I have been working on a farm now for just over three and a half years. Almost as much time as I spent in college. Which means I have spent the same amount of time studying biology, chemistry, the history of the jazz age, hundreds of poets, the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil and buddhism… as I have picking radishes, writing harvesting lists, learning about soil temperatures, and wheeling and dealing the finest quality vegetables around the city of Charleston, South Carolina.
My photos and my words have seemed to get fewer and fewer the more work I’ve been doing. An old farmer, might explain it as - “That’s what happens when you’re a farmer!” or “That’s because you’re doing actual hard work!” But over the past few days, just very recently, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not more so that I’m a little less inspired and a little less attentive. On Thursday I began to read a book about mushroom-growing and as I read the first few pages, a million little thoughts and questions fired in my head all at once.
I know there are things around me every day that are just as captivating and just as inspiring - but how do we remember to access them and take advantage of them instead of seeing what we see every day as scenery? How do we balance the moments of learning and inspiration and newness and a-ha! with the moments of hard work and daily grind and dedication and steadfastness at a trade? How do we as writers juggle the need for a day job or a tangible occupation or physical movement and actual work (moving mass over distance) with the need to spend an elongated piece of time staring at the color of a certain type of leaf, to ask the oddball questions that inspire our most intriguing writing topics, to record the things around us, to spend time meditating on what we are hearing from God and the world and what we need to say back?
I met Garrison Keillor once in college. He was giving a talk at Agnes Scott in Decatur and I waited to talk with him after. When he asked me what I was studying to be I told him I was studying to be a poet. He laughed and told my twenty-one-year-old face to “GO do SOMETHING first! Be a poet when you’re old!”
I suppose I listened to him. Accidentally, or not. But I don’t want to keep doing anything else first. I want to pay attention while I’m in it. I don’t want to look back and have to dig out of myself what color the field was on the day that Arturo planted peppers the year before last. Making up details and smells and temperatures. I want to write it down when it happens. I want to put the truck in park, pull out my camera and my notebook and snap a shot and then do what the camera can’t and let you know
it was misty
the rows were long, straight, lovely, new
soil just upturned, no weeds
striking the surface yet
still lurking beneath his feet, the dirt
was soft beneath the rhythm of his feet his tall
body tilting slightly with the angle of the newly dug rows
red shirt, brighter and deeper in the overcast light,
one tray of wet peppers on each shoulder,
small little green things
ready to be carefully
cut around the edges
pulled from their plugs
pressed firm into the ground - but not
til he gets to the end of the row