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[October 16 is World Food Day.]

What could be more enchanting than a dream drawing upon references to “Alice in Wonderland,” “Winnie the Pooh,” teddy bears, and childhood games?  This post resonated especially with me because so often when I lived in Williamsburg, VA I would find a spot along the James River, just off the Colonial Parkway, where I would sit with a book and a homemade lunch for a tranquil picnic.

Given the enchanting view of childhood and innocence in Melissa’s dream, the subtlety with which a threat to the scene was drawn is impressive.  I must admit, however, that when I realized the “She Bear” was to be depicted as a yogi (yogi bear) I was tempted to resist because it seemed like a cliche.  Then I told myself to just go with it and see what developed.  Just the other day I read a reference to Ursus Beer (a Romanian brew) and my ‘writer’s sense’ began tingling.  I poked around in resources devoted to mythology to be sure my memory was serving me well and I found myself saying, ‘Wow.’

For ancient continental and Anglo-Celts Artio was a divinized “She Bear”, a goddess of wildlife and fierce protectress of the forest.  She is very often associated with Artemis (Diana), the Huntress.

So, what we and the character Melissa are seeing is Artio, the Huntress, the voice of the orchard, the voice of the river, the voice of the garden, with her companions the Teddy Bears – named for Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th president, dedicated protector of the environment and the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize – aware of and prepared to address an environmental threat.

As I consider this aspect of the dream I am glad I stayed with the portrayal of the She Bear as a yogi.  She is disciplined, composed.  She dined on wild salmon so we know she is wise.  She is compassionate, compassion being the perfection of wisdom.  She is not ‘all up in’ the Huntsman’s face.  She does not throw her weight around and slash out with her claws.  She is not interested in being a vision of ‘sound and fury.’  That is just bluster, smoke and mirrors.  That is what one pulls out when they have nothing else.

When I think of her I think of the first half of Will Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94:

They that have the power to hurt and will do none,/that do not do the thing they most do show,/Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,/Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;/They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces,/and husband nature’s riches from expense;/They are the lords and owners of their faces …

To look through that yogi’s eyes is to see the contrast between the Teddy Bears’ picnic of wild caught salmon and lovingly nurtured produce and the sort of meal served up in a styrofoam clamshell.  It is a stark contrast indeed.  That styrofoam clamshell has a further significance.  It draws our attention to the fact that toxic substances are dumped into the water supply, and points to the need to acknowledge that the way we choose to eat has consequences for our environment.

Further, the picnic’s proximity to a river reminds us of the truth that the water supply affects the food chain.  Crops, like people, need water to grow.  Farming, in turn, has a significant impact on the water supply.  Run-off from the land can and does alter a waterway’s chemistry, sometimes in alarming ways.

Fresh water is an essential and finite resource.  It is not meant to be a ‘waste stream.’  Numerous demographic groups in this country hew to dietary laws in their daily life.  Does tainted water give them pause?

We do everyone – ourselves, our neighbors, our neighbors’ neighbors – and our land a wonderful favor by paying attention to what we eat and how it is produced.  It is an adjustment, to be sure, but so is the alternative of a depleted supply of food and water, depleted in supply and nutritive value.

The holidays are fast approaching and that means feasting with our loved ones and friends.  I read the other day about a chef who feels food is ‘life’s bonding agent.’  That says it very well, I think.  For the infant and for the centenarian food and feeding is a way we find common ground, the way we cultivate community.  We see only glimpses of the community the character Melissa seems to be involved in creating – Ham and Sam, and other marginalized people – but we are bound to real communities in our real lives.

We can recycle.  We can forego wasteful packaging, like styrofoam.  We can cook a few more meals at home.  We can participate in Community Supported – or Shared – Agriculture (‘food with a farmer’s face on it,’ as the Japanese word teikei is roughly translated to mean) if such is available to us.  We can eat seasonal food.

Because I am also impressed that the arts were represented in this dream about food and the environment I will close with this excerpt from Laurie Lisle’s biography of the distinguished American artist Ms. Georgia O’Keeffe, who made a garden grow at her home in Abiquiu, NM.  Her river paintings are quite beautiful.

When she first began to live there, she used to rise at dawn to work in the soil during the growing season, much the way her father had done on the Wisconsin farm in her childhood. … At first she planted the ordinary vegetables, but over the years she raised a great variety of exotic ones too.  Shade for tender sprouts was provided by fig, almond, and mulberry trees.  She also planted, on a steep hillside to the east of the house, a terraced fruit orchard containing apricot, peach, and apple trees.

Like everything else she put her hand to, the garden was remarkable.  It was going to be an organic garden, she decided, and when grasshoppers invaded, she brought in turkeys to eat them, instead of using insecticides.  She spent hours discussing soils, seeds, fertilizers, vitamins, minerals, and other substances with neighbors, and she learned how to dry, freeze, pickle, store, and can her harvest.

Barbara Butler McCoy, 2012 

[Photos: Barbara Butler McCoy, ‘Great Blue Heron on the Chattahoochee’, May 2011; Barbara Butler McCoy, ‘Etowah River, GA’, September 2009; Barbara Butler McCoy, ‘River Blues – Chattahoochee’, July 2009]

[Bibliography:  Lisle, Laurie. “Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe.” New York: Washington Square Press, 1980, 1986]

Items of Interest on the web:

Community Supported Agriculture, http://www.nal.usda.gov

“Simply in Season:  A World Community Cookbook” (recipes and facts)

Moore Farms and Friends (CSA serving the Atlanta metro area)

National Catholic Rural Life Conference, ncrlc.com