Friday, May 30, 2014

Revolutionaries, Transcendentalists, and Some Thoughts from Farming

The farm where I work as an apprentice is on the Minuteman National Park, in Concord, MA. As I go to and from the work and about the fields, I spend more than a little time thinking about how revolutions start, how the shapes and ways of the world change.

I also spend a goodly amount of time listening to NPR as I commute, alone in my car. This morning, I heard the tail end of a report about how the coal industry is arguing that they can’t upgrade to more efficient and cleaner ways of burning coal—that to do so would wreck the United States economy.

The next bit of news, probably an unintentional juxtaposition, was the Marketplace Morning report. At that moment, U.S. stock futures were trading in the negative.

So…we’re sticking with a dirty and dangerous way of being because we’re afraid that it will ruin our economy, and that economy is currently an exercise in negative futures?

As with all things, I am more concerned about the poetic implications of the words as I am about the economics or the science of a report. Those two news blurbs, taken together, contain enormous, bone deep truths.

It was with this idea of how to leave an old and no longer appropriate system, prognostications of a failed future that I drove past numerous historic markers of the Revolutionary War and arrived at the fun and vibrant and busy little farm where I work.

We planted today. We filled up newly tilled and shaped beds in three different fields with peppers and tomatoes and eggplant and flowers. I think we planted 1,800 pepper plants and I lost count of everything else. My hands are delightfully sore from all the digging, and despite best efforts, I still have some new patches of sunburn. We weeded the potato field, and one of the farmers plowed under a failed crop of onions (maggots, due to excess moisture, probably, they tell me—I am continually excited about how much I do not know about the world of food, which is strange as I have been eating food for many years now). We finished that day at the local ice cream shop. It was a great day.

I want the world to change, to be more like the kind and small and complex world of something like a farm or any of the other little worlds I’ve lived in. I want that so badly I cry myself to sleep some nights and I believe in the possibility of change so fully that I wake up some mornings on fire with the hope that the revolution will happen before lunch. 

And, more and more, I believe that change is happening, that the revolution can almost be said to be in progress. Does my working on a local organic CSA with a complex land lease permit from the National Park Service do anything to stop Nigerian schoolgirls from being kidnapped, or mass shootings, or climate change, or the violence of politics, of life, in Syria or Ukraine?

No, and I won’t pretend that it does in anything so grand in a practical manner. I wish it were that simple. However, last week, I looked down at the rows of tiny beet seedlings, just poking through the dirt and thought suddenly of all the life in that small patch. Then I looked up at the boundless sky and thought of all the life that is tucked in under those layers and layers of air and cloud. This perspective of scales of being changed nothing, geopolitically, except I felt incredibly humble and ferociously happy to be part of the world. There was a sense of braided joy and connection and responsibility that I am trying to carry with me and abide in. I believe even that small awareness of the world and one’s place and size within its fantastic scope is a step towards a better world for everyone.

And, truly, good and practical changes are happening: we’re—more of us than we even know—living our lives with the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be like “they” tell us it is. Again, I am literally cultivating the soil of revolutionaries and Transcendentalists. The revolutionaries rebelled against the way of being imposed upon their lives by an empire that was mostly focused on its own profits, not the quality of life of its worker bees and consumers. The Transcendentalists followed and explored ideas of personal knowledge and freedom. (They were also kind of nutters in how their ideals played out practically, but as I never had to winter at Fruitlands under the thumb of Bronson Alcott or been emotionally manipulated by Emerson like Margaret Fuller was, I am happy to just learn from their collective misadventures and learned lessons as I make my own weird little journey through life.)

We need to boldly recognize ourselves as the heirs to these lineages. These heroes of history were just people—eyes, noses, mouths, hearts, hopes and dreams and nightmares and loves and struggles—who gathered together to go against the grain. History hasn’t stopped yet, life on this sweet planet is not over, so we might as well put more care and attention and intention into how we are to live. We must revolt, revolve, evolve, love, transcend—whatever word you like for embracing life and the future rather than clinging to the past and the devastating patterns of the past that are negating the future.

I’m not advocating for violently taking arms against the rather nasty corporations who have a vested interest in our continuing to live fossil fuel addicted lives while the world melts. I assume that even corporate nasties have people who love them and I don’t think the world needs more violence or sadness than it comes to without my advocacy.

What I am advocating, though, is taking strong and scared and unsure and joyful steps towards what seems right. There isn’t a one-size fits all answer to this. Right means different things to different people at different times, and I know that even having the time to learn to listen to whatever place that works as your ethical barometer is a luxury that not everyone can afford.

However, your heart and soul are free—in every sense of the word. I believe that listening to, learning, the tenor and tone of yourself above all else is one of the hardest and also most necessary responsibilities of being a good human. What injustices and hardships can you withstand, and what can you not live with? What is that you do that makes you feel happy and clean and whole? When are you kindest, and how do you show your love for your people, your world?

When I think of what the revolution I want looks like, I picture people being kinder to and more aware of themselves and each other, putting their hearts and bodies and hours into the people and work that brings something like joy into light. And I don’t know how to start this revolution—I have the strong and lovely sense some days that I’m joining what’s been in process for a long, long time—but trusting our better selves, turning towards them fully, and going forward, that seems like a good place to start.

Daily, I go to a place where revolutions have already been lived out and I labor over learning how to grow new generations of old plants. On that evidence, every day I trust a little more that change is possible. We just have to make it so. 

(Photo is from, as I have been too busy and my paws too dirty to take my own dang photo of the place.)

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