I am thinking a lot about time. It happens every fall. I can’t help it. Time presses in upon me so hard, squeezing me so tightly, that I can barely breathe. Everything around me is changing so rapidly, so decisively, so finally. Everywhere I turn, plants are shriveling. Leaves are turning. Brown and brittle; twisted and fixed—once vibrant field flowers stand still in their tracks. Done.
Sure, time thrusts itself upon me with similar abandon in the spring as the earth presses out of itself, like clay through an extruder, manifesting in myriad green growths. Yet spring-time does not hit me in the same way as fall-time. Every emerging sprout, noted and not, is a herald crying out, announcing the advent of more. More fruit! More food! More life! Coming now!
The irrepressibly rapid changes of fall, however, herald death—and more death. Death to our cucumbers, corn, basil, and beans. Death to our tomatoes and broccoli, peppers and pears. Then death to our kale, carrots, potatoes, and beets. And death to the fields that feed our animals. One by one the plant cycles end. All my arcs of work and anticipation and fruition and joy—all that time spent preparing the soil, sinking the seed, watering and weeding—gone. All of its fruits, finished.
In the fall, I cannot help but feel the downward pull of life—down into the earth, where it draws in, curls up and hides.
Moving me, as it does, fall also reminds me why we moved here to the farm over nine years ago, and why we have stayed.
We moved to the farm so that I could dance. There were other reasons too, but I needed to be in a place that called me to move—an outdoor place that would awaken my senses and entice me to explore it. I needed to live in such a place—not just visit—so that this dance would be integral to my life, at the center, source of the rest. I did not want my dancing removed to a remote studio; I wanted it immersed in the hubbub of home. I wanted whatever I created in dance to be fully informed by and accountable to the rhythms of raising humans and realizing dreams.
From the beginning, I danced everywhere—in the house and out of the house; by the barns, in the woods, and around the fields. But it wasn’t easier, as I thought it would be, to find the time to dance. I thought that our separation from the rush and tumble of urban life would leave large dance-shaped holes in my life. Pressing against the rush and tumble of rural life was just as hard.
Even so, immersing my dancing self in rural life did help me to understand better than I had why dancing—as vital and beautiful and fun as it is to do—is so challenging a practice to sustain. Not only (as I have written elsewhere), does the act of dancing press every button in the matrix of western values, dance exercises a significantly different sensory orientation than the virtual worlds in which so many people—urban or rural—live. Dancing calls us to attend to the rhythms of our bodily selves—the rhythms of the earth, in us and around us. Often it is easier not to do so.
Virtual worlds are addictive, and not only because they offer speedy pleasures. They are addictive because they still our senses and protect us from feeling pain. Our screens screen us from the tumultuous changes at hand in every moment. Plugged in, transfixed by images that appear to move, we need not feel the rhythms of the natural world. We need not feel the incoming rush of fall or suffer the losses it foretells. The seeming dynamism of our virtual words is an illusion that grants us a sense of stability in the face of the greater changes around us and within us.
To be open to dance—to allow oneself be moved within and without—is to confront loss. It is to know, from the outset, that all the work you do, all the efforts you spend, all the beautiful shapes you inhabit and realize, are blossoms in the wind—present for a moment, before being blown away by the next. To dance is to know that fall is always right around the corner.
So what should I do? Just give up? Stop dancing? Wouldn’t it be more rational and expedient to create some mark that lasts? Something more stable and enduring? Something I can hold or count on or at least read?
I ask these questions all the time. It is not just dancing that raises them. Here on the farm I spend so much time creating things that do not and will not last—things that are intended to be consumed, used, or will otherwise grow up and be given away, or move out on their own.
It is true of food. While I do not consider myself a “cook” (I dislike recipes), I am daily transforming the natural resources produced by our farm—milk and eggs, vegetables and fruit—into tasty, nourishing basics. The loaf of bread just lifted from the oven; the mozzarella stretching through space; the ice cream dripping off the paddle; the butter clotting in the jar; the kale sautéed with onions, carrots, and tomatoes fresh from the garden—are each intensely beautiful. I gawk in amazement as they appear before me through the action of my own hands. I feel blessed to participate in their appearance. They give great pleasure. But soon, they disappear–bitten, chewed, and swallowed, or else grow crusty, moldy, and stale.
Is all that effort worth it? Why not just get it all at the grocery store?
So too, I have spent the past seven weeks raising six kittens, orphaned at one week old by a speeding car. For three weeks I bottle-fed them every four to six hours with pricey milk replacer, wiped their bottoms and changed their bed. I made them a bigger box, then a bigger box, and added a litter box; I cleaned them and weaned them. I cuddled them and delighted in them. And then, with a hanging heart, gave four away.
Was all that effort worth it? Only to let them go–for free?
I wonder if nature asks such questions too. Why so much attention to vibrant displays that burst into view and fade away? Why such extravagant expenditure on ephemeral ends? Their blasts of beauty–the pleasure they bring–do not seem enough of a reason.
Then, as I ponder these questions, the fall, even as it takes everything away, brings me back an answer. Seeds. In our ghost of a garden, our fading fields, there is abundant life if you know where to look. There are an abundance of seeds. Small and large. Tufted and smooth. Air-born and soil-bound. There are seeds, shedding, popping, proliferating forth, pure pods of potential. There are seeds that promise to multiply, beyond all measure, the pleasures that have come before.
The same is true of movements I make–dancing, feeding, caring–whose fruits seem so ephemeral, so short-lived. In every dance that I do, every cheese that I stir, every infant animal I tend, I am also making seeds. These seeds gather in me. They take shape in the form of movement patterns–patterns of attention and coordination, of sensation and response, of care and compassion, that dwell in me, as me, yet to unfold.
It is especially true of dance. In every dance that dies, there is abundant life. When I dance, I not only make moves, I practice making moves. I practice opening and inviting new moves that will release me into new ranges of experience–moves that will express the care and attention I am spending. Dancing, I become the movements I make, and these patterns pulse within—as seeds of awareness, pods of perception, capable of giving rise to new sprouts of inspiration, when blown by something that sings of spring.
We moved to the farm so we could root ourselves in a place where we could not help being moved by the rhythms of the natural world to create the seeds of a life we wanted to live. A life we could imagine. A life in which love for each other and the earth is the most important thing.
That is why I dance—and why I am here—tending kale and kittens and kids, so deeply moved by the falling away of fall. And celebrating the seeds–and spring–to come.