Monday, November 3, 2014

Restoring Balance - November 2014

                     by Fireweed,  for the Island Word, November 2014 edition

     In Irish mythology there are fantastic tales about salmon as the bearers of great wisdom. Celtic deities, poets and other heroic characters were bestowed with mystical powers such as salmon's ability to shape-shift and impart the gift of inspiration. According to these stories, the knowledge did not actually originate with the fish. Instead, the salmon accessed it by eating the nuts of certain magical trees, when they fell into rivers.

     Just in time for salmon returning to spawn on Vancouver Island, the low water flow resulting from our dry summer was relieved by October's stormy weather. Samhain (the Celtic New Year, Nov. 1st) arrived to the sound of rushing rivers and the sight of swollen wetlands. Overshadowed here in the west by a commercialized Hallowe'en, Samhain is  celebrated as a time of both beginnings and endings. It corresponds with the Mexican Day of the Dead as a seasonal halfway point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. These holy days traditionally honoured death and descent into the dark half of the year not as journeys to fear, but as sacred rites of passage that lead eventually to rebirth and renewal - as long as we live respectfully in balance with the natural world.

photo by Dave Ingram
     On the Puntledge River in Courtenay,  Vancouver Island this month, you can literally smell winter's return. The decaying carcasses of spawned-out chinook, coho and chum are recycling precious nutrients back into the ecosystem, as they have done for millennia. Given the importance of salmon to all life here on the west coast, we must come to terms with the fact that human-caused climate change is another challenge to the continuation of this vital fertilizer and food source for future generations of countless species. Salmon populations have already been in decline due to the impact of logging, dams, and over-fishing for decades. Now we have warming ocean temperatures altering migratory patterns. And according to biologists like Alexandra Morton, newly proposed federal regulations for the expanding aquaculture industry still fall far short of ensuring protection of wild salmon from the devastation of fish farm contamination.

     Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is among those calling for a very serious re-evaluation of
Dr. Sylvia Earle
humanity's relationship with the marine environment. Featured in the excellent new documentary Mission Blue (currently available on Netflix), Earle has spent half a century campaigning to save our oceans and is greatly alarmed at the depletion she has witnessed. She acknowledges the problem of people thinking of fish as mere commodities – as if they exist only to be eaten. “Wild fish, like wild birds, have a place in the natural ecosystem which far outweighs their value today as [people] food. They're part of the systems that make the planet function in our favour, and we should be protecting them.”

     Earle is sympathetic to coastal peoples with a long tradition of making their living from the sea. She does not think these communities should be targeted as the problem, but that everyone must face the fact that “modern technologies have the power to extract far beyond what natural systems can produce.” Earle grew up in an omnivorous household herself, but no longer eats any fish at all. A growing number of people are recognizing that the least we can do to give the oceans a fighting chance at recovery is to leave them alone. When asked in a recent interview if those of us with the privilege of choice should be following a plant-based diet, Earle replied, “It's obvious. It's not a matter of me saying so. It's not a matter of opinion. There's no question that a plant-based diet is better for you and better for the planet.”

     No one knows why the ancient Celts held salmon in such high regard (far more so than other once plentiful species of fish.) It may have been their amazing ability to find the way back home to the rivers of their birth. Or as historian James McKillop suggests, perhaps it was the colour of their flesh - pink, like ours. What we do know for sure is that bears, orcas and eagles depend on this shape-shifter for their survival. In contrast, most humans today continue to consume salmon not out of necessity, but out of habituated choice. And there is no need to kill fish in order to include certain omega oils in our diets because the cultivation of seaweed today allows us to access those nutrients the same way fish do - through plants.
      It's instructive I think that the Celts in Ireland attributed the wisdom of their mythical salmon to the plant kingdom. A tree of knowledge is central to many cosmologies, but surely they also appreciated hazelnuts as the nutritional powerhouse they are, even without the scientific knowledge their descendants have today. Hazelnuts are an excellent energy source, rich in protein, carbohydrates, fibre and phytochemicals - including flavonoids which may help reduce symptoms associated with allergies, improve circulation and support brain health!

     One of my favourite places to spend a dark and stormy winter's eve is right next to the wood stove, with a big basket of organic hazelnuts ready to shell in the glow of the fire light. But if the power hasn't gone out, the glow of a good Netflix doc like Mission Blue will do just fine!
                  For links and additional info, please visit NOV. LINKS (on the right)
   Fireweed's HAZEL BITES

These yummy energy balls require no baking and can be whipped up in a flash. The recipe is gluten-free, vegan, of course, and super easy! It makes up to two dozen fudgey brownie bites – or, you can double the recipe, press the mixture into a pan lined with parchment paper, and cut into squares.


1 cup of  organic hazelnuts (you can buy them shelled)
1/3 cup Cocoa Camino Cocoa Powder (Free Trade organic)
7 ounces of dried figs
1/4 cup of raw organic agave or a similar amount of maple syrup
water – only if needed
shredded organic coconut


Pulse the hazelnuts to a fine crumb in your food processor, add cocoa powder and combine completely. Chop figs. You can substitute some of the figs with a few dates if you'd like to reduce your sweetener. Add the agave and the figs to the mix and blend until a ball has formed. Add a sprinkle of water only if required to bring the mixture together. Divide the dough into bite sized bits, then roll in shredded coconut. Bon appetit!

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