The Conversational Nature of Reality

Whatever you desire of the world will not come to pass exactly as you would like it. But {…} what the world desires of you will also not come to pass. What actually occurs is this meeting- this frontier… The only place where things are real is at this frontier between what you think is you, and what you think is not you.

– David Whyte, Poet.

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There’s a lot happening at RSO these days. Greenhouse hardening off is coming to a head with field planting, irrigation management, our first round of weed control, and continued plot prep. Tomatoes went in Thursday, massively increasing the field workload through the rest of the season, between continuous trellising and pruning, possible amendment, and eventual harvesting. Two hoophouses full of tomatoes. Potatoes need to go in this week. This morning, I sit in the sleeper of my truck, reconciling the financial books, and watching all of the CSA payments come in. All of the CSA payments…

We had our first meltdown of the season last week. This is the first of at least two, I know. The next one will be mid-to-late July, a few weeks into CSA and market packing, on a harvest day. It’s cyclical for us. Still, this knowing doesn’t make it any less unpleasant. Oren, fresh off another law school semester, bustled back onto the farming scene with all of his experience, anxiety and disapproval. Kale planting: fail. Carrot planting: fail. Radish planting: delayed. Beet planting: fail. Prioritization: fail. Organizational system: fail. Communication: fail. Green onions: wrong plot; wrong spacing. Tomatoes: handled wrong…

It had been bubbling all week, through private conversations, causing the beginnings of a festering of anxiety. I lost some sleep over it, and my general farming attitude turned the slightest degree from let’s do this! to ah, fuck this… All in the span of a week, and one man’s anxiety.

I do, however, appreciate Oren airing his concerns, however brashly. In spite of myself, I need to acknowledge my own reality, my own need to change, and accept feedback from someone more experienced. The art, however, is to sit through the conversation, fend off the defensiveness, wade through the hysteria and fear, and come boldly to the frontier of this reality with my beloved partners, and the life we foster.

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Friday came the conversation, and we sat, somewhat dejected, as all of our hard work came under scrutiny. What had we been prioritizing? How had all this time passed, and we had not accomplished anything of significance? How had the tomatoes not been trellised? How are we communicating? Where are the plot sheets? Should we have done more? Done less? Talked more? Talked less? Should we have hardened off the kale another week, or not planted into mulch? Should we have taken more time to hand-water everything in, from seeds to seedlings? Should we have asked for additional help? Should we have lain down an offering of tobacco, or burned some sage, as a sacrificial offering?

I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m not even exactly sure how much of a crisis we’re in, or how much these communication patterns simply amplify the anxiety. What I do know is that we’ve got a lot of personal and financial capital on the line with an expanded CSA of our closest friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and some first-time members. It’s a high-pressure situation. What I do know, possibly more clearly than ever, is that I’m a novice farmer yet, and have much to learn in the realm of the fundamental. What I do know is that it’s time for us to buckle down a bit and dig in. We will. We did it last year, and the year before.

For me, this means a general slowing, and deepening of my attention to detail. Farming, I’m learning, is not an art of crossing tasks off of lists and forgetting them. It’s an art of constant vigilance and adjustment. It’s an art of care and compassion, for colleagues and plants alike. It’s an art of finding peace in being behind, and finding joy in endless work. I need to learn to engage more fully in this conversation, at the precise frontier where things become real. It is a conversation worth having, however challenging it may be.

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