We went to our dog agility class today, which, for the uninitiated, is a hilarious kind of mini-Grand National training for dogs... hoops, tunnels, jumps, climb-its... the dogs love it and we, surprising ourselves, do too. It's a great pleasure to take the long drive across the valley floor between the mountains, past the ranches and small-town houses, out to where Diane has all the brightly colored obstacles set out on her fresh mown grass.
Diane, who teaches the class, is one of those very American women you never hear about. A good neighbor, a quiet citizen, a person who thoroughly enjoys her life, and has created that life to give her a decent, unextravagant living by doing the things she loves best. She's one of those people (thank God for them) who volunteers actively at the local animal shelters, and really makes a difference with her volunteering. She's the one who started a free obedience class with each adoption; she goes out every week and teaches new pet owners how to get the best out of their pets. Doing that, she single handedly cut the return rate on dogs to the shelter by a half. That's where we met her, when we adopted one of ours.
Her house is a sanctuary, as you can imagine, for all the abused animals no one else will take. The cats. The dogs. The horses who get abandoned at the start of winter by someone who can't afford to feed them anymore. That's where most of her cash goes, to caring for all of them. And she's one of the happiest people I know.
Here's the thing about her agility class: she'll tell you about the competitions your dog can enter, but she's not really that into them. "I hate competing myself," she says matter of factly. "I just like the dogs."
On the way home from the class, we stopped — the way we always do in season — at a tiny farm on the country road that sells veggies out of a little red shed guarded by a friendly border collie dog. There's a hand painted sign to tell you where to go, and, inside, an old scale with a basket on top for weighing, baskets and baskets of whatever's been grown that week, and a rusted metal box for leaving what you owe. This week: tomatoes 70 cents a pound. Cucumbers 50 cents. And a huge barrel of green and purple peppers with a big sign over them: "Peppers free till they're all gone."
We took a lot of those. And bought a lot more.
Driving home, I thought about how little either place we'd been — Diane's dog agility class and the vegetable shed — was in the accepted discourse, the Big Media discourse, of The Way Things Work, any real place at all. People, according to this discourse, work for maximum profit — don't they? All life is competition, nasty, brutish, longer thanks to competition in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, all about being driven to be the top of the heap or becoming one of life's pathetic losers. Everything that lives yearns to beat out everything else to be the greatest, and growth is always good, and the purpose of all activity is to make and gather and consume more and more and more.
But what if these concepts do not apply? What if they are merely a set of vile, imperial, fundamentalist religious beliefs being foisted on the rest of us, who are just, more or less good naturedly, trying to get on with our lives, creatively express our own loves and desires, and get along with our neighbors as best we can?
What if the rest of us are right and Big Media, and the Empire it represents, is wrong? What if the way Diane lives her life, and the farmers at the little vegetable patch, know more than it does?
What if it's better, even more efficient, to do things for fun than to always be straining to win? What if it feels warmer because it is better to give our work away when we have an excess of it, for the sheer exuberant sharing of it? What if that is more human in the end?
What if that's right and the other is wrong?
Driving home, silently contented, the dogs asleep in a similarly contented heap in the back seat, the autumn air rushing by, I thought about what I'd make for dinner out of the huge bags of veggies we'd bought. And I told Alex that it seemed to me that we both tried to live like Diane, and like the man and woman who grew our veggies. Which was with a kind of joyful stubbornness. Stubbornly insisting that it's more important... better... to live embedded in the everyday web of relationship and action and desire than it is to try to transcend it, get the hell out, be redressed, be saved, never die. I told him that's the way I think he has always worked as a filmmaker (don't believe me? Have a look at his X Films, which has to be somewhere on the vast shelves of Powell's Books). And that's the way I like to write and publish books. Those are the kind of writers I look for. The ones who are fascinated by their subject and want to share it; not the ones looking to beat out all the other writers for the First Place Grand Prize.
I'm looking for the kind of people I like to have over for dinner, I guess. And I have to have someone over, after all — I just bought all these veggies. And this is what I made out of all those peppers:
Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place as many peppers as you have on it, and then under the broiler set to high. Keep an eye on them, as they blacken, and turn them till they're blackened on all sides — but not to a crisp, mind. Then pour them all into a bowl and cover with a plate to let them steam and cool. Peel them and pull out the centers.
Now you have a choice about what you do with them. I did three things.
- Put some of them, torn apart, into a glass bowl with a little olive oil, to keep in the fridge as a salad for later.
- Put some of them in little plastic bags and froze them for use later in Chile Relleno Casserole (see recipe in Jam Today; it's a good one, too).
- Made Chile Relleno Casserole for dinner with a few of the peppers.
And while I'm at it, let me tell you about the salad I made to go with the casserole, out of the cucumbers and tomatoes we brought home:
Dice equal amounts of tomato and peeled cucumber. Chop one or two green onions. (Add a minced red Serrano pepper if you like heat and a little more color.) Put in a colander with a bit of coarse salt, toss around, and let the liquid drain out for about a half hour. Then squeeze extra liquid out with your hands, and toss with a lot of chopped cilantro. Squeeze over some lemon. Toss again. You can add a little olive or flax oil if you like, but it's not required. It's nice without, too.
Have all of this with refried beans... and warmed corn tortillas, if you're very hungry.
And then enjoy the rest of the autumn night before going to sleep peacefully in a world that doesn't always encourage you to do so...
See you tomorrow.
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Tod Davies lives with her husband, the filmmaker Alex Cox, and their two dogs in the alpine valley of Colestin, Oregon, and at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, in Boulder, Colorado. She is the author of Snotty Saves the Day and Lily the Silent, the first two novels in The History of Arcadia series, Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking with What You've Got, and Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered, both from the Jam Today series. Unsurprisingly, her attitude toward literature is the same as her attitude toward cooking — it's all about working with what you have to find new ways of looking and new ways of being.
Books mentioned in this post
Tod Davies is the author of Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered