Today's monologue was triggered by an article about the "new" small farmers and the social, physical, economical, and practical hurdles they face. I'm a huge proponent of supporting and bringing food production back to a local level: this is not a commentary scorning that movement. But the article reminded me of earlier "back to the land" movements and those who eventually gave up on those earnest plans. This is about the small picture of relentless hard work and great sacrifice to follow a dream, and what is left if the dream dissolves.
Looking back, we were all so earnest,
gathering for our monthly potlucks
of rice and beans and lumpy breads.
Squatting in the cold March mud
to thumb in the broccoli, our breath
small clouds hanging in the damp, chill air.
And the knitting! My god, the knitting!
We did it endlessly, when we weren't
spinning the wool, or the honey. Sweaters
and shawls and gloves and hats: small wonder
we didn't clothe the sheep themselves in wool wraps.
The chickens, the pigs.
The chickweed, the pigweed.
Hauling the slops to the pigs, the pigs
to the butcher, the pork chops to the freezer.
It never stopped.
What was it then, that changed? What was it that made us say
"that's enough," and scrub our hands raw at the sink
until every trace of soil was gone from under our nails?
It wasn't the goodness of the first tomato of summer
or the soft down of the chicks
that did us in. Heaven knows those were gifts,
plain and simple.
It was something more basic.
One mud-tracked rug too many,
one more torn fingernail,
all five grain casseroles and no desserts at the potluck.
Something as little as that.
We sold off
the chickens, the tiller. Gave up the lease and
moved back to the rhythm and hum of the city.
Never looked back, never kept track of the cost,
plus or minus. What good would have come of that?
Nothing but heartache and some tallies on a sheet of paper.
No, better to leave that door closed: the knitting unfinished,
the herbs gone wild,
the heart gone to seed.