Tag Archives: farm family

Radical Homemaking: A Revolution in Progress?

Forty-five minutes from now my cultured milk will be ready for the next stage in the cheddaring process. It’s time to write, for I’ve been stirring thoughts while stirring this foamy white elixir that my son and daughter pulled a couple of hours ago from the teats of our three cows.

I am thinking about an excellent book I just read by Shannon Hayes called Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. At the heart of the book are a set of home visits Hayes made to twenty families and individuals whom she describes as radical homemakers. These are people who are—how can I say it—like us. It has been five years since Geoff and I packed our belongings, sold our house, and left work, friends, and family to make art on a deserted farm in upstate New York.

Indeed, Hayes’ critique of contemporary culture lands close to home. In pursuit of affluence, she writes, we Americans of the western world have created an economic system that is ravaging the health of our selves, our communities, and the planet. In this “extractive economy,” women and men leave home to work for wages they spend to fill their emptied homes with food and domestic goods they no longer know how to make. These goods are generally produced in bulk, far away, by strangers working under exploitative conditions, as part of a production and distribution process that extracts resources from the earth, and leaves polluted air, soil, and water in its wake.

Page after page Hayes shells out the statistics: despite our relative affluence, we are not happier, healthier, or richer. We are depressed, stressed, and restless. Our local communities are weak; our planet is dying. Many of the jobs available to us are not what we consider meaningful work, and yet, because of those jobs, we don’t have time in our lives to do what matters most to us. “The extractive economy,” she insists, “is terminal” (58).

There must be a better way—or many better ways—and Hayes sets out to document what some intrepid explorers are discovering. These radical homemakers, as she describes, are transforming home from a place of consumption to a place where women, men, and children work together to grow, make, and create what is vital to their living.

I get up from my computer and check on my cheese, where it waits on the stove. The milk is still warm, a balmy 90 degrees. I add a half-teaspoon of rennet and stir for a minute, slowly, as not to slosh. I set the timer again. Another forty-five minutes and I should have a nice firm curd.

None of the radical homemakers Hayes describes milk a cow, but in the end, Hayes’s concern is not with the practical activities of homemaking themselves. She maps the phenomenon in general terms, describing three overlapping, cyclical phases: radical homemakers redefine wealth in terms of family, community, good food, pleasure, and health. They reclaim skills lost in the increasing dependence on corporations for our livelihood, including nurturing relationships, setting realistic goals, redefining pleasure, and cultivating courage. They work to rebuild society, engaging in civic, artistic, and entrepreneurial activities often in their communities. In these ways, Hayes insists, radical homemakers are building a bridge from an extractive economy to one that is “life-serving,” where the goal (she cites David Korten) is “to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few” (13).

As I reflect on this book, I am struck by how dangerous it is. Isn’t Hayes promoting a nostalgic escape to a romanticized home life that never existed? Isn’t she advocating poverty and deprivation for all? Doesn’t she risk perpetuating gender stereotypes that have trapped women in domestic drudgery, denying them the opportunity to share their talents with a larger public?

I chew on the thought as check on my cheese. The curd should be forming now, firm to the touch, floating in a halo of whey. I am making this recipe with three gallons of milk—a bit more than half of this morning’s catch. The rest we will skim and drink, churning its cream into butter and ice cream, making cottage cheese, yogurt, and mozzarella too. Later.

I turn back to Hayes, a radical homemaker herself. She is well aware of the dangers. A Ph.D. from Cornell who graduated with fistfuls of ambition, she is wrestling with these issues herself. It is why she is writing the book. It is why she lays out the historic, economic, and cultural contexts that enable her readers to appreciate how radical the work of homemakers is. As she explains, the history of the United States is a history of a shifting balance of power from homes to corporate institutions, spurred by industrialization, the rise of advertising, and the shift to a consumer culture. By embracing home as central to their living, then, radical homemakers are saying no to corporate dominance, and yes to good old American values of democracy, self-reliance, family, local community, and quality of life. Ambitious indeed.

Nevertheless, the question lingers: is it enough for homemakers to know that what they are doing is radical in these ways? Hayes admits, the radical homemakers who are “truly fulfilled” expand their “creative energies outward,” beyond their homes, in that third phase of rebuilding society. Home becomes the philosophical and practical base for “deeper social accomplishments”; “the fertile ground” that feeds a “deeper fulfillment” (250). As important as this rebuilding phase of homemaking is to her thesis, Hayes spends five pages on it, versus sixty plus pages on the phases of redefining wealth and reclaiming skills.

What is it, then, about radical homemaking that allows us to feel this “deeper fulfillment” more than we would in any other way of living? Is it really about working in the home—or about moving beyond it?

The timer goes off. I stroll to the stove. The curd is done. I smile as it pushes back against my finger. I take out a long knife and cut the curd, back and forth. The knife clicks on the edge of the pan, tapping out a rhythm I consciously repeat. I finish the checkerboard, make some diagonal moves, turn the stove to low, give a good firm stir to the mass, and go back to my desk. It’s coming. So is my blog.

I think about my latest book, What A Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire. In it I talk about the cultural epidemic of depression (that Hayes also describes) as evidence of a dissatisfied desire for spirit. Humans, I argue, have a need for a sense of vitality, direction, and belonging that allows us to affirm that our lives are worth living. In the west we undergo a mind over body sensory education that leads us to believe that we will secure the affirmation we seek when we find the right belief, the right practice, or the right community—the right something outside of ourselves to fill our inner lack. We aren’t finding it.

What we need instead, I counter, it to cultivate a sensory awareness of the movements that are making us. When we do, we learn to participate consciously in the process of naming and bringing into being a world we love that loves us. It is this participation, I argue, in our own bodily becoming, that will yield the sense of affirmation we seek.

I trot back to the stove and give the cut curd another stir. So, then, is it helpful to think about radical homemaking as a way to express a desire for spirit? How are the movements of radical homemaking making the people who make them?

From the stories Hayes tells, it is clear: the movements that these people are making in their lives, as they redefine, reclaim, and rebuild, are making them into the people they want to be. The movements they are making in every case are addressing acute sensations of discomfort that these people have had. In most of the stories, there is some catalyst—a lost job, a sick child, a divorce, an illness—that breaks them open so that they are able to feel discomfort with their lives, and feel that discomfort as an indictment of corporate dominated forms of work, health care, food production, education, or government.

Further, not only were all of these persons able to feel their discomfort as an indictment of corporate culture, they were also able to find in that discomfort impulses to move differently—they were able to discern what I would call the wisdom in that (frustrated) desire. Instead of wishing the pain away, they were able to feel and receive the impulse to re-center their lives around home-making as a way to name and make real a world in which they want to live.

In this sense, these acts of homemaking are not a nostalgic escape nor a retrenchment in gender roles; they represent creative responses to untenable situations that align with the life conditions that the failure of those situations have enabled them to appreciate as having value. Here Hayes’ analysis is brilliant, for she demonstrates time and again how the move to radical homemaking is what the overwhelming success of corporate power is itself producing in many of us—its own overcoming.

What is it then, about radical homemaking that yields the “ecstasy” that Hayes’ recounts? It is not necessarily the activities of homemaking itself—even at the level of general skills. Rather, the pleasures of gardening or canning, home schooling or baking bread, nurturing relationships or redefining pleasure emerge as a result of how well those movements address the discomfort that the people who are making them have felt: the sense of alienation and isolation; the frustration with work, health, and educational options; the plastic glaze of industrialized food; the stifled creativity.

It is true: in so far as these feelings of discomfort are characteristic of contemporary society and even epidemic in proportion, then the activities of homemaking may prove radical as well to others feeling the same frustrations. Given the kind of challenges we as a society face, the tasks of home making can indeed provide us with opportunities for discovering patterns of relating to ourselves, one another, and the planet that are life-affirming.

However, the power that home has as a site of resistance—and pleasure—is rooted elsewhere: in how the acts of home making encourage people to cultivate the kind of sensory awareness that enables them to participate more and more consciously in the process of sensing and responding to their feelings of discomfort, frustration, and despair as impulses to move differently than cultural norms prescribe. It is this kind of sensory awareness that our dependence on corporate powers discourages us from cultivating.

Here lies the ecstasy Hayes identifies. When people are present in their lives, engaged in actions that require them to cultivate a keener awareness of what their bodily selves know, they will feel that sense of vitality, direction, and belonging that makes life worth living.

I pop back in to check on the cheese. The curds are cooked, wrinkled and squeaky, adrift in a growing sea of golden whey. I pour the curds into cheesecloth, wrap the ends around a wooden spoon and let them hang from the pot. The whey will go to the chickens, or the tomatoes. Then one more hour until salting and pressing, and two months at least before eating. It’s a process, for sure. It takes time.

Is this cheesemaking a radical act? I ponder its pleasures. Sure, I love the sensory dimensions of the seemingly miraculous transformation from liquid to solid. I appreciate the variations and complexities, the possibilities for error and discovery. I also appreciate how I am securing our dairy independence from forms of industrial farming that leave cows to stand all day on concrete, in their own manure, shot through with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Milk is a resource we have, in abundance. It makes sense to use it. I appreciate the ability to nourish myself and my children with untreated, local milk products, that come from healthy cows. Our family of seven (mostly) vegetarians saves over a hundred dollars a week by making from milk all that we do.

Then again, I know that in making this cheese I am enabling my kids to do what they want to do–milk their cows–and thus realizing a vision of family where we all work to ensure that each one of us gets what we need to become who we are. I know too, in making these moves, I am making myself into the philosopher and dancer I want to be—ever growing in my understanding how the movements we make in every moment of our lives make us who we are. It’s why we’re here.

Besides–or because–of all these reasons, the cheese is simply, incredibly delicious. Let the revolution continue.

The Meaning of Weaning

To wean: to withhold mother’s milk from; to detach from that to which one is accustomed or devoted

From Old English & Germanic roots (wen-): to desire, to strive for; to hope, expect, imagine; to win; a pleasure

From the Latin (ven-): love, as in Venus, the Goddess of Love; or in Old Norse, Venr, a god of fertility
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We have weaned the bull calves. Now nearing three months, they are old enough and able enough to chew, swallow, rechew, and swallow again the grains and grasses that will support their next increments of growth.

The weaning went smoothly. The calves didn’t seem to mind. Every feeding for several days in a row, Jordan and Jessica would give each calf his same half gallon of liquid, warm and white, while slowly lowering the milk to water ratio until no milk remained. Meanwhile, the calves were tempted round the clock with sweet molasses covered baby grain and plenty of tasty hay.

One good weaning enables another. With the calves weaned, we are once again in the milk, and nearly weaned ourselves from the dairy aisle at the grocery store. We no longer need to purchase milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, butter, or ricotta cheese. We have our own—or at least, the raw materials with which to make what we need.

Weaning is good for us, no question.

But what about for the calves? Is weaning good for them too? Are we depriving them of what they most desire—the glorious elixir of a mother’s milk?

I am not into deprivation. I nursed three of my children to age three. Then there was a time when it was time, for both of us. I know too that mother cow when the time is ripe will turn her tail on a growing calf and nudge its nose away. But still, would it be better to delay the (pain of the) inevitable?

Researching the roots of the word “to wean” pushed my thinking along. It is easy to think of weaning as “withholding,” or as “detaching from something desired.” Whole fields of psychology have been built on the task of curing our primordial wounds, often rendered as a loss of the mother.

Yet the nub of the word itself comes from Old English, Germanic, and Latin words meaning “desire,” “hope,” “strive for,” and even “love.” Is this a contradiction?

I think again. Perhaps weaning is not about denying our desire as much as it is about enabling our desire to evolve in line with our growing selves.

There is wisdom in desire. I have been writing about it for months, OK years. Part of that wisdom, as I suggest, lies in the fluidity of desire. Desire moves—it moves us, it is itself a movement towards what we believe will grant us the pleasure we seek. At the same time, this movement is not arbitrary. There is a rhythm to it. As we move towards what we desire, we learn whether or not we were right. We create patterns of sensation and response to guide us in the future.

In other words, as we get the nourishment we need to grow, what we need to grow changes in line with the growth our nourishment has enabled.

So what does that have to do with weaning? As desire evolves, what we want changes. Desires we have had in the past fall away. No deprivation about it. No forced detachment. We simply don’t want what we once did. We wean.

Take the bulls. They don’t seem to miss the milk at all. They just started eating more grain, with its belly-filling bounty, and chewing more crunchy hay, with its long-lasting, teeth-resisting flavor. Weaning means having the opportunity to enjoy the qualities of these foods—foods that the calves need to stimulate their own capacity to transform food to energy to muscle and bone.

Here on the farm we have weaned ourselves from aspects of contemporary culture that once seemed indispensable—and not only Ben & Jerry’s. We don’t play video games or eat fast foods. We rarely visit a restaurant or a movie theater. We don’t have a television. It is not that we are trying to deprive ourselves of things to which we were attached. Rather, the desire for these things has fallen away as other activities have emerged for us as more desirable, more enabling, and simply put, possible here in a way they never were when we lived in the suburbs.

Like raising a pair of bulls as oxen! Only here has it become possible, desirable, and even easy. The kids are finding in themselves a conviction they never had to wean themselves of technologies that harm the earth, so as to make more of what they love about this place for everyone.

To wean: to find our freedom and align ourselves with the ever-evolving wisdom in our desires.

A Fierce Gratitude

>It has been over a week since I wrote about “The Blanket Business.” Little did I know we had more to learn. When the temperatures plunged, the animals were fine—blanketed and not. There was one beast, however, whose blanket was not enough: the well house pump.

I should have guessed. Ever since we moved here, the pump has had a mind of its own. Located 200 yards up the hill behind our house in a cockeyed shack, eight feet down a rickety loose-runged ladder, at the base of a looming pressure tank, is a metal casket, the size of a basketball: our vital link to the bountiful waters below. When it froze once before, we developed our current practice of light bulb and blanket. But last weekend the light bulb had died, and the blanket alone was not enough.

*
We wake up on a frigid morning to a tell-tale sign: a limp stream falling from the kitchen faucet. Minutes later, Geoff is trudging up the hill with a new light bulb and a hair dryer, while I, having contracted the stomach bug, writhe on the couch. We stay connected with walkie-talkies. Two hours later, he is down again. The pump seems warm, but still no water. We decide to wait to see if the sun’s rise will change anything. He goes to play the piano. Why not? We have a concert coming up. Might as well make something beautiful amidst the uncertainty. I take a nap. The kids are playing.

When I wake up, Geoff is on his way back up the hill. Lo and behold, the pump is working! We have water–what a delight! We drink and wash and flush and hoard… until dinner time. Suddenly the flow slows to a trickle again. We stack our dishes next to the sink and go to bed. The temperature is below zero. Even if we thaw out the pump again, it will freeze overnight. We will deal tomorrow. Time to sleep.

The next morning’s light does a world of good for our spirits, but the water is not running. Geoff spends more time at the bottom of our well house. This time, nothing. We realize that we are over our heads and decide to call in the experts. Then there is nothing to do but wait—and melt icicles on the wood stove for our thirsty animals.

While waiting, I decide to dance. Why not? We have a concert coming up. Might as well create some beauty amidst the chaos. Between exercises, I pop out to gather more icicles.

After lunch, just as we are beginning to wonder whether we will be facing another waterless night, the cavalry arrive. Thirty seconds with a blow torch and our pump and tank are frost free. Amazing. Still the water won’t flow. Maybe there is ice in the pipe to the house?

The only problem is that there are two pipes leading out from the pump. One goes to the house and the other to some underground location where water to the barn once flowed. We don’t know which one is which! Our experts cut one. Thaw it. Snake it. Put water through it. No water in the house. They cut the other, thaw it, snake it, and pour water through. No water in the house.

Maybe the ice cube is where the main enters the house? Geoff musters his resolve to investigate. We don’t have a basement under our kitchen where the main is located. He will have to crawl ten feet through a space no more than two or three feet tall, past ancient beams, deserted spider webs, and recent rat poop. He does. Nope, the main is not frozen. So what?

We try some other faucets. Wait a minute! We do have water after all—in the bathroom and laundry room and upstairs—just not in the kitchen sink! Our experts identify the pipe leading from well house to house and turn off the other one. Our water pressure surges as never before—though still not through the kitchen tap.

Finally, at the end of our rope, we open the cabinet below the kitchen sink. There, are our new blue and red PEX pipes leading down into the crawl space. We touch them. They crackle. Frozen stiff. When the pump succumbed, so did they in a cascade of failures. Mystery solved, but not resolved.

We do chores and make dinner with water from the bathroom. Eat first. After the kids go to bed, Geoff goes back into the crawl space with the hairdryer. For fifteen minutes he massages those PEX pipes. Then, miracle of miracles: WATER! From the hot tap, from the cold tap, and into the dishwasher!

We spend the next forty-five minutes washing dishes, joyfully. Never before has it ever been this fun to wash dishes. What a luxury.

Between rinses, we think back over the two-day ordeal. Simply knowing that there was no water streaming into the house made it so difficult to do anything. Even having all the water we needed to drink, just knowing that we had no flow was so unsettling. It was hard to focus on anything else.

Yet, at the same time, the disorientation forced our attention on what was most vital to do. Suddenly, it seemed as if there was no time to waste. Nothing to waste. Everything was precious. We could only do something that was most vital—art.

We set out to make beauty—to transform the situation into a catalyst for creating something new. It wasn’t that we were trying to compensate for loss or fill in the gaps. Rather, we were responding to the urgency we felt to make something more out of the moment than it seemed to be giving. What we ended up making was a fierce gratitude—for water, for our abundance, and for life on the farm. For our dish-washing ability. Vital arts indeed.

The Blanket Business

It snowed just in time. The earth and her plants are tucked and snug under a blanket of soft white. Others of us are shivering in our boots. Forecasters predict that the temperature tonight will plunge to 20 below. Mother Nature’s limbo: How low can you go?

Here in the house, we will be toasty, thanks to a cheering wood stove, back-up oil burner, and stacks of blankets. But what about the animals? Those barns are mere windbreakers at best. All the heat those creatures will have is heat they make by themselves and for themselves with the food and water we provide. Will they be warm enough?

I am not worried about the chickens. Their downy fluff is what a body wants. The cats will curl into faceless furballs, wedged in the cracks between bales of hay. Nor am I worried about the three Jersey cows. They don’t even seem to notice the weather, stalking through snow in fingers-deep fur-coat fashion. I want to crawl in too. Which leaves Marvin and the baby bulls. Will they be OK?

I’ve been having long blanket discussions with the kids.

Jessica usually precipitates hers. “Mom, do you think I should put a blanket on Marvin?” She knows that I know what the Vet told us both: A healthy horse with a good winter coat and good nutrition should be fine in winter weather. Put a blanket on him and he will lose his own. Horses are that sensitive.

Still, when the thermometer drops to such abysmal depths, Jessica and I have come up with a compromise. Put on a blanket if it will be below 10 degrees at night. Take it off during the day if it’s sunny. We made it up, but even so, it seems just right for us. Jessica and I leave Marvin his coat until the cold starts making us feel uncomfortable. We need the blanket. Who knows what Marvin thinks. He seems warm enough, and furry too.

As we work out our plan, I recognize a parenting paradox with which I am quite familiar. We want those in our care to have the challenge and exposure they need to test their mettle, grow strong, and unfold what they have to give. But we also want to protect them from storms that might prove too overwhelming, with the opposite effects. In search of that perfect balance, we take the best information we have, and then guess and check. We make it up and feel our way through. Fingers crossed.

Jordan and I have worked out a different scenario for the baby bulls. Of course, the bulls came with their very own calf blankets (see New Arrivals!), but that was four weeks ago. They have grown; the bulls are bursting their buckles. Besides, Jordan wants his oxen-to-be to emit thick and winter-proof coats. He doesn’t want to coddle them with blankets.

I have some doubts. “Aren’t they too young to face that cold all by themselves?” Jordan doesn’t think so. He tells me a story.

“Mom, every morning when I bring them milk, they are eager and energetic, raring to go and not shivering at all.” I am moved a bit.

“But tonight will be very, very cold,” I offer.

“Well,” he explains, “they need each other! Mom, when I put on their blankets the other night, Bright got out of his; but Blaze was still in his blanket and Bright couldn’t curl up with him. So Bright was cold. If the calves have their blankets on, they can’t keep each other warm!”

He’s got me now. The calves will be warmer without their blankets. Brilliant, just brilliant. And just what I needed to hear. Why?

Jordan found it. A perfect solution to the paradox of parenting.

He found another logic. It is never just a choice between blankets or cold, protection or exposure. Risks are real. But in the face of undeniable risks, the greatest protection lies in the relationships we create to meet them. It all works when we respond to risks by creating the relationships that enable us to experience them as strengthening. The exposure makes growing the relationships necessary, desirable, and even possible. It is what we have been doing since moving here to the farm.

Jordan and I are no longer at odds over what will be best for the calves. We never were. We want the same thing: their health, his happiness. We now share a vision for how that can happen.

As he goes to bed, I am thinking about the calves, and I can tell that he is too. “I gave them lots of extra bedding and hay,” he says.

“Good.” I reply

“The digestion of dry hay generates heat,” he continues. “It will help make them warm.” And so I learn, every day. I smile and give him a hug. So our calves will spend the night eating and snuggling to stay warm. Things could be worse.

Cultivating Values: Why Am I Here?

Sometimes I wonder why I, as a philosopher of religion and dancer, am writing a blog about life on a farm. How did I get here? Then I think again. Despite what it seems, this blog is not just about farming. It is about issues I have been working on for years: it is about the relationships we must to cultivate with ourselves and with others in order to survive as individuals, communities, and a planet.

How so? We are on the verge of an ecological crisis whose urgency is increasingly apparent. Voices from all over the world–scientists, philosophers, journalists, religious leaders, and scholars of religion–are all calling for changes not only in the way we transport our bodies, grow our food, and heat our homes, but in the values we rely on to guide us in doing so.

While our addiction to fossil fuels bears much of the responsibility for the warming of the planet, the deterioration of food-producing soil, and the pollution of water, air, and earth, so too do the values that have been guiding our use of them–values that privilege the individual human as the mastermind of the created order, existing over and above all others.

Instead, as commentators like Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, and Sallie McFague aver, we need to cultivate values of interdependence, interconnectedness, and community. We need to value our relationships to each other and to the natural world as essential to our individual health and well being. Such ecological values, many argue, will foster care and compassion towards others, a sense of responsibility and a willingness to sacrifice. In cultivating such values, we will become better humans, and better citizens of this precious planet. Harvard scientist E.O. Wilson goes so far as to say that our spiritual well-being is at stake.

I agree. Still, I find that something is missing from these discussions of ecological values–something that I am learning from our life on the farm. What?
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This past week we had quite a scare. Jessica comes in from chores, reporting an observation that concerns us all. Her Jersey heifer, Precious, has a swath of blood-streaked mucous on her tail–a sign of being in heat. According to our calculations, however, Precious should be seven months pregnant and two months shy of giving birth. We are counting on the milk she will make–for her calf and for us. How could she be in heat?

Our future is suddenly in flux. Will we have milk? Especially this summer during those two months when we give Daisy (our two-year old) a health-preserving break before she gives birth to her second calf?

The milk shortage we are currently experiencing due to our thirsty bull babes (see New Arrivals!) is already challenging. The thought of relinquishing our dairy independence completely is downright disheartening. Sure, we can always go to the store and grab a bottle (as well as a pound of butter, a carton of ice cream, yogurt, cream, and cheese and all the other goods we make from Daisy’s donations), but it feels so good not to be spending our dollars in support of fossil-fuel-driven agricultural practices that deplete our soils and warm our earth. We are completely dependent upon Daisy for this pleasure, as well as for her delicious milk. In this moment we know viscerally how dependent we are.

So what is it? Precious, are you pregnant?
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What is missing from debates over ecological values is what a body knows. The model of ethics in play relies on the same mind over body sense of ourselves as individuals that critics critique. Somehow it is assumed that we simply need to articulate these new values, recognize their relevance, and then impose them on our wayward selves. It is diet plan logic. Just come up with a plan and stick to it. Tighten your belt. You have no choice. As Bill McKibben insists, the costs of doing nothing are and will be greater than the pain of making changes.

Nevertheless, the challenge is ever evident. People don’t just switch values, even if they can argue themselves blue in the face about why such values are rational, practical, and even life-saving. Scare tactics only go so far. People resist change unless the need for it strikes them in the gut. Thus critics aim to communicate a visceral sense of urgency by showing time-lapse photographs of the ice caps melting, and of polar bears swimming for miles in search of a solid surface. We are moved indeed, but not far enough. The polar bears, as endearing as they are, are too far from home.

In the shift to a fossil fuel economy, we have lost more than the family farm. We have lost the living contexts within which values of interdependence, interconnection, and community are necessary. The same life ways that are negatively impacting our environment are ones that also separate us from the experience of our sensory selves–from what our bodies know.

To cultivate ecological values, we need to know in our own sensory selves why those values are, dare I say, valuable. Our values grow in us. They take shape as patterns of sensation and response. We develop a sense of what to notice, how to evaluate it, and how to respond. If we are constantly making movements in our lives that reinforce our sense of ourselves as minds living in and over our bodies, our ability to embrace ecological values is limited.

We are the movements that are making us. Here on the farm the movements we are making are making us. They are making us into a family of persons needed to run the farm, yes, and into persons who appreciate our dependence on one another for sustaining our common project. We are members of a calf-caring team.

Yet even more, the challenges are providing us with an immediate sensory experience of our absolute dependence on the natural world–its elements, plants, animals, and other humans–for every aspect of our living. This is no mere “inter” dependence. We are nothing more or less than moments in greater currents of life that sustain our every waking moment.
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Jessica decides to make some further observations. I go to the computer to research signs of early labor. What could it be? Was Precious ever pregnant? Will she give birth to a premature calf? Sounds messy. And dangerous.

Jessica enters the house, a burst of hope. “Dandelion is in heat! She and Precious have been sleeping in the same place. Maybe it’s not Precious… but Dandi.”

The sense of apprehension releases. It looks like we will have milk after all.
*
The change we need cannot be limited to imposing new values on our excesses. We need an experience of doing the work that is required to make and produce what we take for granted as given.

Milk hits closer to the gut than polar bears.

I am not suggesting that everyone should move to the country or buy a cow. But we will need to seek out adventures and experiences that give us a sensory education to our absolute dependence on the natural world for our food, our water, our warmth, our health, and our life. Such sensory education will help us grow the values that can guide us beyond this time when our current practices are no longer sustainable.

Bottle to Bucket

We have been having a lovely holiday week here at the farm. For Christmas, Santa brought a huge new wheel barrow filled with tools: a pitchfork and manure shovel, a feed bucket for Marvin and a water bucket for the chickens, and a new 75 foot section of hose. We even had our periodic thaw to help us with water transport!

Then there are the calves. A few days ago, Jordan walks into the house at the end of chore time, obviously frustrated. “I am beginning to question Blaze’s intelligence,” he quips.

I stop and listen. “Why?”

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New Arrivals!: Jordan’s Oxen-to-Be

Friday night the storm is raging–wind-rain-snow all at once. When we wake on Saturday, so does the golden sun, streaming through ice covered tree branches, dancing across dazzled white lawns, and illuminating a wafer thin full moon, hovering just above the horizon. It is beyond beautiful. And cold. It is the day we are to pick up our baby bulls.
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