We stumbled past the equinox to stop in the solid footing of fall. And we find ourselves here, in this moment, in October, with no idea how we got here so fast and remain upright. It’s a mad thing, the main season—abundant with food, and scores of faces, and joy, and connection, and velocity. So much velocity that we inevitably arrive dumbstruck here in the October balm.
October is arguably the most beautiful month, with its days warm beneath a languid sun and nights slow and long and blanketed. We ease our aching bodies into its bath of lessened workload and lowered cortisol levels. We reflect and revise, formulate ideas of improvement. We glide awhile, just enjoying the view. We celebrate the season, birthdays, anniversaries, and those that passed before us. We soak in the Epsom salt of gratitude and linger there, catching our breath.
Last week there was a kid at market who flitted from stand to stand exclaiming, “WHOA!” at each shout of color, at each new shape. It was an excellent reminder of how awesome everything is. It’s like when you first move somewhere and are exploring your new surroundings. Everything is noteworthy and interesting until suddenly, you’re no longer a tourist in your backyard anymore and you forget to notice.
There’s a poet, Ross Gay, who wrote a book called the Book of Delights. He practices noticing by literally putting his finger in the air and saying “delight!” when he comes across something delightful. I try to remember to at least do this in my head so that I don’t get too old and crotchety and forget what that kid at market reminded me of: we’re surrounded by delight all the time! WHOA! Everything is amazing!
I’ve been feeling big change in the air. Borne of a misinterpretation of unrelated events and my reading “When Women Were Dragons” and a haphazard “consulting” of Rob Brezney’s Free Will Astrology. I forgot to be in the here and now. I started to feel bigger than my life. I started to crave dissolutions and rebirth. I began to live vicariously through the youth around me.
I forgot, for a moment, that I was already young. I misplaced the notion that this life of middle age can also be filled with its own magic and joy. I overlooked my own experience. What is it about us that keeps us longing for our youth. I mean, there are some serious cringe-worthy moments of my youth that I’d just as soon skip, and I do NOT want to go back there.
And so I return to the present and remember. I take a deep late summer breath and feel the gentle sun on my skin, the slow arc of the shadows, and the gratitude overflowing my heart. I feel solid. Grounded. And there is magic in this. There is joy in staying put.
I’ve been in full pursuit of “living my best life” lately. I’m entrenched in an epic search for the academic concept of “True Fun”: the magical confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow. I’m learning new things and in this am reminded that in any new endeavor, you just don’t get to skip the part where you suck😊
It’s an unfortunate truth. When you’re learning a new language as an adult, you’re going to stumble around like a baby (but way less cute) saying awkward things and accidentally offending people. When you’re learning to knit, you’re going to create the most ridiculous lumpy misshapen too small sweater not even fit for a squirrel, and when you’re learning to whitewater kayak, you’re going to swim…a lot, and maybe even pin your boat😊.
And so I found myself in the heart of rivers, frustrated and exhausted, muscles aching, acutely aware of the toddler stage I am in this most recent side quest, and still grinning from ear to ear. Because that’s the thing isn’t it? Learning and growing is a hoot! Why do we think children are so happy? Is it innate joy or the process? Based on my current experience, I suspect it’s more of the process (and not knowing enough to care what other people think about where you are in that process).
That was the thing about being beginning farmers. We were so busy putting out fires to notice the myriad of newly created problems we were trailing in our wake. We look back from our current vantage point of 20 years of practice and cringe, but also see that those younger versions of ourselves were grinning from ear to ear as they learned and grew and built this system from the ground up one mistake at a time. And I suspect the future versions of us will look back at where we are now and cringe but also smile.
As we become ever entrenched in adulthood, our focus can narrow to our careers, families, and responsibilities. We’re so busy putting one foot in front of the other on the path laid down before us to…what…retirement? And then, if we make it as far as retirement (no one is guaranteed tomorrow!), we have to somehow re-teach ourselves how to play and laugh. But by that time, it is possible that we have been too far removed from play that it’s just too hard to figure out what that means anymore. Without play, will we just become grumpy old farts?
I learned from my father (who is not a grumpy old fart) that play doesn’t ever have to stop. Sure he worked, and he enjoyed his work, and though I never witnessed it, I’d be willing to bet he brought that playful spirit right there into his classroom (he taught machine shop). That guy has never stopped playing as far as I can tell.
We work a lot during the main season. We haven’t found a way around that yet. I mean, the main season is the main season for good reason: longer days, more crop possibilities, crops grow faster and better…the list goes on. But we haven’t shut ourselves out from the power of play.
Play has been shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality, and stimulate creativity. Studies show that play improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex. One of the definitions of play, from the Oxford English Dictionary, is to wield light and freely. Ha! Our work can be difficult, uncomfortable, tedious, and unending. Incorporating some play into our days lightens things up a lot! It makes us want to keep returning to the task at hand. It keeps us growing food!
This past weekend, the Tumbling Shoals team brought their A game to the world of play. We showed up to the 4th annual Farm Olympics in full costume (what do you mean it wasn’t a costume party?! Every event is a costume party!), and just upped the fun(ny) level for everyone. We wielded lightly and freely and we laughed hard. We gave our all to the power of play and are still riding the wave of endorphins.
I did a lot of leaving when I was young. I tried different types of work and lived in different types of places and participated in temporary programs. This ephemeral living involved many tearful goodbyes, but I was always the one leaving. Goodbyes were bittersweet-filled with the heartbreak of breaking bonds formed over my time in different places, but also with the excitement and distraction of the unknown things to come. This is a common story of youth.
But now I am older, with roots (both literally and figuratively) in the ground, and now I’m the one left behind while the young head off to the exciting and unknown lives ahead of them. My brain knows logically that this is inevitable. It understands that it was once young and free and filled with wanderlust. It knows that following that longing and filling their lives with new experiences is what is best for those that do.
My heart, however, is a selfish thing. It whines and cries and stamps its feet in protest. This IS NOT what it wants. I’m still trying to learn to embrace all emotions no matter how uncomfortable, and so I indulge the heart a bit. I return to a familiar grief mode. I once again listen to the music about the loss of love, about the dissolution of relationships that I was listening to after the death of our dog, and during previous moments of grief. I embrace the sadness and let my heart break.
No, things will not be the same. Yes, things have been great. But it will be okay. I’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. We will build another farmily from the ground up. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the heck out of the last moments with this one that we’ve been so lucky to have for so long.
You’re swimming. Your head is above water. But the current is strong and is sweeping you downstream faster than you want to admit to yourself. You’re fatigued, but know that until you reach calmer waters, you need to keep paddling just to keep your head above water. So you just keep paddling.
This is what the weeks feel like now. I heard a farmer friend call it the Julyvalanche. Everything is happening now. At the end of each day, I think the end of the week will be a break in action—a moment to relax and breath, but when Sunday arrives, there are always still things to do—house to clean, okra to pick, laundry to wash. And then Monday whirls around again like a riptide and we’re off again.
I know the shore will come. It always does. We never actually drown. By now, we are intimate with the cycles of farm life. And now, well, now is the Julyvalanche.
We like to put our rugged individualism on a pedestal in this country, but there’s a lot of comfort and security in a community. Just knowing others are there and have your back if things go awry. I’ve experienced this over and over in the farmers market community. Everyone is happy to help everyone else with the inevitable problems (running short of change, or bags, etc.) and even the unexpected problems like when we had a flat tire and our spare wouldn’t descend and Za lent us his spare tire so we would get our van to the mechanic! We’re constantly helping each other with tents, jumping dead car batteries, squeezing this way and that to make us all fit in. It’s the perfect example of the benefits of community.
The instinct to build community is in our bones. It’s the reasons our ancestors succeeded in passing along their genes to us and we know it. So we gather, break bread together, celebrate birthdays and holidays, mourn together, solve problems together, and just generally help each other. Because we know community is more important than our political differences, our religious differences, differences in appearance, any differences. Community is how we thrive in the best of times, and survive in the worst of times.
The best and most frustrating part of life is that there’s no end to learning and growing. It’s wonderful because I never get bored or stagnant. There’s always more to learn. It’s frustrating because quite frankly, things would go much smoother if I just knew it all already! And sometimes, I’d just like to feel like an “expert” instead of an imposter just making it up as I go along.
I used to think people didn’t change all that much. Then we were having this discussion about this the other day and most of us wagered that we were completely different people than we were ten years ago. So I thought back to ten years ago in my life. 2012 was a year of transformation for me—a virtual growth spurt. So yeah, I guess I emerged from the primordial goo of 2012 a bit of a new person-a better—more complete—version of myself. The new self is informed by the old self’s experiences, but I guess that does mean that I have changed quite a lot.
Humans seem to like consistency, so it’s kind of amazing that we can maintain relationships through all the drastic changes in each other. Our adaptability is incredible! I don’t know what any of this has to do with our nation’s celebration of our day of independence, but perhaps the country is not all that different than the people that make it. Perhaps the country learns and grows and adapts as well. I hope so. I hope the country emerges from the primordial goo of these years of division and tension and transforms into a better, more complete, version of itself.
There are things I’ve learned over the past few years that are counterintuitive. And because they’re counterintuitive, I tend to forget them and need to re-learn them. One of the things I learned was that when you’re super busy, you should take more time to pause. That it will make you more productive in the end. The lesson had to do with meditation (meditate for longer the busier you are), but I took it into the physical world this Sunday.
I stopped the world and just floated down the river. It was easy going with easy going people. And for those hours you are floating down the river, there’s absolutely nothing you could do about anything elsewhere, so you just let it all go and live in the moment. In that way, it’s a lot like meditation.
And do you know what? I was super productive today! It was like magic; things just seemed to cross themselves off lists.
I’ve decided that lists are introverts. If you bug them every day trying to cross things off (or add things), you will drain them and they will move reluctantly and slowly and just seem to get longer. Give them an introvert recharge day, and they will be much more cooperative the next day. They might even just cross some things off themselves. Turn off, rest, turn back on. Age old wisdom there.