Earth Day and Memoir

by Matilda Butler on April 22, 2011

catnav-news-active-3Post #54 – Women’s Memoirs, News – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

What Does Earth Day Have to Do with Memoir?

Let’s begin with Earth Day.
Every day should be Earth Day. We need earth’s clear air to breath, fertile soil to grow food, clean waters to drink, ample forests to build shelter, and the list goes on. We need the earth in such a basic-everyday-ordinary way that we often forget just how dependent on it we are — just how intertwined our lives are with its elements.

Today is Earth Day 2011. This is the official day to celebrate the earth. Do you have your personal way to commemorate this day? Maybe you have decided to reuse a glass jar rather than recycle it, bike or walk to the grocery store rather than take your car, eat an organic meal, plant a tree — or even a tomato plant, recycle a AA battery that you were about to toss in the garbage can, use cloth napkins rather than paper ones, air a sweater outside rather than take it the dry cleaners, ask to have your bank statements delivered electronically rather than in the mail. Whatever you do, make it something extra, something more than you are already doing.

My Earth Day Gift to You
At the end of this article, I’m sharing one of my reuse ideas as well as my chocolate chip cookie recipe (vegan and gluten-free). It’s my Earth Day gift to you. It’s a gift that lets me keep my footprint on this earth as small as possible.

Earth Day and Memoir Writing
As a writer, Earth Day caused me to think about the importance of creating a sense of place in our memoir writing. Kendra and I talk about time and place when we teach our Writing Alchemy. The way in which we incorporate our surroundings — geologically, historically, or descriptively — can add a depth to our story as it centers us and helps readers to see us. Place contextualizes us.

And while I was pondering this, my thoughts turned to some of the well-known nature writers. I decided to share brief quotes from four women who have taught us much from their writing. Two of these women increase our awareness of the beauty and details of nature. The other two (you can read about them in my Telling HerStories blog today) used their nature writing to create change.

I might simply call the first two my sample of literary nature writers — Emily Dickinson and Annie Dillard and the second two my sample of nature activist writers — Rachel Carson and Dian Fossey.

In honor or Earth Day, let’s honor these writers that bring us closer to nature.

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson lived from 1830 to 1886. For most of those years, her poetry (that few read) showed her feelings about the beauty as well as the fragility of the world around her. And although 1886 seems like a long time ago, her work remains fresh and powerful.

In her own words:

The morns are meeker than they were —
The nuts are getting brown —
The berry’s cheek is plumper —
The Rose is out of town.
The Maple wears a gayer scarf —
The field a scarlet gown —
Lest I should be old fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on

Annie Dillard
My second nod to a woman who helps us celebrate the earth every day is Annie Dillard, born in 1945. For those of you who also know me as the co-author of Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story, I point out that Annie Dillard is part of that incredible generation of women born during World War II. The quote below is from her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perrennial Modern Classics), published in 1974. She drew much of her material from journals she kept while roaming the area around Roanoke, Virginia.

[By the way, Kendra created an instructive video based on Annie Dillard’s book The Writing Life. Here’s the link to the post and video. Dillard offers writers many lessons.]

And in her own words:

“A couple of summers ago I was walking along the edge of the island to see what I could see in the water, and mainly to scare frogs. Frogs have an inelegant way of taking off from invisible positions on the bank just ahead of your feet, in dire panic, emitting a froggy :Yike!: and splashing into the water. Incredibly, this amused me, and incredibly, it amuses me still. As I walked along the grassy edge of the island, I got better and better at seeing frogs both in and out of the water. I learned to recognize, slowing down, the difference in texture of the light reflected from mudbank, water, grass, or frog. Frogs were flying all around me. At the end of the island I noticed a small green frog. He was exactly half in and half out of the water, looking like a schematic diagram of an amphibian, and he didn’t jump.
He didn’t jump; I crept closer. At last I knelt on the island’s winterkilled grass, lost, dumbstruck, staring at the frog in the creek just four feet away. He was a very small frog with wide, dull eyes. And just as I looked at him, he slowly crumpled and began to sag. The spirit vanished from his eyes as if snuffed. His skin emptied and dropped; his very skull seemed to collapse and settle like a kicked tent. He was shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football. I watched the taut, glistening skin on his shoulders ruck, and rumple, and fall. Soon, part of his skin, formless as a pricked balloon, lay in floating folds like bright scum on top of the water: it was a monstrous and terrifying thing. I gaped bewildered, appalled. An oval shadow hung in the water behind the drained frog; then the shadow glided away. The frog skin bag started to sink.

“I had read about the giant water bug, but never seen one. “Giant water bug” is really the name of the creature, which is an enormous, heavy-bodied brown bug. It eats insects, tadpole, fish and frogs. Its grasping forelegs are mighty and hooked inward. It seizes a victim with these legs, hugs it tight, and paralyzes it with enzymes injected during a vicious bite. That one bite is the only bit it ever takes. Through the puncture shoot the poisons that dissolve the victim’s muscles and bones and organs — all but the skin — and and through it the giant water bug sucks out the victim’s body, reduced to a juice. This event is quite common in warm fresh water. The frog I saw was being sucked by a giant water bug. I had been kneeling on the island grass; when the unrecognizable flap of frog skin settled on the creek bottom, swaying, I stood up and brushed the knees of my pants. I couldn’t catch my breath.” pp. 5-6

An Earth Day Gift
And now for my promised Earth Day gift — my favorite example of ways I reuse rather than throw-away.

Matilda’s Favorite Reuse:

memoir, memoir writing, memoir recipe, journalingI love to bake and use unbleached parchment paper to line my cookie sheets. Rather than throw away the paper after I remove the cookies, I shake off the extra crumbs, fold it, and keep it in a plastic bag in a drawer with my other baking items. It is always ready to be taken out and reused. The bonus is that I don’t have to measure a new piece of parchment paper and then fold it to fit the cookie sheet. My reused one already fits. In the picture you may even see the fold marks.

Now I’ve done this parchment reuse for a number of years. I just keep using a specific sheet until it looks too dirty. Then I toss and start over.

memoir writing, memoir and Earth Day, memoir, journaling, recipe
The next twist came about six months ago. I had been eating Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Tortillas. They are marvelous and great for a gluten-free diet. However, I disliked throwing away the piece of round, white, parchment-like paper that separated each tortilla. I kept saving them, but it took me a while to decide to try them as the replacement for the usual parchment paper I was purchasing. My first trial wasn’t successful because I left them round and they just didn’t fit my rectangular pan. Then I quickly realized I could fold one edge of each of four circles and cover the cookie sheet as much as was needed to bake my Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. Voila.

The round papers work just great. The only secret is to remove the cookies while they are still warm for if the cookies cool completely, they will want to stick to the paper. You can still get them off, but you lose a little bit of the cookie. The paper does not burn, at least at the 350 degrees I use for these cookies. For now, I am only giving these circles one extra use. Maybe next time, I’ll see if I can bake two batches of cookies on them rather than just one.

These ideas don’t save much money and don’t make a big difference in the landfill. But it makes me feel that I’m being careful with this little piece of the earth’s resources. After all, I grew up with a father who always used newspapers to avoid spills on the counters that otherwise would have to be wiped with paper towels and a mother who always carried the previous day’s coffee grounds out to the garden where she worked them into the soil.

Did the cookies turn out all right? I'll let you be the judge.

Did the cookies turn out all right? I'll let you be the judge.

Interested in making your own gluten-free chocolate chip cookies? Here’s my recipe:

Matilda’s Gluten-Free, Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 c almond meal
¼ c tapioca flour
½ c brown rice flour
¼ c millet flour
½ t Xanthan Gum
½ t salt
1 t (scant) baking soda
½ canola oil
1 T vanilla
¼ c agave nectar and ¼ c brown rice syrup (or 1/2 c agave nectar)
2 t blackstrap molasses (adds a lovely depth of flavor, but not a necessity)
1 c vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips (Sunspire or 365 [Whole Foods brand])
½ c raisins (optional, adds additional sweetness)
1 c walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Recipe makes 24 cookies.

1. Put dry ingredients (first 7 ingredients) in a large mixing bowl and stir together.
2. Add chocolate chips, raisins, and walnut pieces to dry ingredients and stir.
3. Put wet ingredients (canola oil through the sweeteners) in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
4. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and stir.
5. Using medium sized cookie scoop, place individual cookie balls on parchment lined cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Individual ovens may require additional time.
7. Remove cookie sheet from oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack.
They are too soft to remove immediately. Just remember to not leave too long on the paper, if you are re-using brown rice tortilla circles as they may stick.
8. Enjoy. (Most important step.)

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