Just before falling asleep one night, a river of verbs and two years of farming flooded my consciousness:
planting pulling picking harvesting moving sowing sewing lifting driving boxing stretching talking guessing amending washing packing weeding counting cutting caring playing apologizing forgiving listening dragging digging switching changing growing watching feeling attending asking doing wishing hammering cleaning spraying wheeling hugging loving cultivating watering mowing discing sprinkling seeding dropping throwing tossing trimming blooming crying harmonizing brooding arguing thinking loading polishing slamming bending bowing
I’ve never thought of myself as a body person. I’m not naturally athletic, flexible, or relentlessly energetic. Yet I catch myself – and all us farmers – moving with a kind of fluency, a fluency born of kind attention to our bodies and to the task at hand. Unconsciously, our hands check box handles for rips, and lift from the bottom if the handles aren’t solid. We could reach for our harvest knives blindfolded, some sheaths buckled on the right – like a gun, we joke – or the left (that’s where mine is) like a sword. I know the exact pressure and push it takes to put my knife back in, and can read the sharpness or dullness of my knife by flicking my fingertip across the blade, by cutting a head of broccoli or the stems of chard. We balance in wet furrows, wearing rubber boots and carrying arcs of chard or kale in our upraised arms.
At the beginning of the season, we puzzled over how to teach these skills to the new apprentices, in a society where teaching means talking and skills means book-learning. How can I tell you how to hunt for nettles, when I hardly know myself the exquisite combination of the visual scan for those serrated leaves and the lumbering knife-swing at the tender tips? How can I tell you about the rhythm of the vacuum seeder, the constantly-calibrated and embodied calculation of accuracy weighed against speed? So we tried to teach, by working together, by giving constant and consistently inconsistent feedback, and by trying to understand more clearly the mechanics of what we’re doing, what gestures and intentions speed or slow our work.
But now, perhaps in spite of all that talk, I see each farmer’s fluency: Camille, loading the market truck with me at 4:15am, moves steadily and purposefully, handling our over-used boxes with an efficient kind of care. Kai multi-tasks, running irrigation and picking dino kale, moving so fast on the little blue road bike you don’t notice he’s left the bunching greens until he returns, dropping the bike at the edge of the road. Morgan dances among the CSA boxes each Tuesday, creating 25 vegetable art pieces in the awkward packing shed. Colby tells us about picking bunching greens in the previous post…Betzi…Julian…Steven…Tell us all about your embodied fluency! I know I’m seeing it.
We’re becoming fluent too in the unspoken communication of bodies living and working together. I know when someone comes to work tired, or with something on his mind. We can all see the drooped shoulders of someone with waning enthusiasm for a long task, or the let’s just get done! fast efficiency of a late afternoon in the packing shed. I can tell Qayyum, with just a shrug, an eyebrow wiggle, and an ambiguous head bob, that “I have no idea how the #@^% that happened,” or with a slight variation (narrowing eyes, feigning innocence) “I’m so sorry this didn’t go the way you wanted it to, but we can’t do anything about it now and you can forgive us, right?”
My brother, who IS a body person above all, just came and sat a sesshin here, his first. I watched him take the forms into his body, his gassho (palms together at the face), move up over the three days from the yoga-style gassho (close to the body, in front of the heart), to our Zen one, fingertips in line with the nose and a fist-length away from the face. The community seemed to think he fit right in, but maybe it’s because we have the same smile (some said), or eyes, or oryoki serving style. (I think the feature we have in common most is the crinkles around our eyes, when we smile.) My brother said he’d taken up the forms with relative comfort because he’d taken karate as a kid and teen, so he was familiar with the form of bowing.
So I wonder, what fluency does farming give us, what reverberations does this life so close together have for our future as bodies? How do our months or years farming at Green Gulch carry in our bodies into a world where work and relationships are sometimes more virtual than tangible? Where is the recipe for the unspoken joy that sometimes floods a body fluent in its work? What is the music of the harmony and uniformity of a farm crew in late August, and by what coincidence of imitation and effort and speech and love will it come again?