April 11, 2010

The Skills to Sustain Ourselves

I love this quote, from the famous Cleveland reporter, William Feather:

"If people really liked to work, we'd still be plowing the land with sticks and transporting goods on our backs".

How true this is. How many of us still plow the land, sow the seeds, and reap the "fruits of our labors" as our sole means of nourishment? How many of us are required, either through lack of knowledge or lack of resources, to for-go turning over the earth, only to shop at Wal-Mart for what sustains us? Yet, is there really so much shame in being a hunter/gatherer instead of a farmer?

A lot in my recent history has given me pause to really think about this. I am a person of great conflict. Creative and lofty in spirit, yet earth-bound at the same time, I grapple with what is "work". Is physical labor more like "work" than the promotion of a business? Does daily travel to an office make a person more viable than freelancing from home? Don't we deserve to earn more in a shorter time span than what we would make doing the same thing under some-one else's corporation?

The necessities of "keeping track" by computer have taken me further and further away from my paper journals, written and sketched. Those beautiful bound wonders, cracked and perfumed with graphite and ink, smeared with pastel dust and charcoal. They are like relics of another culture uncovered in a vast field by the moldboard of a plow. Pieces of my life in patchwork: calligraphic drawings of my immediate surroundings and night-dreams alike. The tools for my inventiveness — a photograph here, a color copy of the color wheel there, scribbles of alchemical formulas of color theory. Esoteric, secretive but nourishing, most of my counter-parts in the farming world have little understanding, or worse, little care, for this other form of nourishment—the spiritual. Is it a curse, or a blessing, to have your feet planted in the ground and your head in the clouds? Does having a dual purpose, one the strength for labor and two the gift of creativity, give you the edge to prosper when all around you is crumbling?

I once heard a farmer, visiting the US from Siberia, of all places, say to a group of us plowmen and women, "You have a skill that few others in today's world have. If all was to go away, you have the knowledge to re-plant, and feed yourselves". Those words still haunt me.

Photos: Top: More often than not, Terry is put to work in the fields by our Menonite friends when down in Pennsylvania. Here he disc harrows with five horses during last week's trip.
Middle: Our friend, Paul, plowing with four.
Bottom: Passing down the skills to keep agriculture alive: Paul's eldest son, Tim, disking.

1 comment:

  1. You're very right in this. We use the land, raise animals, produce food and have the knowledge to be fairly self sufficient. I am amazed at the number of people who have no idea where their produce or meat comes from or the work involved to get it to them.

    I would love to have horses again but for now to see yours and see horses working the land is my pleasure.