Month: August 2014

Time On Our Hands

working hands

I shook a man’s hand the other day. His hand was hard and rough and his handshake was firm and full of confidence. There was no uncertainty in the shake. He was a working man in the sense of the word that his work was not something that he did to make money or bide time. This man lived his work and was proud of what he did, and this showed in his handshake and the firm, rough feel of the palm of his hands. He had time on his hands, literally.

Most of us complain that we do not have enough time on our hands; that our lives are filled up with necessary places to be and things to do, and that is probably the case. But I noticed that in my discussion with this man complaints had no place. We talked of grass-based farming, permaculture and animal husbandry. He had been up since about 3am making deliveries and there was not a hint of tiredness in his voice. He had a necessary place to be and necessary things to do; he had animals to feed, fences to mend, and grass to mow, but he also had time on his hands to talk.

We ate sausage in the parking lot while we talked. The sausage was exceptional but he was not satisfied with the texture of the meat. It was obvious that he took time with the things that he did, and that time led to a warranted pride in his work. It rained and we talked. Time was not of the essence. There was not a sign of being busy although I knew he was.

I like to meet people with time on their hands. Time has a way of rubbing off, of reminding me what is important and what is not. “You don’t mind a little dirt on the knife?” he asked as a sliced another piece of sausage.

“I don’t mind a bit!” I answered.

I don’t mind dirt on knives and I don’t mind having time on my own hands. In fact, I am working hard to put more on them. It is hard work to have time on your hands, but I do believe that doing so is one of the most virtuous things a person can do. I would suggest that we all need to work in order to have more time on our hands. In fact, a bit more time on everyone’s hands would be a great thing for us all!

I shook the man’s hand when we said goodbye. His hand was hard and rough and his handshake was firm and full of confidence. We did not bide our time but talked about meeting again at his farm. This man reminded me to live my work and do it in such a way that I can be proud of what I do. I think that I can remember to have a firm handshake full of confidence as long as I do these things. Put some time on your hands today; you’ll be glad you did.

Simplify Your Life; Complicate Your Philosophy

simple life 1

Wendell Berry is one of those writers that have a talent for pointing out the obvious when the obvious seems so well-hidden. In his essay “Faustian Economics” he writes, “All are entitle to pursue without limit whatever they conceive as desirable-a license that classifies the most exalted Christian capitalist with the lowliest pornographer.” (pg. 43, What Matters?) This “doctrine” as he calls it is a necessary implication of the idea of a limitless economy.

The “family farm”, the concept that Berry is defending and the goal that I am trying to achieve seems like a simple and straightforward goal…but it is not. The implications of living in such a way as to be independent are many. First, I had to understand what it is that I am trying to be independent from. Secondly, I had to address and accept the limitations of the family farm (cottage farm, hobby farm…pick your term). And lastly, I had to address the cost of giving up on the Faustian idea of economics.

There are quite a few people with similar ideas of living and many of those people have to come to terms with these ideas, including: what is wrong with accepting modern society. Berry puts it forthright! “…Shifting the cost of depletion and pollution from the producer to the general public, the future, and other species…” (Forward, What Matters?) I’m not sure that there are those that can live honestly with these consequences, but I am finding out that I am not one of them.

Like any idea, the idea of a family farm ironically begins larger than life. The would-be farmer envisions endless, healthy fields and forests with a clean running, self-fed stream with no dependence upon modern conveniences. This thought is cut short when one remembers a necessity for most of us: toilet paper. This simple idea reminds us of the difficulties that are involved in going “off grid”, or even trying to live responsibly. Money is a necessary evil on this planet, given that we desire a quality of life that can be measured by any modern means. However, it is important to remember that money is not really the root of all evil, but simply the vehicle in which we travel to find it.

So what are our options with such dreams as independent living and eating responsibly? Berry again drives home what ought to be obvious to any thinking man. The agrarian economic policies would be in order of priority: 1) Nature, 2) Economies of land use, 3) Manufacturing, and 4) Consumer economies (pg. 3, What Matters?). I’ve never thought of my dream with regard to such priorities, but seeing them in writing drives home the ultimate goal: I want to reorganize my priorities.

I would recommend to anyone considering revitalizing their commitment to true, independent living to also re-visit the priorities by which they live by. I think that they will find that to simplify their life, they must first complicate their philosophy.

Garden Tips You Don’t Want to Hear

Damaged plant on right Damaged plant on right

#1 Raise Your Expectation to Fail

This is a tough lesson to learn and does not get easier with time. However, as Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms is quoted as saying: “If something is worth doing, it is worth failing.” Failing is a key element in learning, and learn we will if we only remember those things we failed at.

#2 But…Lower All Other Expectations

I expected my garden to double the output this year. It is the second year, and I have bees. I expected my bees to give honey this year; although it is the first season they’ve had in their new home, they are doing so well. I expected my soil to come into its own; it is the second year that I’ve added compost, grass clippings and manure. I expected so much.

 

#3 Don’t Give In

I watched late in the summer as my tomato plants started developing yellowing leaves on the bottom, and continued to watch as the yellowing leaves made their way towards my beautifully big green tomatoes. I watched as my onions fell over but retained their green stalks and the bulbs quit growing. I watched as my leek went to stalk, and the yellow cherry tomatoes I planted reached and reached for the light that was not available. I watched as my peppers seemed to not grow and was reminded how fragile life is, but how persistent the human spirit can be.

 

#4 And Remember that Nature Rules.

No matter what we do; no matter how much we care, nurture, pick, pluck, plant and ply: nature rules. It is not we that are the masters of our lives, nor is it a god. Nature it has been said is the most effective serial killer there is. If that is not enough, nature has only rules that it itself creates. As we go about our “important” business of living we forget that we ourselves are part of nature and not the other way around. Our gardens remind us of that when hale pounds our plants pitifully in the middle of summer, and we watch in horror as unknown diseases and plights overtake once healthy dreams. But remember that nature does not dream and you do!

 

#5 Do Your Best

Do your best, but remember that doing your best guarantees nothing (see #1-4 above). Do your best because doing your best is the meaning that we create in our lives. While it is true that we are what we eat, it is also true that we are what we think. If you do not do your best you have already wasted your time and nature will not lie to you about it.

 

#6 But Remember Your Best Is Never Good Enough.

I know that this seems harsh but there are plenty of people that will attest to this for you. I know that in school those nice “teachers” tended to remind you that everything will be OK, but they were lying. You received grades that you did not earn. I know that your friends will compliment you on such a fine job you’re doing, but they are just being nice and you know when that’s the case. Your best is never good enough because when it is you cease to learn and you will be reminded harshly of #4. On the other hand if you ever find that you believe these people it is probably because of #3.

 

#7 Remember: What Else Do You Have to Do?

The human lifespan is short. There is not enough time to waste on excuses although we all waste ample hours in doing so anyway. Your job is only an excuse. It may be that it pays for your garden. Or perhaps gardening is your job in which case #1-6. Either way you must eat and why not know what you are eating? Your children are only an excuse. They need you to live your life and not theirs. Give them something to look up to: teach them the importance of self-sustainability and food. Life is what we make of it. Ask yourself what you want to make of yours and perhaps more importantly why. Go out and tend your garden there really isn’t anything more important to do.

 

 

Being Human

human

The school semester is about to start again and it reminds me of something that is very important: learning.  Actual learning seems to be a rarity in our society, filled with instant gratification through things such as computers and food.  And what do computers and food have to do with learning? They are perfect examples of how much we do not know.

First, while it may seem obvious how computers relate to learning, as with many things we do not often discuss the topic in full.  The internet is a seemingly infinite source of facts, figures, and what is commonly called knowledge.  And while the internet is an amazing invention that has no doubt furthered many aspects of learning, it is not a place of learning.  The internet has made available information which was before either not available or extremely difficult to find.  Access to information is not learning about the information.  It is simply access.

Computers are not only a vehicle for the internet, however.  Computers allow us to live the way we do in ways most of us do not think about.  Without computers most of our infrastructures in our societies would fail; people would not get paid; lights would go out.  Computers help in countless ways, but the cost of that help is high.  Reliance upon computers has created dependence rather than independence.  Knowing that infrastructures exist, and that we rely upon them is not knowledge: the facade of knowledge is not knowledge.  It is simply rhetoric.

We do not know how the infrastructure that we rely upon works, and in fact, we often do not know when it does not work. Our food supply is a perfect example. The grocery store provides food in the same way that computers provide access. We can simply walk into the great building and there are rows and rows of “food”. Most of the edible products in a grocery store are not food in the real sense of the word. They are a combination of HFCS, salt and fat. These ingredients are often processed through means of chemical and mechanical manipulation. Furthermore, these products are not created to feed, but rather to make a profit. The cost of profit over food is unhealthy eating habits, addiction, and a lowering of all of our qualities of life. Having access to products to eat is not necessarily having access to food.

Many of the products available to “consumers” (the word to describe those who buy and use) are ready-made, pre-packaged, and designed to be quick and easy. Michael Pollan wrote that it is not thought that differentiates human beings from other animals, but cooking. These ready-made, pre-packaged units (the word used to describe what a vender is selling) take the necessity (and knowledge) of cooking away, and hence a bit of our humanity away. Adding water or turning on a stove is not necessarily cooking; it is preparing.

And so what do computers and food have to do with learning? Learning is a process that takes time; there are no shortcuts. There are no shortcuts because the process has to do with understanding, and to understand one must study the long and short-term implications. Computers create easy processes that do not rely upon long and short-term implications. This is not to say that computers are not useful tools for learning. But it is to say that the process of learning does not change even though a computer is being used.

The same goes for food. A credit card can buy a shopping cart full of products, but these products are not necessarily food in the real sense of the word. Furthermore, grocery stores and corporations that sell and provide products for consumption are not always interested in the consumer knowing the difference. Learning the difference, however, is a key component of knowledge: the byproduct of learning. Finally, and perhaps the most insidious implication of our ignorance, or perhaps indifference, towards learning is that we lose our independence without ever realizing it. Cooking is the key foundation to independence, for without it we are truly no different than our not-so-distant cousins in the forests and jungles. Simply being a human being is not being human. It is what we learn that makes us people.