Tag Archives: writing

A Seasonal Sadness: Letting Go

I am sad. I am not only sad. Not forever sad. Not stuck-in-a-rut or despairingly sad. But nonetheless, sad.

The farm is changing, or so it seems. Autumn is pressing upon us—a season of dropping off and falling away. A time of shedding and losing and letting go.

Last week I hugged our two oldest children in their newly appointed college dorm rooms and drove home. Without them. Back on the farm, I heard the silence. Within hours of returning, I removed a leaf from the kitchen table. I took chore clothes from the hooks, towels from the racks, and stuffed them into the washing machine. I moved boots, cleared clean laundry boxes, and boiled far too much pasta for our remaining three children. I noticed: less mess, less noise, less laughter. The house is no longer bursting. There is slack. Sag. Sadness. They are gone.

It is not just, however, that I am missing two of our own. Their departure marks the end of an arc in our journey as a farm family. Eight years ago, when we moved to this place, Jessica was 7 and Jordan 9. Ever since, their passions and their willingness to work, their concern for the world and their visions for how to make it better, have driven our farm’s development. Jordan wanted a cow; we bought our first heifer. Jordan wanted to train oxen; we bought a pair of bulls. Jessica wanted to ride; we rescued Marvin. Jordan and Jessica planted seeds, our garden grew. And when Kyra was old enough, she joined in.

So it was that in June of this year we were milking 4 cows; fetching firewood with a homemade sled pulled by Jordan’s oxen; rotating 9 cattle and 1 horse through 12 fenced pastures; tending 14 hens, feeding 4 cats, and weeding our largest vegetable crop to date. I was making cheese every day—hard, soft, and in between.

We knew it wouldn’t last. We couldn’t keep it all going without the oldest two. By the end of July, we sold three of our milkers, keeping Jordan’s first cow, Daisy. This week, we are drying her off too, as she is due to calve in October. This week, for the first time in years, we will need to buy milk. We have stored pounds of cheese and butter in freezer and fridge, but our half-gallon glass bottles lie side by side on the shelf, clean, dry, and empty.

Then again, it is not just that the kids are leaving and our milk flow ebbing. This summer I finished my book—the third in the series that I moved here to write. While the manuscript is still under review, I sense it slipping away, and with it the vision that drew me here in the first place—the mission that has constantly, daily animated and energized and guided me through whatever else was happening.

In writing these books I was asking questions that my previous years in the academic world had convinced me were vital to our ongoing health as humans on earth: how does bodily movement matter, why does bodily movement matter, and how and why can and should bodily movement matter in our relationships with our selves, with others, and with the natural world? And on every page, what I wrote about dance and movement was funded and formed by the vibrant life that these children have been creating with us here, on the farm. Now I wonder: what is next?

All around me, as I ponder these leavings, I see fronds browning, stalks shriveling, and seed pods falling. And I wonder. How do the plants feel—letting go of each carefully cut leaf, each red firmed round?

I go for a run on a hard packed dirt road, feeling the sadness. A couple of miles from the house, a deer bursts from the bushes, landing yards before me. I stop short, heart pounding, and remember not to forget. Life will never cease to surprise.

At home I lie down on the hard wood floor and let go. I breathe deeply and let all effort and energy drop away. I stay there, shedding, until a small smile forms in my heart, pulling at my cheeks, nearly breaking through onto my face. But not quite. Beneath it all, I know, there is love. An irrepressible spring of ongoing creation. A rhythm of bodily becoming. A bottomless pool of possibility, Geoff says, that is cooler and more refreshing the deeper you go. I yield to it.

I listen again. In reality, the house is not quiet at all. Three more children await their turn to reach for the sun. Another arc of ten years awaits before two more will leave for college, and then another four years before the youngest goes. They too will have their passions, their stories, and their adventures. What will they want from the farm? What will they pull from me? What will we create together?

Outside, in the garden, the harvest is in full swing. The plants aren’t simply dying; they are giving themselves up. Day to day, we are picking, processing, and putting away the kale, green beans, zucchini, corn and tomatoes that will sustain our bodily selves through the winter. It is abundance, in full force, in all its glory. Concrete. Real. Given and received.

I examine the apple tree on the hill overlooking our house. With every year, its branches gnarl and its bark thickens. Wrinkles form and furrow. Every fall it lets go and gathers inward, only to burst out again in the spring, with ever more crinkly green leaves and newborn blossoms of apples-to-be.

The tree, I imagine, is feeling relief. After all that effort spent reaching to meet, greet, and transform the beating of summer rays and rains, it is letting go of work well done. Perhaps it is smiling.

I sense in my sadness a willingness to let go. It is a season to let go—and even to let go of the sadness of letting go. There are young calves in the barn, and one more soon to come. Pounds of sweet greens are filling the freezer. Seeds are falling upon fertile ground. Kai and Leif are locked in an ongoing love battle. Kyra calmly watches.

Besides, the apples are not falling far. And my deepest wish is that they roll far enough that their seeds find their own upward path to the sun.

Thoreau’s “Tonic of Wildness”

“Can I go for my walk?” Jessica asks the question halfway through our home-school day. The arc of her interest in geometry has waned; her eyes wander outside already. I let the rest of her go.

This will to walk is recent and new. One day she simply announced that she would. Even then she wasn’t interested in a walk, or walking per se, but in her walk, something done by her, for her, with her.

Since then she has owned her walks. And when she returns from the fields and forest, the glow in her eye and the ray on her cheek tell stories her words sometimes match. She shares tales of the chipmunk she saw nibbling nuts, the stick that took shape beneath her whittling knife, or the dreams of the garden she plans to plant that formed in her mind.

Is this how Jessica should be spending her home-school time?
I am rereading Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s account of his two-year “experiment in living” simply and deliberately on the shores of Walden Pond. Though I read him many years ago, I am startled this time by how familiar the work seems: he launched his experiment for reasons that resound through our family’s move here to the farm. He wanted to establish a perspective on contemporary society that would allow him to evaluate its values and practices, with an eye to making improvements. He wanted to wake up his senses, free his thoughts from their ruts, and live a life he loved to live. We do too.

For his part Thoreau was concerned that the obsessive-consumptive habits of society were dulling people’s senses and enslaving them to a quantity and quality of labor that failed to nourish their best selves. As he laments, “The better part of man is soon plowed into the soil for compost,” with predictable results. While the production of goods and services and the technological mechanisms for making and marketing them all flourish, individual humans don’t. Depressed by the sense-numbing pace of life, people crave distraction from expensive entertainment that ties them ever more tightly to their treadmills.

In Thoreau’s memorable words: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation… concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind… There is no play in them.”

Here on the farm, we share his concern, especially when it comes to kids. Teen persons in our culture have no purpose but to be educated for enterprises they will not be able to accomplish for another ten years. They scramble to compete for grades, awards, and victories that have no immediate bearing on their daily lives. Otherwise, they exist to be entertained. So separated from their bodily selves, they are easily seduced by virtual visions of pleasure, and quickly addicted to the rush they get by plugging in and pulling away from their connectedness with natural world. Is it surprising that so many teens feel alienated and depressed? Is it so surprising that they too, like the rest of us, cast about for the quick fix?

Addressing his contemporaries with prophetic wit, Thoreau asks: “What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented?” Thoreau’s response expresses the same intuition that guided us here: the only possible pill comes from grandmother Nature’s medicinal chest. The tonic of wildness.

Why Nature? Nature, according to Thoreau, awakens his senses in ways that feed his thoughts; Nature thus entices him participate in the ongoing work of creation—his own included.

For sure, Thoreau is interested in natural phenomena in general. An avid observer of plants and animals, earth, pond, and sky, his book chronicles changes of seasons and the cycles of a day. Yet he doesn’t go to Walden to observe nature per se. He seeks a time, space, and experience that will help him to a true account of life in all its manifestations. Human life included. He wants to sink beneath the surfaces of social doing and find a rocky real on which to stand.

What does he find? What a body knows. He finds endless movement—an ongoing movement of universal creation creating itself in him, around him, and through him. The rhythms of the natural world train his senses to see and smell and hear and taste the waves and trajectories of life’s becoming.

Further, once trained by Nature to notice Her movement, he sees and senses his own participation in it. He too is part of Nature’s ongoing work; Nature lives through his currents of feeling, his arcs of sensations, and the meandering of his own daily walks. Most importantly, for Thoreau, Nature lives in and through the rooting and unfolding of his thoughts. To live like Nature, then, is to find the freedom to think the thoughts that make of the day what it can be. As he writes: The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions… let us spend our lives in conceiving them.”

Nature, then, for Thoreau, is much more than a beautiful context or convenient set of metaphors for human pursuits. Nature is teacher and guide. Nature offers him the sensory education that he needs in order to be able to think about anything—whether railroad or woodchuck—with the same careful attention to its value relative to the “necessaries” of human life.

Our family moved for this same enabling proximity to the natural world so that we might bring our senses to life, find our freedom, and learn to live in love. Our mission: CliffsNotes to Walden.
Jessica comes back from her walk with tales of being stuck in a tree. She ventured out on a branch that led her onto another tree, and then found that the path was one way only.

“How did you get down?” I ask.

“I slid like a sloth down the branch and then dropped.” She smiles as she sits down to write. I smile too. I’m grateful. She is in good Hands.

In this home-schooling venture, I’ll take all the help I can get.