Also, I seek out the stories. My grandmother is a wonderful storyteller, even though she sometimes gets a little distracted.

Seeing as I live more than 1000 miles away, I more often opt to hear her stories over the telephone. Our conversations are sometimes scattered, working in bits about children, chickens, and gardens in such away that I can’t help but smile.

We discuss the garlic and the chard. I tell her about the rhubarb festival we went to. DSCN9151She is so surprised that my youngest loved the rhubarb. And she tells stories about how when she and grandpa were poor and living in Montana, that they would always be on the look out for rhubarb along the roadside that they could harvest.

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It is hard to believe they once lived in a time when food was scarce. As they started to build their home and raise their family, having a garden meant something entirely different than it does to me now.

I have a garden by choice. Because it keeps me grounded.

Because I like growing my own food.

My grandparents grew a garden so they could eat.

But even with scarcity, they never ceased to be generous.

Three years ago when I began growing my garden, I had such a bounty of everything– corn, potatoes, eggplant, basil, tomatoes, and squash. I wanted to waste nothing, but was up to my ears in everything.
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I began to take a preventive approach, especially with the zucchini. The tricky thing about this squash is the more you pick it, the more it produces. It is all too easy to bite off more than one can chew. But rather than let the fruits grow to monstrous sizes, I began harvesting the blossoms.

I had read about fried zucchini blossoms in many cookbooks and often thought them to be a fine culinary pursuit. Zuchinni BlossomsI selected both male (above) and female (below) because at this point, I wanted to prevent more zucchini from coming on.

Female blossoms (not the minature fruit at the base)

Female blossoms (not the miniature fruit at the base)

We stuffed the blossoms with mozzarella cheese and basil. Then dipped them in a batter and fried them. The result was amazing!

As I told my grandmother about the culinary adventure and the crop management techniques, I was surprised to hear her voice calling up memories of a time when she had enjoyed zucchini blossoms,

Now long ago, before your daddy was even born, I think, we had zucchini blossoms deep-fried. Your grandpa and I had been building the house. It was early in the summer and we had planted a small garden, but of course we didn’t have much time to tend to it. We wanted to get the house done before the winter. So we were busy and all. I think we had planted some zucchini and tomatoes, and maybe some potatoes. Things that wouldn’t need much attention.

Well one day we got notice that the new pastor for the church was coming into town. At that time, your grandpa had been delivering the sermons and doing much of the work. So the pastor was going to come visit us before he got settled in.

And remember, in those times we were poor, but it was early in the summer and we didn’t have much in the garden. And of course we had some of the staples in the pantry. So I hurried out to the garden to see what I could find. The zucchini were blooming, but the fruit had not yet set. So I harvested the blossoms and served this new pastor fried zucchini blossoms. 

He thought they were the most wonderful thing. He was from Chicago and hadn’t had anything like that before. Oh my, he loved them. And you know, years later when he moved on, when he delivered his final sermon, those zucchini blossoms were still on his mind. He thanked us for our hospitality and the wonderful meal.

I think of this story often and how much it reflects our perspective of abundance, and our ability to make the most out of what we have. Whether we have too much, or not enough– there is always something we can offer the world. Male Zucchini Blossom

A New Chapter Begins

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A New Chapter Begins

I feel as though I am at the end of a chapter. Bits and pieces have been woven together and packaged. I have written about learning to live in the moment, finding emotional health, overcoming grief, seeking out balance, creating a home, belonging, admitting limitations, renewing creativity, and having the courage to find joy and acceptance. I have written on these topics, not just on this blog, but also in my journals, and most recently  in a article I submitted to the North Dakota Humanities Council for their magazine publication, On Second Thought.

As I share these experiences with readers, there is another chapter in progress. Perhaps it is the change of seasons bringing it forth.

Elm seeds fallen

Or a change in perspective. I can’t entirely describe it yet.

Shoulder- charcoal and watercolor Rachel Brazil

It has to do with all these things I’ve written to date, but from the perspective of physical health.

Scapula- graphite Rachel Brazil

I am no expert, I don’t claim to be. But I have my story of experience to share.

Head and Neck, Choarcoal and watercolor Rachel Brazil

I have the experience of my emotional healing becoming such a holistic process that I can identify the effects of stress and trauma has had on my body.

Head and Neck on Skeleton, Graphite, Rachel Brazil

I have the understanding of what simple breath and relaxation can do. I have knowledge of human and mammalian osteology and anatomy.Cow skull Graphite, Rachel Brazil

I have a fascination with how the world works within our own physical beings.

I first created Pages of Paradigm with the intention of one day writing a book. I may have shared that before, that I wanted to write a memoir on the experience of redefining success. But I have not shared that there is another book in mind. A book about learning about ourselves, the living, through those now gone. I have learned much from the dead. I have many stories about my experiences cleaning animal skeletons for a museum collection. The first of which was an African Lion. Just a few weeks into that semester, my grandfather passed away. At his funeral, people I had never met before came up to me and said, “You’re the one with the lion! Your grandfather told us all about you and your work.” He had a love for gaining a greater understanding of the world. A few months after the funeral, I had a dream about walking with him to his final resting place. In my hands was a beautiful bouquet that consisted of clovers, little white flowers, and the long bones of a squirrel. Maybe strange, yes. But I thought it was beautiful. I treasure the memory of that dream to this day.