Photo by Ben Sklar
Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
How does one respond with courage to a world in freefall? This past week I spent many hours walking the fields and woods, listening for words worth adding to the fray, the frenzy of a collapsing mutual life. I wrote those words down and include them here for your careful consideration. I wholeheartedly welcome your reply. We invite you, also, to join us in the conversation that happens every week at Soup and Bread Gift Distribution, a conversation between neighbors and their home place and its particular limits – a conversation on how we might yet live together. This Saturday from 11am to 1pm we will have hundreds of loaves of fresh bread and two hearty soups made from carefully grown and gleaned ingredients – Lamb with Cabbage Noodles and Vegetarian Turnip Sweet Potato – all offered as a gift to anyone who is hungry for any reason. We have received $1934 so far this month, leaving $3500 to meet our January Budget Request. You can make a gift HERE. We will not host an official Work Day this weekend, but once again welcome you to reach out if you are interested to join us for projects.
Consequence, Punishment, and the Lies of our Time
Quite remarkably, not one person who came to Soup and Bread Distribution last Saturday mentioned the recent events at the nation’s Capital. Some did inform us, however, that stimulus checks had begun to arrive in the mail. People often say that Brush Brook Community Farm offers a reprieve from the trials and tribulations of the world. I will not pretend I do not understand the sense of relief they describe. But I fear that the Farm might be confused for a refuge or a retreat from the slings and arrows, rather than our full-throated response to a troubled world. I have, in these Letters, tried to steer clear of any tone that resembles scolding, aspiring instead to share a verse from the Love Song that we sing here at the Farm as we move through our daily routines. It is with this aspiration that I will try to fashion a response to the troubling events that now dominate the national newsfeed. As is my way, I will take a roundabout path to get there.
The morning is cold with a steady North Wind and persistent cloud cover. Morning chores complete, I walk toward the house for breakfast. The narrow path, pressed into the snow by my previous footsteps, expands outward into a dizzying maze of animal prints. Deer have pawed through the snow to gnaw on frozen Turnips and left their pellets nearby. There are many others who call this place home, and I can see how they press upon the ground as they move through, what they take and what they leave behind. I look up to see Owl silently watching me from the branches of dying Elm next to the house. He penetrates and pins me with his eyes. Last week he sat high in Hemlock on the other side of the garden. And I remember: Not a month ago we fertilized the garden with a dusting of sifted bran from the bakery. While the ground was open, Chickadees came daily to feed. Under cover of snow, the bran attracts Field Mouse and Vole, and their quiet tunneling seems to have caught the attention of observant Owl. The garden becomes winter hunting ground. As I catch a glimpse of this chain of unintended consequence, Owl turns his head from side to side, locking eyes back on me each time I move or make a sound. He notices how I press upon the ground as I move through – the ripple of what I have taken and what I have left behind – and he responds in his way.
Have you ever wondered why the word consequence – from the root sequence – carries the tone of punishment for us these days? If you were ever grounded by your parents as a kid you might know what I mean. The older meaning – that which follows or grows from any course – only took on a heavier connotation more recently. Consequence these days is generally not something we want to be caught up with, and it seems we organize our lives to stay as far away from it as we can.
But what if consequence is all there is? Or, more accurately, consequences? What if the world is nothing more and nothing less than the accumulated consequence of all who have come before and pressed upon the ground as they have passed through, all who have taken some and left some behind, all who have lived and died? If the ground is the repository of all who have lived and died before us, then perhaps soil could serve as a metaphor for this sedimentary action of consequence. But soil is only a metaphor for a people who have turned the world – and their relationship to it – into an abstraction. Soil is only a metaphor when we relate to the world from a distance – or when distant others do the work of relating to the world on our behalf.
Here is the question I am coming to: How is it that we – say, the readership of this Newsletter – are arguably the most information-saturated people the world has ever known and at the same time have seemingly no capacity to respond to the abundantly available news that our way of living is leading to the rapid and, now, perhaps irreversible degradation of the world that we will pass on to those to come?
How did we get to the point where the suggestion of limits is intolerable in polite conversation?
Perhaps this letter will come across as impolite, and I apologize in advance for any offense. The urgency of our time wakes me on this moonless night. Owl scream penetrates the house from the dark woods. He calls forward a memory of a William Stafford poem:
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other we should consider –
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe – should be clear:
the darkness around us is deep.
Last week an angry mob stormed and seized the U.S. Capitol. As someone who does not directly take in media, I learned of these events from those around me who wanted to be sure I was informed. They told me that this attempted coup was unique because it was incited by the active lying of a United States President, that this was very alarming to many people of both party persuasions. Here is what I want to ask people to consider. Even our most progressive politicians promote economic growth – the engine of Progress – as the one true path to alleviating human suffering. From what I can tell, the main difference between the liberals and the conservatives comes down to how they propose to divide up and distribute the spoils of this plunder. Any politician who considers running on a platform promoting economic contraction as a moral response to the onset of catastrophic ecological collapse is, well, unelectable. Which leads me to wonder: Which lies are allowable and which aren’t?
The story of Progress has at its core a belief that the trajectory of this juggernaut we call civilization was inevitable, that humans always wanted to maximize their own comfort, safety and security and just hadn’t, until recently, figured out the right tools and technologies. The past was largely marked by illiterate and abject suffering, the present a big improvement, and the future promises rapture. Once it became clear that this Progress was being achieved at the expense of many human and non-human lives, the story was updated to say that ever-expanding technological innovation would deliver us from participation in a limit-bound world and we would then be able to share the spoils of the project with everyone on the Earth – at least all the humans, that is.
Could we understand this story of Progress as the central lie that robs our ability to imagine or remember other possibilities even as the story itself collapses all around us?
There is another version of the story – let’s call it the story of Consequence – in which our current predicament was not inevitable. Rather, it was the direct consequence – understood as a sequence – of events and choices that each degraded the following generation’s understanding of how to live and to whom they were responsible. In this version of the story the world and our relationship to it are in tattered disarray, but there is, to our great surprise, no punishment for the transgressions and excesses of the past and the present. We awaken from a dream to find ourselves tangled in a web of limit and consequence. The world invites us to get to work trying to remember how to live, and reminds us that it will indeed be an enormous amount of work. In this story, the world inherited by those yet to be born will be the consequence of how those of us alive today choose to proceed in the face of what we know to be happening. Their world will be stitched from our choices – from the work that we find the courage to take up as well as the work that we turn away from, deciding instead that we are tired and it is all too much for us.
Several years ago, I attended the annual meeting of my local small-town historical society. The invited speaker was the elected Chief of the local band of Abenaki Indians. As the talk began, I saw the enormity of what was happening – the Chief’s courage to show up to such a gathering and talk about his people’s culture in front of an audience whose forebearers had led to its unravelling. At one point in his talk, the Chief said one simple sentence that seemed to drift through the air without catching on a thing. He said, in reference to the sordid history that was being discussed, including the forced abortions and sterilizations, something close to, “We don’t see ourselves as victims.” Now I cannot claim to know why the Chief chose to speak these words that night. But I do know that I was utterly undone by his words as I looked around and saw no particular expression on the faces of the mostly gray- and white-haired townspeople politely listening to the talk. The Chief might have said that he could see the immeasurable suffering accruing to those whose ancestors had abandoned limits, untethered themselves from consequence and unleashed the waves of genocide that created the America we know and claim to love today. The Chief might have said that it was up for grabs who was worse off from the arrangement. The Chief might have said that, unlike those of us present in the audience, his people do not have the option to turn away from this history. What he said that evening instead was, simply, “We don’t see ourselves as victims.” In those few short words he raised up one shining example of consequence, minus the punishment.
What if the trespass/punishment model is not an inevitable understanding of the natural order of things?
Our lives as European Americans are underwritten by a never-before-seen level of affluence, drawn from the historical avails of slavery and genocide, and re-drawn from the spoils of a system of global exploitation of humans, animals and plants as well as the ruination of the air, waters and soils that make up their homes. That we have forgotten any other way to live helps to explain the fear that has risen up in the aftermath of last week’s events in Washington. The Federal Government, in conversation with multinational corporations, ensures that there will be food on the store shelves, that the hospitals will remain open and so on and so on. Absent any knowledge of how to work together with our neighbors to draw our lives from our home landscapes, our reliance upon those subsistence delivery systems is complete, and thus we fear the possibility of their unravelling. Absent significant lived relationships with other-than-human life that might allow us to be informed by our own consequence, we begin to see ourselves as inconsequential, as disempowered, as victims of the very arrangement that we continue to benefit from.
You might be wondering: What is the ask here? Are we just supposed to feel bad all the time? In some ways, yes. Being willing to be troubled by one’s unintended consequence does seem like a prerequisite for becoming a citizen of this time. But we should not confuse discomfort with chronic depression and despair – or confuse not-getting-what-we-want with suffering. There is a lot of work to do, yes. Much of this work will involve learning to live with less, but the work must also involve learning to live together and to live more deeply – learning to trade personal preference for willing participation. Over the past year at Brush Brook, we have noticed that living in the presence of limit is surprisingly joyful. Being able to endure the sight of one’s consequence upon others – humans, forests and rivers alike – appears to be potent medicine for a damaged psyche. We are so grateful to have companions in this work. We look forward to the deepening conversation.
Here is what you will find in this Letter:
- GIFT DISTRIBUTION DETAILS and FULL MENU
- FINANCIAL GIFT REQUEST – January 2021 Budget
With Great Care,
Ava, Erik, Collin, Evan and Adam – The Brush Brook Community Farm Team
SOUP and BREAD GIFT DISTRIBUTION: Saturday 1/16, 11am - 1 pm
- Brush Brook Soup – Cabbage Noodles, Sweet Potato and Potato, Tomato, Lamb, Garlic, Herbs, Lamb Bone Broth.
- Vegetarian Soup – Pureed Turnip and Sweet Potato, Tomato, Garlic, Herbs.
Please bring a mask with you and wear warm clothes. We will have Soup and Bread to take home, and encourage you to bring quart containers from home for us to fill for you.
BUDGET UPDATE: Thank you for considering the December Budget
Many heartfelt thanks to all who have responded to these invitations by sending in Financial Gifts. If you would like to support our work, you can mail checks made out to Brush Brook Community Farm to PO Box 202, Huntington, VT, 05462, bring gifts to the Gift Stand, or donate through the website. We are 100% financially supported by these personal financial gifts.
Brush Brook Community Farm – Jan. 2021 Budget
|As of 1/12|
|Gifts Received in Jan – Thank you!||$ 1934.00|
|Estimated Expenses for January|
|Bread Ingredients & Packaging||$ 1,115.50|
|Bakery Overhead (Insur., Electric, etc.)||$ 555.86|
|Bakery Rent||$ 300.00|
|Farm Expenses||$ 1,550.00|
|Farm/Bakery Team Requested Gifts|
|Adam Wilson Personal Living (full time)||$ 648.08|
|Adam Wilson Rent||$ 200.00|
|Erik Weil (part time) Rent/Housing||$ 500.00|
|Collin McCarthy (part time) Utilities||$ 100.00|
|Estimated Federal/State Taxes||$ 351.22|
|Paypal Fees||$ 150.00|
|Total Remaining for January||$ 3536.66|
Support the Farm & Bakery
The operations of Brush Brook Community Farm & Bakery are maintained by neighborly working hands and financial gifts. Your generous monetary support propels the gift of food forward to those open to receiving it.