Duty Now for the Future

My neighbors seemed to hit on a 21st century harvest ritual last Sunday.  It was the first dusk of standard time and was getting dark around 4:40.  It had been a beautiful day and we’d all been closing our gardens for the season, when I noticed fires burning in a few backyards.  It seemed a fitting way to greet the change in schedule.

(By the way,  I don’t think “standard” time is standard anymore, as we observe it for only about four months a year, just as a car’s manual transmission is no longer the “standard” equipment it once was.)

The fact that we shift clocks at all is a symptom of industrial society ruled by measured time.  Real farmers rise with the sun, not the clock.  We change from daylight to standard time (and vice versa) in the middle of a weekend to ease the Monday morning transition.  By the light of the flames, we could see ourselves on the cusp of transition from the global, oil soaked era to a new agrarianism.

My neighbor Malgosia said she lit her fire because when she was growing up in Poland, school would let out in the early days of November so children could help with the potato harvest and in the evenings they would burn the dry, desiccated potato plants in the fields, with tubers roasting in the embers.  The failing light and crisp November air reminded her of those days, so a fire seemed appropriate.  We decided to have a backyard potato roast this weekend (weather permitting); if it goes well, maybe another on Thanksgiving eve.

Then we talked about our gardens, what had and hadn’t gone well in the growing season just past.  We’ve started to refer to our block as “the farm” because so many of us have gardens, fruit trees, bees or chickens.  Malgosia from Poland and Margaret, a Vermont native, (they were born one day apart, um… some years ago) are the resident advisors on growing and pruning, canning and preserving.

We agreed that turning our neighborhood into “the farm,” eating locally, learning about foraging and supporting farmers’ markets are the new activism.  Attempts to head off global warming have not worked.  Nor have we stopped overfishing or deforestation, hard as mainstream environmentalists have tried.

Unsuccessful though we may be, we still have to try.  The consequences we face are too severe to stop now.  At the same time, we can’t pretend everything will be all right.  It’s already too far gone for that.  The effects of global warming, overfishing and deforestation are upon us.  This summer’s fires in Texas burned 22 percent of the American cotton crop.  Corn, wheat, peanuts and beef all took hits as well.  The new activism, my neighborhood farm, is going to look smarter every year.

The old activism, my day job, is important too, if for no other reason than it buys time for the new activism to establish itself.  “I must continue by faith or it is too great a burden to bear,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was referring to violence, but I reach for those words when I feel any burden.  “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives,” Dr. King said.

The harvest is in, the days short and the year is winding down.  Our industrial society is failing, so we return to the land in the ways we can and spontaneously find new harvest rituals.  We plan for the next year, the next spring, the next phase of hope.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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