Archive for the ‘Meta’ Category

A New Year’s Plan: Looking Inward   13 comments

On Tuesday, a little after noon, I sat in the kitchen at one of the farms I work for, eating alone and browsing the tomato section of a Territorial seed catalog. Tomatoes, as it happens, are a sign of abundance for me, and the catalog complied with that categorization. The pages dripped with pictures of new and old varieties—brilliant reds, multi-colored striping, black and indigo and gold sheens, an endless multitude of vibrant fruit—and near-obnoxious but still utterly compelling write ups of their bursting flavor and vigorous growth, the new varieties that will change your life, sear your eyes with beauty, and climax your taste buds with depth and juice and meatiness. Garden porn. Nothing less.

So I read, and looked, and it was in those moments that the first garden stirrings of the year came upon me. It was the open possibilities: the expanse of fresh turned dirt, the starts, the rows of transplants, the mud and complete organic fertilizer, the broad fork and digging fork and push-pull and shovel, rake, hoe. The sweat and smell of soil and the dirty knees, rain, sun, the breeze and outdoors and racing clouds, hail and frustration and worry and failure and brilliant, brilliant success—those first few vegetables, out of the ground, into the mouth, good god the successful completion again of the cycle, the shepherded plants and the eating and deep, deep satisfaction. It hit me and I wanted nothing more than to sit with catalogs and my seeds and a piece of scrap paper and pen and dream about everything I might do this summer, all the food I might grow, all the far-too-ambitious plans I could make so that I could eventually pare back, eventually exhaust myself attempting to keep pace.

Then I heard the crunch of gravel and looked up to see a white car drifting to a stop in front of the house. I didn’t recognize the car or see who was inside, but didn’t worry about it, either. Customers came by often in the afternoon to pick up orders of meat or eggs, left for them in an outside cooler. So I returned to my catalog and dreams.

Moments passed. The tomatoes whispered to me, spread a garden in front of my distant eyes. In the background, a dog barked and barked and barked, unceasing. Meeko. Yes, he barked sometimes when people pulled up, but he always eased off. This time, though, he wasn’t easing off, and the barking finally broke through my dreams and brought me to the surface, to another glance out the window and toward the car, and there I saw the woman leaning out the open car door and waving blank envelopes at me, looking both frustrated and pleading all at once.

I didn’t recognize her. A bit older, gray hair, glasses. But I wouldn’t necessarily recognize her. She could be anyone, and even the customers often weren’t recognizable.

I left the tomatoes and the table, stepped outside the front door, slipped into my shit-and-mud boots, and stepped down the porch stairs to greet the woman.

She sighed. Looked tired and troubled. Behind her, Meeko lurked and barked, worry on his face. No one here felt right; I had never seen him this nervous about a visitor and I had never seen a visitor look so exhausted. Holding out the blank envelopes, the woman said, “I wanted to give these to you, but your dog is scaring me.” Weariness weakened her words and subdued her voice.

I apologized and managed to get Meeko to calm down, to slip past the woman and stand next to me where I could pet him and keep him quiet. The woman handed me the three envelopes and gave me her message: an economic collapse in four months. She knew this and she wanted to warn people. I nodded and didn’t bother to challenge her, just let her talk. I couldn’t help but hear how tired she felt—she seemed overwhelmed and sad, worried. She didn’t rave or rant, didn’t speak with anger. She just sounded worn out.

We spoke for a few minutes. Mostly she spoke, and I nodded and provided vague agreements and watched her, listened to her, thought her troubled but kind. As she prepared herself to leave, she looked me in the eye and said, “Take care of yourself. It’s no fun to starve.” And I agreed, and it was all absurd. Yet, I couldn’t laugh or dismiss her; she seemed too hurt, and too worried about others. I have no doubt she believed everything she said and worked with an honest intention to help others and prepare them for hard times. How could I object to that, given everything I’ve written here over the years?

Then she left, and I opened one of the letters.

 

It was a mess. She got her point across, though the writing was disjointed and at times confused. It was about Obama, and the Left, and Obamacare. It was about our secretly gay, muslim president who’s attempting to destroy America from within. It was about China and Iran, immigration reform and cap and trade, Christ and Satan, the 1000 year reign and Hell, and repeated pleas not to commit suicide when the crash happens. At times it was nonsensical, at times paranoid, and once or twice I couldn’t help but nod in small agreement. She urged the reader to stock up on food, accept Christ, and mail a copy of her letter to Benjamin Netanyahu. “Especially to Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Yet, even as I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how tired and sad she seemed. How overwhelmed. Life had hurt her. Some of it was in the letter and plenty wasn’t. But life had hurt her, again and again, and now she was out in the world, stopping at strangers’ houses and hoping to help others. I could dismiss most of her fears easily enough, but I couldn’t dismiss her. She lingered.

 

But I’m tired of the blame. I’m so sick and tired of it. I’m tired of hearing about the politicians who are fucking everything up, the voters who don’t know what they’re doing, the evil corporations and backward policies. I’m sick of hearing about the brilliant world we would have if only this person or that person would stop mucking everything up. I’m sick of hearing about the apocalypse or utopia right around the corner, as soon as everything lines up right. I’m sick of hearing about the fantasies of absolution—the mythical figure who will come and fix all our problems. I’m sick of all the outward looks. I’m sick of the hunt; by the sound of it the landscape is littered with feral scapegoats, and all of them must be shot. But I think they’re myth, to tell you the truth. I don’t think there are any out there roaming the land. I think they’re all inside us. I think that’s their only natural environment.

It’s in this spirit and these thoughts that I give you what’s become my annual New Year’s Plan. This year, it’s primarily about looking inward. Simply put, I need to spend this year working on myself.

One of the primary ways I plan to do that is through a new religious practice. I recently discovered the Universal Gnostic Fellowship and found it very compelling. The teachings speak to me. Thus, I’m currently working on the Gnostic Lessons and plan to take The Tree of Life lessons on soon, as well. In addition, I want to integrate into these two courses of study the meditation technique laid out by John Michael Greer in his book Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. This is my general plan for the moment; no doubt it will evolve as the year continues.

I have to admit that I’m excited about this work. I’ve been looking the last few years for some kind of religious path of study and practice that would help me and I think I’ve found it through the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. Already, my early work on the Gnostic Lessons seem to be helping me, leading to a new understanding of my own personal challenges. I simply need the structure, discipline, and inward contemplation this path appears capable of providing me—and am finally at a point in my life at which I’m ready to tackle the work of it.

My religious practice, therefore, will be the main form of my inward work. I also have plenty of new work on the outside, much of which I outlined in the last post. I’m moving to a new place, where I’ll hopefully be able to settle in for longer than a year and perhaps make more of a long term home for myself. I’ll be breaking ground on a new garden there come Spring, and I will no doubt plan ambitiously, as I always do. Visions of tomatoes will be dancing in my head—along with so many other veggies. I may get a small flock of ducks, though I haven’t made a final decision on that. And I will work to make the home into something comfortable, cozy, and as sustainable as possible. I have my copy of Green Wizardry; I plan to put it to some use as I settle in.

Even these outward manifestations, though, feel like inward work to me. It’s about my life, my home, putting together a living that will sustain and satisfy me. Sure, all this will happen within the context of the outside world and no doubt much of it will relate to the outside-applicable themes and ideas I’ve been writing about here for the last few years, but all the major plans for this year feel intensely personal to me. This is about my life and my work.

All that said, I don’t know what this blog will be in 2014. I may feel compelled to write about my experiences in my new home. Perhaps I’ll stick to posts about connection with the natural world. Perhaps I’ll finally start that Considerations of Death series that I keep claiming I’m going to write. (I essentially did write the first entry in November.) Perhaps I’ll find some way to write about my religious work that feels relevant to others, though I have no intention to start preaching about it. (It would more be if it intersected well with the established ideas driving this blog.) I really don’t know. Nor do I know how much time and motivation I’m going to have to write here. I wish I could give you all better guidance, but we’ll just have to see.

I do know that one aspect of my writing I really do want to tackle this year is a return to stories. I keep talking about this possibility, and it may be that this is just talk once again. But I’m hoping that with the structure of my religious practice, I’ll be able to work in other structured activities, like setting aside time to write fiction. And indeed, there is a specific way it can intersect with the work of the Gnostic Lessons. So that’s good. I do still feel the call of it, of stories. I aim to answer in 2014.

 

I suspect this is going to be a year of transition. Granted, every year out here on the Oregon Coast so far could be fairly classified as a year of transition for me, but it’s shaping up to be even more dramatic this year. I don’t know if that will end up being the case or not, but I would be happy if it was. I feel slightly afloat right now in the sense of how I want to approach my life. The philosophies I’ve espoused here on the blog still hold dear with me, but they don’t have the same sort of driving fascination they have in the past. I need to look inward this year and figure out who I am now. I’m different than the last few years. The same in many ways, of course, but there are a number of new challenges I need to tackle and I have to find a new way to fit in this world. It’s changed on me. It’s been via my own actions, and I’m pleased with the changes, but I still need to figure out how to integrate them into my life, into my understanding of who I am and what I’m attempting to do.

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about the world at large, about the ways that we live, about the unsustainable systems we have in place as a society. All of that still interests me. But such criticisms have to be tempered with an understanding of our personal work and the ways our own internal thought and function impacts the way we understand the world. I don’t want to find myself some day waving envelopes packed with the feverish typing of endless attempts to put all my inner turmoil on the outer world. We do face a challenging future, even if I don’t think it looks much at all as the woman who visited me Tuesday believes. But we can only face and deal with those challenges well if we understand ourselves. We can only deal with the outside world’s problems if we’re capable of understanding and dealing with our own problems. We can only tackle the dysfunction of the broader society by changing our own lives and working within personal action. At the end of the day, personal action and work is the only way for us to interact with the broader world; it therefore is only in understanding ourselves that we can do our most effective work.

I want that personal work in 2014. It will be exciting, no doubt. Challenging, without question. Hopefully satisfying, fulfilling, and at least partly revelatory, as well. I always want and need to learn. Perhaps this year the knowledge will come more from within me than outside me.

A Discomfiting Upward Movement   21 comments

For a time there, I had it figured out.

Okay, that’s only half true. For a time there, I felt comfortable. There have been moments during the last year when I felt at peace, in a good place, comfortable and happy with my life. I found a good place to live with roommates I understood and who understood me; I had good work; I had somehow slipped a bit ahead of the game financially, mostly through simple living; and I felt more at peace, calmer, my life less distracted.

I don’t know if such times ever can last. My life has been thrown at least partly back into chaos as I have taken on new opportunities, met new people, rediscovered the internet, developed new relationships, and am once again on the verge of making major life (and living situation) changes.

I guess this is just what I do this time of year.

— ∞ —

It’s interesting how much strife and happiness can correlate within my mind. I am happy right now. I’m very happy. I’m also stressed, worried, partly confused, and at least vaguely terrified. Some of that may be exaggeration. Probably not, though.

In early January, I’m moving. I’m continuing my trend of moving yet farther south, except that I do it in much smaller increments than I suspect most people do when they move. In March 2012—when I lived at my first home here on the North Coast of Oregon, R-evolution Gardens—I moved about a half mile south along the highway to live at one of the farms I currently work for. Then this last January, I moved another mile south along the same highway to come to my current situation, living with two fantastic roommates who got on this simple living boat long before me, back in the 70s. Living with them works. It works well. I like them a lot, and we understand each other.

Despite that—and this is at least part of my strife—I’m about to move yet again, and in keeping with tradition, it’s going to be about two miles farther south along the same highway. (I suppose I should scope out the property four miles south of there so I know what my future holds.) But why do this, if I’m in such a good living situation? Well, that’s a question I’ve asked myself, and while I’m comfortable with the answer, my uncertainty about whether or not I’m making the right choice has admittedly stressed me.

I’m moving because this is the sort of opportunity I’ve been thinking of for the last few years, and I want to seize it. I’m moving to an old, 1917 farm house on eight acres of property, with a large barn, a garage, and a couple other outbuildings (which are, admittedly, in disrepair.) In other words, this is an opportunity for me to experiment with homesteading or even micro farming. It’s also an opportunity for me to build a home for myself from scratch. It’s a blank slate, and I’m fascinated to find out what I might do with it.

I should note, I’m not going to own this property. One of the couples I farm for are buying it and I’ll have to pay them rent. This also means I’m going to have to find a roommate to help pay rent. (Know anyone good, who’s into simple living and homesteading?) But, there’s at least the potential for me to be there long term, if I should want, and I don’t know that I’ll have another opportunity as right as this to set up my own home. I’ll be comfortable with the owners, I trust them, and they’ll be happy to rent to me for many years if I should so desire. I don’t have money to buy property; this feels like the right alternate option.

Of course, all of this is little more than a vague outline in the fog. I don’t know how long I’ll be there. I don’t know where my life will go. I don’t know how well I’ll be able to set up the property or if I’ll be able to make the time to properly tend to it. I will continue to work, as I’ll have to pay rent. But I do want to grow food, perhaps get a small flock of ducks, continue a variety of homesteading activities, and hopefully begin to establish some kind of business of my own. I’d like to sell excess produce and eggs in the community and hopefully do something a bit more ambitious on the level of education and providing a community resource. I might attempt to produce local seed, I might do small amounts of value-added food processing, I might teach classes, I might attempt to become some kind of local gardening resource. I don’t know for sure yet, but these possibilities are all open.

I’ll need to narrow my vision at some point, and probably soon. But I also believe I need to get on the land, walk it, listen to it, and see what it wants before I do. This decision isn’t mine alone. And I don’t believe the work can be mine alone. So I’m going to have to ease into it and see what opportunities arise, who shows up to help, and what ways I can benefit my community.

It’s an incredible, overwhelming opportunity. I’m very excited about it. And I’m terrified, as well. It’s a commitment, even if the commitment doesn’t come with bright, bold lines. I don’t yet know the exact form of it, but it’s a commitment of my time and energy and efforts, of my life, for however long I’m there. It’s also a financial commitment, and one that makes me nervous. Not because I think I can’t meet it, but because it’s more of a commitment than I have now. It’s also going to demand an unknown community: at least one person to live with and the help and involvement of plenty more, in some capacity or another. That’s unnerving to me. Not because I dislike community, but because I hate getting into something I don’t know the outcome of.

Unfortunately for me, that’s one definition of a life: something you can’t know the outcome of. So I suppose I should get over it.

— ∞ —

The new property looms large in my life. But there’s more. Earlier this year, I joined the Board of a local non-profit organization, Food Roots. It’s a great organization, working to build the local food system. Obviously, that’s an interest of mine, and I joined the Board hoping I could help with the goal in a more systemic manner than just being a direct part of the local farming scene, as I am now.

As the months have whiled away, I’ve taken on more and more responsibility. I’ve been elected Board Treasurer, have helped with business plan editing and plenty of other tasks, and now I find myself running a crowd funding campaign for a major new project we’re about to embark on. This is easily my biggest commitment yet.

Let me talk about this campaign for a moment. There’s a box over on the left hand side of this page, up near the top, that links to the campaign on Indiegogo. I want to address that. I haven’t asked for money at any point while writing this blog. I haven’t wanted to, I haven’t needed to, and I don’t think too many of my readers are chomping at the bit to give me any, anyway. I did, however, decide to put up a link to this campaign—after some hesitation—and I want to explain why.

One reason, to be blunt, is that I want it to be successful because I’m more or less running it. The whole organization is contributing to this campaign, publicizing it, and working to make it successful, of course, but I’m the one who wrote it, put it together, put it up, and am doing a good bit of the publicity for it. And so, just for personal reasons of ego, I want it to succeed. I don’t want to be the guy who ran an unsuccessful campaign. It’s not altruistic, granted, but it is true.

A more important reason is that I think this project could do a lot to help the local food system out here on the North Coast of Oregon. I suspect the majority of my readers understand that small-scale, sustainable farming is not typically a lucrative business venture. It’s really hard financially. I’ve worked for five farms at this point in my life, volunteered for others, and talked with a heck of a lot of other farmers. A very common theme is the economic challenge of farming. Land isn’t priced for it. Supermarket groceries aren’t priced for it. The economy doesn’t support it. Our models are not built around small-scale and sustainable farming that utilizes hand labor; our models are built for tractors and vast monocultures. Small-scale farming is a challenge to the dominant economic system, yet it still has to exist within that system. That’s a brutal combination.

There are a lot of people out there who want to farm, and a lot of them are relatively young—which we need. We need that new generation of farmers. Not just to replace the older generation, but to build upon the number of farmers we have now. That’s a necessity if we really are going to continue to grow the local food system. But a heck of a lot of those young people who want to start farming are staring at a grim financial picture, very tight margins, too expensive land, and an economic system fighting tooth and nail against them.

And so we want to start this program to help them with that. It’s going to build three 30′ x 96′ hoop houses to provide training space for new and existing farmers; create an outdoor demonstration site to go along with that; lease hoop house space to farmers who need it; create a database to match local buyers with local farmers; provide a matched savings program to create start-up and ongoing capital for new farmers; create a database of local land that people want to see farmed; and establish a tool bank to provide local farmers with tools without having to purchase them. None of this is a silver bullet; longtime readers will know what I think of those. But it very well may help establish new farmers around here, help relieve some of the financial stress on current small farmers, improve market connections to make this local food system work financially for the various players involved, and help lessen the learning curve on how to grow all this local food, in our local conditions. Done right, it’s going to create a lot of new connections amongst all the people playing some role in local food and, hopefully, we’re going to turn it into a full-fledged farm incubator program within a couple of years.

It’s a nearly quarter million dollar project, which is a crazy amount of money to me. We have a lot of it already committed through grants and local businesses. We need to raise another $7,000—and a bit more would be fantastic—to provide the final bit of matching funds.

I’m only going to say this once here, because this blog doesn’t exist to try to raise money and I don’t much like trying to do that anyway. It makes me anxious. (A Steinbeck quote comes to mind: “And all their love was thinned with money.”) But here it is: if you have a few spare bucks and you’ve enjoyed this blog enough to want to show your appreciation with it, then donate it to the campaign. That would be awesome. I won’t get any of that money. I’m not an employee of the organization or employed by this project. However, I will eventually benefit from it as either a local farmer or just a local citizen, or both. It’s going to help the community, and that’s really what I most want to see.

And if not a cent comes from this post, I have no problem with that. I just wanted to explain to you all where that box came from and why it’s there.

— ∞ —

But I also bring it up because it pertains to this post, which is that in running this campaign and being an active Board member for Food Roots, I’m starting to feel a touch more professional. I’m establishing more connections within the community and starting to feel more is expected of me. I like this. I want to be an important part of this community. But it’s also strange and unnerving, because it doesn’t quite fit the image of myself I had crafted.

Part of my comfort from earlier in this year stemmed from the fact that my life felt so simple and bare bones. I farmed a few days a week and loved the work. I came home and ate some good food and read. I talked to my roommates. I drank coffee and sat and stared out the back window and delighted at observing the birds. I saw friends, drank beer with them, laughed and ate. I fostered connections here and there—in small and subtle but important ways—and felt like someone who benefited the community, but mostly in the background. I was off the radar. I liked that.

Now the radar’s blipping. I keep showing up on it. I’m more official, I have responsibilities, I’m taking on roles and probably becoming defined by them in the minds of others. I’m a Board Treasurer; it’s not a big deal, but it’s still a title. I’m running this campaign. I’m writing press releases and perhaps next week I’ll be interviewed on the radio. That’s strange.

On top of that, I’m moving to this new place and taking on the responsibility of it. I’m not just going to be a roommate—I’m going to be The Head of the Household. It’s not a big deal. It’s just one more small thing. And yet, here I am, feeling so damn official. I had come to the point of not believing I ever would find these roles, and I was perfectly happy with that. But then people started asking me for help, and I started saying yes. Then opportunities came my way, and I decided to take them on.

At Thanksgiving, telling my family about being a member of the Food Roots Board, a family member joked, “Wait, so now we start having to take you seriously?” Yes. Shit. That’s what’s happening—I feel like I’m starting to be taken seriously. Which means people are going to expect things of me. Which means I’ll want and need to live up to those expectations.

Damn it. It was so much easier before.

— ∞ —

There’s more, too. An amazing new relationship, complete with nonsensical happiness. Tentative first steps toward establishing a religious practice. It feels sometimes like it’s cascading down upon me, like I’m being thrust forward into a level of responsibility I’m not prepared for.

It’s not that I don’t think I can handle it. It’s that I don’t understand where it’s going. I don’t understand what will be demanded of me. I don’t know the shape of it yet, and so I can’t properly plan, and sometimes that feels like ice. At my core, I always fear letting people down. Now there are so many more people I’m at risk of letting down. How do I navigate this minefield? And how the hell did I get here? When did I become so fracking legitimate?

How did I go from farming, reading, and writing slightly-too-revealing-posts on a blog to this? And what do I do with it?

I wish I knew.

— ∞ —

And yet, I’m happy. Major change tends to unnerve me, because I always want to plan and I hate risk. However, I also want to do good things, and that’s always going to take precedence. I can be uncomfortable if I think it might make my community better, improve my life, be good to the people I care about. I want to do good work. That’s always what this blog has been about and it’s always in my mind, the importance of this core goal.

I’ve unnerved myself, but it’s all in that pursuit. The hell of it is that sometimes good work is uncomfortable. And so here I am, moving onward and upward (he writes wryly, thinking “myth of progress”) and trying to make sense of these changes, to come to terms with this discomfort, and to understand that this is the precursor to a future figuring out—a future comfort that will simply be the precursor to the next cycle of discomfort and uncertainty, that unending cycle of a life’s learning and experience.

Posted December 14, 2013 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Farming, Homesteading, Meta, Work

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The World Beckons   8 comments

Well folks, my time here on this blog is looking limited, at least for the immediate future.

As noted in my previous post, I’m currently computer- and internet-free in my daily life. Of late, I’ve been finding my way to the library a couple times a week, on average, for one hour or less sessions online. This is perhaps just enough time to keep up on email and a few other things I need to take care of via the internet. It’s not, as it turns out, enough time to type up and post blog entries. I had one entry that I attempted to type up and, even with it not quite containing my usual wordiness, it took me over a half hour just to type it. And it was only partly done. So this won’t work for the time being.

Further, it’s that busy time of year again. Two farm hand jobs, the summer markets starting up, and the garden constantly calling me. The weather has been gorgeous here, sunny and warm, essentially the antithesis of the previous two springs I’ve experienced here on the North Oregon coast. It’s making me feel behind. I feel like I should have everything planted already. That’s a bit silly, of course. I just put thirty tomato plants in the hoop house, have little peppers growing every day that will hopefully be ready for transplant soon, various greens and roots in, brassicas transplanted, and the other day I seeded down a couple small beds of quinoa. This is one of my experiments for the year. I’m curious to attempt to grow a grain out here and quinoa seems like it just might work. We’ll see. My other two experiments are Painted Mountain flour corn and Rockwell dry beans. I haven’t planted either of those yet. I need to get on that soon—they may be a stretch as it is.

I’ve lost my point, though. Not having the internet has, for the most part, been glorious. I think I’m getting more done (if nothing else, I’m working my two jobs, gardening, and still getting a ton of reading done) and I feel less stressed and crazy. I’m getting better sleep. I am, in other words, less distracted. This is good, and I think I’ll stick with it for the time being. Unfortunately, the blog doesn’t currently fit into all that.

I’m not shutting this down. It will stay here, the archives available, and I’ll continue to look in on and respond to any comments. I may yet even post on occasion this summer, if I come up with short musings I feel are worth putting up. Or even quick life updates, like this. And once fall and winter rolls back around, it’s entirely possible I’ll begin spouting off here again. You know how it goes, those of you who have been here awhile. When the rain and cold comes, I get back to the internal realm, and the writing calls me again. Summertime? It’s just that external part of the year. The outside world beckons. You can’t ignore the sun—not out here.

Hope you all are well. Comment and talk to me below. I’ll answer. Check in on occasion. At some point I’ll say more. And go plant something. As always, it’ll make the world a touch better.

Posted May 14, 2013 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Gardening, Meta

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A Quiet Moment of Significant Change   25 comments

Well, that post title is far too bombastic for such a small update, but I thought I might snag your attention. I apologize for the intense quiet of the last some odd weeks. I thought I might get a new post written while essentially vacationing in Portland; as it turns out, Portland is terribly and wonderfully distracting. No post. And then, as my time there came to an end, my laptop up and died. I had wondered when that might happen. The answer is now. (Or then, I suppose.)

This is all good, though. I’m in the midst of some life changes. Spring is here, summer advances quickly, my laptop is dead, I have a new bike. I am thinking about the future. I am staring cock-headed and inquisitive at the recent past. I am recognizing how terribly much time I have lost to the internet of late and I don’t want to continue that trend. A day or two before my laptop died, I had been considering giving it up, destroying my daily access to the internet and the intense distraction it foments in me. I am not above recognizing signs.

The current plan is no replacement for the laptop. At this moment, I type on a friend’s. I will post this, because I’m sad that I’ve been so quiet with no explanation. However, despite how the preceding sentences may sound, I don’t intend to abandon this blog. I intend, instead, to alter the logistics of running it.

My current plan is to bike into town a time or two a week to use the internet at the library. This will significantly curtail its distractive (screw it, I’m making that a word) possibilities while still allowing me access to the glories and convenience of email, research ability, The Archdruid Report, and the sporadically successful world of online dating. But I will not spend hours reading basketball articles, clicking around aimlessly to stay distracted, and spending more time with virtual cats in the form of videos and hilariously idiotic memes than the real cat that lives in my house. In general, life will be better.

I also suspect I will stay more on top of my burgeoning garden, my never-ending to-read list, my socializing, and very likely even my writing. If anything, I suspect this might make it more likely that I’ll be able to keep this blog going during the craziness of summer. We’ll see, though—I may be being wildly optimistic.

Either way, I am alive, I have not yet abandoned you, I’m reading a fantastic and 1,080 page book, I’m scheming about new blog posts, and I’m enjoying the hell out of my new bike. I am thinking of how to go about finding a farm of my own, or some sort of kind-of-but-not-really equivalent arrangement. I am imagining a life more fulfilled, less distracted, filled with food and fun and friends and . . . fungi? I don’t know, it starts with an “f.”

I am well, in other words, and slightly exhilarated at new possibilities, and I hope you are well and exhilarated, too.

Soon I’ll have more. For now, take care, all of you.

Posted April 18, 2013 by Joel Caris in Meta

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A New Year’s Plan: Worshipping the Earth   15 comments

I’ve always enjoyed New Year’s Eve and the ensuing New Year’s Day. The midnight celebrations of the new year strike me as somewhat magical moments, with a fresh year stretched out before me and all its promises of bad habits eliminated, mistakes corrected, good habits established, a fresh sense of proper living beckoning. I’m a sucker for this arbitrary moment so embraced by our culture. I feel as though I should transition that moment of renewal to the Winter Solstice—to synchronize personal and natural transitions—but New Year’s Eve was always the celebration in my life growing up and so that tradition still has its hold upon me.

Sometimes I make resolutions and sometimes I don’t. But I never fail to attempt to regroup in the early days of January. I begin a new year of reading with a new reading list. I think about the bad habits I want to leave behind and the productive habits I want to establish. I take stock of the ways I’ve gone astray from my life goals and look to recenter and refocus myself. This year is no exception.

In fact, this year offers even more of an opportunity for a fresh start than normal. On January 1st, I took up a new residence. For the first time in over two years, I’m not living on a farm. This isn’t as drastic a change as it might seem, though. I continue to work the same two farm hand jobs that I’ve been working for the last year and my move was only about a mile down the road from where I was before. My life is changing, but it’s not a complete overhaul.

I moved to a new place, about a mile down the road. This is the view out my bedroom window, looking out on the North Fork of the Nehalem River. As you can see, we had a dusting of snow this morning.

I moved to a new place, about a mile down the road. This is the view out my bedroom window, looking out on the North Fork of the Nehalem River. As you can see, we had a dusting of snow this morning.

I’ve moved in with a couple, Anthony and Victoria, living in their house on nine acres along the North Fork of the Nehalem River. I have a decent sized room, my own bathroom, and a walk in closet. The house is a manufactured home that’s been altered and retrofitted. Anthony is an architect who focuses on sustainable design, so this home has been updated to at least somewhat take advantage of solar energy. It’s very well insulated. A number of windows were added to let in natural light and a few solar tubes were installed in the bathrooms for daytime lighting. The home is outfitted with a solar hot water heater which assists the electric water heater. It also is equipped with a highly efficient Sun Frost refrigerator. A wood stove sits in the living room and provides much of the heating during the winter. The furnace rarely turns on.

There is a large gardening space, as well, a green house, a compost system, and a wood-fired sauna that sees occasional use. A stream cuts through the property on its way down the hill to the river, though the drinking water comes from a well. This is perhaps the worst aspect of living here: the water has a strong sulfur taste and smell. After living on two farms with incredible water from above ground creeks, I was spoiled. The water doesn’t too much bother me, though. If that’s the worst part of being here, then I can hardly complain.

Over the last few months of 2012, I slipped into bad habits. I was distracted, spending too much time on the internet, and had allowed my living space to devolve to the point of messiness that it left me unmotivated to engage in productive activities. During the summer, my lovely roommates Kayleigh and Lily kept me socially engaged and my garden—in addition to my work, of course—kept me physically busy with productive tasks. Once winter rolled around, the roommates left, and my garden died back, I took all that extra time available to me and sunk it into bad habits of distraction. I wasn’t cleaning up after myself regularly and would far too often choose the distraction of the internet and movies over good work.

This was my own fault, the result of allowing bad habits to take over. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m very susceptible to patterns and habits. The bad ones put me into a negative feedback loop and the good ones put me into a positive feedback loop. But my self control is something that I’m still working on and leaves much to be desired; even when I know I’m engaging in bad habits and understand what I need to do to transition myself to productive work, I too often don’t do it. I allow myself to fall into distraction even though it depresses me and reduces my quality of life.

This happens most often when I spend a lot of time alone. At my previous place, I was alone more often than not the last few months. The farm owners also live on the property and I still was working, so it wasn’t a constant solitude, but the farm owners live in a separate house and we didn’t spend significant amounts of time together. The other social outlets in the area largely clear out in the winter. There are a good number of people around in the summer but far less in the winter, and many of those who do stay here through the winter time are people in town whom I haven’t made friends with.

Much of my socializing, in fact, has been happening in Portland, where I’ve been dating a woman now for a couple months. She’s fantastic and has made my life quite a bit better, but she’s 80 miles away. She’s not integrated into my day-to-day life. I go into town to see her, have a grand time, feel good about life, then I come back here to the coast and to a certain amount of solitude and my bad habits. It’s been unsustainable and it’s knocked me off the path I’ve been talking about here at this blog, upon which I place such high value.

Another angle of the view out my bedroom window.

Another angle of the view out my bedroom window.

I believe it’s important that I be able to change bad habits and unproductive patterns without having to make large physical changes in my life, such as moving to a new location. One of the downfalls of our modern society, I believe, is something of which Wendell Berry has written of extensively: the migratory nature of our culture. Many of us here in America have an expansionary frame of mind stemming out of the westward migration of the past and the availability of cheap energy and resources. As such, we feel we can use up a place because there’s always somewhere new and fresh to move to and begin anew. Sometimes this is conscious activity, sometimes not. Cautious and thoughtful husbandry, within this frame of mind, is not required. But, of course, this is a destructive and false belief and one that contributes to many of the ways in which we live poorly and destructively. And so I fight to eliminate this way of thinking from myself and to reorient myself toward the ideal of staying in place and of caring properly for my home.

Yet, in recent years, I have moved continuously. In the last four years, I’ve lived in six places, including my new residence. This has been the result of multiple farm internships and of the way I’ve chosen to live my life in recent years, with far fewer resources. It means that my homes have often been temporary, either of necessity (a set-period internship) or of likelihood (living situations that are expected to be temporary but with no set expiration date.) In some ways, this can be frustrating. In other ways, it’s one of the costs of how I want to live. But ultimately, I want to settle into a particular place, learn it well, care for it, and establish the patterns and habits that will allow me to live more sustainably, on less, with a small amount of money and resources and energy. Familiarity of place is one of the most critical elements of such a way of living.

In my small defense, the last three places I’ve lived have been within a few miles of each other rather than spread across different geographical areas. I am closer to settling, and I would be happy to live in this area here on the north Oregon coast for the rest of my life. I like the community, I love the land, and I continuously feel blessed to now be making a living farming, outside of internships. As others might feel about landing a powerful and high-paying job, I feel about finding good farms to work on for a small but sustaining hourly wage: it is a grace. Here is home for now, and hopefully a good ways into the future.

But once again, I have moved, and I must admit that this move feels like a fresh start and an opportunity to limit my bad habits and reinstate good ones. I had fallen into a funk at my previous residence, through no fault of the place itself but only of my own shortcomings. This move has given me a psychological boost to changing my behavior. It’s a small condemnation of myself that I felt a need for such a physical move to make psychological and emotional changes, but it’s just the place where I’m at for the moment as a flawed human on this chaotically beautiful world. I’ll continue to work on making myself better, on gaining a greater control over my habits and patterns.

There is an element to my new home that is specific to this place, though, which is the people I now live with. I’ve only been here ten days, so there no doubt will be continual learning of how to live with my new roommates and continual adjustments for all of us, but I must say that it’s a joy to be living with people again after a few months of residentiary solitude. Particularly in the winter, I think it’s important for me to be a part of daily community. I’ve enjoyed sharing meals again, having casual evening conversation, having new perspectives and ideas introduced into my thought processes. Similarly, my roommates are older than me and are conservationists—they have designed habits of living rooted in an attempted sustainability and lighter living. They have established patterns and habits that support these ideals as well as a seemingly settled way of day-to-day living. This, I have to say, is a godsend for me at the moment.

As mentioned earlier, I have been scattered and at the mercy of my own bad habits of late. I haven’t been living particularly well, though I can’t say I’ve been living horribly, either. But I have been undisciplined and that lack of discipline has pushed me from my stated goals, which has been painful for me. Through their behaviors, Anthony and Victoria are reminding me of the value of good habits and patterns of living, and of how simple it can be to integrate tasks and ideals into my day-to-day life. They are reminding me how to live well, which is something I had half forgotten the last few months. That, too, is a basis for a fresh start—the modeling of good behavior in my small community of residence.

So 2013 is bringing a particularly fresh start for me this year. I have new residence in a beautiful and settled place, with good people providing good conversation, and who model excellent patterns of behavior for me. I am reminded of good ways of living and of the simplicity of it, given the right frame of mind and a deterrence from self-defeating thought patterns. Much as with the good work I have found, this is a grace.

With this fresh start, I have fresh goals. First of all, I plan to refocus on my reading and study this year. Last year, I only read 17 books. I imagine this will seem a lot to some people here and not a lot to others. For me, it’s a small amount. I normally read closer to 50 books in a year and I like that level of reading. I plan to get back to it in 2013, assuming I don’t run myself too ragged in the summer (though much of my reading takes place during the year’s shoulders, anyway.) Second of all, I plan to get back into various homesteading projects. I haven’t made butter in a number of months; I want to resume that habit. I have some cabbage in the mudroom that will make some fine sauerkraut, as well as providing fresh eating. Fermented ginger carrots would be excellent, as well. I’ve been meaning to make my own enzyme cleaner for months. I finally am going to do that. I’ll attempt to bake a homemade loaf of sandwich bread that will reduce or eliminate my desire to keep buying Gabriel’s bread, a Portland bakery whose sandwich bread I adore. I haven’t made ginger ale in a long time—add it to the list. Homemade pasta on the simple, hand-powered pasta machine I received for Christmas over a year ago? Absolutely, it’s time to give it a try.

When I step away from the computer and engage in a productive activity in the home, I feel infinitely better than if I had just spent that time continuing to stare at a health-sapping screen. And yet, the screen beckons me constantly. It’s a weakness, the amount of time I give to it doing unproductive things. Turning it off and engaging myself in the kitchen, rediscovering the earth through my food, reading a good book or watching the birds on the back porch, considering the world, writing a letter to a friend, taking a bit of time to listen to good music and watch the flames in the wood stove—all this brings me a happiness the screen often can’t. And so, in this new year, I am recommitting myself to stepping away from the screen and putting my time and effort into quality activities, into connection and good health and happiness. I’ve noted this quote before, but Peter Berg once relayed these words of a woman from Mexico City: “The kitchen is the place where you worship the earth.” I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment and, further, think screens are often where we lose touch with the earth—one of the primary places where we learn to degrade the earth. I want to worship the earth instead, which means more time in the kitchen and less time on the internet.

That said, I am keeping my commitment—sporadic as it’s been of late—to this blog. There is still much I want to say and much conversation I want to have with all of you, those who take the time to read my thoughts. I know I’ve been largely absent for many months now and that I’ve made false promises in recent times. All I’ll say at this point is that I intend to write more regularly here going forward. I don’t yet know how regularly that will be, but I enjoy writing for this blog quite a bit when I actually sit down and do it and I want to resume that habit in the new year. The screen is not so bad in this regard.

I expect I’ll continue to add to The Household Economy as I recommit myself to kitchen projects and other homesteading activities. I also intend to write more entries in the Encounters series. I have a number of encounters I still want to write about. The How To Be Poor series on voluntary poverty is a different beast. I have not felt happy with it of late. It’s not that I don’t still have a commitment to voluntary poverty, but I don’t like what I attempted to do in that series of writings. I knew too little. I portrayed the series as one of instruction when, in reality, I am far more a student than a teacher when it comes to such a way of living. I tried to avoid being too preachy, but it came through anyway. It’s not that I don’t think I should write about voluntary poverty, it’s that I think I should have been writing about it in a different way, with more humility, more openness, and more a sense of imparting my own experiences rather than attempting to give people advice, which was one of the ideas behind the series. I made a mistake. I got ahead of myself. I do that sometimes.

I’ll have to think more about How To Be Poor before I decide what to do with that. I may just put it to bed with a final post in which I express some of the thoughts above. Or I may try to take it in a new direction. I’ll decide soon enough and then put up a new entry in the series. (I’m open to suggestions, too, if anyone wants to provide some feedback in the comments.) Whatever I do with it, though, expect thoughts on voluntary poverty and simple living to remain a part of this blog. After all, it’s a major component of what I’m trying to do with my life.

Finally, I may yet start the Considerations of Death series that I anticipated almost exactly a year ago. I still think about it at times and have a few entries in the mental queue that I would like to write at some point. I’ll leave it up to whim for the time being.

Yesterday, after doing a couple hours of work over at the farm I lived at until just a couple weeks ago, I wandered over to my garden there and began the long-neglected work of harvesting out some of the remaining food. I filled a 14-gallon plastic trash bag with multiple heads of cabbage, a few pounds of frost-sweetened carrots and parsnips, an oversize bunch of kale, and a few stray beets. I brought them home, cleaned them, ate a bit and packed the rest away in the fridge and the mud room. There is still a bounty of food out there: more carrots in the grounds, lots of parsnips, probably at least a hundred pounds of potatoes that I really need to retrieve. Still more kale, as well. It’s the remaining legacy of this summer’s good work, of the fulfillment of ideals and the result of good habits, of sustaining patterns. It was a reminder, as well, of the importance of working against distraction and malaise and of finding a constant renewal within an engagement of the earth. That can happen out in the garden, in the kitchen, at either of the two farms I work for, or even on the back porch, the back yard, in the fire in the wood stove, in all the abundant places in which the natural world asserts itself and recaptures my attention.

I intend to cultivate that capturing. I intend to worship the earth—and to let it revive me in this new year.

Changing Circumstances   16 comments

I apologize for the radio silence of late. I’ve been in the midst of some changing circumstances, looking for a new place to live and making trips into Portland. Coupled with that activity has been a distinct lack of urgent or well-formed ideas for posts, which has led to a distinct lack of updates for the last month or so.

So instead of something thoughtful and considered, here are the quick life updates:

  • I’ll be moving, literally, a bit further down the road at the beginning of the new year. I will continue the same work I’ve been doing and am simply changing my living arrangements. My current residence has been great for me the last nine months or so, but it’s time for a shift.
  • My new living quarters will see me living with a couple. I’ve gone back and forth on my thoughts about an ideal living arrangement, but I’ve been swinging back toward community of late. I think it will be good to live with others. The isolation of living alone is challenging at times, in a variety of ways.
  • I have picked up a number of interesting books of late: Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, Wendell Berry’s New Collected Poems and his new essay collection It All Turns on Affection, John Michael Greer’s Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Rick Bass’s novel Where the Sea Used to Be, and the 1972 illustrated abridgement of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History. I think these all will lead to much good thought.
  • I already have devoured Greer’s Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. It leaves me yet more interested in studying within one of the mystery schools, as I continue to feel the draw of some kind of spiritual ecology. Early this year, I had designs on druidry, but I never followed through on that. We’ll see where this current desire goes; I need to study more on the subject.
  • Finally, this blog continues to marinate in the back of my mind. I have thoughts about where it might go as well of thoughts of shutting it down. Yet there still is plenty I would like to write about. I plan to reevaluate once I’ve made my new year’s move and am figuring out my new patterns of living. There may be one or more updates before then, but it also may stay quiet here until then.

I’m always interested in what my visitors are up to, so please provide me some life updates of your own in the comments, should you feel so compelled. As a small apology for the quiet of late, I’ll leave you with two Wendell Berry poems. First, “The Reassurer.” Following that, an actual—small, but yet large—reassurance.

— ∞ —

THE REASSURER

A people in the throes of national prosperity, who
breathe poisoned air, drink poisoned water, eat
poisoned food,
who take poisoned medicines to heal them of the poisons
that they breathe, drink, and eat,
such a people crave the further poison of official
reassurance. It is not logical,
but it is understandable, perhaps, that they adore
their President who tells them that all is well,
all is better than ever.
The President reassures the farmer and his wife who
have exhausted their farm to pay for it, and have
exhausted themselves to pay for it,
and have not paid for it, and have gone bankrupt for
the sake of the free market, foreign trade, and the
prosperity of corporations;
he consoles the Navahos, who have been exiled from their
place of exile, because the poor land contained
something required for the national prosperity,
after all;
he consoles the young woman dying of cancer caused by a
substance used in the normal course of national
prosperity to make red apples redder;
he consoles the couple in the Kentucky coalfields, who
sit watching TV in their mobile home on the mud of
the floor of a mined-out stripmine;
from his smile they understand that the fortunate have
a right to their fortunes, that the unfortunate have
a right to their misfortunes, and that these are
equal rights.
The President smiles with the disarming smile of a man
who has seen God, and found Him a true American,
not overbearingly smart.
The President reassures the Chairman of the Board of the
Humane Health for Profit Corporation of America,
who knows in his replaceable heart that health, if
it came, would bring financial ruin;
he reassures the Chairman of the Board of the Victory
and Honor for Profit Corporation of America, who
has been wakened in the night by a dream of the
calamity of peace.

THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Posted December 13, 2012 by Joel Caris in Meta, Poetry

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Yearning for the Abstract   46 comments

Monday, I went to Soapstone Lake, hiked around, startled a couple elk having an afternoon drink, laid down in the moss and shade, trees above me and a fern dangling inches from my face, and briefly napped. I sat by the lake and finished Dave Eggers’ A Hologram For The King, which is a beautiful and sad novel. On the way to work Tuesday, I saw two deer off in the distance fording the Miami River and then shortly after that a bird began to fly diagonally toward and away from my car, somewhat mesmerizing me as I very slowly grew closer and closer to it—at a high speed—before it disappeared from my view, only to reappear a few moments later in my rear view mirror, tumbling in the road and surely dead or dying. I didn’t mean to hit it; I hardly even thought about it as it was happening. The moment hypnotized me.

I’ve been trying to hold onto this magic the last few days, as the human world hasn’t quite been so lovely or magical, though it’s had a sadness I was thinking of even as I accidentally killed that bird. The days keep being beautiful and my work outside invigorates me even while I fight melancholy in my quieter, less engaged moments. At some point nearly every day of late, I feel overwhelmed, seemingly always in different ways.

I need to be writing stories.

— ∞ —

I wrote the above almost two weeks ago. I meant it to be part of an entry here on the blog, but it’s only now making it to this venue. As I imagine most of my regular readers have noticed by now, I’ve been missing for about a month. As you might also have inferred, it’s as much as anything because of the subject of my previous post: the current busyness of my life. I already catalogued much of that, so I won’t recount the details. Suffice it to say, I haven’t managed to set up a system for myself to get my writing done despite my work. Hence the quiet around here.

However, there’s a bit more to it than that, and it’s something I realized a couple weeks ago while working out in the garden. It’s a realization summed up in the last sentence of the above writing. While I’ve been so busy this summer with the actual work of growing and raising and selling food, I’ve become more interested in focusing on and writing about the abstract during my down time. I’ve been reading fiction rather than nonfiction and have felt a strong urge to write fiction rather than essays.

Throughout the winter, I rambled on and on here about homesteading and voluntary poverty and simplistic living and connections to nature. Now that much of those ramblings have manifested themselves in the messy, imperfect ways that the real world tends to deal in, and now that these manifestations are taking up a good deal of my time, I find myself not particularly motivated to continue to explore them in my writing. I honestly want to deal more in the abstract in that part of my life. It’s not that I’m not still thinking of all these things, of course—it’s that I’m a bit sick of constantly thinking of them in concrete terms and am interested in trying to hash out some of the emotional reality of all this floating under the surface. And I want to do it in an under the surface sort of way.

I feel the need for some metaphors, in other words.

That’s why I wrote that I need to be writing stories above. Writing stories is therapy for me. I could use a little therapy at the moment, and I could stand to tackle some of these issues from a different direction.

— ∞ —

Thus, much as I took a hiatus last August after starting this blog to get through the busy season, I’m taking something of a hiatus again. I hate to do it, but it’s simply what I need. I want to keep writing, but I don’t want to, for the moment, do the sort of writing I’ve been doing here.

Earlier this week, in fact, as I pondered a complete rewrite of a short story I wrote years ago, something more ambitious and perhaps nearing the state of a novel came to mind, and I’m excited to dive into writing that. So that’s where my writing energy is going to be going for at least the next few months. However, I also hope to write some smaller pieces, perhaps some flash fiction even, and to just dabble with whatever comes to me.

With that in mind, I’ve been considering how to handle this hiatus. I may not post much of anything here until the fall, but that’s not what I’d prefer. I hate to shut the blog down completely. So, rather than going entirely quiet, I’ll look to perhaps post some small writings like what I wrote at the beginning of this post. I may put some kind of flash fiction up, or just some small recounting of something that happened to me written in a bit more of a literary style. I don’t know if any of my readers are really interested in that; please feel free to chime in in the comments, and don’t hesitate to let me know if you’re not interested.

It’s entirely possible, too, that none of those plans will manifest here on the blog and that I won’t really start writing again until after the summer passes. Either way, you can expect much less frequent postings here than was common before the last month.

I do plan to get back to the blog’s regular tone once the fall and winter roll back around. I have little doubt that I’ll find myself quite preoccupied with this blog’s themes in the quiet dark of the winter season, and I imagine I’ll be a bit recharged and refreshed in that regard. I’m hoping not to lose what readers I do have, so please don’t never come back. If you want, you can always sign up on the left hand side of the page to get emailed new posts as they’re published.

— ∞ —

I’ll end this with a small garden update.

There’s one red Stupice tomato just about fully ripe in the hoop house; many other tomatoes—a wide variety—will follow on its heels. The squash, summer and winter alike, is suddenly growing like crazy. A deer got into the garden about a week ago, but the beans and peas it munched on seem to have survived and are coming back. The deer ate selectively, so really it just provided me a bit of unexpected succession planting. I can’t be too unhappy. The potatoes are in bloom, eggplant and peppers are coming on, the summer salad mix is about ready for a harvest and soon I’m going to have far more kale than I know what to do with. My first broccoli head is almost ready and I have a few hundred fall crops seeded in trays, just starting to sprout. The work is never ending, but it’s also a nice level of casual—I can find time for other things if I need it. And I will—for writing, for play, for sanity, for contemplation. But it’s the work that keeps me going, that keeps each day moving into the next.

I hope it’s much the same for everyone else here. No matter how much I find myself yearning for the abstract of late, it’s the work that creates that yearning. It’s the base. It’s the sustenance. I try always to keep that in mind.

That’s the update. I hope everyone is having a more or less good summer. (As for you, Chris—and any other southern hemisphere readers—I hope you’re having a fine winter.) I’d love some updates in the comments. Don’t take my hiatus as a lack of interest. Without the small community that’s formed here, I may have run out of steam long ago.

— ∞ —

In other words, thank you.

Posted July 20, 2012 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Meta, Work

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Work Calls   21 comments

It’s amazing what the summer brings. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve found myself without a single day that I haven’t been doing at least some work for one of my two farmhand jobs or working on the garden. That doesn’t mean life has been crushing or brutal—some of those days have only involved a bit of work and others have involved quite a bit of gardening that proved enjoyable and invigorating as much as anything. But it has kept me busy and pretty consistently feeling in service of a never ending to do list, even in the moments when I’m not working on one of the tasks.

On that to do list for awhile now has been to write a new blog post. As I imagine is obvious, that keeps slipping further down the list. I’ll hope that most of my readers understand that sort of prioritizing. My jobs take precedent over the blog and my garden screams a bit more loudly than this blog does. When I’m looking to get some seeding done before the end of the day to hopefully have some home grown salad on the table in a few weeks or taking advantage of cool and cloudy weather to trellis tomatoes in the hoop house, I have to prioritize the actual work of this life over the writing about the work of this life.

Furthermore, when a long day of work is followed up by some evening gardening, dinner and zoning out (or reading, or getting to bed early) is much easier than writing a blog post. Simply put, I’ve been a bit too fried of late to get a good post written. I’ve sat down with the intent to write just such a post a few times, but it hasn’t quite come together. The inspiration has been lost in exhaustion.

So here I am writing something easier, so that I can get something written and posted and let you all know that I haven’t entirely disappeared or lost myself in more basketball (though I am watching the NBA Finals.) This is my meta update. And there are updates to my life, beyond what I’ve just written.

Aside from the work I’m doing—or as an element of all this work—is the fact that two WWOOFers, Lily and Kayleigh, are now living with me and helping out on the farm and with my garden. They worked at Ginger’s place—the farm I interned on last year—for six weeks and decided they didn’t want to leave the Oregon coast. So they’re staying the rest of the summer. After a bit of checking around, talking, debating, thinking about it, and making arrangements, it worked out for them to move into the house I’m living in now—staying in the second bedroom I hadn’t been using. So now I have helpers, roommates, friends, companions, dare I even say students. They play a wide variety of roles and so far it’s been a great arrangement.

One of the consequences of their arrival, though, has been an increased workload. It’s ironic that help can add to the work, but so be it. I’m not complaining about that; the workload has increased because I’m now getting more done with the motivation of having others around to help out. I even am attempting to teach a bit, though I still feel a far way from being a truly knowledgeable teacher. The garden keeps expanding, though it also still seems so far from complete. The hoop house is getting filled out with tomatoes and eggplants and peppers. New beds are being worked up and seeded outside and I’m seeding trays and pots to eventually be transplanted. There’s a lot going on and if much of this comes through, I’ll eventually be swimming in more food than the three of us likely can eat.

Not a bad problem to have.

I also have been working more for the farm here, both in helping to lead Lily and Kayleigh when they’re working and also in doing other tasks without them that seem to be cropping up as the season wears on. I’m now working two full days for Lance and Tammi, in addition, and this week I start working a second farmer’s market on Thursdays. So that leaves me working full days for Lance and Tammi on Tuesday and Friday, working markets on Thursday and Sunday, and fitting in other work here around the farm and gardening on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. And I try to get in some socializing and down time, as well. The season is in full swing indeed.

This isn’t to complain, I want to be clear. It’s been really inspiring having such purpose and feeling so in service to a wide variety of people, animals, land, and personal goals. After my stretch of distraction and lack of accomplishment, I feel like I’m making up for that down time with a flurry of activity and good work. But it’s also been tiring and I’m still trying to find my feet; to find a pace that’s effective and sustainable. I think it’s going to take a bit more thought and experimentation.

I feel, though, that all this is moving me toward something. I have vague thoughts and ideas and schemings about what that may be. Suddenly living and working with two women who I also am, in a few small ways, teaching and leading has helped to affirm for me that I could manage and lead WWOOFers in other capacities. Gardening and growing my own food is helping to affirm that I could run some kind of farm or homestead of my own. Figuring out what tasks need to be done, prioritizing and accomplishing those tasks, and just generally being in the mode of management is also helping to affirm that I could manage my own place. None of it would be easy—and we’ll see where I am with all this in a few months—but all this good work is reminding me that I’m capable and that there are opportunities out there, so long as I’m open to them, willing to be creative and flexible, and willing to take a few risks.

I’m not sure exactly where all this is leading, but it feels like it may be somewhere good. The future suddenly feels a bit more close to the present.

We’ll see. In the meantime, forgive me my lingering silences and know that this blog still is important and still remains on my to do list. It’s just that there are plants and animals and people depending on me and they have to take a bit more priority at the moment, while the sun’s (occasionally) shining and the days are (somewhat) warm. Sometimes the season calls for contemplation and sometimes it calls for work. It’s calling for work at the moment. The contemplation will be back, and I’ll no doubt manage to sneak it in, at times, amongst the work over the next couple months, but for now the work calls a bit more insistently.

I hope to get something up later this week. We’ll see if the garden and my sanity allows it.

Posted June 18, 2012 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Gardening, Meta, Work

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The Farmer Within   22 comments

Tomorrow morning, I’m taking a road trip up to Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound to visit the first farm I worked on. I started working there back in the summer of 2009 and have been farming in some capacity or another ever since, though with a couple winter breaks. It’s a bit amazing to think that I’m going into my fourth season of farming, and amazing yet to think of how much I still have left to learn—how very little, to be blunt, that I know. I should have been farming for the last twenty years, not just the last three.

But while I started farming later than I wish, I’m immensely happy to have found such a satisfying way of life. It’s humbling to think of how much farming has changed my life and how different a path I now find myself on. It’s also humbling to think of how happy I am in comparison to a former life lived not farming, lost amid a panoply of questions about how best to live my life. While I’m far from having figured everything out and I still am living a life that’s far from settled, I don’t doubt for a moment that I’m on the right track. I know the general path I need to follow, even if I have no idea the curves that path will take.

One of those curves has taken place over the last few months. As I transferred from a focus on vegetable farming to animal husbandry, I started to wonder if perhaps animals were more where my farming passion lay. While I always enjoyed vegetable farming, the pace of it, to be perfectly honest, never seemed to fit me quite right. The pace of animal husbandry—at least in my experience so far, which is admittedly limited—seemed to be a better match. My initial intimidation at working with animals lessened considerably and now navigating my way around sheep, cows, pigs, chickens and other animals feels almost like second nature. There are still moments of surprise, moments of disquiet, moments of disgust, moments of uncertain consideration, but there are still more moments of joy, amusement, beauty, contemplation and connection. I like working with animals.

Something happened about a week ago, however, that suddenly pushed me back into the realm of growing vegetables. A 90′ by 40′ plot of sod was tilled up for me to make a large garden out of. It happened unexpectedly, while I was futzing around in the hoop house in which I had planted a bed of tomatoes a little over a week ago. A family member of the owners of the farm I’m living at showed up with his tractor to plow a plot that he has there and then offered to till up the area I was looking to put in a garden. I happily accepted his offer, being not too eager to try to rip up all that sod by hand—which I had actually just started to do so I could get some potatoes in the ground. With his tractor, a very long job happened very fast, and it wasn’t long before I had a glorious rectangle of fresh dirt staring back at me.

Looking at that soil, the last three years of vegetable farming came roaring back and my inner farmer decided to reassert himself with a vengeance. I stared at that fresh plot, knowing that while the land was not mine, this plot was mine to use as I please, as I saw fit. I imagined rows of veggies growing, of the abundance of late summer and early fall harvests, and of the sweat and labor of working up beds and weeding and harvesting. I imagined the ownership of it, the physical labor of it, the payoff of fresh vegetables, the magic of watching plants grow at my personal, humble bequest. (Though on the plants’ terms—always.) I felt a surge of joy and excitement and possibility that simply overwhelmed me.

I hadn’t expected that, to say the least. I’ve been excited about gardening, but I didn’t expect anything so powerful.

In that moment, I understood the beauty of the Homestead Act. I understood the importance of ownership. And I realized that, damn, I was a farmer. I’m not saying I’m destined to grow vegetables for the rest of my life, though that’s certainly one of the possible paths I could take. I’m not saying I don’t want to raise animals, because I think I do, at least on a small and personal scale if nothing else. I’m not saying I’ll have my own farm, as I have no idea if I ever will own land. But what I realized while staring at that fresh soil and the possibilities it evoked was that farming, over the last three years, had crept under my skin and burrowed deep into my being, had laid down its roots and overtaken me. I was lost to it, even if I hadn’t fully realized. The joy in me spoke to that reality.

Looking at that plot, putting my hands in the dirt, flipping through possibilities in my mind and imagining the glorious results, anticipating putting rakes in that dirt, incorporating fertilizer, working up a sweat—I longed for all of it. I wanted to do it all, right then, at that very moment, even though it was impossible. Even though it was already evening and I had other tasks to get done, I wanted nothing more than to lose myself in that plot of earth. And that instantly rejuvenated me. It lifted me back to a place I had tumbled away from.

There’s a reason this blog has been mostly dead the last three weeks. I fell into a funk of my own making, spurred on by bad habits. I’m going to write about that soon, and I originally meant to write about it today. But I still am figuring out that post. For the moment, though, just know that I had slipped into a state of bad habits, lack of motivation and distraction, and as such I was failing to accomplish some of my goals. But seeing that tilled earth somehow brought me out of that funk. The soil rebirthed me. It brought me back to the life I need to be living.

I’ve since planted sixty row feet of potatoes, some lettuce and chard and kale, and another row of tomatoes in the hoop house. It’s not much, and far more will come, but I’m still getting together seed and supplies, not having really been prepared to garden. My road trip up to Whidbey will take me through Portland on the way back this weekend, where I’ll pick up more supplies. And when I get back, the gardening will continue. But also, this blog will be back on track. Granted, June is going to be the start of what is looking like a very busy season for me. I’ll be working two or three farmers markets, plus doing farm work and taking care of my own garden. Throw in socializing and outdoor activities in the nice summer weather and there may be limited time for blogging. But I intend to keep this site going through the season and am feeling reinvigorated as to what I’ll be writing. The How To Be Poor series of posts fell off, but it’s about to come back. Encounters and The Household Economy will continue, as well, along with stand alone posts. I have plenty to say.

Expect a new How To Be Poor post soon. I’ll write about the distractions and bad habits that took hold of me, explaining my absence, and then explore how that dovetails with voluntary poverty and living a life within constrained resources. As has been the case of late, I’ll be talking also about patterns and cycles, with further words on the plot of earth that helped bring me back into my life and push me full bore into the summer season.

It’s going to be a busy couple of months, but with dirt under my finger nails, the emergence of the farmer within, new experiences, fresh vegetables and the ever-entertaining animals, I think this will be a fantastic summer. With luck—not to mention focus and discipline—I’ll be able to share a good amount of it with you guys.

Failing Others   8 comments

I suppose it’s inevitable, but there are times when you hurt people you care about. I did that recently with a post that was on this blog for a few days before being taken down.

I didn’t mean to hurt those whom I did with that post. But I should have had a better sense of its ramifications. Sometimes—and it has happened multiple times, I suspect, in the course of writing this blog—I get so caught up in the theory and philosophy about which I’m writing that I lose sight of the personal element to many of these posts. I am someone who uses personal experiences to illustrate the philosophy and ideas that I write about. It’s simply the way I make my arguments—there’s no changing it and I have no desire to change it. Yet, such a method requires a certain degree of thought, consideration and caution. I failed on all three counts with my previous entry.

To the people I hurt, I’m sorry. I care about them, they’ve treated me well, and I screwed up in offending them. I hope they’ll forgive me.

Those readers who saw the post will likely have noticed by now that it disappeared. I apologize, as well, to those who had commented on the post and on the disappearance of those comments. Those who didn’t read the last post but are otherwise regular readers have probably noticed the absence of any new content. What happened with the last entry is part of the reason for that. I’ve been thinking a bit about this blog, the way I write it, what I want to say and how to say it. I’ve been considering whether or not I need to change my approach and reevaluating ideas for posts. However, I also have been busy and in a period of transition, and that’s played a part in my relative silence here. I haven’t minded giving myself some time off from this blog, even though it has continued to call for my attention during the break.

I feel ready to resume my writing here, though. I may need another week or two before I get the How To Be Poor series going again, but I have some other posts I want to write. New content is on the way.

Posted April 5, 2012 by Joel Caris in Meta

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