Archive for September 2016

On Searching For Home   2 comments

Almost two years ago, just a few days before the winter solstice, I was mucking out the sheep shed at one of the farms I worked for when I received news via a text message that I was going to be hired as a co-Director at a small nonprofit focused on building the local food system. This came at the end of a lengthy interview process, after weeks of build up, and at a point at which I had already decided I was ready to move on and try a new type of work. I loved the farms I worked for, but I wanted a change.

That desire at the time was something of a revelation for me. I had been working those same farms for a few years at that point, and was in my fifth year of farm work in general. Over the preceding several years, I had studied and become a part of the local food movement, working on and in the ground and loving it dearly. My first experiences with farm work in the summer of 2009 changed me and altered my life’s course. As I continued along that path, I came to love the idea of staying in one place, learning it, and figuring out how to live well there. I reached for that even as I moved to Whidbey Island to farm, back to Portland to farm, out to the north Oregon coast to farm. However, I found something important out on the coast: a place to settle and live. Yes, I continued to move, a mile or two south along the same rural highway each year. But I settled into my work on a few familiar farms, came to know and love the land and climate around me even if I kept playing on different small plots, and initiated the long process of integrating and settling into the community I had become a part of.

To my mind, farming and working with the land was a key element of that process. It was the linchpin upon which the rest of my life—my place within my community—depended. Therefore, when I decided to pursue this new position in late 2014—this work that would take me away from the soil and from the growing and raising of food—it took me somewhat by surprise. As I pursued the job and began to internalize the idea of actually being hired, I became ready for it. A desire for a change in my work arose, and I came to the realization that I was done with my current work.

The realization confused and in some ways disconcerted me. It was a rejection of so many ways I had come to see myself in the world and it was the way I had integrated myself into my community. It was my context. Yet I didn’t try to avoid or ignore the realization, instead turning it over in my head, examining it, and wondering what it meant for the rest of my life. Honestly, it didn’t take me long to come to a simple conclusion, which was that I feed on a certain amount of change and diversity in my work, and possibly in other areas of life.

There are caveats to this idea, though. I crave comfort just as much as change and diversity, and I am a great fan of familiarity. I do not constantly ache for adventure. I like travel, but I can in many ways take it or leave it. I want a home, and I want to make that home day in and day out—that’s ultimately more important to me than travel. I still want to know a plot of land intimately. I enjoy seeing the changes in a certain place as it cycles through the season, I enjoy knowing my way around a place, and I revel in the return to familiar places. All this is true. And yet, I have worked six different regular jobs in the last seven years, I’ve lived in seven different places, I’ve engaged in a number of side projects, and I keep changing parts of my identify and concept of self.

By early 2015, I no longer worked for any farms and I was settling deep into an office job, still working within the context of the local food system but via a nonprofit organization rather than through the direct growing and raising of food (though I still had my garden and chickens). The change felt monumental and I look back on it now as a key turning point in my life, setting me on a new path that led to my current relationship and my recent return to living in Portland. Yes, I am back in the city now, and sometimes my farming life feels so far away that I no longer know what to make of it, or what to make of myself, even though many of the ways I view and understand the world and much of what I have written about here at Of The Hands during my farming life is still an integral part of who I am. It’s just that my context is different.

That isn’t bad, of course; I am happy and content, in my way, although I keep thinking that there’s another shift coming. But that, too, is part of the equation now of who I am. I shift, and try new things, and embark on new courses. I’ve been doing that for over a decade now, and I don’t think I’m quite done.

The thing is, I still think I may be done at some future point. I don’t mean that literally, of course—change is a constant in life, and I’m far too interested in the world and its intricacies to ever settle into a single world view, a single way of being, a single overarching experience without wanting something new and revelatory. But I also don’t expect to keep this pace of change alive forever—at least not in my work and home. It still feels as though I’m working toward something more solid and steady, where the changes still exist but are far less disruptive, more internal, not as manifest at the physical level.

I don’t know. That may all be imagination, romanticism, or longing for a person I no longer am or perhaps never was. I always seem capable of taking myself by surprise, and thus it’s dangerous for me to make predictions.

Sometimes it’s tiring, this change and uncertainty, and sometimes it’s exhilarating and other times it’s confusing. There are things I do know, however: that I love the woman I am with now and the home we’ve made together, that I miss farming and working in the soil, that I miss living in a rural area, that I enjoy the city anyway, that I am excited by my recent turn toward writing, and that I’ll inevitably strike out in new directions in the future and learn new things—about me, about the world, about my community.

In that vein, I want to introduce you all to my new blog, Litterfall. It is a piece of my new life—perhaps something you’ve already found, perhaps not. If not, I’d like to invite you over, all of you who have ever read and enjoyed Of The Hands. I think you’ll like it over there, for there are many echoing themes, even if the general thrust is different. Of The Hands is about philosophies of living, of course, but it’s as much or more about my experiences with farming and homesteading, with connection to nature, with growing and raising food and eating it, with finding my place within a specific community. Litterfall is more philosophical, more broad, less personal at times and more a consideration of the world at large—though the personal will be making its way there eventually, in a future series of posts. And yet, Litterfall is also about the better ways we need to live, the necessary reductions in our outsized lives, and the joy of living in a more simple way and with a greater connection to the communities around us—human, ecological, and otherwise.

I started with an introduction, then moved on to discussions of the failing American empire, declining energy and resource availability, and the consequences of our brain-dead abuse and exploitation of the world around us. From there, I spoke about how tiring the standard American way of living is, the debt it incurs, and the simple reality that living with less is a better and happier way of living. Going forward, I’ll be writing about the importance of evaluating both the pros and cons of new technology and new ideas—something we are not good at here in America—before diving into a series of posts on closed system economics, with the hope of laying out a series of organizing principles for this country that could make the future quite a bit better than it might otherwise be, while improving a lot of people’s lives.

Like Of The Hands used to be when I was settling into a new life and community, Litterfall is an outline for my discovery of new ways of living, new ways of being, of understanding myself and the world around me. I’m updating it weekly, every Monday evening. I hope it’s helpful and enjoyable for readers, and becomes a place of conversation, and perhaps can play a similar role as this blog did in its heyday—helping me to see the world anew and find myself a new internal home to go with the external one. It seems a constant search to me, though I think I continue to move toward something more permanent, a true base from which to ride the other changes, internal and otherwise, that will mark my life so long as I live it.

I hope to see you over there, and thanks for the years of conversation and consideration.

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Posted September 30, 2016 by Joel Caris in Essays, Farm Life, Meta

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