Fermentations, Ruminations & Meditations
Jumping for Joy
This Spring on the farm, I learn the physical and metaphysical meanings of the expression jumping for joy from my little boys. In the puddles on the gravel driveway, on the trampoline, on the apple bins stacked at the barn, alas, even on our family sofa, I watch them derive bone-bouncing pleasure from testing gravity’s loft and weight. I hear them laugh as they leave the earth, for a glorious split-second flight, and then laugh again as they return, triumphant, to the ground.
As they jump, I think about life’s ups and downs and consider the conundrum at the heart it. My existence, here in the Chimacum valley on this small swatch of farmland, is full of living blessings. I want to count each one carefully and kiss the ground with appreciation. But I am not immune to life’s suffering, neither my own nor what Wendell Berry calls the “despair of the world.” While my boys seek out the joy of the jump, the farm and the big world beyond teach the rhythmic lessons of up and down.
There is joy in Spring for sure. In early April, we get a posse of American Alpine kid goats from our friends at Mystery Bay Farm, where they handcraft farmstead goat cheeses, like a thyme and white pepper chevre that make me swoon. When the goatlets are born each spring the dairy keeps the females, who will become milk-providers, but the male kids, the ‘weathers,’ must find another fate. For the last two seasons we have raised the weathers here at Finnriver for meat (goat meat offers a high-protein, low-fat and lower ecological impact option for spicy goat stew-loving omnivores). The arrival of the goat kids in spring is the beginning of what we call “Cuteapalooza,” the early season festival of chicks, piglets, buds and seedlings that puts a spring in our steps.
My four-year old son and I walk down the road to visit his father in the barn. The gravel driveway is riddled with puddles from an April rainshower. The boy has his rubber boots on. His mama, me, made sure he was wearing the boots because I know him. He is a puddle jumper. He is the kind of person who sees a depression in the ground filled with muddy water and thinks, “JOY!” He bounds into the puddles. He glories in the puddles. He pounds the puddles with the full force of his will and his body mass. I walk far enough behind him not to get splattered. I revel in the lifeforce of my child. I rejoice in the forces of creation that brought time and space together in just this way. He is alive. I am in life, in love. He grabs my outstretched hand and his is warmer than mine.
Later I watch my older son, nine years old and growing fast. He is jumping on the trampoline. Bounce. Up. Bounce. Down. Defying and confirming physics with every exaggerated step. The boy prefers to bounce with other people, even though this is emphatically discouraged by the trampoline manufacturers. He and his pals hurl their bodies against each other, in a boyish blend of wrestling, judo and jousting. There must be something about the contact, the way the body experiences its own heft as it rebounds off another body, that gives comfort. I hear shrieking and wonder if this time a bone has broken. But it’s just the jubilant howl of the jump. Bounce. Up. Bounce. Down.
There is too much beauty in every moment not to exult.
Joy is like organic food for the soul, full of healthy cosmic calories, spiritual nutrients and emotional minerals. Savoring the beauty in a day is essential to well-being, but it’s not always easy for me in the whirlwind of daily doings. It takes my deliberate attention, a mindful unwrapping of the gifts of the moment. Often it’s a choice. Rather than be angry that I’ve been woken up at the crack of dawn, I can listen with love to the perky morning voices of my children. Rather than be annoyed by a petty argument, I can appreciate the effort when my husband hands me a cup of tea. It’s too easy to lose graceful moments in the rumble-tumble of emotions and in the rush of ‘what’s next.’ To easy to plod, or even to walk backwards, through the day. While I may not jump for joy like my boys, I’d like to learn to simply walk with joy.
When I open wider my heart to allow in joy, there is more space for grief as well. My personal suffering is mostly in my head, sometimes in my sciatic nerve and often fluctuating with the time of the month, but our collective human sorrow is ancient and immense. When I first saw the images of the Paleolithic cave paintings at Chauvet, I thought, “We have been hunted for a long time,” first by cave bears and saber-toothed tigers, and now by each other…maybe even by ourselves. What to do with all that fear, sadness and pain? The temptation is to deny or ignore our grief. But to care is to be fully human I think. Experiencing the “despair of the world” deepens our compassion. It takes spiritual sweat to kneel before our suffering, to plant pain in the dark humus of the soul. I believe in the metamorphic powers of the earth. That suffering can transform into understanding, tolerance and empathy. That it may be watered by time and wisdom and grow into grace.
Here’s my rub—the beautiful, bittersweet paradox of being a person: There is too much beauty not to exult. There is too much sorrow not to grieve.
As the ground warms, the daffodils rise like green exclamations marks from the earth singing, 'This is life, This is spring!' I look out across the farm and witness the generosity of growing things. Songbirds return, apple trees begin to bud. Lines of Romantic poetry murmur in the spring wind, "And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils" (W. Wordsworth). Up go the flowers, up goes my heart. Then time passes. Down drift the daffodil petals. Their golden glamour fades. Like a daffodil, my own life emerges from earth and, before too long, will return, turned under by the plough of time.
This is the farmer’s practical parable of the resurrection: blossom, fruit and decay. The good news is that if we live well, we will leave nutritious compost. Perhaps there’s even redemption when the next generation germinates.
My boys teach me how to jump for joy. The enlightened heart, however, is not a trampoline. It must remain steady witness to the ups and downs of life. I ask my heart to pump with courage and humility. My customized ‘cardio workout’ is to feel it ALL and remain kind.
Like kale and carrots, I believe that joy and despair must both be skillfully cultivated. The harvest is a healthy heart.