Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How I Came to Be Where I Am

My lifetime is a process, just like anything is a process. Nothing alive is in stasis. Some people think that original thought exists, but I hesitate to agree. Every thought, action, or phrase that I produce has germination in others’ thoughts, actions, or phrases. Even my laugh has evolved, according to whose laugh I have loved and studied most over my lifetime. It is interested to trace such things as far back as I can, examining the numerous sources of the fuel that powers me. Now, I am twenty-one years old and I want to grow food. How might that have happened?

Just before my seventh birthday, my family relocated. We moved from South Natomas, an unfortunate suburb of Sacramento, to a six-acre piece of land in the foothills near Esparto, one hour west of our previous home. I say now that South Natomas is unfortunate, but while it was all I knew, it seemed an expansive wilderness, full of possibilities. Our turfed backyard, the largest out of all the cloisters behind the houses in our cul-de-sac, stimulated my imagination to its full potential. Imagine what it was like for a suburban animal, like my six-year-old self, to move onto six acres of what I saw as unexplored, untapped potential for adventure.

My family’s move to the country and our four years spent there is absolutely the most important contributor to my development as a person who cares greatly about the environment. I spent four years on those six acres, running through the mud (or star-thistle, depending on the time of year), sowing wildflower seeds, swinging on the rope-swing over the seasonal creek, pulling stumps from their impressions in the earth with a slow, sucking sound to reveal the grubs nestled there. I never wore shoes at home. Those four years made a dramatic impression on me, one that surely influences my reactions to the environment now.

Out in the country, I led a double life. The two-story, blue house, slowly sinking into the creek, was my castle. I ruled it. My family members were my subjects, for I was a princess or pirate or runaway, known by wise persons as the unknowing fulfiller of a prophecy or inheritor of a great lineage. Outside, I escaped the droll court life and ran, feral and disobedient, through the commons. In my mind, outdoors and indoors were separate elements. Ten years later, in college, I was taught the dangers of such dualistic thought. I know now that humans are part of the “outside world,” the wildness we usually separate ourselves from: the environment. This is something that is often hard to see, since humans are capable of destroying everything around them as they innovate and create resources for their overly successful population.

When I was ten years old, we moved back to the suburbs so that my older brother, Skyler, could attend the Waldorf high school in Sacramento. I do not know how long I cried, but it seemed a long year before I was sure my little heart would not rip from my chest. I distinctly remember feeling like I was being tamed. Not only was I being separated from my land, my realm, I was being removed from my class at the Davis Waldorf School, a group I had been with since kindergarten. I was a bold child before the move, but amongst my new classmates at the Sacramento Waldorf School, a new, shy part of my burgeoned. I spent lunches in a large elm tree for almost the entirety of fifth grade.

But I got over it. Until I graduated from high school and was again divorced from my community, I was frenetically social. It was a selfish period of my life. My friends were my principle focus, occupying the brunt of my time. I did not think often of the environment, for I was a teenager surrounded by an academic faculty of environmentally minded hippies, and it was my business to not care about their business. I remember that I actually hated hiking – it removed me from my familiar climate and clothed me in unfashionable boots. I was disconnected from the natural world.

Still, I had not forgotten my wild heart. I reserved for myself memories of our land in Esparto, relishing them during quiet moments. I believed that no one else I knew had the visceral connection that I secretly kept to the soil, sunshine, wind, trees, mountains, and everything else that constituted my childhood spirituality.

Science courses reoriented me to the natural world. Now I knew how seeds germinate to become wildflowers and that the grubs underneath the stump were adolescent insects. Not once did nature lose its magic due to some “unveiling” through science – no, there is no beguiling veil that kept or keeps me still entranced, seeking intimacy with the natural world through knowledge. I merely learned and still learn new ways of knowing it as I mature.

In college, my scientific and philosophical background has expanded. Simultaneously, I have undergone notable changes in my person. My environmental education is not an accessory; it is a tool that is an integral part of my personal progression. The best example of this happened during the first quarter I was taking all environmental studies classes. The professors that taught those classes grasped the environmental crisis of our time and, with it, slapped me across the face. I carried around my bewilderment, too overwhelmed with the issue at hand to do anything proactive to address it. One day I realized that I was being utterly useless and needed a point of reference from which to act. A love for food and direct interaction with the natural world led me to agriculture and the modern food industry, which has become my passion and possibly a life-long pursuit.

Every environmental problem I can think of is somehow related to the food industry. It is my belief that the way food is produced and regarded in this country must change. Eventually, I want to take matters into my own hands by farming. Until I can, I keep a modest vegetable plot and try to be thoughtful about what food I buy and eat. It is my obligation and pleasure to do so, because where I distribute my money is significant, and when I spend it honorably I usually end up eating delicious food.

My effort to be aware of my role in the food chain and in the larger environment is just part of an effort to be conscientious in general. It is right to think deeply about everything one does, to question one’s motives towards others and oneself. We are special animals because we are thoughtful. Society’s disconnect from the environment is matched by a disconnect between people. Why should we commune with the natural world if we do not commune with each other? It is important to minimalize waste. It is equally as important to take off your iPod and put away your cell phone once in a while. Though it is a rarity to get a smile returned from a stranger, it is worthwhile to give one out in the first place.

It is foolish to believe that we can mend our relationship with nature before we mend ourselves and our relationships with those directly around us. The first step is to accept and love ourselves. From there, we love each other, thoughtfully build communities, and find that the natural world cannot come second, because it is part of us and we are part of it.

My hope is that I will be able to honor every seed of inspiration that has contributed to my growth, from the little, untamed plot in Esparto to the monstrous garden of ambition, pessimism, and joy that I am now. I want to accept myself, have the energy and optimism to smile at every stranger, work the land, love my family, friends, and community, and take care of the natural world as best I can. The specifics are negotiable.

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