Today was so beautiful! The weather was perfect, so Hannah and I took the opportunity to work in the garden. We weeded and transplanted some things today. We needed to thin out some of the leafy greens so that some would survive. We had some run ins with arrant mustard greens and chicken burglary.
Because my lease extends until next May and it is proving difficult to find a replacement, I need to stay in Austin until my lease is up at least. I have some very good news: I recently got a job as a Zumba and Yoga instructor in Round Rock. It will be a great opportunity to network and inspire people to get fit. I’m going to try to work on being able to WWOOF or at least volunteer every once in a while at farms around Austin, but it may prove difficult right now. The garden that Hannah and I planted has a lot of different things coming in. We’ve got beets, nasturtiums, chives, lemon grass, brocolli, kale, shallots, potatoes and lettuce coming up to name a few. The chickens break in every once in a while and run a muck, so we’re working on solving that problem right now.
We did a few other things besides farm work. Kim and Garth introduced me to their church. I’m not religious, I’d say I’m agnostic and a little spiritual- I mean, look how grand the universe is! However, meeting the people at the church made me feel so full of love, kindness and gratitude. Everyone was so giving and welcoming. They let me teach a Zumba class to their bible study and prayed for me before I left on Sunday. They were the example of how people at church should behave. Respectful of other beliefs, open minded and joyful. As Kim said, it was a family I never knew I had.
During the week, Kim and I also helped out her friend Herb. Herb is the most interesting character I’ve ever met. He’s about 80, dresses like a hippie, wears a uniform of a bandana and tie-dyed shirt. He dwells in a vortex of trash and old car parts with his hound dogs out in the middle of the woods. Apparently, Herb was vice president of IBM, then of Xerox, then ended up broke under a bridge after suffering from lead poisoning. Every other week, Kim takes Herb to the grocery store, and in exchange he takes her to lunch at a historic bed and breakfast in Madisonville. Kim noted that Herb is emotionally hardened in many ways, and yet she still reached out to him. I was struck by her altruistic nature throughout my time on the farm, especially how she served her community. She taught me so much. We talked a lot and she has a lot of wisdom and knowledge about how to treat others and sustainable living. I didn’t get to spend as much time with Garth, but he also practiced generousity, kindness and patience while teaching me and speaking with me. Garth and Kim both have an immense respect and love for every piece of God’s creation and it seems that in every deliberation they strive to make ethical decisions about how they are impacting the earth.
I drove back from a week of WWOOFing on a Sunday night as the day was fading and the moon was beginning to protrude from the darkening blue sky. Celestial changes always seem more dire and encroaching when visiting the country. Weather and sunlight begins to command your schedule, deciding when you rise to work, when you take breaks and when you go to sleep. My week in Bedias, Texas at The Rose Colored Forest made me appreciate this lifestyle. I enjoyed seeing the sunrise for the first time in years and actually being able to see stars. The week was really about finding a pattern to live by out on a farm.
Days began with coffee in the main house before preparing for work. Each morning, as I traversed the short wood walkway placed between their house and my FEMA trailer, I looked at the stars- still bright in the sky at 5:40 am At first it seemed counter-intuitive to be up when it was dark, but then it started to seem kinda neat and natural to have that time to wake up before the sun came up. Kim, Garth and I talked while we drank coffee and ate breakfast each morning for around an hour before we set to work. One of the gifts of The Rose Colored Forest are the amazing meals provided for hardworking WWOOFers. We sat in their living room, at the center of the long metal building that Kim built herself as their home. The interior is not finished out by any means. I was more than skeptical when I arrived at the farm. The piles of wood, tile, metal and the start up of several projects(including a mobile milking parlor) made the whole establishment seem a bit on the hectic side. However, I soon learned that each item did have a place, a purpose and was ultimately apart of a bigger process of one sort or another. What was cool about these projects was that most of them started from found scraps of wood, metal and glass that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
Kim and Garth are the rare kind that actually set intentions and then live by them. They don’t like the idea of wasting potable water on toilets, so they used compost toilets. They made their own soap with rabbit tallow, so that it wouldn’t harm their grey water system. The tallow came from their rabbitry, which housed about 15 breeders on one side of the rabbitry and maybe 20 or so on the other side used for meat and fat. Kim and Garth reuse and repurpose a lot of things instead of being wasteful by buying more junk.
Kim and I worked on a variety of projects and had enough time to sit and enjoy each other company during an occasional tea break. There was a set of chores that needed to be done at least in order to keep the place running smoothly and the animals alive and healthy. Lady Leche (producer of delicious raw milk) and her calf, needed to be fed as well as separated in the evening so that Lady Leche would have enough milk to offer in the morning. We got almost a gallon each morning. The rabbits also needed to be tended to. We cleaned their dwellings and gave them alfalfa hay. The farm is in the process of switching to organically raised rabbits, so the feed was being phased out as well. The gardens needed tending as well. Hoses were to be turned off and on, and things needed to be picked. One afternoon I spent around an hour trimming off the “cow horns” on the okra- the hard and woody okra that had been left on the stalk too long. I remember the first day on the farm we picked the lollypop tomatoes and I almost died from their tastiness. The day had cooled down, and we stood on either side of the vines and chatted while picking the ripest ones. By the end of the week, we had picked lemon cucumbers, cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, malabar spinach, paprika peppers and eggplant.
I prematurely awoke at 7:30 this morning, shot out of bed and put my hands to work. I began the frantic last minute boxing characteristic of every move. I think the stressful anticipation of my impending WWOOF assignment has finally taken hold. I leave tomorrow and will return to Austin briefly the following sunday. I’m looking forward to the shift and change of pace, but I’ve also dealt with the strong ascendance of unexpected feelings of doubt.
Today I have been a rain cloud, perturbed by every external disturbance and distraction. I am letting a close friend stay at my apartment while I travel and we have finished moving everything from my room to Hannah’s spare closet and shed. It was wishful thinking and misdirected thought that led me to believe that I only had one car load’s worth of belongings. I felt like tossing every accumulated item within arms reach into town lake, but I fear that would have offended my own sensibilities and everyone elses.
Moving one’s belongings can be one of the largest nuisances, but for me the feeling of homelessness and displacement has topped the charts. It has left this girl- a home body and introvert, somewhat disgruntled and disturbed. For me, not having a place to go is a physical manifestation of what I’ve been experiencing mentally. The world doesn’t stop moving for anyone, not ever. I’m not sure what move to make yet.
On a better note, I received a heart-felt note about my blog on Facebook from a friend I hadn’t talked to in years. Getting that little bit of support made all the difference today.
Gene Logsdon, nonchalant author of Practical Skills: A Revival of forgotten Crafts, Techniques, and Traditions casually teaches the reader to capture a swarm of bees. Logsdon spends only 3/4 of a page describing the process of capturing and moving a swarm. Ever since the screening of Queen of the Sun, I’ve been thinking a lot about having my own swarm someday. As I read Mr. Logsdon’s short winded description, I tried to imagine feeling brave and trying to coax bees into a box where they would do my bidding. Apparently bees in a swarm are full of honey and don’t care much about being moved, but it’s still terrifying.
I begin my WWOOFing adventure on Monday at The Rose Colored Forest and it almost feels as terrifying (yet satisfying) as I imagine catching a wild swarm of bees would feel. There are risks to not investing my time and energy into forming connections and working here in Austin. But it seems to me that living and learning from these farms is advantageous to accomplishing my dreams. I feel like I may get stung, but I have to be brave and reach for the swarm. Hopefully I’ll find that there’s a lot of honey.
Life doesn’t have a clear beginning or a clear end. In an abstract sense, plants seem to know this better than humans do, probably because they maintain a natural cycle. They “start” as seeds, slowly beginning to germinate in the ground. They sprout, grow, bloom, become fruitful, their parts decompose and then that matter nourishes the beginnings of a new plant. Even in decomposition though, there is growth for a plant because it’s life force is being used again to make a new plant body.
People tend to think about life in a linear way, instead of cyclical. Seasons pass the same as they always do, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring again…. However, we have the progression of technology and the quickly accumulating years that keep us believing that we are moving forward in a linear fashion.
If I were to compare my life to the chronology of the progression of humanity, I would be always striving and never arriving, many people would refer to this as the rat race. (I always imagine a maze stuffed with fat, confused rats that didn’t want to be there in the first place). If I could observe that my life as a cycle- that it will keep rotating, instead of moving towards a finish line marker, maybe I could arrive at a point of content with circumstances.
I feel like I’ve been following the same steps that everyone in my generation has taken to succeed. I went to school growing up, was as consumer driven and wasteful as my peers, went to college and graduated, and now I’m trying to find a way to live and make a cash flow. All apart of the system that Richard Manning (author of Against the Grain) says we have created and boxed ourselves in with.
I feel like since I want to start a life that is less concerned with convention, I should start being less putting less energy into conventional practices. I want to attempt to go against the grain, like the Nearings attempted and succeeded at in the 1920s, when it really wasn’t socially acceptable to rough it in the woods. I want my actions to have intention and contribute to making real difference, by living differently. I don’t want to focus on the things I can buy or restaurants I can go to throughout my life time. Those activities do form memories with friends and family, but I can hardly remember what I ate yesterday anyway. I think I would be most happy if I could help to change the course of humanity in a positive way, by living as an example. Maybe then I could limit my time in the maze.
I went to a screening of Queen of the Sun hosted by Edible Austin at the French Legation last week. The movie was an amazing film that I recommend to anyone interested in hive collapse disorder or sustainable agriculture in general. I know it’s funny to say, but the honey bees in the film seemed altruistic. They were all working for a greater cause, something that would preserve and create life. I know they are hardwired to do so, but can’t I train myself to be hardwired like this? Can’t other human beings as well? There are many people doing just that here, as was proved by the conscientious crowd at the screening. It was inspiring to see so many concerned folks, but right now I feel intimidated. I don’t know what I can accomplish or when I’ll feel like my labors have come to fruition.
Some of my fondest memories of growing up gravitate around food. Many dinners at home were facilitated by our verdurous backyard garden. My parents planted and maintained an amazing garden, which stretched through the biggest part of our backyard. We had all kinds of vegetables and creeping vines like yard long beans and sweet peas that crept up the side of our garage producing beautiful blossoms in the spring. Likewise, Wisteria vine grew like wildfire on the chain link fence that traversed the perimeter of our yard.
The tradition of gardening in my family started with my ancestors, notably with tight-laced Candace Strawn. About 100 years ago, this great, great grandmother of mine decided that the family should plant citrus on a plot of Central Florida land. Bob White Citrus was a company that grew to produce and ship citrus all around North America, until the 1980s, when a freeze destroyed most of the groves. Today, my parents care for the propertie’s remaining old growth long leaf pine forest, some wild forest cows and a handful of fruitful citrus groves. The remaining trees produce fresh citrus from November through early spring each year.
During my grandfather’s life, he followed the farming trend by beginning an international water lily and iris company, hybridizing water lilies and irises (see picture). As a child, I vividly remember exploring my grandparent’s backyard. Their backyard was decorated by an orchestrated group of water lily ponds, filled to the belly with frogs. Bamboo, an array of Texas trees and dewberry bushes accompanied each dirt walkway. Many summers of my childhood were spent harvesting dewberries and eating them with cream and sugar. These juicy dewberries were accompanied by the coming of summer’s flax colored corn. Many of the summer dinners with my grandparents consisted of a bucket of boiled corn, salt and butter. My grandfather didn’t talk too much, and I always felt a sense of urgency to jump start our relationship, but he did express his love through the vegetables he grew for his family.
Several years after my grandfather’s death, I realized that my affinity for nature was partially owed to him. He had passed his knowledge to my dad, who in turn shared similar values with my mom. It sometimes feels like gardening has been a major occupation in my family and I often feel like the desire to plant seeds extends from somewhere deep in my genetic core.
In a previous entry, I briefly alluded to farming literature written by Helen and Scott Nearing. I wanted to devote some time to discuss their grand adventure living what they deemed, “the good life”. During The Great Depression the Nearing’s abandoned convention by leaving New York City and heading for the woods of Vermont. Encouraged by the state of the economy and the poor quality of conventionally raised food (it’s been bad longer than I thought!), the Nearing’s started their own subsistence farm. To anyone untrained in land stewardship, the tasks that this couple accomplished on their own seem formidable, if not near impossible. However, the longer that someone delves into their brave and incredible endeavor, the more one realizes the immense capability of those with ceaseless dedication to creating a simpler life.
In a time when a subsistent lifestyle was considered anything but traditional, the pair built their own stone dwellings for shelter and built fertile gardens to sustain themselves in the very heart of the woods- the closest towns being 15 miles in one direction and 30 in the other.
In the first chapters, they describe their ideals and goals, as well as finding the perfect location. They eventually settle on buying several different properties to optimize the natural resources at their disposal. The most intimidating task for them was not finding land of reasonable expense and reasonable annual tax, but was working with the seasons and fixing the depleted top soil. Most notably, the summers were brief and could almost be considered non-existent, yet Helen and Scott lived off the bounty of the woods by managing their natural resources in a highly regimented fashion. Situated on sloped Vermont terrains, erosion was a common problem, because it washed away gardens that then needed to be replanted almost every three years. The Nearings avoided this problem by simply terracing, a simple task that was untested by Vermont locals. They tackled soil deficiencies by augmenting flower beds with carefully monitored compost piles kept high and rich with nutrients. These compost piles, methodically boxed in by criss-crossing logs in the shape of a square were maintained by the bounty of the woods and farm refuse such as vegetable scraps and weeds.
The couple bought little supply from town and continuously reinvested any profit made from maple sugar or wood into improving their farm. They ate a strict vegan diet, the great majority provided by their gardens or in colder seasons by their root cellars. They used kerosene to keep their lamps lit, and utilized wood in place of coal. When the Nearings weren’t working, they were participating in avocations or new plans for structures or gardens.
The Nearing’s were dedicated to getting away from conventionally raised and processed food, a broken economic system and the theoretical chains keeping every man generating an income to maintain a “decent” livelihood. Their accomplishments are inspiring because they show that living off the grid is possible, that you can feed yourself, avoid the doctor for decades, still have friends and plenty of time for fun. I highly suggest picking up a copy of The Good Life.
“No man is born in possession of the art of living, any more than of the art of agriculture; the one requires to be studied as well as the other, and a man can no more expect permanent satisfaction from actions performed at random, than he can expect a good crop from seeds sown to happiness, than fixing on an end to be gained, and then steadily pursuing its attainment.”—J.C. Loudon, An Encyclopedia of Agriculture, 1825
I first came up with a list of all the things I needed to do to achieve my dream of owning a homestead farm.
The first item of business was to break up with my boyfriend. When push came to shove, the ways in which we communicated emotionally were incongruent. For a long while, the sutures that had mended heart and mind were tearing me up inside. I know that I want an epic love, but for now I will put having a relationship on the back burner- Seeing as I currently have bigger fish to fry.
The next step was registering for the WWOOF program, so that I could learn about the everyday processes of a sustainable farm. I joined the USA WWOOF directory, made a profile and started contacting farms in Texas.
I needed to alert the folks. When I first talked to my mother, she met my deep seated notions of having a farm and joining the WWOOF program with a cast iron rebuttal, determined to convince me of a more pragmatic plan. After much diplomacy, and a bit of bartering, I convinced her that exploring this option would help me to grow and see if this was something I could actually do long-term. I expressed to her that it would either play out as a pastoral fantasy in need of a reality check or a viable option for a happy future . My parents are now both on board and fully supportive.
The next was to quit Zocalo. I gave them my two weeks notice soon after joining the WWOOF program.
Next was fitness and diet. I decided to only buy local from the produce section and to avoid eating out as much as possible. Overall, improving upon my physical fitness has been fun. I’ve been practicing yoga on my own, riding my bicycle and attending Zumba at the Y.
Lastly, I’ve been considering what I’ll do if I decide I want to keep WWOOFing. I will start my first WWOOF assignment the last week of September and from there I will decide what steps follow. There are several options. I’ll either keep WWOOFing in Texas or stay with my parents in Florida and continue to WWOOF, since the sunshine state provides several promising eco-ag establishments.
After graduating in May, the reality of having no clear direction became gripping. Social convention tugged at my young and able limbs, insisting that I jump in and plunge my hands into some sort of urban trade or another.
Here in Austin, we garner the title of “most green and liberal” over all other locations in Texas. However, everyday I witness more people clogging the roads with their vehicles and an economy that has been thoroughly buffered by the recession due to a consumer driven culture. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, this town is amazing in many ways. There are endless chances to go on journeys to meet one’s spiritual and intellectual needs. Moreover, there is immense opportunity to explore secluded stretches of cleverly maneuvered trails and forestscapes in the very middle of this metropolis. But, this still doesn’t quell my restless inclination to create a more wholesome environment for myself.
My problem with conventional life has always been charged by emotion, it’s like an unrelenting voice that calls me to live more ethically than is expected of me. The closest I can relate this voice to, is a visceral yet intangible sound which casts an ideal on the ears of whoever is sensitive enough to listen. This feeling could be considered synonymous with the wind that seems to whisper the ideal of ”peace” among the last of the old growth, long leaf pines.
I often feel like an outsider. For six years, I have not wanted to participate in conventional society in the ways that are made readily available here.
During my last micro-era in Austin, I was an employee of Zocalo. Food orders were primarily from well dressed gay men and affluent pregnant women toting along their Ralph Lauren-clad bread winners. A smaller percentage of customers were a random mix of upwardly mobile customers looking for a place they could come to eat and not worry about tipping, because at Zocalo, tips were optional. To my managers, it was rude to make known to the customer that the waitstaff was making little more than 4 dollars an hour. Most employees balanced two part time jobs to make ends meet. I was fortunate in that working at Zocalo was simply a transition, not a way to pull myself up from the lowest economic aggregation.
I felt like I worked for the restaurant longer than I did. The type of chores found at Zocalo never lead to a gratifying accomplishment or the completion of a well developed goal, nor did it ever inspire. Perhaps that’s why I considered Zocalo to perfectly emulate conventional, workplace monotony at it’s best.
While listening to the replayed songs of the cafe and the buoyant vibrato of the spanish radio in the kitchen, I scraped half eaten entrees into the dishwasher trash and prepped Sysco provided, thick skinned oranges for the frozen sangria. I ran food to the chipped white tables, occasionally worked on the display of entrees and pre-bussed tables. My co-workers were a collective of Spanish speaking immigrants with work visas, recent college graduates and college kids with scintillating personalities.
Zocalo really rubbed me the wrong way, mostly because it was highly congruent with almost every other minimum wage employment I’ve experienced. Ethically, I couldn’t deal with the fact that this was a work reality for many Americans. I had a problem with the pay, the patrons, the quality of food and Zocalo’s values. The pay bothered me for understandable reasons. In my opinion, the American work system is not a fair exchange of money for effort. Fox News reported recently how an “astounding” number of poor people in the US had the luxury of owning a dishwasher, and yet were being considered for tax cuts. I’ve been searching the eyes of the foreign dishwasher ever since. He did deserve a dishwasher at home, to say the least.The American system of thought was broken.
The patrons bothered me most because of their absent awareness of our hourly wages and their oblivious, hungry bodies packing into the air conditioned restaurant to order low quality food. I knew the food was of poor quality because the large majority it was shipped from Sysco, a large umbrella company, providing the means for monetary exchange to commercial, conventional farms from all over the country. These farms produce monocultures, shipping to places nationwide, whilst burning tons of fossil fuel to transport their products. The lack of nutritional value in the restaurant’s entrees was so cleverly disguised simply because they had been unjustly awarded the appellation, “local cuisine”.
My time with the restaurant is almost over and I will do my best to find ways to avoid contributing to society in this detrimental, yet conventional and socially accepted manner. I don’t want to just make money, for the sake of my own happiness. I want to live the life that Helen and Scott Nearing would consider, “The Good Life”.
Now that I am a young adult, who has been blessed with the resources to find my own way, I want to construct a sacred and ethically reasonable life for myself. I imagine that this reasonable life will provide me with a genuine social community, as well as generate an environmentally sustainable livelihood. I imagine growing my own food for myself and my community, on a scale that represents the word “local” in a fair way. I want to build my own house out of cob or stone. I want to start a sustainable homestead.
It’s a Saturday morning and I haven’t stepped outside yet. I’ve pulled back the blinds from my window and the sun is sending clear and bright light through the white and silvery clouds blocking it. Sleep didn’t come easily last night- my head in recent weeks has been stopped up with, no- not the usual allergies to be expected in this cedar ridden region, but pressing ideas about transition and choices. Sleep has only led to a combination of unsettling dreams and restlessness. In the coming months I will have many decisions to make after graduation.