Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hueneme, place of resting kindly

More and more, we take for granted that work must be destitute of pleasure. More and more, we assume that if we want to be pleased we must wait until evening, or the weekend, or vacation, or retirement. More and more, our farms and forests resemble our factories and offices, which in turn more and more resemble prisons - why else should we be so eager to escape them? We recognize defeated landscapes by the absence of pleasure from them. We are defeated at work because our work gives us no pleasure. We are defeated at home because we have no pleasant work there...

Where is our comfort but in the free, uninvolved, finally mysterious beauty and grace of this world that we did not make, that has no price? Where is our sanity but there? Where is our pleasure but in working and resting kindly in the presence of this world?

-from an essay entitled, "Economy and Pleasure," by Wendell Berry (1988)

Tuesday evening, September 29th

Early this morning, I pull on my work boots and softly close our front door. A few hundred feet away, the field is swathed in sea fog, a heavy white cover that will not burn away until about 11:00 a.m. Our pesky neighbors, the crows, are either sleeping or invisible, and the usually clattering pie tins hang lax on their stakes with no wind to stir them.

Our field is shielded by a stand of poplars that lines the western edge of the field, perpendicular to another windbreak of towering eucalyptus trees along the northeastern side and avocado groves to the southeast. Like the trees, a barn, painted the traditional red and built by farmer Paul's great-grandfather, stands just beyond the poplars as another symbol of permanence and safety.

I walk past corn stalks already up to my shoulders, then pass a row of ruby red lettuce. The leaves cup delicate water droplets, which are just beginning their slow morning slide into the dirt. Beyond this acre or so of ripening vegetables, we have started to plant new crops in preparation for the next harvest (coastal CA winters being ideal). My hoe finds its niche in a row of purslane weeds that are engulfing the young broccoli and cauliflower we transplanted a few weeks ago.

I do not consciously think about much as I work. I raise and pull the hoe again and again as weeds pile in the furrow. Yet it is not "mindless" labor. Rather, my mind feels full, like a satisfied belly after a healthy, delicious meal. In this mind-full state, I allow my senses to unwind and savor the way that dirt clods fall apart under the blade, the sound of my hoe's soft drag and snap of the weeds, and the smell of an eighth inch of compost working deeper into the soil, the resulting growth and decay, intermingled.

When we first moved here, I remember someone told me the meaning of "Hueneme," the name of the road we live on and the nearest little town. "Hueneme" (pronounced "Wy-nee'mee") means "Resting Place" in Chumash, the Native American language and people group who settled here long before other "settlers" arrived. Resting Place. Today, the place where I work is hueneme, a resting place. I know it will not be this way all days, like when my shoulders are sore beyond pleasure or when the harvest comes in full. Yet I relish the times, more frequent than not these days and in this line of work, when my work involves what Wendell Berry calls, "resting kindly" in the quote above. I am learning to re-define and to de-compartmentalize what it means to work and rest and am finding that this work here unites with kindly rest in my body to create a deep sense of pleasure. Today, I am content.

1 comment:

  1. I loooove this piece Katy. Although it is a little depressing as I settle into my computer chair for another day of unpleasant work. Mostly I am just happy for you though. At least I do have pleasant work at home, and pleasant ways to rest. I can't wait to come visit you guys!