Book Review: Wild Drinks and Cocktails

IMG_2002I have been looking forward to this book ever since I heard of its existence, and here it is. It is a triple threat: beautiful, snappy design, smart, non-rambling descriptions and juicy, delightful recipes.

I admit to not being a “recipe person” in the sense of measuring, but I am guessing many will appreciate Emily’s precise and detail-oriented recipes, and less-measury types like me can choose to  soak up the inspiration and just estimate it.

She seems to have combined a luscious and fruity approach with touches of herbalism to make a decidedly straightforward and non-woo collection of “Handcrafted squashes, shrubs, switchels, tonics and infusions” that just may end up sneakily supporting your wellness, but you might  be too soaked in pleasure to notice.

Ultimately, that pleasure IS a medicine and Wild drinks and Cocktails is food for the eyes and food for the taste and food for the creative spirit, and it stands out amongst the crowd of recent offerings. The interesting details and fancy little touches are what make it exceptional.

I’d like to go on and on about it, but I am too inspired by the Hawthorne cordial and Hazelnut Orgeat and must go gather!

Thank you, Emily Han, your hard work and attention to detail is appreciated!

Explore Emily’s work further at http://www.emilyhan.com

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Someone, Give me a Sign! Part 2

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When you go outside every day, every single day, and you observe the world around you every day you might begin to notice that animals and their detritus are all around us all the time. It is where they live. We are in their home.

Our world is built atop the bones of everything that has ever been, all that has ever lived has been incorporated into the soil and sand.  The beach sand in your buttcrack is as much a sign as the blue heron you are gazing out at.

We don’t have to view these things as separate. There aren’t isolated messages coming in with each bird feather. We are a blip in the continuum of the multiverse, and so is the “sign”.

I see something alive every day. Every single day. Outside, inside, mammals, insects, birds, snakes, larvae, lichen. The constancy of the “signs” is overwhelming. I lean into the lifeforce, the search, I enter the spaces where life lives.

It’s not mystical to me.

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To me, observation is a grounded, everyday devotional practice. It feeds me to feel a part of my world. Observation is a meditation and a mediation, the layer that lives between humans and other animals. It is the way I feel connected.

Calling each interaction a sign may actually block our ability to snuggle into our relationship with the world, with other beings. It might block our ability to be present with the life around us. Perhaps it works to  de-normalize interactions between ourselves and the natural world.

Maybe we can stop asking what it all means.

Maybe it just IS.

We may come at our relationships to animals via our culture, which infantilizes them, focuses on their juvenile phase, presents them as helpless and in need of “saving” or the opposite, presents animals as symbols of evil or darkness, killers who are out to get us. We see animals in commercials acting silly, speaking, wearing pants. We may see animals as products, see our “power animal” as something we can buy to represent our deepest selves, to wear around our necks.

We easily overlook their rights, their wildness, their instinctual indifference to our personal needs.

Our interpretations are clearly influenced by factors such as our religion, our modernity,  our life experience and various aspects of who we are and where we come from. A rhino means something different depending on where you live.

And sometimes we label things as spiritual, mystical, magical when they are just a part of reality, just a different layer that isn’t often discussed or acknowledged. It may be the only way some of us know how to talk about the ways we are experiencing nature right now.

Ultimately I want to be very clear that I am not saying “you are doing it wrong”. We all have the right to interpret our world in the way that we see fit. I speak only for myself. But I hope that by raising these questions, it inspires conversation around signs, both opening those that are closed to the possibility of signs and opening those that believe in signs to critical thinking. Symbols have been a vital part of what makes us human for a very long time, and our interest in symbols isn’t going away.

Nor should it.

But examining our interpretations is rarely a bad idea.

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Someone, Give me a Sign! Part 1

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The other day I ran into a bear. Literally, I was running along  and flushed a little bear out of the nearby underbrush and up a tree. It was very exhilarating, and I deeply appreciate the experience. However, someone later told me it must be a sign, it must be “good bear medicine”. Is it?

I did a little research and found a huge industry based on animal spirits and signs. {note: all are actual quotes from the internet.} Apparently any animal “calling” to us is a sign. “Every animal has significance.” “We all have animal guides.”

Apparently “we are drawn to an animal because they are drawn to us.” “There are no coincidences.” “Many times animals enter your life to help you overcome difficult transitions.”

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“Dogs stand near the road to get my attention.” “If you’ve had more than one [animal] bite, consider this a Spirit sign.” “When birds fly into my glass door there’s something I need to look at.”

“Every single feather that you find is a sign.”

OK. I want to believe in signs. Theoretically, I want to believe animals are dropping dead in order to give me what I need. I want to believe that everything that attracts me is due to vibrations that all conspire to support me.

But HOLY HELL is that a human-centric, egocentric and delusional model.

Seeing a bird in your yard might mean that you have bought a bird feeder and filled it with bird food. It might mean that you have grown a lot of plants that attract birds, such as Asters, or live near a lot of habitat that birds like, such as water, birdhouses, or little safe areas that they can hang out in. Seeing a dead bird might mean that you have a cat or live near one, or that the bird had a disease. Are the flies on the dead bird a sign? The maggots? The vultures? The bacteria that breaks it down?

Seeing a feather might mean that you keep chickens, or a neighbor does.

Seeing a bear in your yard might mean that you have some very juicy garbage and the bear is hungry. Or maybe he’s going to provide his spiritual signage to another person, and your yard is a handy shortcut.

I believe there could be some confirmation bias involved in this process. We choose what to see as signs and what to ignore. A hawk is a spirit guide, a pigeon is a nuisance. A bear is blessing us, a mosquito is ruining our evening.

We can’t take every darn beaver as a sign from the Universe while failing to see every plastic shopping bag stuck in a tree as such.

And yes, I saw a bear on Friday, but then I saw an empty can of Chef Boyardee ravioli and a pair of rumpled underpants while hiking on Sunday.

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But honestly, I believe it IS a sign. All of it. It is a sign of engagement. A sign of curiousity. A sign that I went outside!

It is a sign that the world is terrible and beautiful, dangerous and nutritive, raw and confusing and complex, and that we are in it, we are of it, not just observers.

Sandor Katz says “Sustainability is participation” and perhaps it applies to signs, too.

Intuition is participation. Signs are participation.

Relating to animals, plants, minerals, this could be a sign that you are participating in the world around you. Interpreting the world around you. Devoting your time and attention to observation. And this could potentially be a beautiful process, a way to feel supported.

And humans have been using animals in our stories since memory began, observing them, using animals to inspire our movements, our identity, our sexuality, our ideas about power and art and spirituality, and that is a sign of our amazing imagination.

Or it could be a sign that you are shockingly egocentric, extremely careless, unable to apply critical thinking or so caught up in wishing for a sign that you can’t see that we are animals too, that our power animal just might be the bacteria that really wears the pants in this relationship and that we can’t just pendulum our way to liberation….

Ultimately, of course, we can choose to interpret everything we see through any lens we choose, consciously or not. If choosing a power animal gives one good feelings, what is the harm? I honestly don’t know, and I feel like I have more questions than answers. But for now, I am going to laugh to myself about my vision of the bear I saw telling all of her friends about how I was a sign, a sign that humans are running around in yoga pants and OMG you shoulda seen her face when I ran up the tree.

You’re welcome, MS. Bear.

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