Thankful

Twenty Seven.

I’ve never been more grateful for a number. That’s how many people came along to help this season’s work happen at Healing Springs Acres. They helped keep the farm – and me – going. Some let me know they could participate for a few months. Others are still in for the long haul. Some show up in the number of supporters you can see on our Patreon page. Others gave other ways. Some give small but persistent amounts. Others have made significant one time contributions.

This new mower was provided by one of the supporters who doesn’t show up in any public ways – but shows up in all the right ways as often as possible. Thank You!

In addition to vital moral support to me personally, the financial support these 27 people have provided has made three things possible here at the farm and beyond:

  1. They’ve made another season of work growing food to give away POSSIBLE. This project was on the brink of ending for lack of resources. 27 people agreed that THIS was not the season to stop growing food to give away. It was still a challenging season – not the least of which has been the continuing increased pressure from deer after the loss of a couple hundred acres of habitat just south of here. Challenges are normal. This season wouldn’t have even been possible without the support of 27 people. There’s a summary of the season – and exciting things to come in a previous post.

  2. They’ve helped complete the launch of the new podcast, Welcome to the Table!: what people are doing to end hunger. In our first season of 7 episodes of on location interviews with other entrepreneurial instigators who have started their own food or hunger related projects, we’ve had just over 1,000 downloads of the podcast! I’ve heard from listeners who have been inspired to begin their own efforts to help end hunger in their communities, and there is a growing list of new friends I’m eager to interview for a second season. I hope you’ll listen to back episodes if you haven’t yet. Then, subscribe so you’ll be notified when Season 2 starts. Once a Covid vaccine helps us achieve a safer level of interaction so face to face interviews can be a thing again, I’ll be back on the road and I hope you’ll listen in!

  3. They’ve kept ME going. With quarantine following immediately on the heels of unemployment, this has been the most challenging year I’ve ever face personally. Without the 27 people who agreed that this work is worth doing that that they want to live in a work where someone is doing this sort of thing, I would have had a personally devastating year and this project would have come to a tragic end after being a relatively good, productive, and beautiful thing for nearly a decade. I’ll devote a future post entirely to the podcast. Stay tuned…

27 people is all it took to turn catastrophe into survival. Just the other day a friend asked how things were going for me. I replied,

This sound mixing board was provided by another supporter who won’t show up in any public numbers – but who also has a love for good audio and is invested in the success of the podcast – and me. Thank You!

Things are mostly good. I mean, 2020 good, but mostly good.

2020 good. Yes, that says it all. In 2020, survival was good enough and I am more grateful for the support that made that possible than these words can possibly ever convey. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You…

27 times – Thank You.

There is still a lot of work ahead to begin growing wheat for flour, and to continue producing a quality podcast about what people are doing to end hunger. That will take more than 27 people.

But, for 2020, 27 was perfect. Again, Thank You.

Virtual Visit Update – “Come Ride Along…”

Here’s a link to the most recent “Virtual Visit” and update to goins’-on at the farm. I hope you’ll take a minute to visit. Get in touch if you have questions. Consider helping out if you’re able…

Shifting Seasons

Neither of my current primary vehicles is a straight drive. I miss the feel of slipping a shifter out of gear as the clutch releases, sliding it into the next position and matching the engine speed to the new gear as the clutch re-engages. With an automatic, it all still happens, but you don’t have to pay attention to it or be engaged in the process.

As I grow things here, I’m more engaged in the shifting of seasons than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve mentioned several times that the weather is an unforgiving mistress and she always wants to dance. If you don’t dance in rhythm with the seasons, you may well get your toes stepped on — or, you know, trip and fall and break your neck…

Most folk in our society don’t grow things anymore – other than ornamentals. If we’re not growing things that we depend on to eat, we can sort of get away with going on automatic and ignoring the shifts in seasons. Our clothing may change with the HVAC settings for seasonal comfort but not much else is required in the way of seasonal mindfulness — if we’re not growing things.

The technological conveniences of an information driven, industrialized economy have allowed us to pretend, for the most part, that the weather and other forces of nature are mere matters of inconvenience in our calendared lives rather than an essential rhythm in the dance of life. We may fool ourselves for a good long while that our technology actually can separate us from those natural rhythms and that we can ultimately set our own seasonal pace for life.

That’s true but, there’s another Truth. Absolutely nothing in the natural world cares about our convenience, or has any investment in propping up the illusion that our lives can actually be insulated from the forces of the natural world.

Deer don’t care. There’s not a single animal in the local herd that ever even considers that I might have a noble purpose for the food I try to grow here. They don’t care that there are people who don’t have enough to eat and that what comes from here is meant for them. They are far more concerned with the seasonal availability of their favored food sources than with any designs I may try to impose on that rhythm. When food is in season they will eat it if they can get to it first – and the nocturnal beasts will always get there first. That’s one of the survival advantages they gain from living in such faithful rhythm with nature’s seasonal dance.

Survival. That’s what it comes down to. When the deer are in a season of plentiful food, they eat. When the seasons change they adjust their behavior and change their movement patterns to adjust to the changing season. They’ve constructed absolutely no illusions of the separation of their lives from their natural world. They know better than to ignore the shifting seasons because they know that absolutely nothing in the natural world cares if they survive.

Covid doesn’t care. Covid is a living thing perfectly attuned to the rhythms of the natural world and has absolutely no interest or investment in propping up our preferred conveniences. One of the costs of our delusion that we are able to insulate ourselves from the natural rhythms of life, such as the shifts of seasons, has been our dulled survival instincts in our dance with the Covid Season.

I’m paying attention to the deer. They are so persistently deft at knowing when and how to shift their behavior and patterns of movement to the rhythm of the season. Covid Season has a rhythm – its own natural rhythm – and is also nearly perfectly tuned to navigate this season of its life. It exhibits the same persistent deftness as the deer while it exploits the mistakes of any of its prey. Us. We are its prey.

Far too may of us have leaned into the same base impulses of defiance which define so many of our other approaches to the natural world as a strategy for dealing with Covid. In our naive but determined disassociation from seasonal mindfulness we, as a society, have largely insisted that the Covid virus honor our preference to get on with life. As of this writing, over 231,000 of our neighbors have born witness in their deaths to the frivolity of that strategy and the technologically enabled arrogance that fuels it.

Convenience is a hell of an alter to die on.

Shifting rhythms and patterns of movement in response to the Covid Season of our lives – staying home as much as you can, keeping distance all the time, wearing a mask consistently and correctly when you do have to go out, washing your hands a few extra times – absolutely SUCKS. We all agree. And, I flat don’t care. Neither does Covid. This is a season which demands an adjusted rhythm and exacts a high cost on defiance and apathy. You’d better dance in rhythm to the season, or you’ll get your toes stepped on — or, you know, die a needlessly breathless death or cause the same for someone you know and love.

I’m not being flippant about the recognition that this all sucks. Bankruptcy level sucks. Suicide level sucks. I’m still alive, still almost solvent — but, yeah — it sucks hard. Ever since starting the year with a (not-so-surprising) early end to an interim assignment, I’ve been unemployed through the entire pandemic.

None of the ways I normally make money off the farm are well suited to ramping up in a pandemic economy. Professional strategy coaching is PERFECT for me as a coach during quarantine living. All of my coaching work is already done over the phone. However, most potential clients have pulled back from their own projects during this season as well, so finding NEW coaching clients in this season – sucks. The support I’ve received from some of the folks reading this, alongside some sporadic coaching work I’ve maintained is all that has sustained me during the Covid Season. I GET that it’s been hard. Viscerally. I was already on budget lockdown before any level of quarantine began.

Yes. Quarantine is terribly hard — and I still don’t care how much anyone would like us all to open things back up and just get back to “keeping on keeping on,” and neither does Covid. We have long since shifted into the Covid Season. Adapt, or suffer far worse than the brutal inconvenience of adaptation. Our collective experience seems to bear out the idea that walking to the beat of one’s own drum in defiance of a novel virus is bat-shit-crazy — speaking of bats.

None of my perspectives come from atop a privileged pile of resources that makes navigating all of this easier for me than for others. Staying committed to this farm project is not a luxury I choose to indulge in. It’s something I decided over a decade ago to do no matter how difficult it got. That is not made possible by an abundance of anything other than an above average risk tolerance and the willingness to forego luxuries that most other folk consider to be bare necessities. You know, things like eating out, cable TV and, health insurance.

No, if you’ve gotten through this year on more than about $900 a month, you really don’t want to try to tell me how hard it’s been on folks to stay home. You don’t want to try to explain to me why we should be opening everything back up and getting on with life. You won’t enjoy that conversation. If you are as determined as most folks seem to be to dance to their own rhythm in Covid Season, come on ahead. I warned you.

By this point, someone reading this is chuckling to themselves thinking it’s ironic that I’ve used a metaphor of a herd animal, a deer, to illustrate my point. They’re thinking something along the lines of,

“Isn’t herd immunity the goal??? Staying at home and avoiding mass exposure to the virus just delays that!!!”

Well, yes. Yes, we do want to achieve functional herd immunity. That’s the desired outcome. Let’s be clear though, wide spread, willy-nilly exposure to achieve herd immunity is NOT a strategy. I’m not going to pretend to be a virologist or epidemiologist. I’m not going to try to adjudicate the arguments for or against mass exposure as a strategy to achieve herd immunity — and neither are any you in the comments.

“Winning” is the most frequent desired outcome of running a race. If you’ve ever competed in a race of any kind, you don’t need anyone to tell you that although winning may be your desired outcome, you’d better come at it with a LOT more than just, “winning the race” as a STRATEGY for achieving your desired outcome.

Herd immunity is our desire, but all indications are that it will take something more than mass exposure or desperate desire to get us there. None of the actual virologists and immunologists I’ve read offer any hope of shifting out of Covid Season until we shift into Vaccine Season.

While I’m not going to adjudicate the arguments for or against that conclusion here (and, again, neither are you…), I AM going to continue to listen to the folks who’ve spent their lives studying these things over the folks who just decided they had it all figured out sometime since this past March. If you fit into that genius-come-lately category, what you have is a case of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome, not the solution to Covid Season. Either way — Thank You — but, I’ve already got sources on this.

“Keeping on keeping on” isn’t a bad idea though even if having to keep on keeping on while quarantined truly sucks. So does having voracious deer who eat all of your green beans and sweet corn. I’m going to keep on paying attention to the forces of nature bearing down upon me and do my best to make persistent, deft shifts in my rhythm to dance with them. “This is the way.”

One of the most immediate shifts I’m making in response to the natural forces at play in my corner of the natural world is to shift away from planting things that deer like to eat, like corn and green beans, and toward something they’re less fond of — wheat. The immediate impulse for the change is the voraciousness of the deer. As I’ve considered it though, shifting to wheat that I can grind into flour to give away improves the operation here in several other ways as well. I’ll make another whole post about that soon. In the mean time, here’s a link to recent Virtual Visit which includes your next fix of Tractor Cam, and more details on why shifting to wheat is a good idea for my next steps here at the farm.

Seasons shift. We pay attention or we don’t.

What adjustments are you making as the seasons of your life shift?

Are they in rhythm with the forces of the natural world?

Have your shifts in Covid Season been informed most by the wisdom of the folks who study that sort of thing for a living, or by your needs and desires for comfort and convenience. Covid doesn’t care, but people who love you do.

Planted Prayers

I’m not much of a praying person.  Never have been.  I do pray.  Usually just in those moments when I don’t know what else to do and praying is all there is left.  Prayer means a lot of different things to different people.  There are lots of ways to pray, even within the Christian tradition.  No matter what prayer means to you, save the comments.  I’m aware that I should probably start there more than I do.

When I do pray it’s more likely to be a focused mindfulness along the way while doing something else than a stop-and-do activity all its own.  I find myself slipping into a prayerful mind when riding my motorcycle, or working at most any repetitive physical task.  I’ve heard many others speak of a need for quiet focus to be in a state of prayer.  That nearly never works for my attention deficient mind. Prayer, for me, is more a state of doing than of being.

That’s the way it happened while I was planting this year…

I plowed, disked, and laid off rows with a tractor, but this year I planted by hand – mostly.  Seeds sprout when they absorb moisture and warmth.  Dropping seeds from a sweaty hand into summer ground is as personal a way to start that process as one can devise – and is as close as a man can come to giving birth.  I’d never had a perspective on beginning to understand the literary correlation of the edenic curses until this summer.

Dropping Pink Eyed Purple Hulled Peas into a shallow furrow
Dropping Pink Eyed Purple Hulled Peas into a shallow furrow

Along the way in that repetition of dropping a seed and covering it with the edge of my booted foot, I began to notice I was praying.  Hard.  I didn’t become aware that I was lost in prayer until I realized that my eyes were swimming in a saline fire from free flowing sweat I hadn’t thought to wipe.  There are people who fret over my lack of traditional prayer.  I couldn’t help but think, “If they could only see me now…”

If you’ve ever wondered if I’ve prayed for you, I did that day.  If you’ve been sick and I’ve known it, I prayed for you.  If you’ve been struggling in your marriage, or with your child, or beaten down at work, or out of work, or lonely, or taxed every minute of a 48-hour day to take care of someone else, I prayed for you.  If I know you and I knew of any struggle, pain, hurt, or frustration you’ve been having – even if you don’t claim any kind of faith – I tried my best to pray a simple prayer for you that you could say “amen” to in whatever is your own way.  It is my fervent hope that each and every one of those prayers will take deep root and bear much fruit.

It wasn’t until later that I remembered Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.  He was an uneducated man in France who was converted to Christian faith when he saw a tree stripped bare in winter and realized the universal fullness of hope spring held for the tree, and for him – and for everyone.  The analogy moved him and he began a life of toil and contemplation.  His primary task for decades was washing dishes and preparing meals for brothers and pilgrim visitors.  We know his story primarily from the book he left behind in the initial form of conversations and letters, The Practice of the Presence of God.

This is an excerpt of his most famous prayer:

Lord of all pots and pans and things…
make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.

Link to full text goes to: http://murmurmethis.blogspot.com/2011/02/brother-lawrences-prayer.html

None of this is shared to say, “Hey, look at me, I prayed!” Actually, I’m pretty sure that you don’t get any points for such a thing anyway if you point it out yourself.  Rather than to brag, my purpose is to confess and celebrate along with any of you out there who find yourselves slipping into the spiritual along the way but who are not necessarily given to expressing it in forms familiar to the approval of others.  This is also for those who have tried more traditional ways of being in prayer with the fervency and piety which seem so natural to others, but have only been left with a tinge of guilt that it never did take for you in a set-aside-time-with-hands-folded kind of way.  It’s OK.  You were made the way you are, and your way is good enough.  Fill your unfolded hands with whatever tasks are yours and do your praying along the way.  Brother Lawrence can be our patron saint and it’s really nobody else’s business.

Fill the reservoir with seeds and walk straight
Fill the reservoir with seeds and walk straight

Despite the prayerful pace, planting was rushed this year.  There’s been an amazing amount of rain which has left the ground too wet to work for most of the spring.  One of my old timer advisers often tells me that working the ground when it’s too wet is one of the hardest things to recover from in terms of the quality and texture of the soil.  Since I don’t know nearly as much about this whole farming thing as folks assume I do, other than what the old timer experts tell me, I listened and waited.  The waiting was a prayer inducing fit as well – because I didn’t know what else to do…

Planting was delayed until June 20th.  That put me in a bind because I had somewhere I needed to go, but I wanted to go with a clear conscience that crops were in the ground.  Fortunately, another neighbor/friend/adviser stopped by and mentioned that he had a hand operated push planter sitting unused in his barn and I was welcome to use it.  You bet.  I may appreciate the contemplative virtues of planting with a hoe and a sweaty hand – but, I also value being finished.

Up until then it had taken me most of a day to mix fertilizer into the rows, plant, and cover ten 170 foot rows of peas and three rows each of squash and zucchini.  With the push planter I was able to plant ten rows of green beans the same length in about an hour.  I prayed while I planted by hand.  While pushing the hand planter I pondered the inverse correlation between spirituality and mechanization.  For me, it is a direct correlation – except on a motorcycle.

Later that same day, the same neighbor brought a four row planter pulled by a massive tractor quite a bit larger than the old Farmall 130 I had used to prepare the fields for planting.  By then, of course, there was far too much technology to tend to for any meaningful praying to occur.  As for being done, we planted over 30 rows of corn 300 feet long in less than an hour.

This planter is so massive there's no plowing required.  Now you tell me...
This planter is so massive there’s no plowing required. Now you tell me…

The next day I left town with a clear conscience to ride to Nashville, TN to celebrate the life of, and mourn the passing of, Will Campbell.  He was a hero to me and many others.  He is one of a trinity of the most powerful and profound influences in my whole life and particularly my formation as a follower of Jesus, and as a minister of the Good News: Jack Partain, Will Campbell, and Wendell Berry.

While a student at Gardner-Webb University (then College), one of the people I most enjoyed getting to know was Larry Thomas.  He was a security guard who worked 3rd shift and was generally coming on duty when my shift as a work-study student worker in the security office was ending.  Larry was a pastor of sorts – my words, not his – to many students on the campus who found the overwrought piety of many of us religious students a bit too much for their tastes.  On a Baptist college campus religious students enjoy a presumed privilege of sorts. It can be obnoxious. All too often the faithful are the single greatest deterrent to others finding faith.  Larry was simply a non-judgmental friend to the non-religious. In his eyes they were just as welcome and worthy as the proudly righteous saints – which is to say he was one of the few getting it right as an example of how Mr. Jesus might have navigated that aspect of campus life.

Larry had a cork bulletin board filled with quotes hanging over his desk in the back of the security building.  Any student in the Eager Evangelical category (hat tip to Dr. Cullinan) would have found the collection of quotes sacrilegious if only for its breadth of sources. Buddhists, humanists, and radicals were all quoted right there beside classic Christian writers and even a few passages of scripture.  I found it captivating in its unceremonious collection of Truth.  Many of the sources I recognized.  One I did not.  I began to notice that the quotes I seemed to like the most were all by some guy named Will D. Campbell.

One day I asked Larry who this Will Campbell was.  There was no way I could have been prepared for what came next.  He wheeled around and locked his eyes onto mine and said incisively,

What???

What’s your major?” he snapped.

Religion/religious education,” I ventured in slow confusion.

What year are you?” came the equally fierce follow-up.

I’m a senior” I confessed slowly.

Then, he flew into what is to this very day the most animated, sustained, and admirable cussing fit I’ve ever witnessed in person.

&*% $@~+!!! What the #^<{ are they teaching y’all over there?  How in the hell can you get through four years as a #@*{%^& religion major in a &*% $@~+ Baptist college without knowing who the #@*% Will &*% $@~+ Campbell is!?!?!?

That was merely the thematic introduction.  The actual fit went on for several more minutes and was a thing to behold.

Somehow I got the impression Larry thought this Will Campbell guy was a big deal.  I was willing to take his word.  He loaned me Brother to a Dragonfly and made me promise something along the lines of not telling another soul on the planet that I was a Baptist until I’d read it from cover to cover.  I did.

Everything I thought I knew about being a believer, a Baptist, and a minister changed in the next few days.  Jack Partain, my theology professor, had plowed the soil of my life and prepared me over the previous couple of years for the germination of all the seeds of faith that Will’s writing and life’s story would plant in the depths of my soul.  Larry was the massive belching tractor pulling the mechanized planter; anything but spiritually delicate, but pretty damned effective for getting an already late job done quick.  I read every book of Will’s I could get my hands on in the next few months, and that was before Amazon made it easy.

Many years later I was able to meet Will.  By then he was much older and had begun to have periodic health issues which landed him in the hospital from time to time.  The first visit arranged by an old friend of his had to be cancelled for that very reason.  So, we didn’t get to visit in Will’s legendary writing cabin.  However, the friend who had arranged the visit wasn’t the sort of friend who could hear that Will was in the hospital and not drop by.  Though we went out to the farm on a later trip as originally planned, on my first visit with Will I tagged along awkwardly on what was essentially a pastoral visit in the hospital between two veteran ministers who’d been close friends and had looked out for one another over many years.  Will had a way of making it not awkward at all.

Later that same year I spent Easter week in The Pickle following Pearl Jam through five dates on their Riot Act Tour.  On Good Friday they played outside Nashville about an hour from Will’s place.  I got there early and spent the afternoon visiting with him for the last time I was able to in person.

One of my favorite stories about Will is his account of a late night conversation with Waylon Jennings on the tour bus between shows while he was “working” as the cook/chaplain/mascot on the tour.  In the quiet passage of miles Will asked, “Waylon, what do you believe?”  He didn’t get much of an answer, but the question mattered.

I think there’s only one Baptist preacher who could ever say they inspired Waylon to write a song. Some time after that late night conversation Waylon told Will he finally had an answer and he’d written it in a song.  It’s as good a confession as I’ve ever heard for someone who put more into doing spirituality along the way than into being piously spiritual as an act of its own.  That last day I got to visit with Will, one of the things he was working on was editing a new version of that story for an upcoming speaking engagement.  The edits were to reflect the fact that Waylon had by then passed on and to include his further reflections on Waylon’s unconventional spirituality.

I will probably never finish discovering or describing the ways Brother Will affected my understanding of how to follow Jesus, or how to invite others along The Way.  Part of the essence of it though was in his gentle ability to take the complexity of the Holy and make it brutally plain, to dignify the scandalous outcasts with grace and show us their beauty, to rescue the sacred from the pious comfort of the steeple’s shadow and redeem it for those too broken to feel welcome there.

I made it to Will’s memorial service with a clear conscience about having crops in the ground.  I spent the night before with friends who’d known Will far better than I did.  We sang country music into the early morning hours and said our goodbyes in ways we thought Brother Will might have liked to sit in on.  We got to the church early and sat as the crowd gathered.  We discovered that Jessi Colter, phenomenal country artist and Waylon’s wife, was offering a song in the service.  We were there early enough to hear her sound check of His Eye Is On The Sparrow.  The song was smooth and reverent in the actual service just as one would expect of a consummate professional, but not the sound check.  The sound check was raw with a tearful, emotional edge.  That was all I needed.  It was enough to help me remember most everything that mattered to me about Will.  Everyone who knows anything about Will knows he was a vital worker in the civil rights movement way back before it was popular for white Baptist preachers to be involved in such things.  Far fewer people know of his life on the road with Waylon and all that it seemed to encapsulate about his ability to seek, find, and inspire the Holy in the most unexpected of places and people.

Standing water
Standing water

No wonder Larry the security guard had been such a vital minister of the Gospel since he’d left the steeples.  He’d learned from a master.  No wonder he was so surprised at my ignorance of who Will D. Campbell was.  Thank God he wasn’t piously polite about it.  I might have brushed it off.

As I rode back to the farm from Nashville, I found myself slipping into a prayerful gratitude.  I was thankful for Larry, and Jack, and Will – and for all the unseemly people and the ungodly places wherein I’d found something sacred along the way.

Upon return I found that the same abundance of water that waylaid the planting was still in force.  The weeds were growing faster than the produce.  Following that trip to Nashville in late July, the fields were too blessed with water to get a tractor in to cultivate.  During a few critical weeks it was nearly impossible to keep the johnson grass at bay.

This year’s garden is an apt depiction of many a spiritual life.  There are useless, choking weeds nearly everywhere one can step.  Too many to get rid of completely at this point.  In the midst of the weeds though, seeds have come to life and are producing food that will nourish people who most of the workers in the garden will never see.

Squash, zucchini & weeds
Squash, zucchini & weeds

If you’re one of us whose spiritual garden seems to produce as much toil in the choking weeds as it does obvious spiritual fruit, you’re not alone.  If Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection seems too Holy and far removed for you to identify with in a spirituality of practical doing rather than pious being, give Waylon a listen.  You could do a lot worse for a patron saint.

Either way, just remember what Jesus had to say about weeds and produce.  Don’t worry as much about the weeds as you do about the harvest.  You can work out the spirituality along the way.