Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Victory Gardens

"The way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives." --Annie Dillard

Afternoons have been exceptionally beautiful here on Camano Island, with sunshine filtering through the fall colors one minute and misty rains the next. A few days ago a warm breeze blew through, so I took a long walk and found myself contemplating Ms. Dillard's quote in relation to my own life. How do I want to spend my life? This is a tough question, because although for the past couple of years I have been learning to sail and provision a boat in preparation for long distance voyaging, right now, I am on land and my daily existence is anything but adventurous. I struggle to balance forward gazing and all its planning with the day to day tasks of land life. How to be here fully, but remain rootless?

When I returned from my walk, I did a little bit of cleanup in the yard, mainly to recover some chard and herbs into which a lot of lemon balm and grass had encroached. As I cleared a little patch of dirt in the middle of a large piece of land, bordered with blackberry brambles, the wisteria from hell, and over run by all devouring local deer, I deeply sensed the futility of my effort. In respect to affecting anything in a lasting way, my work is of no consequence whatsoever. Yet I also know that I desire a life in which I grow at least some of my food. I love growing things, plus politically, ecologically and economically it makes good sense. I have been in a rather contemplative mood since election night, and everything seems to be more meaningful these days. So, I rescued the little chard plants and made room for some garlic!

I also took on some bigger jobs that will be beneficial next spring. I took some old cardboard boxes discarded from Steve's "Kentucky Estate" liquidation, and laid them out in the back yard to create the foundation for an herb bed and path. Then I began the marathon of hauling and spreading wood mulch. The idea is that next spring, I'll pile the mulch in heaps, plant herbs and lay down a stone (or ??) pathway. Sure the back yard is not the best gardening site (the front yard is a huge, ever sunny meadow!) but for some reason, I just had to do the back yard.

As I labored, I recalled, as a child, hearing Grandma speak of Victory Gardens of WWII which I did not have any appreciation for at the time.Today such an endeavor is even more urgent, not only to help feed ourselves but also to reduce use of fuel and all that goes along with it, and most importantly, to bring us together in our communities.

Here are a couple of factoids about the Victory Gardens of the 1940's:
  • The US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million victory gardens were planted.
  • Nearly 60% of the population was actively involved with growing food at some scale.
  • Fruit and vegetables harvested in these home and community plots was estimated to be 9-10 million tons equaling all commercial production of fresh vegetables at the time.
Can you imagine an effort of that scale today! Wow! Think of how ridiculous it is that you buy an apple from the store that has been dieseled around and stored for weeks, while the guy two driveways down is cleaning up rotting apples from his yard. How absurd and disconnected our lives have become! I believe the best antidote for absurdity is putting one's hands in the dirt. So, consider growing at least one thing in a window pot, or till up a little square (or spiral) for spring, or start organizing for a huge community garden project. Whatever you do will help both yourself, your community and the nation, even if only a little.

Growing our own food is hugely ambitious, probably too ambitious for many of us, but growing something is possible. If you are already doing it, then my hat is off to you. You know who you are--Camano friends, Oly friends, Arkansas friends, Orcas friends, Oregon friends, Cali friends, NY friends, and unmet friends. And for the rest of you, just plant a bulb of garlic or get some basil going in a window. It will feel good. You'll be thankful you did it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Life as Myth

What if we lived every day of our lives as though we were creating myth?

(creative energy 2005 oil on wood)

More and more I am aware that we are existing in two simultaneous realms. I am living my life on the biological level, but at the same time I am creating in another world: the world of ideas, where symbols incubate, myths are born, memes root and grow, and a human lifespan is but a sentence in the epic story of humanity. Yet it is a sentence. Our lives do play a part in the whole of human experience.

With our very human trait of moral choice, with Conscience intact we make decisions every moment of every day that build into the overall story of our life. What do our actions add up to? Would we act differently if we were to stop and recognize the symbolic power of our actions? Myth and symbol are extremely powerful forces in our lives whether we are aware of it or not.

Look at the the incredible story of President Elect Barack Obama as an example. There is his actual presidency, what he will and will not accomplish, which will reveal itself through time. Yet, very clearly a symbolic power was in full force during this man's rise to the US presidency. He made history. His story is clearly mythic. Barack Obama's contribution will be the last sentence of a chapter. It is the much needed resolve in a long sad song. The framing of a very specific painting of America.

And at the same time, he will usher in the next era of American politics, like Lincoln and FDR. Obama will, on the symbolic level, be the fulcrum between the collapse of a conservative ideology and the birth of the next version of America. Exactly what that will look like remains to be seen. How it will be done is still up in the air. Will this be the era of green energy development, environmental sensitivity, humanist policies? Will science once again have a place at the table? Will we raise new generation of stronger, healthier, smarter Americans? We can only hope.

Obama was able to capture the nation's top prize on a platform held together by just two words: Hope and Change. The youth and disenfranchised embraced and supported him, projecting their own struggle into those two words, and then stood up, not for him so much, as for themselves. We are a nation conditioned to respond to brands, and this was a brand many were starving for: Hope and Change. And then there was the show of feeling and compassion as seen in the image of our chosen leader with those tears on his face. This was symbolic and touched something very deep for many.

But, I'll put politics aside now and return to my point, which is the recognition of the power that each life has in the mythic realm. Each life contributes to the pool of human experience, and to the story we collectively tell to describe that experience. I sometimes look back at my life and see how much I have sleepwalked through. I have not often shaped my part in the myth with conscious contribution. But occasionally I get a glimpse. Because even when we have not fully awakened to this understanding, an outside event can occur that bisects both realities and for a an instant we see through ourselves and feel the larger unfolding story. The world mirrors our story back to us and says "You are a part of the whole."

I want to endeavor to live my life consciously aware of my personal myth. And I do not want just any old tired myth, I want an empowering, adventurous one that reveals the buoyancy and grace of the human spirit. One full of challenge and surprise. I want a life filled with love, laughter, music, art, the sea, and plenty exotic fruits to be sure. We all face difficulties and tragedy in life, that is a given it seems, but how we respond to life's events and how our story ends, is our decision. We do not choose our start, but we can choose our ending. The choices we make today will lead us to that ending.

So as I move into what could be a rather dismal winter in this rainy, gray northwest corner of the USA, I am going to do my best to keep a part of myself tuned to the larger story that is unfolding. To see my actions, even if very small, as symbolic and meaningful. Thanks Obama for waking me, us, up.