Category Archives: Essays & Articles

Most of these, though not all, were originally published elsewhere.


Herbs for meate and medicine in North Carolina

An adapted version of a talk I gave at Duke Homestead State Historic Site in Durham, North Carolina, in June 2012. Continue reading

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Life and death (and soup) in the city

Originally published by New American Homesteader in 2015. Under a bright December sky we gathered to kill the St. Elizabeth House chickens. My friends who built the coop and tended the chickens had moved to Georgia for a new job, … Continue reading

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Travel in the magic city

Since I moved, it has slowly dawned on me that I can get practically everywhere faster by taking the freeway. But it has at the same time dawned on me that I might be eroding other, existing neighborhoods by using that freeway—not directly, not by physical or economic means, but simply by changing my perception of them. Continue reading

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Rituals of embodiment

It isn’t that I want effortless obedience from physical objects but because I believe there is value in the physical interaction itself: we are embodied beings, and we think not only with our minds or brains but with our hands and our whole bodies. Continue reading

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Limits and conscientious consumption

At some level it remains inconceivable to me that slavery still exists in the world. And so it was that, a decade ago, when I read news reports about “human trafficking” in the global chocolate industry, I assumed that this problem had been “taken care of.” But of course it hasn’t, because our boundless need to consume—even something as ultimately trivial as chocolate—trumps everything. Continue reading

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Boycotts, action, and penance

What I would suggest, therefore, is this: Whenever you sign a boycott or a petition, any time you email a corporation or a Congressperson to ask that they change their own behavior or force a change in someone else’s, first think of five things that you could have done, relative to the same issue or a closely related one, in the past month, but did not do. Then think of one thing that you could do, and do it. The five things ensure that you don’t get to feel self-righteous about your action; the one ensures that you take personal responsibility for the issue. Continue reading

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Hospitality at a fractured table

I want not to argue that hosts are obligated to accommodate every dietary preference as if it had been handed down by Moses or Krishna but to ask, instead, what are the mutual obligations of a host and guest, even—or especially—when a matter of principle is at stake. Continue reading

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Bluets, adverbs, and education

On a gorgeous April Wednesday I am filling in as substitute homeschool teacher. We do arithmetic; we do a language lesson about adverbs and Emily Dickinson. Then—did I mention the day is gorgeous? That the air through the window is crisp and fills the lungs with hope and delight? That the cardinals are courting round the bay tree and a wren is chirping from the buckthorn? That the sky is blue, the dandelions gold, the violets… er, violet? All this is so, and the substitute teacher, less inspired by whatever lies in the plan book before him than by the season swiftly unfolding outside the window, calls an audible…. Continue reading

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Standards and Stewards

In this 2003 essay I argue that the desire for standards, because it tends to produce standardization, is antithetical to stewardship, which must be based on an intimate knowledge of unique persons and places. No set of standards, therefore — such as the national organic standards — can serve as a substitute or even a stepping-stone to true stewardship, and may even make that ultimate goal more difficult to reach. Continue reading

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Life cycles

The miracle of a butterfly is a cliché, but it’s a miracle my daughter, who is four, hadn’t yet witnessed, and she gave me daily — if not hourly — updates on the caterpillar’s progress. And, really, it’s a miracle that never grows old. When the aptly named “Parsley” went off into the wide world we were all a little disappointed that we wouldn’t see her emerge as a butterfly. Continue reading

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