Chanting Monks

October 15, 2021


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Monks of the soil chant, and we finally hear their song. 

These statuesque piles of rich brown dirt proclaim themselves, especially when lined up, side by side, for thousands of feet on end singing in chorus. What are they proclaiming?





We think they are calling for liberation of the creek and its surrounding lands...

Probably 100 years ago the Army Corps of Engineers confined this wandering riparian zone to a straight, deep, and narrow channel to maximize production of agricultural commodities. The creek was relegated to a reservation of sorts, not unlike other unwelcome entities, so the imprint of classic economics could be super-imposed over its own music.

We are now undoing much of the work of the formidable ACE. This is a daunting and perhaps foolish endeavor, but one whose invitation we can no longer ignore. The monks are chanting loudly and their message has become compelling to our ears. 



In the picture below, the piles of dirt are artfully spread into flat fields from which they originally came. Over the next 12 months, these fields will be freed from the bondage of agricultural production and returned to to their native state as wetlands. 

The next picture depicts the opposite stream bank we excavated a year ago and planted late this winter with sycamores and livestakes of willows. Some of the sycamores are three feet tall already and the livestakes are flourishing. The willows are in the foreground at the edge and the sycamores up higher on the bank. These trees will create essential shade for wildlife, as in the past, but this time will be on stable, sloping banks that won't erode and implode into the creek. 




These efforts represent Phase III of our wetland development program, which we expected to implement in ten or twenty years or perhaps not at all. But suddenly this summer, amidst intenstive flooding and departing personnel, it became clear as lightening that it was time to step into Phase III and perhaps Phase IV.

I continue to be amazed at how quickly the present collapsed or condensed and the future accelerated or arrived... It was suddenly at our doorstep, rendering obsolete a few recent plans, but that is okay. We have accordingly entered a new era, through a glass, though somewhat darkly, that we have long envisioned. That entry is welcome and partly miraculous.




I have recently completed reading two books, whose messages keeps circling and standing tall, like this perfectly balanced white cedar.

The first is Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She is a Native American, botanist-PhD, who writes incisively about the two worlds in which she lives and in which the rest of us live, without aware. She points out how important language is to culture. She shares how devastating to Native culture were the impositions of Indian boarding school, to which her grandparents were sent, where the native tongue was prohibited and abolished. But some critical elements of those languages have survived, for the benefit of all.

She stems from the Potawatomi Nation, originally of the Wisconsin locale of the Great Lakes. She points out that in the Potawatomi language and most native languages, 70% of the words are verbs, whereas in English and most western languages, 70% of words are nouns. The aboriginal linguistic emphasis is on activity; the western emphasis is on things. Activity is engaged and responded to; things are owned.

A mountain is a thing to us; to the Potawatomi, it is a being, with personality, engaged in a range of distinct daily activity. It has a soul, and a relationship accordingly develops between it and those nearby. It is part of the local society. That society would no more consider defacing the mountain, for wood or gold, than we would deface our parents, grandparents, or children.

I see her point in my journey with our farm. Our family holds that we have owned our farm, as a thing, for over 50 years and have thoughtfully implemented various enterprises on it to advance its cause. But we brought those ideas to the land, and imposed them upon it, rather than listening deeply to what it had to say. Listening deeply is hard to do, but we are slowly improving that capacity.

As we have stumbled, evolved, and studied our journey here, we are trying to hear the chanting monks. We believe they are asking us to restore our bottom-ground to wetlands, so the wet make sing its song again.




The picture above shows green growth coming in Phase II of wetland development. Those are oats in the background, which will hold in place the herbacious wetland seeds we will broadcast by hand this winter. (If anybody would like to help us with this task in January, let me know.)

The second book of note is The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, by Thom Hartmann. He writes prolifically on many topics, but this is on the issue of climate and how serious it is. The book is very well written and documented; he has done his homework. I kept racing through it to arrive at hopeful resolution of this dire predicament we face. I finally found the resolution, by which I was both underwhelmed and overwhelmed. It is simply... to create community in which we each do our best and collectively do better than alone.

That hit like a thunderbolt, and combined with the ongoing saga here of good people coming to work but not staying, it crystallized the vision to create more permanent community on this farm. So, we have begun thinking of how to create opportunity to build six or eight houses on small lots, in and among wetlands, to sell to kindred spirits, so together we may share the journey ahead. 




In like manner, how do we process the destruction of American democracy we are witnessing? American democracy is built on two political parties, each supplying a wheel, in good faith, with which to pedal forward. It is like this classic bicycle. Both wheels are required to advance down the road, and with both, great distances have been and will be travelled. If one wheel is removed, however, in pursuit of uncontested power, the implement is rendered worthless.

A uni-cycle is not a metaphor for democracy; but only autocracy. Autocracies have won the day momentarily throughout history, but they don't endure. They do, however, cause incalcuable harm while in force. 

How do we handle the threat or presence of a dismantled democracy in our daily life? Coming together in community could be one important way. Thus we will strive to create such community on this land, which is singing to us evermore loudly.




What do these long-winded ruminations have to do with food?! I am not exactly sure, but think they are somehow relevant, because they create the context for how the food is raised and from whence it comes. 

The above is an exquisite meal of: Persian lamb shoulder, Indian-spiced baked apples, saffron rice, feta salad (bedecked with nasturtiums, of course), a goat's cheese, and delicious almond cake for dessert, served with whipped cream, flavored with local honey and orange-flower water. It was so good, and we enjoyed the leftovers for quite a few meals. They only got better.

Bob will be at Montgomery on Saturday and Susan and I at Madtree on Sunday, from 10 - 12.

May we hear the monks who chant.

Drausin & Susan

www.grassrootsfoods.biz


                                      Listening to the monks before a fountain of serenity...


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