Coming Down to Earth

This morning, my husband and I lifted 7,000 pounds of rock from their wire containers and hauled them over to the ditch in about an hour and a half, where they will soon be made into a retaining wall. Yesterday we lifted 3,500 pounds of rock for the same purpose. Needless to say, I’m tired today. Nevertheless, it feels very good to be working with my hands, my feet on the earth, and working hard. It’s a contrast to my life during the school year where I meet with students, spend time commenting on student work, and go to various meetings. I love the contrast, the balance of those two ways of being. It’s so satisfying to look out across the yard as I did this evening, and say, I made those stone steps leading down to the house! It gives me joy to be able to see the physical results of my labor, and it was labor, too, as the earth here is close to being sand stone and required my using a hatchet to chop into it so that I could carve a space for the stones to fit. When I am standing on the earth outside my door in the summer, or sitting on it, fingers in the soil planting, when I look up at the sky and smell the redwood tree incense, I feel so full and alive, complete. Connected. Real. As Wendell Berry said, “One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use, is the gardener’s own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race.”

Mornings, I water the berries and herbs, the lemon tree and grapes. Since arriving in California this summer, the grape vine has grown about a foot, and the lemon put on numerous new leaves. My husband and I have worked to protect the berries by making a walk in wood-framed room hung with bird netting, which we are calling our berry palace. The juice of a boysenberry or a blueberry picked from our own vines and bushes exploding with tart sweetness in our mouths is a wonderful gift. Working on the land for our food, even the preparation of the land for food that we will later grow, helps me to see more clearly my place in the world, and how I am connected to all that is around me. I water the plants, and amazingly enough, they grow and become what they were meant to be. The diversity of life growing all around me seems a miracle.  Again, Wendell Berry says, “And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is “work.” When you work with the earth, when you learn about it and from it, and take care of it, you love it. Work, it seems, can be a path toward love, can be the way to come to know the meaning of the earth’s gifts from the inside.

Slowly, as I spend more time working outside, I’m becoming more aware of the intricacy and mystery of life all continuing on silently around me. Professor Suzanne Simard in British Columbia studies forest ecosystem and explains how the “mother trees” exchange of nutrients underground through intricate webs of communication through nutrients. Her work is fascinating. By continuing to listen to the land, we can grow to live better with it. Working on the land, even in small ways, is one way to grow toward understanding what it needs.

As a teacher, my life allows me to contribute to other’s in a way that enriches, and that opens exploration and opportunities for students. A teacher’s life is a good life because of this. As I am outdoors working these past few weeks, I feel a growing awareness of building a new life here in America, a life I will come home to someday. I don’t know what that life will be yet, or when it will come to pass, but I hope it is a life that will go on giving back to the world, and that will allow me to grow more connected to the earth, to listen to its mysteries, and to be able to share my discoveries with others.

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