Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brewing a storm

The air is thick and cool, the buzz of cicadas interspersed with the chirps of crickets. The clouds thicken in the sky, backlit by silent lightning that looks like flashes of fireworks' afterglow.

No one likes humidity. I do not relish trying to sustain myself on air as thick as soup, nor the sensation of my clothes clinging to the sweat clinging to my skin. But I love the seasons. I love to feel each season--at first, merciful relief from whatever torment the previous season has wrought, then twisting from salve back into agony yet again.

I love the lushness of summer. I love the overfull sensation of the thick air and dense green in all directions. The skies blacken, flash and crack with booms that shake the house. Torrents of water beat down, rushing through the streets, filling gardens until they can take no more, followed by gentle rain that sounds like the rustle of crinoline, swishing you to sleep.

Soon summer's heat will give way to bright fall days with dry, crisp air beckoning soft cozy sweaters out of the drawer. Then the days will steadily shorten as the leaves change and fall. The welcome cooling autumn days turn frigid, driving us indoors and inside ourselves. Though our modern lives provide us little respite during these dark days of the year, our spirits still curl in to hibernate. Just when we think we can't take the winter's blistering cold anymore--our skin is chapped, the dry air has scoured our sinuses and throats--the first blush of spring green unfurls itself with the returning light and warming air. The snow melt is hastened by chilly rain, and soon enough, the bright green darkens, the leaves fill out, and we again find ourselves in the heady days of August, the wet air glistening as sweat on our skin, our lungs working overtime to pull oxygen out of the heavy atmosphere.

The unpleasantness of each season has its own beauty. Each reminds us we are alive in its own unique way. So even though I may not particularly enjoy swimming through the air, I still relish the experience, and appreciate the relief of the next stage of the year when it arrives. While I also appreciate the miracle that is my air conditioner, you'll rarely find it on at home, in part because I'm cheap, but it also is a respite from the climate-controlled environment, a reminder that I am a creature of this world, alive in this time and place.

The rain has cooled the air now, the thunder has passed. I am going to go lay in my bed, the ceiling fan slowly stirring the dampness, and drift asleep to the music of the crickets and rain.

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Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.