Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Summer, 1996

I stopped eating meat about eleven years ago, in the midst of a warm summer that filled my garden with tomatoes, bell peppers, watermelons, lettuces and every variety of hot pepper I could find.

We lived in a rented Cape Cod in a fifty-year old neighborhood in a small North Carolina city. The house was on a big corner lot bordered on two sides by a wooded area where we would occasionally hunt for morels. The kitchen and dining area were all part of a long, narrow room with a fireplace at one end. A door in the living room concealed a flight of stairs leading to an attic bedroom with excellent hardwood floors. Our bed was situated by the window overlooking the woods, and I would lie there sometimes in the afternoon under the sloped ceiling, reading and listening to the summer rains.

I learned to cook that summer -- not the kind of learning to cook where you master exquisite culinary techniques, but the kind of learning to cook where you create dishes that are satisfying to you, and perhaps one other person or two. I learned to make English muffins from scratch because it pleased me to do so. I spent nine hours making my first batch of croissants, and they were lovely. This was before I left meat for good, and I stuffed them with turkey, cheese and vegetables and sent them with my husband to eat by the river on the opening day of trout season.

I also grew many herbs that year, many of which I'd purchased as starts from a store in Old Salem, a nearby historical museum that was once a thriving Moravian settlement. My herb garden was a tangle of unruly, fragrant plants, and by the end of the summer, I had some left to dry.

It was, paradoxically, an easy place and time to forget about meat. North Carolina is barbecue, and everything had meat in it there, even the vegetables. But when I was home, I would just make some rice, throw in some plump cherry tomatoes, a fistful of herbs, and whatever else I had on hand. What need did I have of chicken, beef or ham? Very little.

Of course, when I declined to consume meat or meat-based items in public, the reaction was nearly identical to what one might receive upon declaring an expectation never to eat again at all. How might you do that? And whatever for? It's worth noting that eleven years has chipped away significantly at the formerly exotic veneer of vegetarianism. I think many more people, while not adopting the practice themselves, might acknowledge that North Carolina is not just barbecue, but the colors and scents of a ripened garden rooted and nourished in thick red clay.

But for me, it's a place I love, and can still see, in my mind's eye, through a window opened to the fresh air of summer.


kris said...

Hi - thanks for visiting my blog! I have never been to Portland, but I know it's the rose capital, so I'm sure the garden you suggested is a great place for a rose lover like me. My son and daughter-in-law live in Seattle, so thinking I will get an opportunity to head south from there and check it out. Thanks for the suggestion. I briefly looked through your blog - beautiful writing - I will be back to visit again. Please drop in at mine whenever you'd like. Hopefully, I'll actually have pretty garden photos at some point!!! LOL!

Rurality said...

We tried going veggie, or at least mostly veggie, a few years back, and I guess it just wasn't for us. But some people still find it extemely odd that we just have a meatless meal now and then!

Trailhead said...

Rurality: We currently have what I would call a complex relationship with meat. I eat fish and seafood. My husband will eat game that was hunted in what he thinks is a sportsmanlike manner, as well as free-range chicken and turkey.

Meanwhile, our vegetarianism infected almost our entire family. One of my nephews is even vegan. And now we've significantly relaxed our original vegetarianism. Go figure.

Kris: Thanks for the kind words! Seattle, incidentally, is one of my favorite places.

kris said...

Hi - do you have some suggestions of things to do in Seattle?? Our son and daughter-in-law both work, so occasionally we have some free time to do our own thing - would love some ideas!

I read your entire blog this weekend - I applaud your efforts on the environmental front. Your writing is beautiful and passionate. I'm very glad we "met"!

Trailhead said...

Thanks so much for the kind compliments!

Ahh, Seattle. One of my commenters, Jade over at Arboreality, will no doubt weigh in if she reads this thread, as she used to live just across the Puget Sound.

As for me, I like to do the following when I'm in Seattle:

1. Eat on the waterfront somewhere. (By that I mean the Puget Sound, but I also ate at the Bluwater on Lake Union this last trip, and it was very good.)

2. I have to ride the ferry. I just have to. To most Seattle residents, the ferry is No Big Deal, but I absolutely love it, especially on a clear day when you can see the Olympic Mountains across the Sound. It's also a good way for newbies to get a sense of the geography of the area.

3. All tourists must go to the Pike Place Market. If you're from a landlocked area, you need to see the fishmongers casually throwing gigantic whole fish onto the ice, one after another. There are also some artisans with booths there, or at least there were when I was there last.

4. Head over to West Seattle one morning and eat at the Alki Cafe for breakfast. Good food, good coffee, good view. There's a path along Alki Beach for a nice stroll afterward.

5. I also went to the Space Needle once. I suppose every visitor should go there at least once, particularly on a clear day.

I'm not much of a shopper, and I know nothing about the gardens in Seattle. I would strongly suggest supplementing my ideas with a good travel book!

For more extended trips outside Seattle, I love Olympic National Park, Mt. Rainier or the San Juan Islands.

It's a wonderful place.

kris said...

Thanks for all the great ideas. Our son has lived in Seattle for 2 years now, but the first year's visits were all about the wedding!! So far, the weather hasn't cooperated a lot - but we've been to Pike Place and the little park by the Space Needle (lines were way long that day). We also did the Music museum near there - that was interesting. The ferry was on our agenda last spring, but too much rain!!! We're definitely hoping to spend some longer vacations out there doing things like Ranier (I want to see the wildflowers blooming - of course!), Olympic Natl Park, San Juan Isl, etc. There are a ton of cool places in that area. And our trip down the coast to Portland!!