Elegy for a Tree

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The Wholesome Handbook - Elegy for a Tree

All day, the buzzing of a chainsaw.

Outside the window, there was a man in the box of a white bucket truck, wearing a fluorescent orange vest with silver reflectors down the shoulders and slim alien-eye sunglasses. The man was hoisted up into the sky, and he was slicing the branches off of the grand old tree next door. One by one, they fell to the ground in a sickening whoosh, early autumn leaves and sawdust erupting into the air on impact, like confetti from a cannon.

The little blue house next door, home of the tree, has been empty for a whole year. The last tenants had a ratty old hammock that they strung up between the branches of that tree. Jackrabbits would nap between the roots. The neighbourhood cats, illegally outdoors, would watch with hunter’s anxiety as the squirrels darted up and around the trunk, chattering incessantly about whatever squirrels talk about. Crows would gather on the branches, noble and noisy, surveying the alleyway below.

The sky looks naked now. The light in my living room is different.

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Travelogue // Seven States

In LIFESTYLE

The Wholesome Handbook - Seven States
Roadside America is weird and wonderful. The interstates are lined with billboards, some with ominous, sun-faded Bible verses, some with breasty neon silhouettes promising an audience with the Best Girls in the West. Gore flung across the highway lines, porcupines and whitetail deer and fat little raccoons with their human hands. Teenage hitchhikers with big dogs and hulking backpacks, farmboys rumbling along in tractors, grizzled truckers hanging suntanned forearms out of the driver’s side window. All-night diners and gas stations with burned, weak coffee. Every little settlement has a dubious claim to fame – the world’s largest cabbage, a 1973 mothman sighting, a defunct nuclear research site. And every place has a distinct set of unspoken rules, it seems, rules that only the locals know.

We only had seven days. Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana. We didn’t mind. The Road, of course, is at the heart of the concept of a Road Trip, and there’s no better way to see a country, I think, than to explore the places between the places.

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The Poetry & Power of Rituals

In LIFESTYLE
The Wholesome Handbook

Stalking the wildlife…

If there’s one big takeaway from my academic years, it’s that ritual is a powerful thing.

Of course, we see the word ‘ritual’ and we think of a clutch of grubby Iron Age Danes heaving some poor hanged man into the peat bog to sate the bloodlust of the gods. We think of Stonehenge, of Olmec knives in chalcedony, of the Greeks with Hestia’s eternal flame. But our modern lives are still steeped in ritual.

We have rituals marking our major life events. We declare our romantic partnerships with white dresses, a sacred first kiss, a feast. What are stagette parties but modern bacchanals? A baby is born, and we all flock to see it and ceremoniously bestow knitted blankets and stuffed pink rabbits, one by one. A loved one dies, and our mourning is marked with gatherings, speeches, recitations from holy books. We retire from our jobs and are sent off with offerings of gold and cake.

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I’m Not Special, and That’s Okay.

In LOVE

This last birthday, my 28th, was rough.

That beautiful June day, I woke up at five in an anxious sweat, pulled on a sweater, climbed the hill, and watched the sun rise over the city. And although I knew that I should be relishing the wet dew of the morning, the apricot light glinting from the face of the Bow, and the fact that I managed to make it another year without pitching my life into total disaster, I sat on that hill and I cried and cried and cried.

I remember joking as a teenager that I’d never live past 27, because what was the point? All the greats die young, and I was certain I was meant to be great. On that hill, tear-stained and panicking, all the nasty little voices that like to hang out in my head repeated it again. My life is over. I wasted it. I’m used up. I missed all my chances.

I went back to bed. And I spent the entire day there, sleeping, thinking, and mourning. I mourned what I saw as a wasted youth. I mourned my ‘deteriorating’ looks. I mourned my worth as a human being – turns out that being cognizant of the fact that women are socialized to understand that our societal value (read: our fuckability) plummets after 20 doesn’t mean you’re immune to feeling like crap about it. I felt shoved off of a throne I didn’t even know I sat upon. I mourned opportunity. I mourned wonder.

Birthdays used to feel like a new opportunity, every new age a new identity to try out. Now they’re just terrifying. I used to laugh at women who dreaded getting older, chalking it up to vanity and frivolousness. Now I get it. I do.

When you’re young, you feel like you’re going to be young forever. And then one day, you’re not.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream // Embracing the Solstice

In LIFESTYLE

Titania Sleeping in the Moonlight, Protected by her Fairies – John Simmons

The earth languishing in axial tilt, monuments glowing, heat and light and the bald face of the sun.

Summer, in all her loose and fragrant glory, arrives at the party.

These days, we eat strawberries in January and work long past dark, but there was a time when we didn’t think of ourselves as separate from nature, or above the influence of the seasons. Our internal lives are supposed to be consistent – we’re convinced we have to be the same person, with the same needs, throughout the cycle of the year. We tell ourselves we’re above the animals, as if indoor plumbing and a few trips to the moon could erase our base nature, the creature part of us that shifts with the seasons.

Midsummer’s eve remind us otherwise.

It’s almost impossible not to feel that symbolic weight, the mystical gravity of this long, long day. Our ancestors felt it, built pyramids and stone circles around it, wrote endless verses about it, threw bacchanals on it. The frenzy of solstice is undeniable, thick with life and magic.

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Shepherd’s Lunch // Fresh Ricotta

In EAT

The Wholesome Handbook - Fresh Ricotta

Ricotta is an optimistic cheese, a bucolic one, wet and springy and feminine. It’s a cheese you eat with olive oil or honeycomb on a hillside in the sun. It’s a poor man’s cheese, a country bumpkin cheese, a dish for shepherds and milkmaids and ploughmen.

The ancestors of ricotta date back to the bronze age, but the modern iteration is a lovechild born a thousand years ago in Sicily, when the island was under Arabic rule. Ricotta is gold wrung from wastewater – traditionally made from leftover sheep’s cheese whey, a literal peasant’s portion, an ingenuity born of necessity. The wealthy caught on eventually and claimed it for themselves, as they do, and ricotta’s current culinary rep is much more bijou than it perhaps deserves. Ricotta is, at the heart of it, wholesome countryside food, easy to make, easier to eat.

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Eat Your Heart Out // Steamed Artichokes

In EAT

Steamed Spring Artichokes - The Wholesome Handbook

The first artichoke was a woman.

A Greek beauty with fuzzy eyebrows and long black hair, heavy and slick with olive oil. The kind of woman who bathed naked in the ocean froth and loved to feel the grit of wet sand between her toes, the kind of woman who swam in thunderstorms and baked herself to a burnished copper on black rocks in the sun. The kind of woman with many lovers and many daughters. The kind of woman who loved, more than anything, to laugh.

Her name was Cynara.

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Travelogue // Abbotsford, British Columbia

In LIFESTYLE

Travelogue - Abbotsford - The Wholesome Handbook

Driving from Alberta to B.C. for a weekend visit with Andrew’s grandparents was like leaping forward in time. As we weaved around and over the Rockies on Highway 1 and the Coquihalla, the world shifted from a humble, budding brown to a raucous, lush eruption of green.

B.C. is a land of plenty. It’s crowded with dense hills and heavy clouds, and you can smell the ocean salt in the air. After 10 car-bound hours of podcasts, coffee, and rain, the eldest Reists welcomed us with their legendary Strawberry Birthday Cake, studded with saran-wrapped loonies, and we chatted long into the night.

Our first morning, we breakfasted on homemade raisin bread and blackberry preserves picked from the cemetery bushes across the street – does anyone feed us better than our grandparents? Afterwards, I managed to drag the boys out to the gloriously muddy Bloom Tulip Festival, and had to fight every one of my instincts to just lay down in the muck and roll around like a happy piglet. Spring makes me a little wild, but then again, I suppose it does that to all of us – Beltane has its reputation for a reason, after all.

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A Spring Mood

In LIFESTYLE

The Wholesome Handbook - A Spring Mood

I awoke this morning to rain.

Before coffee, before the sanctuary of the shower, even before the ghosts of last night’s dreams had slipped out of my mind, I had to feel it. I ran outside to the gray dawn in my robe and bare feet, and tilted my face up towards the sky, my husband laughing at me from the kitchen. God, it felt so good. I can’t even begin to tell you.

Rain. Not half-frozen sleet, not the tentative drizzling the sky’s been experimenting with lately – but real, relentless rain.

Later, wrapped in a shawl at the window, bitter coffee steaming up from the mug warming my hands, the rain turned to snow again. Spring is messy like that, especially in this place, this unpredictable land between the mountains and the prairies. But the white on the ground can’t erase the fact that for a moment, I had rain. Spring is here, and life is changing again.
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Travelogue // Banff, Alberta

In LIFESTYLE

Travelogue - Banff, Alberta - The Wholesome Handbook

Banff is a tourist town. There’s no way around it. The streets are sardined with over-bundled crowds toting cameras and rented skis, several different languages echo haphazardly off the pavement, and most of the shops will cheerfully command 10 bucks for a fridge magnet. Still, though, I can’t really be bitter about it. Every time we round that familiar curve on the Trans-Canada and the road opens up into the first blue valley of the Rockies, I think to myself – oh, of course. Of course people flock from all corners of the planet to see this place. Of course.

I never tire of the mountains. When I was younger, I’d imagine the white-capped ridges were the spines of great sleeping dragons, or visualize the thousands of wolves and bears and moose hidden in their dense, forested skirts. As I got older, mountains taught me of my own smallness. They taught me reverence. To this day, every time I visit them, I feel like I’m coming home. The dramatic slope of Mount Rundle, the rippled bulk of Cascade Mountain, the almost comical peaks of the Three Sisters – these are the faces of old friends. Heading to the mountains felt like a good way to start 2017.

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