Sunday, November 27, 2011

My season

Ah, the fall feast has been had, the temperature has dropped, the sparkly decorations and tiny lights have been retrieved from the dusty corners of the loft above the garage. This is my time of year. Perhaps because I was born in the middle of winter, just slipping in in the waning days of 1972, the season always calls to me. Whatever the origin of the feeling, it is undeniable that this time of year is special to me. It's introverted like me. The short days turn our focus inward. We live in the dark, wrapped in wool and microfleece, scarves buffeting the wind, hats pulled low over our ears. Our bodies are wrapped against the elements, our houses closed up tight to retain heat and conserve energy. We gather together seeking warmth and companionship around fires and hot coca.When the snow comes, the very earth and air become quiet. When the snow really comes, we are all slowed down--trips postponed, don't drive, stay

It is a somewhat sad irony that this contemplative, quiet, introverted, dark, cold, insular season is also one of our busiest--full of parties, travel, celebrations, shopping, and gift exchanges. Even with all this kinetic energy, however, the nature of the season is slow, restful, restorative. We try so hard with our electric lights, alarm clocks, and high-tech clothes to pretend that the earth around us doesn't dictate the cycle of our lives, but a layer of microfiber and a 25w CFL do not 20,000 years of evolution erase. If you pay any attention to what your body is telling you, you will probably notice that your body thinks it it time to rest and restore, no matter what the alarms, smartphones, electric lights and flashing screens of our lives may say.

I also find that as the calendar year comes to a close, I naturally become more reflective--looking back over the current year, assessing what I have done and not done and considering where I would like the next year to take me and what I will need to get there. Restore. Nourish. Recharge. Lay dormant under the snow. Feel your brain sink into the back of your skull. Rest in the expansive, dimly lit winter sky. Feel the chill sink down into your bones. Know that you are a living being. Breathe the earth down into your lungs. Lay in waiting for the return of the sun to warm your nourished mind and body. Be ready to reemerge and grow bright and bold, vivid and alive--skyward.

But don't forget the lessons of the trees and perennials--ultimately the lessons that run in the marrow of our bones, etched into our DNA. To reach the sky, the mighty oak sheds its leaves, turns all its systems to 'low' and rests...quietly renewing, recharging, restoring--laying in wait, under the snow.

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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.