All these tender-filled words can be associated with Food. Food: that which sustains and nurtures and brings comfort, warmth, and hope. When I worked for humane societies and wildlife rehab centers, I had plenty of opportunity to bear witness for creatures on the edge of starvation, who were do depleted, they had lost all interest in food, in life.
Back then, I had no idea how it would feel to be so very wasted in body and spirit. Now I know, and I will never forget.
Two years ago, I went through six weeks of a treatment called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, for severe depression. According to everything I read about the process, including all the information on the Mayo, Cleveland, and John’s Hopkins clinics, It was “safe, with very few minor side effects.”
And so I began driving over to Portland for once-daily treatments that consisted of placing a strange helmet like an old-time hair-dryer on my head. When turned on, that unit would emit jarring pulses on the right side of my brain. The intention is to “light up” the nervous system so that the area of the brain that seems to be the keeper of depression gets “woke.”
But the machine didn’t light me up. It set off an insane wildfire in my body that remains til this day.
Only now am I finding people who have had a near-deadly experiences with the treatment. The clinics offering TMS treatments and the companies that make the machines still offer no warnings of any significant side effects.
On the first day of my first treatment, I left with an unsettled stomach. I figured it was nerves and kept going, but the bad stomach never left. As the weeks, then months passed, and the depression quickly returned (or never quite left) I found myself unable to eat much. Even looking at food would set my stomach to churning. When I could eat, the food just sat in my belly. And the pounds began dropping.
I lost twenty pounds that first year. I lost the next ten pounds last year. I lost the last ten pounds in the last two weeks.
When your body cannot or will not receive the gift of food, all those graces I mentioned at the beginning of this piece become their terrible counterparts. Hope, vitality, nourishment, and comfort shape-shift into frightening specters of dread, weakness, profound confusion, isolation, cold, and a deep, inner bleakness.
Only when I hit 103 pounds did my doctors suddenly wake up and start spinning around me. But the sheer oppression of the sickness and literally years of wasting had had a crushing effect on my body and—worse—my spirit. I’ve never been a fearful woman, and have always taken pride in my strength in the face of hardship. But all that flexible tensile strength of my previous life had vanished, and in its place was a trembling, frail old woman.
Currently, I’m on a “prescription” to put something into my stomach every two hours. I have pills, powders, and gut soothers, so that food will not be painful to me. I have tranquilizers so that food will not be scary to me. My acupuncturist puts needles in my ears to treat PTSD. My naturopath gives me flower essence drops for “pain, tension, calm.”
Since weaning myself off of anti-depressants, I’m able to feel more these days, and this starvation event of mine has blown my heart open in aching compassion for all those who starve in any way. Friends, readers, I cannot convey the bleakness that stalks one who has no nourishment, no sustenance, no comfort.
I can speak now to the quivering limbs, the weakness that comes from the simple act of putting one foot, one paw, one hoof before the other. I can speak now truly about the fitful sleep, aching muscles, and the shutting down of the digestive tract. I can speak to the apparition of death that reaches out her arms and strokes your limbs with cold fingers, whispering, “You will be leaving here soon…”
I’ve written something deeply personal and unsettling here, because I hope you will not just read, but feel this. Feel this. Because our world is starving in so many, many ways.
My favorite bee researcher, Torben Schiffer from Germany, recently spoke to my friend Jacqueline and me about a whole new area of study he is excited about. Torben has been compiling how much flower nectar is “wasted” by bees simply trying to keep their hives a livable temperature. Those white-painted boxes you see sitting out in pastures are flimsy, poorly-insulated bee killers, and that is the truth.
Bees in these hives need to gather up to ten times the amount of nectar that a colony in a log—or in one of my cozy skeps—uses, simply to keep the box warm enough to hatch their young. Now, picture 5,000 or 10,000 or more of these boxes, stacked five tall, in a commercial beekeeper’s yard. Imagine all of the flower nectar that has been removed from the landscape by literally millions of bees packed into one small place, stripping every ounce of nectar from a two-mile radius. In nature, bees choose never to live this close to each other, so there is never a gathering stress on the flowers in their immediate environment.
How much nectar do you think these five or ten thousand hives will leave for all the other native pollinators who live near that bee yard? Well, I’ll tell you: they will leave nothing.
So the hover flies starve and perish, along with the thousands of pollinating native bees and bumbles, and the small wasps, the butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. And the creatures slightly up the food chain who depend on these beings now starve along with them: The songbirds, the dragon flies, the spiders, the chipmunks and other seed eaters. Because without the pollinators, the seeds and plants begin to die out.
And then by way of starvation and desertification go the larger animals and birds: Our eagles, our loons, our cougars and bears and possums.
“Nectar” says Torben, “is the very building block of life. When we lock it up in commercial hives, we lock up life.” With those words, Torben unlocked for me a deeper understanding into the the life-sustaining elixir that is flower nectar. Not just for bees, but for the entire world that grows up around a flower.
It is winter now, and my bees are cozy in their hives. I fed them honey all autumn long to try to make up for a summer of thick orange smoke and high winds, both of which make foraging hard for bees. They have their challenges, but food is a major one.
Nourishment is becoming scarce here on Earth, I fear. It is not just nectar dearth we are facing. We pave everything. We poison everything. We put in “easy care’” landscaping of junipers and grass—which are food deserts to most living things. We plant ornamental fruit trees that offer no nectar, no fruit. And so even the trees are starved of their life’s purpose.
And so my plea on this new years day is this: Please, Please feed them. Feed all of them who are hungering for nourishment of some kind. Feed everyone and everything, and offer any bit of vitality and hope you can.
Scatter cans of seed for the birds and small creatures. Grow vegetables in your sidewalk strips for passing friends and neighbors, or put out spare bowls of homegrown tomatoes and zucchini. Plant a pumpkin plant and leave it for the animals who will treasure those big orange balls of flesh, seeds, comfort, and sustenance come the cold winter nights. Let your Mullein stalks stand brown-black and tall over the winter where birds will hang from them like ornaments, picking them clean. Make and hang suet cones.
Bring the sustaining nourishment of a kind word, and hug, a smile, a listening ear, a helping hand to someone who is starving for comfort, for a sense of safety, for kindness or courage.
Barry Lopez once said that sometimes a being needs a story even more than food. So as you can see, “food” comes in many forms. All of us have food to offer the starving. All of us do. A plate of cookies, and loving word or shared laugh, an errand run for a friend, a can of scattered sunflower seeds into the wind. Some cracked corn tossed for the tiny bellies that need it. A plate of cat kibble for the local coons and possums. A pair of crocheted slippers for a cold soul.
In this time of protracted winter of the human soul, it is imperative that we give away the gifts we need most. This is the way they return to us. When we cling to our larders and our stuff and our full bellies, these means of nourishment become calcified in isolation. It is in giving the kind word that we are made suddenly kind. It is in the plate of cookies that joy and delight of the receiver become our own joy and delight.
When we lovingly offer nourishment, it becomes ours in that instant. As the seeds are flung, my heart fairly cracks with joy. When I put out the plate of food for Jesus the opossum, warmth floods me.
I know now up close and personal the face of starvation, and so I see it plainly in the eyes of the world. Our soils and waters are starved for freshening. Our plants are starved by pesticides and every other horrible kind of “cide.” The river looks at me with sorrow as foam mounds of god-knows-what float past like puffs of filthy whipping cream, starving the waters of their sweetness and health. How long now have we been starved from the blessing of cupping living water from a river up to our mouths?
Not one of us is responsible for feeding the world, (although I still feel that this is my job) yet we can each feed our own small world of self, yard, and neighborhood. Offer what you can, and please, offer it to yourself first, because we all have areas in our life that are withering for nourishment.
Feed yourself. Feed everything. And don’t ever stop. Let’s each of us one by one make a world in which all and everyone have nourishment.