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Fermentations, Ruminations & Meditations

Stuck in the Muck

Mar 28, 2016

My boys (ages 8 & 13) were reluctant and groggy this morning as they embarked on their Sunday morning chicken chores.  And what began as a mild-mannered egg collecting expedition turned into a mud-ridden melodrama for them and an unexpected life lesson for me...

It started with an egg, as so many things do.  Jeff and Janet, who live on the farm with us and run the 'Laid in Chimacum' operation, have over 1,000 layer hens these days, separated into four or five flocks that live in portable chicken coops, which rotate to fresh pasture every few weeks around the land.  The birds eat green plants, insects and seeds, and then we give them supplemental organic grains soaked in whey from a local dairy to increase nutrition and digestibility.  It's a lot of little beaks to feed twice a day and my family has one chicken duty shift on Sunday mornings, to give the farm crew a rare and well-deserved 'sleep-in'.

So today was one of those chilly, damp early Spring mornings when the moisture seems pervasive and you can't really tell if it's raining or not.  Given the soggy ambiguity of the atmosphere and the dreamy haze of sleepiness, I certainly don't blame my boys for struggling to leave the cozy house. But I promised pancakes when they returned and reminded them of their responsibilities which, truth be told, are far less arduous than those of previous generations of farm kids.

However the announcement that hard work is virtuous and that 'kids worked even harder in the old days' does not move them in particular.  They seem to view even the recent past as that barbaric time before wi-fi and they have no nostalgia or even respect for an age that simply appears more austere.  Still, we do our best to instill the values we believe are vital to a meaningful life and hope that Sunday morning chores are helping forge strong character and compassionate spirits in our boys.  In any case, we got them out the door with a combination of ethical arguments, physical nudging and bribes of blueberry syrup when they return.

After an hour, the boys tumbled back into the house, breathless, with red cheeks and brown, squelching bare feet-- and with a big story.  Apparently, the duck zone in the berry field was so boggy that River got mired trying to collect an egg in the middle of the mud and could not budge.  He spent some time thrashing his boots about and trying to pull himself out by a blueberry branch, but he could not wrench his feet free.  Eventually, he had to just fall over and wiggle out of his boots.  One boot emerged with him but one remained in the clutch of the mud monster.  After that, my younger son, ever one to emulate the fine example of his elder brother, got himself into the same pickle, losing a boot to the bog.  They were simultaneously amused and outraged, having to hop home barefooted through the cold morning duck muck…

The boys made it back to house but two of their boots are still down there, ensconced in that ancient and saturated valley-bottom soil.  I was tickled by this tale, despite their suffering mutterings, and impressed with the tenacity of wet earth and the mischievousness of young boys.  I hustled them upstairs to bathe and we proceeded with pancakes.

And now as I type, a few hours later, the boys are off on new adventures but the boots and their plight stays with me.  I know we need to plan a rescue operation but rather than tackle a retrieval mission for the mired shoes right now, I am writing out my own murky thoughts.  Because, truth be told, my mind has been a bit mired the last few months and I have felt stuck myself in a swamp of concern about the fate of humanity and the plight of the earth.  And this is where my story turns from a cheerful anecdote about boys and chores and into a confession of my confusion and woe for the world.

Since I've been well trained in the school of 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all,' it's been hard to speak fully of these feelings.  As if expressing my outrage and grief would be an impolite bummer for those around me.  So I've been a bit confounded about how to remain informed and present with our problems and also be positive, pro-active and polite when engaging in daily banter at the Corner Farmstand or chatting with my friends and coworkers.  Sometimes I just want to cry and holler and wave my fists in the air.


I know I'm not alone in this though. Many folks I know have been feeling something similar-- a combination of sadness and frustrated urgency.  Many of us believe that the scope of our social and environmental emergencies requires brilliant and immediate action by a unified earth civilization, but we are not sure where to put our feet next.


For me, it's like my field of awareness was flooded this winter and my spiritual boots have been stuck in the muck.  And despite my cursing, muttering, waving of arms and grasping at limbs…the more I have wailed and flailed, the deeper I’ve been sinking. 


I want our world to pull free of it's social and environmental ills and injustices.  And I want to pull myself free of news-induced paralysis and despair.  I want to walk forward with hope and purpose and a sense of possibility.  So what is possible? Where is the collective hope?  Where is the common high ground we can all stand on together to find unity of purpose and feel loving care for each other and this earth we share?  How do I get on with the urgent work, and do it happily? 

Well, I'm taking a lesson from my little boys today:

I have to go out and do my chores for the world, willingly and gladly.  Be useful to my community and our society.  Keep my eyes and heart open.  Face the danger and witness suffering.  Acknowledge the beauty of small things.  Be conscious of and grateful for the privileges I have. Choose love over desperation.  Breathe in and out and feel the ground beneath my feet.  Then, whenever I get stuck, I have to be willing to step out of my own warm, dry boots and have the fortitude and good humor to walk through the muck. 


The author and climate activist Naomi Kline said something wise and wonderful about speaking a strong NO to harmful policies and damaging actions but then being prepared to follow that with a YES -- a yes for new ideas, coalitions, collaborations and solutions.  It can be messy and muddy out there but we need to go forth and collect our eggs, together.  We are a fractured country living on an fragmented (fracked, polluted, paved, mined, eroded etc.) landscape, but while we believe different things, I think we still WANT many of the same things.  We want our children to drink clean water, to breath fresh air, to be well fed and safe in their homes.   So isn't our common ground, the ACTUAL ground we all live on together? 


Heck, there are no sides on a round planet!  It's all one connected curve.  And I do find grace and a spirit of possibility in remembering that we are all points standing on the same circle of stone hurling through the improbable miracles of space and time.

Off I go then to do my chores.  Some days I might get stuck in the muck so I'll be sure to wear my sturdy rubber boots. But if you see me there, mired in the mud of 'what to do' or 'woe is me' please reach out a hand.  I'll do the same for you.  And then barefooted and open-hearted, we can do the work of loving this world and all of the people we share it with.

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