Issue #25: Snow Brightens Our Winter Days
Comfort for the Apocalypse, December 2021
I raise my glass to you this on this last day of 2021!
In my timezone, the new year is eighteen hours away, promising us all a fresh start even though we are living a kind of groundhog day in our limited pandemic lives. It has been snowing on and off for the last few days here on Gabriola, which makes everything feel a bit magical given how rarely we get snow. Even if we could throw a party this year, it’s unlikely anyone would want to drive down (or back up) our hill on an icy, snowy night, and so it’s for the best we are only planning to see some friends who have a place within walking distance of ours.
Earlier this week, my step-daughter M. came to stay for a couple of nights post-Christmas. We picked her up on our way home from visiting my parents and brought her to the island for a combination birthday and Christmas with us. She turned 24 just before the holidays and is definitively now in her “mid-twenties,” a time I remember as a turning point towards becoming an adult. I suppose in part that’s because I got married for the first time at 24, got my first non-service sector jobs around that time, and was separated from my husband by 26. At 24 I felt capable of being in the world and present in my identity, but still lacked the knowledge to make the best choices for myself (case-in-point: my first marriage).
While M. was here we went for a walk in the snow so she could test the camera she got for her birthday. I haven’t spent any time with her in the last year due to the pandemic and so it was good catch-up opportunity. She’s in graduate school right now, trying to decide between thesis and capstone project, her partner is going back to school, and they have weathered the pandemic as well as any two young people could have. She would like to have children in the future, once school is over with and she is situated in some kind of work. She would like to leave the city whenever that becomes feasible, and so on. Her life has a trajectory, she is not stalled anywhere yet, and she is unfolding as a person in the world as one does.
Except that it’s all happening against the backdrop of worry about the future. Though I felt a similar worry at her age, there is now a lot more data backing up the fear that something isn’t right. She feels there are so few things to look forward to given the grim news of our times, and she tells me that people close in her life have admonished her for wanting to have children because “their life will be so hard”. But also, she asks, how else are we supposed to live in this world if not as we are meant to continue on?
There was a time in my life when I would have counselled against having children for reasons of the environment and an uncertain future. I would have agreed that there isn’t much to look forward to given the bleak prognosis we face, and I spent a lot of my younger life fighting that future I feared. But as we walked on the snowy bluffs looking out across the ocean, I found myself talking about my new job in a government unit with the goal of saving salmon from extinction, and how many people have cynically suggested to me that it’s a waste of time and too late to do anything. But as I told her, when I hear those things I wonder, is it really that others believe we should give up on life entirely? For those of us who aren’t hobbled by addiction/illness/despair, isn’t it our job to keep putting in our best effort to at least reduce harm where we can?
I cannot imagine a world in which we intellectualize our way out of having babies, or making art and music. I cannot imagine a time in which our need to create and re-create our world has ended. And it’s not because I lack imagination for what the apocalypse might look like. As the title of my newsletter suggests, I believe we are living in the end times right now. However, the “end” is a question, not an answer, and I am much more interested in the archaic definition of apocalypse which points us to insight and vision. To understand things any other way is to enter a long death-vigil in which we pray for a painless going-out of the world.
I didn’t get to say all of that standing on the bluff because we turned towards home after taking our photos, but as we walked M. talked on about how she wants to live. She told me that she isn’t interested in travel and material things, but has concluded that life is only meaningful when we make it about other people. The people we can help. The people we love. That knowledge, she tells me, is what she wants to build from in making her future less bleak. And I cannot disagree that is the only answer right now. The only one available to us, sure, but also the right one in all of our human existence.
I am bringing this conversation with my step-daughter into 2022 with me, a reminder that whether we are 24 or 48 (or 92), it is the people and relationships in our lives that hold the potential for a brightness and change. I don’t think we are heading into a better year than the one we’ve just had, but we are alive to see another one together and that is a gift in itself.
I thank-you all for reading in this last year and hope all the best for you and your communities as we stand on the edge of another new year.
December recipe: Newport Venison Casserole
In choosing a recipe for the end of the year, I decided on something that is deeply comforting to me and a meal my mother often made when I was growing up (albeit with beef, not ground venison). I’ve altered the traditional version a bit to get rid of ingredients like canned mushrooms and reduce the oil, but it still retains the 1970s casserole vibe that reminds me of childhood.
1 tbsp cooking oil (olive, canola)
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced carrot
1 1/2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 lb ground venison (or extra lean beef)
10 mushroom caps
1/2 cup sherry or red wine
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 large (18 oz.) can/jar of stewed tomatoes
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
8 ounces macaroni elbows
1 bunch of spinach, chopped
1/2 cup buttered fresh bread cubes
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese
In large skillet, saute onion, garlic, carrot and celery until onion is golden, about 5 minutes.
Add ground meat and cook until meat is browned.
Add mushrooms, sherry, tomato paste, tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano and basil; simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours.
About 45 minutes before serving time, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir spinach into simmered sauce.
Cook macaroni as per package label.
Add well drained macaroni into sauce once cooked.
Turn into 3 quart casserole. Top with bread cubes and Cheddar cheese.
Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes or until bubbly and browned.
Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Makes 8 servings.
In the workshop
In the darkness of winter I am working with the fruits of my summer’s dyeing labour which you can see in this early-morning photo - my loom warped with the reds, another skein of Dhalia/Eastern Brazilwood-dyed yarn being spun off the swift, a basket of colours for my next project near the bottom of the photo.
My satisfaction in working with personally-dyed fibre has answered my questions about whether I should continue to pursue colour as a specific element of my creative practice! I’m already making my dye plan for next spring and summer (not to mention ordering seeds to grow dye plants in the garden).
Cancel the Apocalypse: Heading into a new year, here is a nicely curated list of thirty documentaries by Films for Action that imagine ways of living in the world without continuing to destroy it.
The Dawn of Everything: A new history of humanity: How do we change our future if we have a limited (and in many ways conservative) conception of our past? Now-deceased anthropologist David Graeber and archeologist David Wengrow ask this question and many others in reviewing the evidence for what scholars and thinkers have gotten right and wrong about the history of human existence, how we understand the rise of civilization, and what alternative modes of living were and are possible. I don’t think they get everything right, and in some cases I would argue that they draw from pretty limited source material, but overall this is a fascinating read and an important contribution to new thinking around the human predicament we find ourselves in.
4000 Weeks: Time management for mortals: Oliver Burkeman is the most on-point self-help writer I know of. Informed by Stoicism, Zen, and the Existentialists, Burkeman is no life-hacker, but instead offers a philosophical approach to modern life that is deeply useful. This is not your standard time-management book as Burkeman encourages the development of patience, communal ritual, and habits of presence. I recommend all of his books as they are the only kind of self-help I can stand.
I had an essay-in-the-works that I jettisoned for this month, but I will be back next month with more structured writing again. I am working on my next-quarter creative goals this weekend with the help of my planner from The Creative Good, and feeling a bit stumped about which of many things I should focus on. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any plans for your own creative work in the new year, as I’m looking for inspiration from others!
You can leave a comment or like this post below. Liking my post helps get it wider distribution in the Substack network, so if any of this resonates with you, please click the things. Sharing with others is another way to support my work.