THE OFFICIAL BLOG
On Friendship & Wonder
Recently I was making small talk with a lady whom I had just met (which seemed to be the proper thing to do given the circumstances), and inevitably ended up sharing a little anecdote about my goats. I say "inevitably" because goats have been a part of my life in one way or another for several years now, so that it is natural to include the subject when I am talking to someone who does not know anything about me. Of course, I am assuming (which is also a natural part of introductions) that the person wants to know something about me to begin with. Ah, but back to the conversation. When I finished my short little story about goat adventures, the lady looked at me with some irritation, waved her hand dismissively, and said, "Yeah. I have goats, too."
It stung a little. Aaand the conversation ended. I am pretty sure that any prospect of a future friendship with this person also ended at that moment. Not because I was offended, but because it was clear that she would not be particularly interested in such a relationship.
A few days later I was still tumbling the exchange around in my head. I wish I could say that it warranted so much thought because it was an unprecedented thing. On the contrary, it seems to happen more and more often of late. So much so that I am beginning to feel as if strangers are more strange than they ever were before -- that something happened out there in the world at large while I was busy on my hill. I missed the program. I did not get the memo. When did we become so completely uninterested in one another - to the point of rudeness? What is going on?
As I contemplate the awkward encounter, I keep coming around to the idea that years ago - maybe many years ago, but most definitely for millennia before the change - that moment of the discovery of some common ground, some common interest or experience - would have been a good thing. "Ah," we say to our fellow man, "We are cut from the same cloth! We can start here."
People seem to be constantly searching for two things - and, I believe they are willing to sacrifice friendship in the process: everlasting newness and knowledge for personal gain. Those two things are not unrelated in this land of consumers. Hear me out, here. We are all consumers, we all consume things. But there was a time - not too long ago - that it wasn't our consumption that defined us.
I believe it began with our consumption of things, although the consumption of things is not inherently wrong and does not necessarily lead to the destruction of civilization or anything like that. We are not locusts... or we are not supposed to be. (After all, we are also producers. Or, we once were -- sometimes it feels as if that role is declining.) But, once upon a time, there was an orchestrated battle for the mind of modern man and advertisers (who knew a lot more about how our minds work than the rest of us care to know) taught people - an entire society - how to be masterful consumers of things. And then they didn't stop at things, because there's always more to sell. We became consumers of experience, consumers of ideas, consumers of knowledge, consumers of one another.
I am not a farmer.
I guess it seems a little weird for me to say that, writing for our farm blog that is hosted on our farm website while quite literally being on our farm. I expect much of this blog post to be just as confusing as I am also writing from a place in my head that does not always make the most sense. But that is exactly why I feel compelled to write about this today -- I am hoping for some sanity-saving clarity.
When we pulled up stakes and moved, I had one very clear idea in my head: we had to move out of the suburbs and live on the land. There were no real specifics there in the plan. We had been doing what we could where we were for several year: learning how to can our own food, figuring out the ends and outs of composting, raising rabbits, growing fruits and vegetables in our flower gardens. At the time we were striving to learn valuable skills and become a little more self-sufficient so that in the event of a major catastrophe (such as the one we had already lived through), we would stand a better chance at survival.
That's what we had been doing before the sudden decision to move. It is not that that mindset was not at all involved in making the move, it just is that it was not the primary reason at the time. Instead, my determination was based on a growing sense that my children (as they also grew) were not living life fully. I wanted them to see meadows and play in streams, learn bird songs, and experience nature as an everyday reality rather than an occasional trip to the park.
As a homeschool mother, I was primary educator and curriculum advisor. And I had come to the realization that something very important was missing from the curriculum: real life.
I mean real life as opposed to the inherent artificiality of our modern lives. I mean sunrises and sunsets rather than incandescent or halogen bulbs. I mean taking the rocky path through the underbrush rather than staying on the sidewalk. I mean where things get dirty and stay dirty and a little rust adds charm. I mean the entire cycle of life from birth to death - played out day after day before our eyes without filters or apologies. Where respect for nature would come naturally - while at the same time stripping away any desire to worship it as some mysterious god. This often-idolized false god that they could learn to see for what it really is - only a fellow creature, but one worthy of our care and attention because there is an order to things... (an order which, out here, we have to learn to live with each and every day as our ancestors had done) and, ultimately, that there is a True God who made it that way.
Being human, I often lose sight of the goal. Especially after two years of Dave having to live away from us for his job while we simply worked to hold things together, I lost direction. If we were totally self-sufficient by now, Dave would not have to work away from home. Nevermind that that sort of self-sufficiency was never our goal... we had only wanted to learn and pass on skills that would make us less dependent on modern technology in the event that we did not have access to it at some point. We were not going off-grid. If you could make some real money at this, this will never happen again. Nevermind that we never intended to make money at this. Making it into a business enterprise would put our entire endeavor in danger of becoming artificial. If you could just increase production and advertise you could make a good profit. Nevermind that increased production would mean throwing out all of our kinder, gentler methods of raising animals. Nevermind that increased production would displace me from my full time job as mother and teacher. Direction lost.
I have always been fascinated by the study of animal behavior. As a matter of fact, behavioral science was my minor in college for a time. (Until I could not manage to pass organic chemistry. Three times. Consider that a closed door.) When I spend my days (and sometimes nights) here surrounded by and observing animals of all kinds - I am in my happy place.
I love animals. I am an animal lover. However, I have noticed that I am not an animal lover in quite the same was as a lot of my animal-loving peers. You see, I love animals best when they are being animals.
I am not, in fact, a robot. I do enjoy cuddly moments of human interaction with creatures. It's just that I especially love to be near animals when they are doing what is most natural for them. That may sound sort of crunchy and far-out groovy, but really it is practical. Animals behave better when they are behaving naturally. The clincher is figuring out what is natural for them -- and what is not.
We often choose what is not good for us.
Put down that Little Debbie snack cake and read that again: We often choose what is not good for us. You could blame it entirely on free will - a rather important thing that other animals lack as they depend on instinct alone. But you would be missing a key to the puzzle. In addition to free will, we humans also have instincts. Reaching for that Twinkie may be more instinctual than you think.
But wait! Twinkies are not natural! How could I have an instinctual drive to eat Twinkies? Why do chickens eat styrofoam when there is a bowl of fresh, organic, non-GMO chicken feed right there? Why does your goat stand out in the cold rain next to his shelter all day?
There is a long and complicated answer to this question that is far too meaty for a mere blog post. However, it essentially comes down to one thing: Stress.
On August 29, 2005, we changed. A similar observation has often been made by those who have experienced some singularly dramatic event. For instance, they may write: "On May 1, 2014, our lives changed forever." Though I can sympathize with such an observation, I have a slightly different experience. We changed in a fundamental way on that fateful day, but it took quite some time and a lot of concerted effort for our circumstances -- our lives -- to change.
On August 28th, you would have found us to be a pretty normal suburban family -- discounting the ritual of weekend preparation during hurricane season on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My husband went to work in town every morning. I kept the lawn mowed in our postage-stamp sized yard. Our school-aged children attended the local private school. I handled the grocery shopping. We took our dogs to the groomer. We attended church on Sundays and helped out with local fundraisers and events. We drove children to soccer practice and music lessons. We ate a lot of junk food. We were entertained by the television. We managed to pay the bills and keep the house in good repair, but nothing more.