A Breath and a Toast and a Spirit

The world, or at least our small Santa Cruz mountain world, is vibrant in these last days of 2021, scrubbed and rinsed with rainwater. Take a step outside and breathe it in, this symphony of sensation; cold air, the scent of fir needles and the roar of creeks, the drip of gathered raindrops from the canopy into duff. Earthy musk of hidden mushrooms, blue tint of woodsmoke unspooling into clouds. Feel into it, the beauty and the damage, too; mudslides and fallen trees, the burn scar, another year passed in pandemic uncertainty. Take a walk, carve out a moment to observe the world around us. Erosion carries silt downhill, but in these upside down times, wealth is increasingly concentrated higher and higher up the economic ladder. Such a top-heavy system seems destined, eventually, to succumb to the natural forces that govern all the rest of existence; it is a comfort, breathing heavily as we climb another steep trail to the ridge top, to think that we are part of such a vast and intricate network of interconnected systems, and that economics is only one of the threads that tie us, however precariously, to our time here. Older, deeper ties hold us fast as well, the commonalities of breath and blood, bone and muscle, to say nothing of a deep rooted love that all life has for itself, a desire to live and continue living, to live well, to live in the manner that seems most right and in alignment with its own nature. Taste the winter moisture in the air and remember that you too are an animal, who wants only to exist as all others do, and feel the kinship between yourself and the myriad lives rustling and living all around you. When I say you, I mean I, I mean we. I mean all of us, and the plant kin too, who generously create oxygen from our spent breath. I mean the mushrooms, and the microbes that bring us bread and beer, and the protozoa and the flagellates and even, arguably, the viruses, that share this bit of space-time with us. We're all here, striving, existing, remaking the world over and over, in relation to each other. Money is just an idea, albeit a useful one. True richness is reserved for ecosystems, for diversity, for symbiotic relationships, and it is a complex thing, not easily reduced to binaries. Our warm breath turns to steam in the cold air, the mist rises from the valley floor, just the same.

Leave the heady thoughts behind, let a stiff breeze whisk them from our furrowed brows. Sometimes the season can have us concentrating on the wrong things, or on things that we are without power to influence. As the calendar ticks off the last square days of the year, it's natural to reflect and look back. This is, after all, how we learn, through trial and error, through regret and second chances. We learn to by hope, by aspiration and imagination, dreams and schemes and best-laid plans. We learn through love, because even pain is a measure of love. In these final days of 2021, we count on both hands, blessings and sorrows and hopes and goals, until we run out of fingers and offer up only our open palms, to receive and to give, congruently.

We might gather with selected friends, or we might seek to isolate for reasons of community care. In the garden, the citrus fruits come finally winter-ripe; glowing oblong lemons, bright limes, squat mandarins. Alone or together, we gather the cold bright harvest. Zest the rinds and squeeze the juices, savoring all parts of their bright, vitamin-filled fruits. Citrus always feels like a bit of summer, come to remind us of sunshine in the deeps of winter. That bright acidity, a sharp piquancy, the color of sunsets and past warmth, preserved in brilliant globes on evergreen trees.

This week, we highlight a spectacular recipe for Mandarin or Tangerine Negronis. Here is the blessing that accompanied this post when it was first published in 2018.

"Tangerine juice, a harbinger of the season, tart and sweet all together. Bitterness from the Campari, and while sweetness is all well and good, a drink that makes you pause and reflect seems appropriate in the new year. A bitterness that does not dominate, but must be reconciled. There's joy here, and bright flavor, and dark undertones, and sharpness and smoothness and yes, maybe we are overthinking things, perhaps it is only a cocktail, and we should stop pontificating and wish you all...a very happy new year...Cheers, dear readers, and friends, and loved ones. May this one coming be the start of something good."

Like the truest wishes, this one stands the test of time. May we all find the grace and space to meet the coming new year with an awareness of our blessings and an intent to keep on striving for better. We are so grateful for this community, for our customers and friends and neighbors, and for our time here on this beloved earth. May all who read this receive our sincerest wishes for an abundant and fruitful new year.

By Jessica Tunis