Good morning, Dear Folks! Sorry for the bounciness in the fonts — I’m a morning person, and this is a lovely one, so I feel bouncy. The sun is cutting through a bank of black clouds. We had a gentle half-inch rain last night; to help refill the pond and brook from the August drought. The storm came from the south and brought warm summery air with it. It felt good, after last week’s first blast of no-kidding fall weather.
It hasn’t frosted yet, though it’s come darn close. Last Monday the weather reports were issuing dire warnings. When we got home that evening, we went through the “first-frost scurry.” Pick all the green beans and tomatoes and basil and peppers and flowers, pull the plastic over the hoop house, drape makeshift tents over the tomato plants. Jan Wright happened by and got caught up in the general panic. Two hours later, coming up from the brook garden with a heavy basket of veggies, she whooshed a bit and hoped the frost actually would come after all that work.
It came within inches. The next morning the thermometer at the house read 32, and Emmett and I, out doing morning chores, saw that Ruth’s pasture across the road had funny white blotches all over it. We went over and scraped ice crystals off the grass in every low-lying place. We could see where the tires of the tractor had gone when it did the bush-hogging and crushed down the grass. Over on our side there was no ice, the squash was still green, the dahlias still bloomed, the basil wasn’t browned. Phew!
So we’re appreciating every bouquet, knowing it could be the last. The table on the back porch is covered with ripening tomatoes; the greenhouse is piled with drying squash; the kitchen is full of dry beans waiting to be shucked. Outside the landscape changes every day. The Virginia creeper, draped over fences and hanging from trees, burst into bright, bright red this week. The sumac is about half orange so far, and the red maples in the swamps are deep red. The white pines have, overnight it seems, turned their second-year needles gold. The sugar maples, the real performers, are just looking dull so far — but in about two more days the last of their green will fade away, and we’ll be in full glory.
It’s always hectic at this rapidly changing time — this year a bit too much so. I’m teaching environmental ethics again at Dartmouth, with about twice as many students as I had last year. I love them dearly, and I love that course, but there’s no way I can lay a full-time job on top of a life that’s already over-full, so I tend to get panicked and driven. Then Scot and Chrissie are leaving in two weeks, so that Scot can put in a few months of data-collecting in the Vancouver forests. That means not only getting themselves organized and Scot’s thesis proposal finished, and dealing with the harvest, but also, since Chrissie has Grand Plans for next year, making a bed for and planting about 100 pounds of garlic.
Her garlic came out so well this year that she envisions an empire, something like her onion empire of this year, but more profitable. (We have about 300 pounds of beautiful onions drying in the barn right now. We’ll eat a lot of them, but Chrissie plans to braid and sell some too.) Chrissie did a major research project and ordered many kinds of garlic, hard-necked and soft-necked, from multiple suppliers, so by the end of next summer, we’ll be able to tell you all the ins and outs of garlic-growing in New Hampshire.
Right before Chrissie and Scot pull out, the second week of October, our new farm family will be pulling in, along with two more cats (we already have three), two more dogs (we already have two), and two Norwegian fjord horses. Stephen Leslie and Kerry Gawalt have been farming out in Idaho, but they learned their organic methods in the Northeast and have been eager to come back. We don’t know them, except through letters and phone conversations — we heard of each other through one of those friends-of-friends-of-friends chains.
Stephen was a Benedictine monk at the Weston Priory in Vermont for six years. Kerry has trained not only in organic growing, but in using gardens as educational places, and she’s also, Stephen tells us, good at marketing, which is something we need. They’re in their late 20s. They want to make their living from farming. So I told them, come ahead, use us to get a start, and if we all like each other, join the new community we’re forming. One thing we surely need is farmers.
We just got Ruth’s bottom field plowed and harrowed for them. Boy, three acres looks big, for a vegetable garden! (All our current gardens together, which produce such an enormous amount of food, probably don’t total one full acre.) We have to clean out Ruth’s barn for their horses and figure out where to buy some hay — all in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, classes go on, columns have to be written, the Balaton Bulletin and this newsletter have to go out, the new community moves forward, and the farm has to be buttoned down for winter.
We’ll get it done; we always do. What suffers, unfortunately, is not only our peace of mind, but, to some extent, our civility to each other. Scot and Chrissie and I are three very civil people, but when we get preoccupied and start zooming around, what we do, quite naturally, not really consciously, is start laying tasks off on each other. Dinner gets later, as each of us (mainly me, to tell the truth) waits for someone else to get it going. Messes get left around for others to clean up. Communication breaks down. We hardly look at each other, we just fly by each other, propelled by our various to-do lists.
None of this is done in any mean-spirited way, and for sure none of us is slacking around being lazy. It all just comes from being rushed, conscientious, over-ambitious people. I wasn’t even quite aware of this phenomenon until I started writing this letter, when out it all popped. (And I better clear these paragraphs with my dear farm-mates before I send this letter out! If you’re reading this, it means they agreed to have our flaws and frustrations shared with you, along with our strengths and joys. )
In the midst of the crunch-time, I can’t think of anything to do to improve matters, other than to try to be a bit kinder to each other and to try to rush around with a bit more inner serenity and outer awareness. The long-term lesson is clear, of course. Gear down expectations and plans. Don’t generate crunch-times. So easily said. The one life-lesson I seem never to learn. But then I’m sure that life is only very slightly controllable; it can never be without occasional crunches. So the real lesson here — Lord, may I finally learn it! — is equanimity and humanity even in mid-crunch.
Well, I haven’t told you yet about the happenings in the new community. Or about Balaton.
Probably because we’re all rushed, we haven’t had a community meeting this month. The next one will be October 27, when we climb Mount Cardigan together. But lots is happening. One of the two farm families in Hartland has accepted our offer, almost completely according to our terms. That allowed us to up our offer for the other farm a bit, but basically that negotiation is stuck. We’re guessing that these folks really haven’t made up their minds to move; they pulled the classic ploy of listing the property at an unrealistic price, assuming no one will ever meet it, but if some real sucker does come along, well then …. We aren’t suckers, so we won’t meet their price, so we may have to make the choice, which I’ve been hoping to avoid, to buy just one of the farms and wait around, maybe for years, for the other. Or to buy somewhere else. We’re still looking, but so far we haven’t seen anything to compare with Hartland. It’s amazing how little good ag soil there is around here, and how many scrubby, rocky acres there are at the ends of long dirt roads. Gorgeous views, but little water, big winds, early frosts, bony land.
Meanwhile the list of interested people is growing. We’re putting together our first written summary of where we’re at, for a “newcomers packet,” which the “old-timers” are pretty anxious to have too. It will consist of a welcome letter, a short history of the vision and its evolution so far, a statement of purpose and principles, a summary of the land situation and the plans for the Institute, a categorization of the various types of partnerships we invite (along with their costs — we’re at the point where we have to talk real money at last), and an address list of interested folks, which is already seven pages long. Most of those pieces are almost ready. I have to compile them next week, oh dear, something else for my to-do list! We have registered the Sustainability Institute as a corporation in the state of Vermont and we’re about to file for our 501c3. More to-do. No end to the to-dos.
Balaton was great as usual — in some ways better than ever, in some ways strangely different. (For new readers — the Balaton Group is a network of folks around the world who work on sustainability in their home places; they are extraordinary leaders both intellectually and spiritually. They are my “virtual community.” I am one of the coordinators of the network. We always meet at Lake Balaton in Hungary during the first week of September.)
The theme was “water”. What about water? Well, given Balaton, just about everything, from the traditional Maori feeling of relationship with water (the Maori phrase “where are you from?” means literally “what are your waters?”) to the latest in computer modeling, climate change, endocrine disruptors. (Watch for the emphasis to shift from estrogen disruptors to thyroid disruptors and the bad effects to shift from reproductive failure to brain and behavioral disorders). We saw spectacular pictures shot from a helicopter traveling from the source of the Amu Darya River high in the Himalayas to its diversion through massive dams and finally to the dried-up Aral Sea. We heard water horror stories from China to Costa Rica. We talked about water law and water economics and water culture. We caught up with John Todd (always a hit at Balaton) and his beautiful, inspiring, ecological water treatment systems. Balaton meetings are always mind-blowing!
This one seemed a bit more disconnected than usual, perhaps because of the wide range of the topic, perhaps because I didn’t organize the program. (I ALWAYS see all the connections when I’m the organizer — but maybe no one else does.) It’s a big job to organize the program, and I was delighted to be able to lean back and just enjoy it for a change. There were more newcomers than usual — about 20 of the 50 attendees — and that may have changed the usual dynamic of the meeting. At any rate, whatever the reason, the first few days seemed slower than usual to me, less explosively hyperactive — which is probably good. By the last day, the mood was as amazing as ever, loving, positive, inspired. (It’s so hard to describe the mood of a Balaton meeting — imagine a group where everyone feels fully acknowledged, special, dedicated to a high purpose, energized, courageous and full of ideas and hope. Just think what wonders humanity would manifest, if we could manage to establish that mood much more often, for many more people!)
As in every Balaton meeting, I could see people get hit by an insight or realization that will change their focus, raise their sights, move them forward in a direction they thought was stuck. As in every meeting, we were still forming excited plans for further work on the bus on the way back to Budapest. It’s hard to stop this group! In our afternoon workshops (which are self-organizing — people just announce meetings on any topic they want to discuss) we made good progress, I think, on several projects I’m deeply involved in — the Africa regional meeting, the work on sustainability indicators. And, as always, I got to be with some of my favorite people in the world, old friends and new. Just knowing that these people exist and are doing their good work is what keeps me going for the whole rest of the year.
Well, the house needs cleaning, the Bulletin needs finishing, I have to go check out Ruth’s barn to make it ready for horses, I have readings to do for my class and a column to write, and besides the sun is high and warm now, and it’s time to go glory in it. Gotta rush! Gotta rush!