not people

As I was picking blackberries this morning, I was startled by a little snake.  She was suspended in the blackberry thicket, maybe finding the air more pleasant than the wet ground, maybe hunting the frogs that inhabit the ditch below the berries.  For just a moment, I was an Eve – thinking about fruit, but temporarily captivated by the beauty of this creature, her slender muscularity, the elegance of the racing stripes down her back.  I reached out to touch her smooth scales and she slipped away.  The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has long been among us.


this isn’t her, but a beauty nonetheless.


Outside our bathroom window there is log where the skinks and lizards sit to catch some morning light.  A young one, with a bright blue tale, creeps out to bask for a moment.  The moment is brief because an older skink, twice the size of its kin, emerges and chases away the freshie.


kids 2After the excitement of the birth of our first goat kids here, we were astonished to find that the mama goats want nothing to do with each other’s kids.  If anything, they appear disdainful of them.  Given the chance, they butt them or nip the little one’s tails if they come too close.  We have even witnessed the does go out of their way to jostle the other’s kid while it was nursing.

What kind of survival tactic is this, we wonder?  Surely the herd would thrive if they were kind to one another’s offspring?

It’s disappointing.

It’s also a little bit terribly poignant.


elder flowerThe national and international news reel of the past couple weeks has been brutal.  I feel bruised at the soul every time I turn on the radio.  This is a reminder – the concept of humanity as a unity – the concept that we are all HUMAN and more alike than not – is a relatively new concept.  And it is fragile.

I’ve never had a problem with thinking of humans as animals.  We are animals with extraordinary brains, however, and it’s obvious that we have intellectual and spiritual potential beyond many (I won’t say all) of the creatures with which we share the world.  Surely we need not be bound by the same blind territorial instincts as our relatives.  I can only hope and pray that enough of us, striving against our lower instincts, can hold a peace.

Fear and Greed, and the Anger and Violence that abet their motives, are our enemies,           not people.


gentle but firm

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distance.

That’s not for human beings.  Move within,

But don’t move the way fear makes you move.

~ from Rumi – Selected Poems

translated by Coleman Barks

gentle - tractorWe’re slowly beginning to work our garden in a new way, and I like it.

See – we often don’t cover crop the beds of crops that stay for a really long season and require a thick layer of mulch. And if we mulch well enough, the mulch stays, maybe not completely intact, but thick enough, all winter. Come Spring, there’s still mulch, and maybe a little henbit and patches of new growth coming through, and the ground is so soft. It’s a little colder than the open ground, but the softness is what interests me.

On these places, we are beginning to to put MORE mulch, and just plant right into that soft soil. We will walk on these beds as little as possible.

When I put a spade into these mulched beds, I see live worms, disturbed from their dark quiet places. Just the smallest disturbance sends them wriggling to the surface. When I see them it makes me glad. I think “Look at those worms that I didn’t kill.”

When we use heavier equipment on our soil, which we do sometimes, it’s hard on the little life underneath. We turned the ground for our pea row and as I planted the peas, I found the bodies of those worms that weren’t low enough in the ground to avoid the disturbance. There were survivors, too, but all had been battered by the machines that passed through their living space. And that’s really OK too. The worm population by and large is thriving around here and their bodies go back into the good earth, but it feels good to be moving in a direction that lets more of them live.

see the worms?

see the worms?

I want to be gentle to the soil, so that the soil will be soft.

It’s a choice, and also a privilege.

Before our (small and reasonably priced) land was paid off, we worked our land harder. We were growing for more people. We were under greater pressure, and that pressure in turn was applied to our soil. We still used the best practices we could, but we sometimes had to make hard choices.

Relieving the debt pressure relieved the growing pressure. Our income stream diversified, and we now have more room to choose different ways to grow. We can choose to be more gentle. We can take risks with our production in the direction of softness.

We took Lulah horseback riding last weekend. The riding ranch was a beautiful place (Grey Wolf Ranch). Before the ride began, we were engaged in a interactive demonstration of the owners’ philosophy of horsemanship. There was talk of the horse as a metaphor for life. There was talk of “gentle but firm” in terms of respect for self and others and the weighty concept of “control”. The idea being that it is necessary to fluctuate our use of gentleness and firmness in relation to whatever the situation at hand demands. We were given plenty to think about, and then we were taken on a beautiful ride through a green Tennessee valley.gentle - riding

I’ve been chewing on the conceptual framework of that horse ride throughout the busy week in the garden. That constant moving target of how gentle to be, or how firm, stuck in my head. It is obvious that we have to continually adapt to life’s situations, on a horse, on the land, in business, in general. Stagnation leads to sickness and death. Over-reaction wears us out and results the same. There are times when we need to work the garden deeper. There are times to use a machine to save our bodies. But the real deal is to recognize where we stand at any given moment.

Another important piece of this, seems to me, is actively understanding our motivations in each situation. Are we under the gun, under the sun, knowing a storm is on the way and having to hustle to get it all done? Are we under pressure to make a payment, start bringing produce to the market early, get an edge up in the face of growing competition? Are we afraid? Fear can be helpful in determining a present danger and taking steps to ameliorate it. Fear can also be terribly dangerous if it is not recognized and acted on appropriately. Fear out of context, nagging in our brains, running amok in our nervous system, can make us freeze (stagnate) or run (over-react), neither of which make for a healthy garden, business, family, or world.

Interestingly enough, greed works much the same way as fear. And those two – fear and greed – are the primarily players on the emotional side of the political and economic world. This is why so many of have chosen to opt out, as much as we can, from that world. We are not free of it, not by a long shot, but we choose, again and again, to move toward greater stability, fertility, health, beauty, LIFE.

Love your local growers this year. Support their work and eat the food they grow without fear. With each bite, we choose a step in a new direction, a step toward softer soil.gentle weeds

greed’s best friend

bare treesFirst, I heard it.

Old trees being felled on a wealthy man’s land.

The sound of Greed.


Then, everywhere I walked, its present was evident.

I saw it in the roiling mud of a flooded stream,

in the eroded hillside above.

I smelled it in the putrid rich stink of industrial chicken litter being spread on the fields.


Having had enough, I changed course,

departing into the uncut forest path.

Greed did not follow me there. There, it cannot survive.

Boom or bust, the Living World shares and shares alike.


My heart at rest, I returned home.

Rustling through the pantry before dinner, I heard it again

– Greed, muttering and whining in the corner.


I hauled it out into the open,

hoping it would settle into something new in full daylight.

No luck.


I invited Friendship, Love, and Compassion in,

to see what they could do with our stubborn house-guest.


Greed was confused and suspicious of Friendship.

It backed itself into a corner,

its eyes shifting wildly from face to face.


Love wrinkled its forehead. “This could be serious.” it says.

“Hey, I know you!”says Greed,

panting in stress and excitement.


Greed rustled through its pockets. Many pockets. All full.

“Look,” it says to Love, pulling out a snapshot.

“It’s you and me, back in the day. Remember that?”


“No dice.” says Love, after a glance.

“That’s my cousin, Power.

No surprise there. I don’t hang out in those places.

You’ve never met me before.”


Greed pawed the floor, then stuck out a sweaty palm.

“Well, the family resemblance is striking!

Wouldn’t you like some more? Just a little bit more,

of whatever you have?  I can be your buddy.”


Love looks disgusted and turning to the rest of us says,

“I’ve had enough of this. I’m calling out the dogs.”


“Oh, come now –

we don’t want to make a mess in the house do we?

Everyone makes mistakes.”

Compassion gives a stab at making amends.


I have to admit,

I thought about just throwing Greed back in the closet.

It would have been the simplest thing to do.

But I knew Love wouldn’t let me off so easy.


Love was fingering its dog whistle

when Compassion asked to use the phone.

“This is not any easy job,” it said

“but it’s really in everybody’s best interest.”


I got worried when Greed started to slink

back toward the closet.

It was trying to wheedle some kind of deal

with Friendship.  Then there was a knock on the door.


Generosity walked in,

with broad shoulders and a confident smile.

Greed was still as stone.


Generosity took Greed by the scruff of the neck,

and turned it upside down.

The contents of Greed’s pockets rolled across the floor.

Greed looked smaller.


Generosity folded Greed into a greasy packet,

about the side of a sandwich,

and ate it whole.


“Waste not, want not.”

said Generosity with a smile

and a small, polite belch.


Love’s dogs howled in the yard.


For more ways to talk about Greed, go watch Sweet Honey in the Rock – HERE.