Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Little More on Taking Things Slowly

In one of my favorite picture books, All the Way to Lhasa, , a boy slowly leading an ox heads up the mountains to the holy city of Lhasa. At the same time, a horseman gallops toward the city, too. You'd think the boy would take much longer to get to his destination, but actually, it's the rider who wears himself and his horse out and doesn't make it, while the boy, taking things slowly, gets there first.

I know in my last post, I was rhapsodizing about the joys of slowness, but honestly, it's hard for me not to feel as rushed and heedless as that rider dashing up the mountainside. From what I can gather, climate change, political and economic instability, and peak oil could cause things to become apocalyptic around here pretty darn fast, and I feel dreadfully unprepared. There's so much I want to be able to do, and I want to be able to do it right now. I want to know how to can vegetables safely, know which local native plants are edible and which make good medicines, and how to use them properly. I want to know much more about gardening, about raising chickens in my back yard (a long-term goal if I can ever get my husband to consider it without rolling his eyes or shuddering), and about how to sew and knit and make more toys and crafts with my children. I want to have time to help with all the wonderful community projects already underway right in my neighborhood and city, and I want to get even more started--lately, I find myself eyeing lawns at parks and my local Y and imagining a patch of cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers there. I want the time to connect with and learn from other people who've been working on these issues for a long time and know so much more than I do.

But I can't do all those things and be the kind of mother, wife, daughter, and friend I want to be (I'm already falling short on those things as it is). I have to slow down and do one thing at a time, one moment at a time, and try not to feel bad about all the things that aren't happening. It may be that things could change rapidly and for the worse. But it's also true that right now they aren't so horrible, and that I learn better when I'm not anxious and rushed. So I'm trying to be more like the boy leading his ox to Lhasa instead of that helter-skelter horseman.

I also feel in a rush these days to help my children learn the real joys to be had in working and helping out around the house, as well as in eating more fresh, varied vegetables and fewer boxes of Annie's Mac 'n' Cheese. I'd love for them to be more interested in helping around the garden, for instance (aren't kids supposed to adore gardening?). There are some jobs that they leap to help with, like planting seeds. Yesterday when my daughter saw me watering, she asked if she could do it herself, which pleased me greatly. But for the most part, they aren't really clamoring to help in the garden.

Today, I wanted to weed, and I asked my girl if she would like to help scoop some compost into the newly bared soil around our strawberry plants. I don't even know if I should be adding compost this time of year--that's what a clueless gardener I am, but it seemed like it might be a job that would appeal to her.

She said, no, but she liked the idea of simply adding some water to the dirt, playing in the mud, and making "hot chocolate" in old yogurt containers. Eventually she and to a lesser degree her brother ended up using the mud as body paint.

I thought, well, they're not gardening, exactly. But I'm getting something done out here, and they're learning to not be squeamish about dirt. So that's something. Slow and steady, yes? Slow and steady.


  1. Kristine V.August 24, 2010

    Dear fellow HMite - I think discussing the anxiety surrounding the whole reskilling movement is really important, so I'm glad you are writing honestly about it. I too have sometimes felt this urgency, like I'm trying desperately to catch up in some way. The truth is, a couple of generations of knowledge transmission really did get skipped in the last third or so of the consumerist twentieth century. The knowledge isn't lost, but it is not as common, so there's lots of sharing to be done now. The paradox seems to be that we are tempted to speed up the learning process the better to slow down as we know we may well be forced to do (and that's if we are lucky). I've found myself calmed by the thought that part of what we have to change, and return to, is that slower, steadier mindset itself -- a more sustainable pace -- so that the mindset is just as crucial as composting and making our own rag rugs from old underwear. Then I get anxious again and start all over with some new kick! This is a long comment, but I'll end with my own little story, and maybe it will help you, too: this year my husband and I tried to venture from tomatoes in our garden, having had success with lots of kinds of tomatoes. We tried broccoli and green beans. They were complete flops! Well, I'm trying to laugh at the sickly plants and just be really grateful for interdependence in the form of wonderful farmers' markets. I'm blanching and freezing some local green beans tonight, in fact. And repeating: I am not a failure because my bean plant is pathetic! One bean plant wasn't going to save our lives or earn us carbon offset points. Your kids are fortunate that you are steering them in the right direction.

  2. Wonderful! I am right there with you. Reskilling is such a bear, and not a day goes by that I don't marvel at how a thousand years of tradition was obliterated by the Industrial Revolution. The relearing of things takes a lot of time; learning EC took three kids. Learning home birth took two. Learning how to integrate fermentation, and eliminate packages, from my food prep has taken a few years.

    If it helps, I've found that a lingering mental time-bomb of Industrial thinking is the idea that *we ourselves* need to relearn all that stuff. Our great-grandmothers knew a lot, but they didn't know everything. What they *did* know was how to leverage a community. How to be friendly with the people who had skills that they didn't, and how to make themselves useful to those people, so that everyone got what they needed and no one had to make themselves insane trying to know everything.

  3. Laureen, thanks for your comment. It puts things in a helpful perspective, and I love the idea that it isn't all about ME having to learn everything at once--it's about developing relationships and trust in others' wisdom and skills, too.