August 23, 2012 § 1 Comment
A week ago, Fin and I took a walk. We were ostensibly on the hunt for mushrooms, but it’s been so dry that other than a fine patch of hedgehogs, we found none.
We stopped for a while to sit in the woods, lowering ourselves into a patch of moss-like plants. They looked sort of like little spruce trees, but were not.
“Papa,” said Fin, “did you know these plants are the same species as a tree that used to grow a half-dozen feet around and like a hundred feet tall?”
I had not known that.
For the next quarter-hour or so, we lay in a soft bed of plants descended from enormous prehistoric trees.
This morning, Rye and I went fishing. We loaded the kayak onto the truck and rumbled over to Nichol’s Pond. We were the only humans on the water. The sun was bright and warm and made me a little sleepy, and from across the pond we could hear a loon. Or maybe two. I caught a small bass and a sunfish; Rye caught two sunfish and a perch. We put them back in the water and they flickered out of sight.
One the way home, I reached across the truck’s bench seat and he held my hand and I did not take it for granted, because soon there will come a day when he will not do such a thing. So I squeezed a little. He looked over at me and grinned. And then he squeezed back.
Sometimes I am struck by the fact that the moments I most remember, the ones that feel as if they are embodied by everything that makes life something we are afraid to give up, are the moments I could never have anticipated.
August 9, 2012 § 6 Comments
This morning after chores I set out for the most prolific of the half-dozen or so ridiculously prolific wild blackberry stashes that surround our home. Penny and I have a shared affliction which will not allow us to vacate a berry patch until all vessels are full, so I carried only a single one-gallon bucket: I couldn’t spend the whole freakin’ day harvesting fruit. It was cloudy, and it’s been so damn dry that even the promise of rain felt refreshing. We’ve had maybe two inches of rain in the past five weeks, enough to keep things green, but only just.
The berries were absurdly abundant. Each cane was bent under the weight of ripe fruit, some the size of my thumb from the knuckle up. And I have pretty big thumbs. I picked the first two quarts in maybe 20 minutes, at which point rain began to fall, not hard, but steady. It ran down my face and soaked my shirt and stung the innumerable bramble scratches that criss-crossed my bare arms. I was cold, but to be wetly cold in the rain has been such a novelty this summer that I kept pickin’. Besides, my container wasn’t full.
But soon it was, and I turned to leave. Before I did, though, I surveyed the patch and realized that, by rough estimation, I’d picked perhaps 1% of the available ripe berries, which totaled maybe a third of all the berries. There were so many still to ripen. So much fruit, so much food, so much abundance, and all for nothing more than the asking (well, that, and pair of sliced-up forearms).
I am just finishing my third book which, roughly speaking, is about money, a friend and his relationship to money, and my relationship to money. But even this is a fairly superficial description, because I found that when I started exploring this subject and these relationships, I uncovered underlying themes of abundance, scarcity, community, interdependence and, perhaps most profoundly, fear. I suppose I could explain what I mean by all of this, but then you wouldn’t have to read my book. And I really would like it if you’d read my book.
Still, I don’t think I’d be revealing too much to say that working on the book and spending time with my friend (who lives quite well on about $6000 annually, and is perhaps the most contented person I’ve ever known) has dramatically altered my perspective on abundance. I now view the world as being enormously, almost impossibly abundant; it is only our contrived fears and collective reaction to those fears that creates the perception of scarcity. The tragic irony, of course, is that our perception of scarcity is what drives the reality of scarcity for some, in a world where the essentials of day-in, day-out survival have been monetized and commoditized.
To view the world as abundant in an era of massive inequality and resource gluttony demands a shift of perception that is nothing short of life-altering. At least, it has been for me, and the fantastic truth is that the more I believe in it, the more I experience it. I doubt this is quantifiably true; I don’t think that simply by putting out some sort of “vibe,” I’m attracting more abundance to me, although what the hell… maybe it’s true. In any case, I’m not preaching the prosperity gospel, here. Or if I am, it’s a sort of prosperity that can only result from letting go of contemporary assumptions regarding the accumulation of so-called “wealth.” To live a life that is subservient to these expectations is to live a life that is largely rooted in fear. It is a fear that is entirely convenient to the corporatized hand that feeds, because the more scared we are, the more we feel compelled to abate our fear with the accumulation of money and stuff. And the more we view the world – and each other – as being ungenerous.
If this is your view, come on over: I’ve got a certain blackberry patch to show you.
August 1, 2012 § 6 Comments
We were up early this morning, with chores completed and breakfast finished by 7. As such, I offered the boys a round of target practice; we’d borrowed a .223 from a neighbor and they were eager to give it a shot. Heh. So to speak.
We spent half an hour in the woods with the guns, blasting at a paper target and a couple of unfortunate stumps. I was not raised with guns, which probably helps explain my initial aversion to them, but having shot a couple thousand rounds over the past year or two, I now find that a rifle feels quite natural in my hands. The boys hope to be deer hunting within the next year or so; we’ll take a hunter safety course this fall and see where things stand.
In any event, the three of us came out of the forest with rifles in hand and spent shells clattering in our pockets to find a young woman on our lawn, conversing with Penny. If she was alarmed or merely surprised at the sight of two gun-wielding children (to say nothing of their father), she hid it well. She explained that she had come to show us “learning materials” and hinted that we might wish to purchase some, to which I said “you’ve got a tough sell, here,” and disappeared into the house. I did not intend to be short, although it may have come off that way. I simply didn’t want to waste her time. Actually, to be entirely honest, I was more concerned with wasting my time. But since that doesn’t sound very nice, that’s not what I said.
I do not wish to educate my children according to a curriculum engineered by someone else. Because the truth is, no matter how well intended, no matter how well engineered, no matter how flat out smart the designer of said curriculum might be, he or she does not know my kids. He or she knows only some aggregate average of children, which is then wedded to a particular educational philosophy (which I may or may not agree with) to create “learning materials.” Needless to say, there is an inherent standardization that cannot fully respect and honor the individual. Of course, nowhere is this more true than in formal educational institutions (aka “schools”) which suffer the added burdens of maintaining some semblance of order amidst the teeming mass of youth, as they attempt to meet the imposed expectations of state, federal, and cultural entities.
The world is full of committed and well-meaning teachers and other actors in the educational arena. Of this, I have no doubt. But they suffer the same fate as the committed and well-meaning politicians who must do their bidding within the context of a diseased system (although I’m pretty sure there are far fewer well-meaning politicians, than teachers). Some children seem to thrive in this system, although of course it’s impossible to say how they might respond to an alternative, because for most, there are no other options; the financial realities of contemporary America do not encourage a different track, because most families simply can’t afford to consider other options. And to me it seems as if our culture’s messaging, as steered by the steady hand of corporate media, suggests that youth is something to be endured, rather than celebrated. In other words, to live separate from our children, to do our best to ensure that they disrupt our busy lives as little as possible.
Now, it could be said that I do not know what my children need most. At times, I am sure this is true, and like most parents, we suffer from bouts of self-doubt and general uncertainty. But having committed ourselves to this path long ago, and having seen how many of our specific anxieties have been banished by the maturation of the boys in their own time, at their own pace, as the natural outgrowth of their true interests and passions, these bouts come less often and are less acute, and I can see how they are the result of fears that have been seeded into me.
And that the best thing I can do is pull the damn things up by the roots and let my boys learn.