Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thoughts from a Not-Knowing Mind

Life hoop house
Harvest the karmic fruits
All year round

Mr. Sharp is like a Zen master who need only put up a finger to enlighten the student - his "way" is steady & after twenty or more years of cultivating the same piece of land, he has attained his "garden-mind" - his expression is like an untarnished mirror - I watched him work earlier today & was mesmerized by his effortlessness – like Prince Wu Hui's cook who was cutting up an ox / Out went a hand / Down went a shoulder / He planted a foot / He pressed with a knee / The ox fell apart / With a whisper / The bright cleaver murmured / LIke a gentle wind / Rhythm! Timing! / Like a sacred dance / Like "The Mulberry Grove" / Like ancient harmonies! / .... / "When I first began / To cut up oxen / I would see before me / The whole ox / All in one mass / "After three years / I no longer saw this mass / I saw the distinctions / But now I see nothing / With the eye - My whole being / Apprehends / My senses are idle - The spirit / Free to work without plan / Follows its own instinct / Guided by natural line / By the secret opening, the hidden space / My cleaver finds its own way / I cut through no joint, chop no bone... // Eventually, the whole gives way to its complexities that in turn, reveal a way that requires no force - not to say that farming or gardening doesn't necessitate discipline, hard work or technicality, but that after a while, the 'divisions' and 'the whole' are subsumed by an indescribable ease that isn't predicated on force, but on submission to pratyayas & hetu. Wendell Berry has written that the language of farming is verbally incommunicable - that it is experiential. It took Prince Wu Hui's butcher only a few years & required merely two virtues: practice and patience - does the story reveal how exactly? No & it never will - it's only a guide...

Or, take for instance Roy Skeen inviting us to walk through the woods. As I made my way through the high grass, trailing a foot or two behind him, he asked me if I had ever read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. I responded that I had long ago, but that I was more familiar with a few of his theological works. Then the conversation simply ended – we continued to walk. There was also some talk of giants when we arrived at the Cat-cleared 'trail' but only in passing. On top of what he had spoken to earlier by the fire, both of these cryptic musings leads me to believe that Roy's practical farming practice is supplemented by or even contingent on, an honest and eager openness to the fantastic and magical - by virtue of its just 'being-there' the garden, or more broadly 'nature', lends itself to the spiritually and occult minded - forest nymphs, faeries, mole people, the bo-tree where Siddartha Guatama became the tathagata, the endangered and 'deep' knowledge of biodiversity as learned firsthand by all the 'primitive' Amerindians, the Old Testament garden with its lush fig trees, etc. - I for one find the approach seductive, but am also skeptical that it could just simply be a posture - a last resort against the spiritless machinations of agribusiness and consumerism (that we all know derive their power from the rhizomatic ambivalence of us post-modern H. sapiens - buffoons really) - But then I wonder, is it really too late to regain the teachings of our ancestors? Should we all just throw in the towel because we haven't yet accepted the responsibility or taken the necessary steps to awakening our for-now-dormant earth-mindedness? Or am I reaching too far back? Maybe a step forward would be to acknowledge that we've been orphaned by careerism - that we register "teacher" as possible-vocation-when-I-get-out-of-graduate-school, instead of source of true knowledge for how to have a practice in our own lives. Our elders, realistically, are men like Mr. Sharp - what better teacher to venerate & to tap for that rich knowledge of not only how things grow, but specifically, how to grow them within the city? (his uncanny delivery of two crates full of highly processed trans-fatty snack-foods notwithstanding)

The Hamilton Crop Circle is another example: a few gen y'ers reclaiming aspects of wildness/primitiveness by synthesizing and co-ordinating the institutions/practices of the dwelling and food-production - totally in harmony with an improvised spirituality derived from what may be the mythologies we've been seeking but have otherwise been ashamed to invest it (since most are borrowed), namely, jam band culture, Rastafarian dietary and herbal traditions, post-hippy collectivism, yogic new-age exercise regiments and the information superhighway, etc. or something...

Then there are the ideologue gardeners and hifalutin' rabble-rousers who see/use farming practices as a way to express symbolically (as well as utilize practically), the green-viability of disenfranchised neighborhood properties that would otherwise remain voided. Participation Park is one such example. An area of concern/interest I see in this approach is that in some sense, a neighborhood must remain undesirable for the farming practices to remain unhindered. As we saw in heart-wrenching modern myth of The Garden, the ability of an urban farm to produce is unfortunately dependent upon landowners - a lot that will grow successfully ultimately needs to be in an area where there is no economic interest. In New York City, the agriculturalists have been forced to their rooftops. Hopefully Baltimore will remain like some other post-industrial cities and at least maintain a guise of being commercially and culturally barren.

I guess this leads me back to the question of 'proximity of dwelling to site of food production' - Participation Park is but a node in the net of civic green-spaces - the guys who started it don't live next to it or on it - traditionally, farmers live on the farm, but in the city-environment, is this even feasible, or is it more that the areas where we could foreseeably begin to grow food on a larger scale need to remain impoverished, at least to the degree that they remain obscure enough not to be encroached by real estate agents or developers? I could see Roy relocating himself to his farm - if he truly intends to cut himself off from the petroleum space-time continuum then he may as well assume the life of an ascetic and construct a hermitage; only returning to the world of appearances on the weekends for the market to engage customers in dharma combat or to sell them butter lettuce & extoll the virtues of the touch-me-not.

These thoughts are incomplete & scattered – Alls I know is that in my own short experience - this class - it has been a privilege to encounter such varying methodologies and to speak to/learn from such motivated and visionary humans.


hoop house wetlands, collective living, goats, poison ivy hysteria, & three catfish rotting in a crumbling alleyway

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