One of the things that attracted me to sustainable farming was the rawness of it all.
For much of my youth, I desperately wished I could set out into the wilderness with just a knife and see how long I would last. As a teenager I was mostly bored. I tried skydiving. It was fun. But it was such a short-lived thrill. Somehow I knew that type of excitement would only require larger doses. I knew that I wanted something more like a challenge. Something that would require much of me and change me. Not the "mountain-top experience" so much as the thrill and challenge of climbing.
So when it came time to find a job nothing really seemed all that attractive. Most of the options I came across seemed rote or insignificant. Like I might settle in, and fall asleep... forever. And furthermore, most options came with what I thought was a rather bland lifestyle. I wanted to be out IN the elements. I wanted to have BOTH my mind and my body challenged. I wanted to do something meaningful. Oh yeah, and if it could unlock the mysteries of life that would be great too!
In short I was (am?) an insufferable idealist. I am not sure where my head got so pumped full of those grand ideals, but I certainly believed there must be a job out there that could utterly engage my whole being un-endingly AND unlock deeper levels of consciousness all while simultaneously saving the universe. It seemed plausible. And lets not get into the shocking levels of hubris I must have had to believe I was a good candidate for any such position... honestly I am surprised I had any friends.
I now have two options before me. I can either tell you I grew out of such a ridiculous youthful daydream and became content and humble, or I could try to argue that sustainable farming fulfilled all those high ideals and I am still just as insufferable as I ever was and indeed cockier then eve because I found the solution.
As always, the truth is that both are true.
I am still an obnoxious idealist. (I try to keep it mostly under wraps.) But I have also been knocked flat by life and my own vaulting ambitious ideals. No seriously, our first year I was in so far over my head that my body went on strike and I was laid up in bed for almost a week--from sheer stress and exhaustion. Yeah. Literally knocked flat. I deserved it.
But the funny thing is, those "knocked flat" moments when my ideals come crashing down and I am forced to do things that were not on the agenda or feel like a compromise, are precisely the moments that strengthen and grow me.
My life is not a continual eroding of my ideals. Nor is it a continual affirmation of my actions. Rather it is a continual awakening. A continual realization that life is extremely complicated and intricate and dynamic. And sometimes painful. Far more so then I ever imagined. Layers of fog are pulled away so that what is revealed is an increasingly detailed and nuanced version of what was before. The edges are sharper, the colors are more intense. The new details are mesmerizing. And sometimes what I had concluded before must be released to make way for a new understanding.
This coming awake is not painless. I was recently talking to some young farmers who are just starting out. I did not know what to say. I shuddered at the strain I knew they would be tested by. And yet I could not tell them to stop now before the pain. Because I also know the richness of experience that I have enjoyed. But neither could I tell them it would be fine and they would do great. It's not that simple.
I still believe in the rawness of it all. Today the weather is absolutely beautiful. I will drink it down to the dregs. This spring has been hard for us. To call it "a doozy", would dumb it down. It was hard. I'm thirstier then usual for spring because of the grinding winter. Everyone knows that cool water tastes far better to a man who has been in the desert.
Yes, this winter was hard. But today would be less glorious if we hadn't felt the sting so deeply. If I had closed my eyes and conjured up images and thoughts of spring, or just dumbly smiled and repeated hopeful things all day I would not have felt the sting. And today would be just tolerably glorious. Not overwhelmingly so.
So please, don't pity us when this work is hard. I choose it and it has its glories too. And don't be taken in by the beauty--it is hard won.