use it or lose it

highschoolMy junior year of high school read like something out of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Now is not the time nor place for me divulge the nuts and bolts of that story, but suffice to say, I was not in a good space. So many things were going wrong at once that it didn’t feel like anything could possibly go right.

At exam time of that school year, I was in the thick of emotional upheaval. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a honor student, didn’t drink or mess around with psycho-active substances. I liked to dance. But I somehow missed a crucial day in chorus class in which the teacher informed the class that in order to get an “A” on the chorus exam, all we had to do was show up on the scheduled exam day.

Since I didn’t hear the announcement and there was no reason to stay at school on exam days if you weren’t taking an exam, I missed chorus that day, and failed the exam. My no-brainer “A” in chorus turned into a “D”. Yet another Unfortunate Event.

I am grateful to be finished with high school and college, but this memory comes back to me now, in election season, because exams don’t really end. They just change.

Election season is past-paced and rabid in its intensity.  The sentiments get pretty ugly and immature (maybe that’s what jogged my high school memory).  It can be exhausting and frustrating to watch.  BUT, voting is one of the really important “exams” that we face as bona fide grown-ups in the U.S. Of A. We live in a participatory democracy. It’s a great thing. But in order to keep it, we have to do what is required of us, which is to participate.  It may be that every one of you is a voter, but when I hear that only 20-something percent of the voting-eligible population of our county turned out for the primary, I feel a need to speak my peace (or is it piece?).

Our democracy is imperfect. As far as I’m concerned no form of larger civilization since we left off the 150 member tribe has been without flaw. Our system, with its noble beginnings (as long as you weren’t a Native American or African), has been corrupted with greed, fear, and money, but it at it’s root, it is basically a good system. And it is up to us to use it or lose it.

Here are some of my basic ideas for good use of a democracy:

First, show up. Vote. Every chance we get. But it’s no good to vote if we don’t know who or what we are voting for. It’s like showing up for an exam and drawing christmas trees in the multiple choice boxes.

you are hereSo, second, we have to study. We all have our sticking points, which is natural and good. I am partial to environmental issues and certain positions regarding small farmers, of course, but I know that there are a lot of other issues at stake, too. If a candidate didn’t meet ALL of my requirements, but I felt good about their moral fiber and leadership capability, then great.  Likewise, if a candidate supported small organic agriculture but insisted in holding my Muslim friends in concentration camps, there’s no way in creation s/he would get my vote.

Third, don’t give up.  If our side doesn’t win this round, just keep voting.  Politics isn’t about winning ALL. It’s about threshing it all out, hearing differing opinions, and working out a compromise. No one should come away with EVERYTHING s/he wants. We’re a complex country of over 320 million people. Unified consensus will be hard to come by.

I have heard commentary from some this election season that they are voting “with their middle fingers.” If we used our middle fingers back in high school when taking our exams,  we failed. I’m not exactly a child of “the establishment”, so I get the frustration, but this is not an attitude that leads to success.  Understandable sometimes? Yes. Powerful commentary? Maybe. A way to participate in a democracy? Nope.

we are not aloneIt’s also important, in my opinion, to think outside of ourselves. Besides being a melting pot of many beliefs and cultures, we are also a major world power. The leadership we present to the world really matters. The middle finger theory critique applies here, too. We have international responsibilities, like it or not, and our approach to our foreign neighbors (yes, neighbors – all over the world) is no small deal. Not only does a leader have to work with differences of opinion within the country, s/he has to be able to do good work with people who may not look, speak, or think like s/he.

Fourth, but not least – we can vote with our dollars, every day. There’s no denying that we have definitely become a global economy. Money is like water – it flows through all of us, everywhere – and it collects in some low places.  I am glad that the amount of money in the political race is getting a little more attention in this cycle, because it is absurd. Politicians should not be bought. Politicians need to be public servants, not corporate servants.  It is telling, and disturbing, to “follow the money” flowing through our educational, medical, scientific, religious, and political systems. Why would a corporation give lots and lots of money to a congressman, or a school, if they didn’t want something in return?  If someone makes money from war, what will be their deepest consideration when our children are the most available cannon fodder? And if it isn’t our children, it is any better that it is someone else’s children?

food dollarUltimately, the game of “Follow the Money” starts at home, and if you are skeptical of how much your vote matters, you shouldn’t be skeptical at all that how you use your dollar has great influence on the national and international stage. It’s not easy to know where our money goes anymore, but it’s worth trying, and it matters.  If We The People are able and willing to spend lots and lots of money on plastic toys, electronics, clothes from sweatshops, and cheap processed food, then we collectively send the message to the corporate and political leadership that the agricultural and economic systems that make empty food and sweatshops work are OK with us.

I have been to a place where you could consider who to vote for while a representative of the leading party held a gun, or maybe a machete, to your head. If you have an opinion that might be considered unpopular to the regime, you had best not express it near an open window or anyone who might have anything to gain, or lose, by hearing you out. Meanwhile, the developed world pats itself on the back and celebrates the “birth” of a new democracy.

I have also been to place where there is no voting. Bureaucrats two thousand miles away in a different climate tell farmers when to plant and harvest. There is only one time zone. Each morning, loudspeaker blare out “Good Morning – It is time to go do your patriotic calesthenics program now! Aren’t you grateful to live in this great Nation?” And gentlemen in long dark coats sit alone listening to the conversation of foreigners and NGO workers in the restaurants. You always ditch your email account when you leave because it is probably being read, or at least collected.

High school isn’t a democracy either – it’s perhaps more of a socialized foray into a free-enterprise system, with some a few opportunities for team work. In chorus class, we really just had to show up and that was it.  Also, those of use who “failed” the “exam”, didn’t influence the GPA of anyone else in the class.  That isn’t the case with the grown up voting exam.  We are all in this together.  If we engage, we will succeed as a democratic nation.  Not necessarily just in terms of the economic bottom line, but as a people willing to govern ourselves, live, and thrive, together.  The alternative is much less pleasant than a few sour notes.

Thanks for hearing me out. Please, vote.  Peace.rose 3

land of plenty

This is the smallest Fall garden we’ve grown in the last ten years, and still we are overflowing with food. It wasn’t hard to plant too much. In fact it was easy, and really, it isn’t too much. We will feed ourselves, our family and friends, and our chickens will have greens to eat, too. Also, the rest of the garden gets a nice meal of clover and rye to digest over the winter months, so everyone, including the soil flora and fauna, is happy, and still there is plenty.plenty radishes

This was the worst harvest of winter squashes we’ve ever had. We gambled on an experiment with the field corn, and we lost the gamble. But still, there is enough. Especially considering our children only really like squash in the form of pie, or the delicatas, which don’t keep half as well as butternuts. So, again there’s plenty.

There are also plenty of onions, plenty of garlic, plenty of sweet potatoes and white potatoes, stashed throughout the house. There are jars upon jars of tomatoes and fruit, of beans and grains. We have so much.plenty rice

Outside, there is a thriving population of deer running in the woods. One or two may find their way into our freezer. There’s also a fox in the neighborhood, which will keep us on our toes, making sure no more chickens make their way into that belly. Lots of critters. Plenty to do.

There are plenty of leaves blowing around now, shedding from the trees, dancing in the sky on gusts of wind that gather force on their way over the ridge and back down, covering the garden with their goodness, filling the creek and making the crossings deeper.plenty moon in trees

There is plenty of water, clearer and colder now as it soaks in the cool night air under the thinning canopy, the increasing view of the bright stars. We drive through the water on our way in and out of the hollow. We wash with it, our clothes, our dishes, our home, our bodies. We cook with it, and after a few filtrations, we drink it too. It bubbles up from the ground after long rains. It keeps our garden alive, and sometimes there is an over-abundance and the roots of the parsley rot from too much water.

Truly, this is the land of plenty.

Truly, we are grateful for this abundance.

Now, the trick is to remember that living in the land of plenty does not mean that we can just wallow in this goodness and be lazy. Living in paradise is a great privilege, and an awesome responsibility.

Somehow, it is easy to want more. Strangely enough, it seems especially easy to want more when we already have so much.

How often have our children asked to get out more toys while they sit in the midst of a floor full of wooden train tracks, matchbox cars and unfinished puzzle pieces? We tell them that they have to put something away before they can get anything else out, and in the process of tending to their playthings, they sometimes forget that they ever wanted anything else anyway. I can relate.plenty tomato cages

When I tend to what has been given to me, the desire to acquire slackens. When I do not attend to my responsibilities, the mess of it all quickly becomes overwhelming and I long for something more and different than the plenty that is already present, and waiting for me to attend to it.  Likewise, as I attend to what is most needful, that natural abundance increases of its own accord, with or without my desire attached to it.

I’m not a politician (thank heavens!), nor do I wish to be. But I do wish that politics happened in greater relationship to the Living World. If that were the case, I think things would be different on this planet.

As it is, I belong to the Agrestian Party (yeah, look that one up), and regularly attend the Church of the Living Soil. Though my mind may wander, these feet of mine remain planted on the Good Earth, firmly, in this land of plenty.

(As a post script, I’d like to say that what our friends at Hill and Hollow Farm are doing with their Indiegogo campaign – please support it here – is not striving for MORE, but inviting community support of the stewardship and beautiful outreach and education that is their life’s work.  When we support one another this way – and in whatever way we can – the tide rises and lifts us all.)plenty bok choy