Friday, May 7, 2010

Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon lives on Bit of Earth Farm with her family. She writes mantras on her feet, poems on beehives and words all over mannequins, although she makes a living writing on more conventional surfaces. Her essays appear in numerous anthologies as well as publications such as Farming, Geez, New Awareness, Mothering, Natural Life, Grit and Cleveland Plain Dealer. Her poems have most recently appeared in Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Review, Mannequin Envy and Dirty Napkin.

Her recent book examines the power of holistic education in Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything (Hohm Press, 2010).

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Here are a few of the books surrounding me now.

We grow and preserve a lot of our own food, so it’s a natural step to start concocting homemade beverages as well. No one wants to hear about canning applesauce but everyone wants to know more when I mention Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

I’m familiar with Buhner’s deep connection to the natural world after reading several of his rambling yet powerful books. In fact, I keep The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature in my backpack. That book is best in small doses, read outdoors.

This work is more focused but informed with the same passion. As Buhner unveils ancient approaches to the sacred through plant fermentation, I’m discovering more about indigenous approaches to knowledge. I’m also learning some radical history. Beer was made around the world for healing, religious ceremonies and daily use. Certain plants were intentionally included to give beer stimulating, aphrodisiacal, euphoria-producing, even psychotropic properties. Hops weren’t commonly used, since hopped ale diminished sexual desire and dulled the senses. Then, around the time of the Protestant Reformation, authorities instituted regulations imposing the use of hops. Now our definition of beer has shrunk to that tame ale.

Buhner provides recipes from earlier times. He also says, “Sipping from the ancient fermentations of our ancestors is also taking a drink from the Well of Remembrance.”

Katharine Weber’s True Confections was discussed at our recent book group. Written as a protestation of innocence by narrator Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky, the novel is by turn witty and suspenseful. The history and art of candy-making are delightful asides in this story of racism, betrayal, family loyalty and the shaky structure of lies.

Weber has hit a sweet spot as a book marketer too. I’m told she has appeared at candy conventions, on cooking shows and all over the food blogosphere. Smart lady. Chocolate sells.

My copy of Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing by Robert Wolff has found its way to my desk. When I should be working I find myself rereading uniquely restorative passages.

Wolff describes, completely without pretension, how he came to know and learn from the reclusive Sng'oi people of Malaysia. The Sng'oi live simply, follow their dreams and intuitions completely, and perceive in ways we have forgotten. They teach Wolff deeper and fuller ways of living. They affirm that all of us still have such potential. I’ve given copes of this book away many times. Its quiet truth isn’t easily described but it has a lasting impact.

I’ve nearly finished a meandering book called The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldana. It’s an account of Saldana’s fellowship in Syria, a country where Christians and Muslims have lived together for a thousand years. There she is studying Islam by learning the Quran, in Arabic.

Saldana finds lodging in a once elegant house where she’s watched over by her elderly landlord, who calls her “Grandfather.” Saldana explains that to call a loved one by the name of another loved one is traditional, “suggesting that you are so close to them that, as though bound by a cosmic force, you can no longer tell the difference…”

Her stay in Syria is a form of escape for this well-traveled woman. She comes to know people who put her own problems in perspective, such as Hasan, an Iraqi poet, professor and artist now living in exile. This gifted man tells Saldana that a great poet needs no paper, he lives poetry. He explains, “Poetry is an invisible energy that exists between everything, holding it together, giving it meaning. The job of every human being is to search for the poetry hidden within the midst of things.”

Saldana finds a scholar to guide her through the Quran. Saldana writes, “The Sheikha has memorized every single word of the Quran, so that I sometimes feel that she contains it. Often when she discovers a new meaning of a word in the Quran, I have a sense that her entire interior self is slightly shifting, like a plate moving beneath the ocean of her being.”

Already I adore the people and the contemplative light that seems to shine over this country, thanks to Saldana’s writing.

I first encountered Scott Russell Sanders’s work while reading library books aloud to my kids. It’s always a pleasure to discover finely crafted sentences in books written for small people. Now I’m reading through Sanders’ oeuvre. In A Private History of Awe Sanders writes about growing up wide awake. He recalls being held in his father’s arms, watching as sudden flash of lightening burst a huge oak tree apart. Sanders writes, “I still ring with the astonishment I felt that day when the sky cracked open to reveal a world where even grownups were tiny and houses were toys and wood and skin and everything was made of light.” Although we’re from different generations I easily identify with Sander’s coming-of-age reflections, his ethical quandaries over religion and militarism, his tender insistence on love.
Learn more about Free Range Learning, check out Laura Weldon’s blog, and find out what’s up on the farm.

--Marshal Zeringue