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Farm to Tablet: In Praise of Work

A few weeks ago, Scott and I took the kids on a family vacation. We explored Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin. We visited museums, an aquarium, an aunt and uncle and cousins. We hiked and swam and ate good food and climbed the rocky outcroppings along Lake Michigan to watch the sun set. We had, by all accounts, a lovely time, a time which we were lucky to have had. Yet when we arrived home at the end of our week, I felt as though I'd gone seven days straight without catching my breath. I ran out to the garden to peek beneath the leaves of the green beans and zucchini and winter squash. I let myself in at the pasture gate and scattered some extra corn for the chickens, marveled at the new heft of the turkey poults, and scratched the ewes behind their ears. I realized that never have I called a place home that feels so very home—a place without which I am unmoored to the point of feeling insufficiently myself.

Lately I have been puzzling over this question. Why should this, our house of only three years, feel more like home than the house we lived in for nearly a decade, the one which welcomed our babies home from the hospital? Why not the tiny apartment when Scott and I first married, where our youthful hopes thrummed on the hour with the church bells across the street? And why not the home of my childhood, where I grew from toddler to teenager, where I first began to understand who I was and who I was not? What is it that has made our current house so quickly my only possible home? How have I come almost instantly to belong here? And how much does it have to with belonging to this place versus belonging to myself?

This place

Maya Angelou, in an interview with Bill Moyers, remarked that true freedom is found when one belongs “no place, every place, no place at all.” She explains, “I belong to myself. I'm very proud of that. I'm very concerned with how I look at Maya. I like Maya very much.”

When I imagine belonging “no place, every place, no place at all,” I imagine myself with one consistent face to meet the faces that I meet. But in the past, my faces have been legion. In some company, I have been lewd. In other company, chaste. In one context, I will attempt to emphasize my humble roots. In another, I will accentuate what I hope will appear my high artistic standards. Too often, in my interactions with others, I find myself trying to shrink into a small, appealing snapshot, a single-sentence thesis which my audience can easily pick up and carry away.

“Wow, Michelle is really down-to-earth, isn't she? No airs at all.”

Or, “That Michelle—she really holds herself to some high artistic standards, huh? Upon arriving home I'm immediately going to pre-order her debut novel.”

Or, “Michelle really embodies what Jesus was all about, unlike the majority of Christians today.”

This is me trying to belong to everyone; this is me belonging to everyone besides myself.

Here's looking at you, dork face.

Since we moved here, though, my myriad faces have been falling away. Each day, when I step outside for chores, my ego quiets. There is no performance in the pasture, no comparisons, no awards to be won. There is only what is physically present, outside of myself, requiring something from me that exists separate from my me-ness. There are the sheep and the chickens, calling out for their corn. There are the rabbits at the gate, anxiously awaiting their pellets. There are the feeders to be checked, the waterers to be scrubbed out and filled again. And there is always the garden, too, with its chewed leaves and its thirsty roots and its myriad of pest problems, each of which I treat (with occasional success). When I finish my morning chores for the day, I have worked hard for up to two hours, with no audience besides an occasional child and a faithful beagle; my dumb, beloved livestock; and my precious vegetables, most of which I have grown from seed. During that time of work, I have melted from an individuated state into an exquisite connection, which feels to me, alone out there (though only in the human sense), like the opposite of loneliness. It is in these moments of belonging to everything, that I belong most to myself. And it is in these moments especially that I like Michelle, I like her very much.

Sometimes she's a hot mess, but she means well.

In his book Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Matthew Crawford writes, “The satisfactions of manifesting oneself in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.” Or, in my case, the chickens lay, the meat freezer fills, the vegetables pile up on the countertops. The more I farm the less I feel the need to “offer chattering interpretations” of myself. And the more I care for this land, the more I love it, the more I belong to it, and the more it belongs to me.

Unlike Maya Angelou, I don't yet belong any old place. But I am learning, through daily and physical toil, to belong to a flock, to a pasture, to a garden, to a particular slant of evening sun—and, through these, to myself. I am learning to grow not up but down into the dirt, into the humble soil which holds me, which holds us all.

But wait, in addition to the live pre-order link, there's more!
Book Events!
Book launch at Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 13th, 7 pm

Conversation at Forever Books, St. Joe's, Michigan, October 25th, 6:30 pm

Conversation at Serendipity Books, Chelsea, Michigan, October 27th, 7 pm
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Writer · 14641 Waterloo Munith Rd · Grass Lake, MI 49240-9495 · USA

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