Dear Folks, Our farm slopes to the west, and it’s at its best in the evening, when the long rays of the setting sun turn the place to gold. That’s how it is now, at the end of a peaceful, perfect summer day.
I’m just back from the wedding of my research assistant Diana Wright. It was a Quaker ceremony held in a forest grove — people sitting in silence, sun streaming down through the branches, birds and small children chirping lightly at the edges of the circle — completely appropriate to that young couple. Diana is a slight, shy young woman with long red hair, who can fell a tree, build a cabin, hike for miles, and make a computer do anything. I think the world of her. Her wedding was unassuming and beautiful, as she is, and as is her new husband Steve.
Diana comes, as so many young people do, from a fractured family with a lot of wounds. The wedding was at the family’s long-time summer home in Vermont, where Diana and Steve now live. They’ve put enormous energy into fixing up and caring for the buildings and the land. I saw the wedding as a celebration of the healing they are bringing both to the place and to the family. A new, gentle, capable generation is taking over. It was a sweet wedding, a calming one.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how every wedding is more or less the same, but nevertheless is also unique to the special qualities of the new couple and their families?
Narayana is out in the kitchen making chapattis for dinner. He’s a farm-family friend originally from Tamil Nadu in India, now about to enter his last year of college in the U.S. He’s visiting for the weekend and he went to the wedding with me. On our way back we drove deep into Vermont to pick up three ducks. (Finally we found some potential mates for our two drakes Mutt and Jeff.) Maybe it was the mood of the wedding that filled me with gratitude as we drove around the back roads of Vermont — though those back roads always give me an uplift.
The scenery isn’t grand around here. There are occasional modest views from high places, vistas of green and blue rounded hills. Mostly you can’t see very far as the roads tunnel through forest or go along cleared valleys. But around every corner is a little barn or house. The land looks homey. At this time of year the greens are tired; hints of yellow and orange lie just underneath. Goldenrod and blue chicory and white Queen-Anne’s-lace stud the fields. The gardens around the farmhouses are at full flower with zinnias and cosmos and snapdragons, and the apple trees are bending down, heavily laden — it’s been a great year for apples. There are occasional flocks of sheep or cows, a few pleasure horses, some small farm ponds.
Nothing spectacular. Much more restricted than the big-sky, corn-fields-forever scenery I grew up with in Illinois. But tears come to my eyes as I pass a beautifully tended vegetable garden, or top a hill and see a little town in the valley below. For some reason this is the way I think country should look. This is home.
Well, we released the three ducks into our pond, and 13 sheep, four big white geese, and the two drakes came down to greet them. The drakes headed straight for the ducks, they met in the middle of the pond, there was a brief flurry, and then Mutt and Jeff swam off in one direction and the new females in the other. It isn’t breeding season; I guess it will take time for them to get acquainted. Anyway, we left them to settle into their new home on the pond, smooth and cool in the twilight. Hurricane Bob came through earlier this week and dumped enough rain in one day to fill up the deficit for the entire summer. The pond is brimful again.
Karel and Stephanie have moved away, with many tears on all sides, and have started their new life in Colorado. They found an apartment with a garden and Karel planted lettuce seeds before he even unpacked all the boxes. Stephanie is interviewing for nursing jobs; Karel starts classes soon at the University of Colorado. I cleverly managed not to be around when they pulled out. I HATE goodbyes. I had a good excuse; I was involved from early in the morning till late at night for 10 days in an intense teaching session at Dartmouth: the Alumni College.
This is an annual extravaganza Dartmouth puts on for adult participants, mainly, but not exclusively, alumni. I agreed to teach it a year ago, primarily because at that time I was strapped for money, and because the topic was the environment, and because my friend Priscilla Sears agreed to do it too. When the time came I was resentful of the whole business. With the book deadlines bearing down on me what I did NOT need was 10 days away from my computer. And 10 days, moreover, with 175 Dartmouth alumni, mostly from the older, most conservative classes, not, in my experience, the kind of people who want to hear anything I have to say.
But there I was, committed, so I did it and managed to get a good lesson in getting unstuck from my own assumptions — which was, by the way, the central message of the course.
I had great fun. The participants were wonderful. I learned a lot. I even made progress on the books.
Dartmouth does its occasional forays into adult education the way I think it should do all its education — with true inter-disciplinarity. This Alumni College had four professors. My environmental studies colleague Colin High covered much of the factual material on energy, biodiversity, solid waste, the greenhouse effect, and so on. I did factual stuff too, but wove it in with systems theory and ended up with Limits to Growth and a vision of a sustainable world — the essence of the Twenty Years Closer book I’m working on. Having to think it through and boil it down for the lectures really helped. Priscilla, who is an English professor, took us through Paradise Lost, Thoreau, Ursula LeGuin and other ecofeminists, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, pointing out constantly the reality-filters we inherit simply by being male or female, medieval or modern, Christian or Buddhist, white or black. And the fourth professor, art historian Bob McGrath, transported us from the Altamira cave paintings to pop art, showing us how our culture shapes our images and our images shape our culture.
By the end of the 10 days we had formed a community of paradigm-flexible people, who were able to hear challenges to their own ideas and accommodate new ideas to an extraordinary degree. By the last day we were hugging, singing, and making plots to improve the environment and bombard the government with complaints about its gross mismanagement.
I felt completely affirmed. I know the group was self-selected (the ones who really didn’t want to hear about the enivironment stayed home). But I got to see how many wonderful people there are out there, who care, who want to learn, who are willing to take a stand, and who themselves need affirmation from people like me. (You’d think that with all you great readers I would KNOW that, but I do sometimes fall into the trap of believing that everyone thinks like John Sununu.)
So Alumni College was refreshing and invigorating for me, even though it was tiring to come home every night and freeze beans, or pick blackberries, or make applesauce, trying to keep up with the abundance of August.
As I said, this is a great apple year in New England. We have about 20 apple trees, each a different variety, most of them old-fashioned. I never spray them and they never bear — or if they do the fruit is scabbed and wormy and falls off prematurely. But this year they’re loaded with good fruit. The Gravenstein has already ripened — imagine apples in mid-August! They’re the ones I made into applesauce. We’re also going to have Snow Apples and Granny Smiths and Criterions and Wealthies and Russets and zillions of Yellow Delicious.
The second and third plantings of sweet corn are also ripening. (I always plant a yellow early-ripener and a yellow-and-white mid-season corn and a white late corn, usually Silver Queen or Platinum Lady.) We’re bringing in big slurpy red tomatoes by the basketful. Narayana and I just finished putting the last of the green soybeans in the freezer. Sylvia has been trying to stay ahead of the pole beans. Narayana started digging potatoes; they’re ready a month earlier than usual, and they’re enormous. Tomorrow I’m going to start canning pears from our Clapp’s Favorite tree, always the first to ripen.
It has been a wonderful growing year, in spite of the dryness. Our only serious crop failures have been in an area where I’ve never seen a failure before: the cucurbits. Normally we’re overwhelmed with squash and cucumbers, but this year the kindred squash and melons shriveled up and died in July; the cucumbers are just limping along, and even the zucchini have succumbed to squash bugs. Only the Ponca squash and pumpkins up by the sweet corn in the barnyard (growing in nearly pure sheep manure) are doing fine.
The mixed assortment of chickens Sylvia ordered from Murry McMurray are nearly grown now — Barred Rocks, New Hampshires, Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorpes, White Giants. Don’t you love the names? M. McM. always throws in a special Mystery Chick, which in our case turned out to be a Silver-Spangled Hamburg rooster. He has blue legs and brilliant black-and-white feathers and a rose comb and a long tail. He’s shaped like a road-runner and he runs everywhere. I call him Bojangles.
Sylvia has nearly finished sticking the Dark Cornish meat birds in the freezer, with much cursing. They are so small that they’re hard to dress, and full of black pinfeathers — but delicious. I think Sylvia will try a larger breed next year, somewhere between the Dark Cornish and the lazy, gluttonous commercial meat birds she raised last year.
Then there is the mother with the five hatchlings, now about a quarter grown. And ANOTHER mother who surprised us this week by appearing out of the bushes with TEN little fluffballs! We have so many chickens now we can’t count them, so we never even missed her, as she sat patiently for three weeks. Well, we’ll be glad to keep the hens when they grow up and put the roosters in the freezer.
Book-writing has been going well, much better than last month. I’m energized and excited. I’ve finally reached the point where I’m just saying what I have to say, as clearly as I can say it, throwing it out there, and letting the reaction be whatever it will be. I’m focusing on the message, on what’s inside me trying to get out. I’ve let go of the result. I’ve known all along that’s what I had to do, but that’s not the same as knowing HOW TO DO IT.
My good neighbor Ruth and I were remarking over tea this morning on our ups and downs in mood and centeredness and capability and performance — most of the roller coaster ride seems to be triggered not by events outside but by inexplicable shifts inside our own heads. It’s one level of mastery to realize that, and to relax into the moods, knowing that they will pass. That’s about the level I’ve reached. It would be REAL mastery to be able to control or transcend the ups and downs altogether. I don’t know if that’s possible. Maybe one needs the lows to produce the highs.
In any case, I’ve been high lately. I’ve made real progress on Twenty Years Closer. I’ve been loving the August farm and the Dartmouth alumni. I’ve been deeply grateful that I get to do all these challenging things — and to live through these thrilling times. Next Sunday I leave for Hungary and the Balaton meeting. I started last week wondering if any of our friends from Moscow, Lithuania, Georgia, Latvia would be there. As of today I expect they will be there with bells on! It may be the most exciting meeting we’ve ever had! We have one whole day planned on the future of East and West Europe. You’ll hear about it next time.
After we get back from Balaton Dennis and I will be in the last push to get Beyond the Limits finished, with a November 1 deadline LAID OUT AND CAMERA READY. I don’t know if we can make it, but it’s necessary if we’re to hit the exact March 20th anniversary. Jorgen Randers is coming over from Norway to help us, Diana and Dennis’s assistant Tom Fiddaman will be helping with research and computing. It will probably be a flat-out day-and-night effort. And then Twenty Years Closer is due on the same terms at the end of December. Chelsea Green Press is clearing the decks for a production process twice as fast as normal. It’s fun to work with them; I hope we don’t let them down.
Everything is amazing! Exciting! I wish time would speed up and slow down at the same time! Which is a good warning that it’s time to stay in each moment and enjoy it to the full.
Thanks for being patient with me through these ups and downs!