Many hands, light work

The gardens are booming.  Every day the heads of cabbage grow larger, the number of kale leaves multiply, and the peapods grow plumper still.  Honestly, it’s a little overwhelming!  But I just think about how lucky we are to be blessed with such abundance.  We’ve already begun preserving food for the leaner months--freezing shelled peas, lactofermenting garlic scapes, making strawberry jam.  But soon will come a day when we’ll really struggle to keep up with eating, selling, and preserving the harvest.  Thankfully, right about that time we’ll be joined by a couple interns, whose helping hands in the garden, the kitchen, and the farmers market, and whose participation at mealtimes, will make a big difference.  

We’ve also been blessed these past couple weeks to have a lot of help from volunteers.  Cathy and Nick each stayed with us for a whole week, volunteering their time to help us in the garden.  And in addition to them, we’ve had the help of other guests who stayed just a day or two, as well.  Here’s a partial list of what we were all able to accomplish, in large part to their help:

  • Broadforked and prepped tomato, pepper, eggplant, basil, and bean beds;
  • Planted 30 tomato, 20 pepper, and 20 eggplant plants; 
  • Seeded 12 beds of dry beans, and 3 beds of bush and pole beans;
  • Planted 4 beds of sweet potatoes; 
  • Potted 5 greenhouse pepper plants;
  • Hilled potatoes;
  • Weeded, weeded, weeded!

Needless to say, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, but much more manageable thanks to all the help!  As Sister Carol Bernice exclaimed the other day, “There is nothing better than working together in the garden!”  And it’s true--especially when you’re tiring and despairing that you can continue for even one more minute.  Having someone there by your side can lift your spirits, and get you to push yourself that little bit harder.  And suddenly, you find a new rhythm, a new burst of energy, and you’re back in the flow again.  You realize that you can do more, with others.

This is something that we need to realize more broadly, all across America.  One of the things that’s been striking--besides the horrifying pictures of oil-drenched wildlife--about the disaster in the Gulf is the sense of frustration and powerlessness expressed by so many.  People are asking, “What can we do?”  Besides sheer rage at the rapaciousness of the oil industry and the ineffectualness of the government, many are floundering in a mix of disgust, cynicism, and helplessness.  One friend wrote on Facebook: “Need to buy gas.  BP on one corner, Exxon and Lukoil on the others.  Feeling dirty already.”  

What does this have to do with working together in the garden?  Well, quite a lot, I think.  Our feelings of powerlessness in the face of corporate malfeasance and insufficient government action have to do, at least in part, with the fact that we are, all too often, reduced to being simply consumers in this society.  So we’re left with few choices--asking unsatisfying questions, like: Which oil giant is less problematic to patronize?  And our consumption takes many forms:  We consume heartbreaking pictures, ugly political jousting, and still more and more oil, plastic, and petrochemicals.  And we feel sick, and isolated.

The good news is that there are things that we can do in the face of such enormous problems.  We all know we can take small individual steps--reduce how much we drive and fly, carpool and take public transit.  Reduce how much plastic we buy, recycle and reuse what we can.  Buy organic, buy local.  All these are good things.  We can also act as citizens--write our elected leaders, support environmental and good government groups.  Sign petitions.  Attend rallies. Divest of oil and petrochemical company stocks.

But I find that it can be hard to do all these things on the individual level, because it feels so small in the face of such giant challenges.  It’s one thing to do such things on an individual level, and another to tackle these actions--and to go further--with a community of others.  Working together as a group can help us hold each other to the values we profess.  We can help each other find solutions, share any extra work created by eschewing the easy way.  There is power in numbers.

But more than power, there’s spirit, there's light.  There is spirit and life and light in shared endeavors, and that’s what we all need right now.  I’m most heartened by a movement that I’ve mentioned in earlier postings, called “Transition,” or “Transition Town.”  The idea is that people in local communities come together to figure out how “collectively we can use our creativity and ingenuity to design pathways that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”  This movement began in the United Kingdom, but has been spreading across the US in the last couple of years.  You can look at the Transition US site to find local working groups near you.  

What happens in Transitioning communities is, over time, working groups design and implement plans to “power down” from fossil fuels, and to instead build energy capacity through diversified renewable sources.  As part of this process, communities find ways to secure the supply lines for food and other staple goods through increasing local production.  And some towns have even created their own local currency to encourage residents to support local businesses, rather sending their money to far-flung multinationals (see the Totnes Pound

Just the other day, the NY Times featured a story on “collapsitarians,” those folks who believe that we’re due for an economic collapse or an environmental catastrope (or both) that will radically affect, if not destry, our way of life.  I have to admit to fear-driven phases, when I’ve found this way of thinking awfully tempting.  “Doomers” have the strangely relieving position of being able to critique the whole system, forecast collapse, and either build bunkers or throw up their hands in futility.  

I think it’s harder, but ultimately the more life-enhancing path, to throw my lot in with the Transition folks.  To believe that we can come together at the local level, and that we can make real change.  The truth is, many people are doing it, in many places, already.  So the choice is ours--will we throw up our hands, sigh in frustration, and assuage the pain with work, drink, or entertainment?  Or will we step outside a little bit, find the others, and start something new?  I can attest that when we work together, we can do much more than we think we can.  When we work together, we can be creators, rather than consumers.  We can be designers, rather than dependents.  And we can feel the light, the flow of life, the spirit all around us. 


Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

with your one wild and precious life?

--The Summer Day, Mary Oliver