Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Quote #2

In the wake of speaking out at the Waldorf lecture, I was very sick.  Already on that Friday evening I knew I was about to be ill.  On Sunday I could hardly get out of bed.  Ethan got out From My Experience by Louis Bromfield, and read me parts he knew I needed to hear.  Louis Bromfield was a kindred spirit.  (the end of this quote irresistably brings to mind the way, when cornered, the lecturer threw out "It's the Etheric!" as an answer, i.e. something you are not "evolved" enough to sense):

"If at times in this book the tone of writing appears to be unduly controversial I attribute this to long contact with many of the closed minds and the unimaginative mentalities with which agriculture, like any other science, is afflicted.  The writer is by nature an amiable and kindly person, very gregarious and fond of people and of conversation, of argument and even of controversy, and the exploration of other minds where there is anything to explore.  But he has had some startling experiences with the closed mind which will not accept what it sees and knows but takes refuge sometimes in wild and fantastic speculation and sometimes feeble diversions to find reasons to deny or discredit a fact that may prove unwelcome or embarassing."

He also writes out so perfectly my recent sentiments about Anthroposophy:

"One of the great errors of our time, and one which has brought us in our time much misery, is the attribution of an overweening and disproportionate importance to man and his mind.  Man himself, as a physical machine, as a mechanistic functional and living organism, is indeed marvelous as is every part of the universe; but his ego and self-importance, in our time, are given a distorted, decadent, and tragi-comic importance.

"Man is merely a part of the universe, and not a very great part, which happens to be fortunate principally in having evolved such traits and powers as consciousness, reflection, logic and thought.  The wise and happy man is the one who finds himself in adjustment to this truth, who never needs, in moments of disillusionment and despair, to cut himself down to size because it has never occured to him, in the beginning or at any time, to inflate his own importance whether through ignorance, morbidity, egotism or undergoing psychoanalysis (which is merely another name for one of the age-old manifestations of brooding impotence and frustration of the incomplete man).

"It is only later in life, in the midst of what is still a somewhat turbulent and certainly a varied existence, that any full understanding and satisfaction of this sense of belonging, of being a small and relatively unimportant part of something vast but infinitely friendly, has come to me.  It is only now that I have come to understand that from earliest childhood, this passion to belong, to lose one's self in the whole pattern of life, was the strong and overwhelming force that unconsciously has directed every thought, every act, every motive of my existance."

One thing that I very strongly recognize (and understand) about strict life philosophies or religions is that people are brought to them by the same deep longing that Bromfield describes - the desire to belong, to have a place here, to do what is right.  The questions around this have been things that for me, too, have directed my entire existance.  In many instances I have been drawn towards something that looks beautiful, but always turns out to be a lovely illusion of rightness disguising an ugly, petrified dogma.

It was this that inspired me to be vegan when I was a teenager.  It was this that led me to spent several very unhappy years in a psycotic attachment parenting mom's group.  It was what brought me to choose Waldorf-style education for my children, and to look deeper into Anthroposophy.  I wanted to belong somewhere.  I wanted to be around other people who were comfortable with me, who I felt in common with.

Turning 30 was a big mix-up for me.  I felt like at this point, I should have accomplished something.  I desperately tried to think back on my life and find something I had done that had lasting meaning, and couldn't come up with anything.  In fact, in looking back, I find I have never properly fit in any where.  Not in my family, not in public school, not in groups of friends, not at work, not at the crunchy, Waldorf-inspired preschool, not with the local "cool" crowd, and certainly not in that mom's group.  Not even with the vegans, who tend to be notorious weirdos, because it made me sick to deny myself animal foods and eat soy.  I did realize that a lot of this was because I have a natural intolerance for pretentiousness and bullshit, and for some reason I insist on making myself unpopular by not keeping my mouth shut, but it didn't make me feel any better.  Bottom line:  I don't fit in.  I don't belong here.

I spent a lot of time considering this world where I don't fit in, don't belong.  The more I considered other people, the more I was glad to NOT fit in.  There were some insights - a friend of  mine married (and divorced) a Hare Krishna man who tried to control her life.  She suddenly had to be strict vegetarian, although this was obviously not good for her health.  But she was suddenly surrounded by people who liked her simply for joining them in their belief system.  They did not really like or care about her.  Many of them no longer speak to her, because she isn't "one of them" anymore.  Seeing this made some things clear to me.  I saw myself in that situation.  Over and over again.  And I never learned from it.

I realized why strict, domineering religions are so popular.  They give you a very clear, extremely rigid format to live your life within, and promise that you will be "good"  if you follow directions and will be rewarded at the end.  With Anthroposophy, you become "evolved."  You don't have to think, just follow the rules.  You will know what's right because someone will tell you it is.  There is no scary uncertainty of trying to figure things out yourself and eventually finding that you have changed your mind.  And to top it all, there's a whole community of other people who will like you simply because you are seen as being similar to them!

So far I have yet to see anyone who has really actually benefited from this, and I certainly have seen the negative effects, not just from people who are spiritually crippled by the judgments of their fellow church members, but also in social groups.  Usually the parts of the religion/belief system that do have benefits are not the nasty, punishing, dogmatic ones, but the lovely illusion that the belief system flags on the outside to get people to join.  We do know what's right, if we would only follow our hearts, and veer away from the damaging things.  But that's the catch - it's usually all or none with this kind of thing.

Clearly, there is no sense in turning to other people for this sense of belonging. Real meaning is found here, in reality, in nature, in taking up our small part in this huge, beautiful universe.  In response, I turn to the earth.  It's high time I got my garden in this fall.

"In writing this book I have thought many times of Margaret Fuller's grandiloquent assertion, "I accept the Universe," and of Carlyle's quick response, "Gad, she'd better!"  There are no short-cuts, economic or medical or scientific, where laws of the universe are involved.  One works with Nature, whether in terms of soil or of human character, or one is destroyed....It would be well for man to contemplate daily the principal fact of his brief existence - the fact of his colossal physical insignificance.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Tower

Mrs. Gophy, our neighbor Gopher Tortoise, had a little one hatch out this year.  Last year there were three, this year there was only one that we saw.  Newborn tortoises are so unbelievably small!  Clothilde named it Sandy before it crawled away.
An interesting thing happened to me last week.  It all started Thursday evening when I was doing a tarot reading for myself.  I was trying to tempt Clothilde back to bed.  Usually the spread of delicate cards and my focus and concentration gets her radar beeping like crazy, even mid-romp with the big kids.  This time I actually did a whole reading, and got to spend some time afterwards thinking about it.

It was one of the worst readings I'd ever drawn.  Nearly every card was upside-down, except the center card, which was Queen of Cups (a card about creativity).  As I considered the Tower card, I thought (unwisely) that it must not have been a good reading.  The Tower card is a card about complete and sudden change, usually shocking or traumatic.  "What could possibly go wrong?" I wondered.  The next day was going to be a good day.  An out-of-town friend was coming to visit, and we were going together to a lecture on Waldorf education.  It sounded wonderful.

My friend and I drove together to the lecture.  There was a husband-and-wife team to be the speakers that night, and my friend knew them quite well.  She thought they were super cool, and was eager for me to meet them.

The lecture began boring enough with the husband lecturing that we actually live in a static universe, contrary to what most scientists have come up with (Rudolf Steiner says so).  There was a strong critique of what he called the "Mechanistic View," or that our minds are simply a reactive force, reacting the world through biochemistry. Then the wife spoke about the importance of handwork.  Then the husband took over again.  The first part had been a warm-up.  Now he launched himself blissfully into a diatribe about Anthroposophy.  He began talking about how plants are different from us because they are not intelligent at all, and therefore are less evolved.

My hand instantly went up.  "That's not true!" I said.  Heads turned.  I have just been reading Stephen Harrod Buhner's book Plant Intelligence.  The speaker was floored.  He couldn't belive he was being contradicted at his own lecture.  I quickly gave a brief statement that plants have been found, by modern science no less, to behave extremely intelligently.  They perform complex mathematic calculations on a regular basis.  They create infinite combinations of chemistry.  Even slime molds can complete mazes, which is a basic measure of intelligence.  Their roots contain the exact same neural pathways as our brains.  In fact, I argued, plants DO even have free will (or the ability to choose), because a plant being munched on by a predator will send off volitile compounds that alert the surrounding plants, who then make a concious choice from an array of different choices about their own chemical response.  Sounds pretty intelligent to me.  I didn't even get to mention anything about viruses or bacteria, which are still out-smarting us.

The response was that no, all of that is just reactionary.  They are simply bits of dead matter chemically reacting to the enviornment.  "Then what's the difference with us!" was my exasperated reply.

"The Etheric!" was the enthusiastic answer.  "Plants have no spirit."

"That's not what Stephen Harrod Buhner says!" I told everyone.  "You should read his work about the subject."

At this point, a woman turned to me and said pointedly, "We aren't here to listen to what that person or you have to say.  We're here to learn about what Rudolf Steiner said!"

A man in the back said, "I'm about ready to issue a gag order!"  (yes, he really said those words).

I retired to the parking lot for the rest of the lecture.  I went in afterwards to pick my friend up.  She still wanted to introduce me to the speakers.  The man appeared to hate my guts, but he tried to shake my hand and tell me how wrong I was.  I told him it was new stuff.  Rudolf Steiner lived a long time ago, and there have been advances since then.  Then he liked me even less, because if that part of his lecture was wrong, then everything that came from it was, too.  I went ahead and told him he should read Buhner.  I told him that Steiner said in Knowledge of Higher Worlds that you should practice being flexible and that it's healthy to listen to something you don't agree with.  He gave a vicious, forced sort of smile at that and went off to talk to someone who could stroke his ego. My friend was very upset, and really thought I should have kept quiet.  I don't think she is my friend anymore now.

 Yesterday I tried to think why I liked Waldorf stuff to begin with, and I realized I never have.  I like the artistic approach to things.  I think the handwork is cool, but I have always found Anthroposophy to be very wrong.  It was not even exclusively a mental response.  I realized I have always had a deep down, gut-sense that it is not right.  While some interesting things are brought up by Steiner, there are always many other, much clearer and deeper sources of the same information.

People say that the philosophy and the education do not overlap, but this is not at all true.  The Zoology block in the 4th grade Christopherous curriculum was abhorrent.  There was nothing real about it, and children are to come away with the idea that humans are a tri-partite being who is evolutionarily superior to any other creature on earth.  This is not how evolution works.  This is just NOT true.  And the fact is, many of their ideas just do not work out to be real.  Like the way they base human beginnings on Adam and Eve.  Right after I heard that lecture I picked up Elaine Morgan's Descent of Woman and was blown away, not only with the information, but just how ridiculous Anthroposophy is.

Likewise, their view of plants is entirely dependant on a heiarchial version of evolution, a view point that Darwin expressly argued against.  They have a similar (and very offensive) view of human beings, with the idea that black people are more primitive and less evolved than white people.  All these things are not only completely false, they are also a deep misinterpretation of how evolution actually works.

The problem is - if they update or change their information, then that means Rudolf Steiner was WRONG.  (doom doom da-doom!)  If he is wrong there, then people start to question the dogma.  After nearly every lecture I've gone to, I have spoken briefly with the speakers and asked them if they have read such-and-such popular material on the same subject they were lecturing about.  No one has heard of anything.  This surprised and confused me until I realized they exclusively study Rudolf Steiner.  I think this accounds for a lot of the problem of their extraordinary ignorance.  One of the speakers, a very imminent person in the Waldorf society, lumped together ALL native cultures of North and South America into one extremely wrong stereotype.  It would seem that Rudolf Steiner proclaimed that any cultures that did not have a direct influence on the evolution of European culture are not worth learning about at all.

And the truth is that I came to Waldorf, not because it really spoke to me, but because I needed a guide for home school after Clothilde was born.  So many people I know think it's really cool.  I thought I should think it's cool, too.  At least I tried to learn enough about it to make a decision - and that has only just now happened for me.  When we just started out, I didn't have the mental space with a tiny new baby to create a home school, so I turned to the Christopherous curriculum.  I'd heard such good things about it.  We've used it for years now.  In second grade, I was still just getting familiar with it.  In third grade, I tried harder to really stick by the curriculum and philosophy.  By the end of Mirin's fourth grade, I realized that even with both of our best efforts, something wasn't working.  He is still not reading well, and struggles to write. 

This opened my mind some.  I realized that the whole-word reading method was just not working for us.  I've started using Khan academy to catch us up on math.  We've begun taking an entirely different reading approach that any good Waldorf teacher would freak out about, but actually makes a lot of practical sense and seems to be working very well.

All of this was so much the Tower card, it makes me laugh.  All pretense and illusion stripped away.  A totally new take.  Not being able to go back to what it was like before, even if you want to.  Thank you, Tower card!  I feel so freed.

 Any philosphy/religion in which the speakers (or High Priests, if you will) are chosen, not because of their intelligent, independant ideas, but rather on how well they have ingested and memorized the dogma should ALWAYS be questioned!

Thursday, September 24, 2015


This week is Michaelmas, the equinox, the start of autumn.

It's still hot, but not like some years.  In the evenings, the wind sweeps over the east hill at the farm, and blows cool.  It blows colored, dying leaves down, too, and twists the yellowing bramble bushes.

Some years we really celebrated this holy time, sometimes in the Waldorf way, with hand-sewn felt dragons and little dragon breads with raisin eyes, stories of St. George and the dragon, and songs about it.

This year we didn't really celebrate....but we did, in a way.  We went to our friend Karen's farm.  Three years ago, her husband was tragically killed in a car accident.  They had a working farm, and although many people helped out, she had three large hogs that were just ready for the freezer that she has not been able to do anything with all this time.

The hogs were very wild, and difficult to approach, and knowing how much work it was going to be, she had a hard time asking people to come help with it.  Finally she let us.  We met our friend PJ there, and another friend Miranda, who has two daughters.  Another friend of Karen's, Michael, also helped.

The pigs were big, and old, and we knew it would be lots of work.  PJ and Michael had set up a trap in their paddock, hoping it would at least catch one of them, and make everything so much easier and calmer.  But these pigs were too wild or too smart, and they absolutely refused to go in.  That made things complicated.

Miranda, Karen and I stayed with the children and waited for the pigs to be felled.  PJ, Michael and Ethan went in to get them.  It seemed to take a long, long time, but finally we heard a shot.  Then many more shots followed.  Michael was the first to get back.  He said the pigs were so old and hardened his bullets couldn't stun them.  We had a simliar experience a while ago, so Ethan hadn't even bothered with the .22, and just brought the .30-40 Krag.  It was a good thing, too.

Understandably, the pigs got very angry when they were in the pen trying to get them.  They were charging fiercely.  PJ was almost bowled over by a wounded sow, who simply bruised her leg when she jumped clear, staining her jeans with blood.  Ethan was charged by the massive barrow with enormous tusks, but felled it point-blank as it was charging at him.  It landed on his foot.

Once all three were killed, the work began.  The children mostly played blissfully around.  Karen's pond was brimming with all the rain we've gotten, and the children found a boat and polled around in the shallows.  Karen said they looked like children in a storybook.  They played in PJ's hammock.  They played in the dirt, made fires to cook some tenderloin on.  They loved it, and we worked.  It was SO MUCH work.  I am so exhausted - we are all so exhausted.  Dragging a 400+lb animal onto a trailer.  Dragging the huge sow out of the brushy trees.  Then hanging them, skinning them, pulling the organs out, cutting the meat.  We barely got that done, and only some wrapped up and in the freezer before we had to rush home and do the chores in the dark.

Matilda was NOT pleased.  I had made her wait, so she made me wait while she grazed all the way down the brain-cage to the milking shed.  I didn't mind - she was so slow I milked all the goats first.  And all the goats except Firefly decided to develop a haunting fear of the milking stand that night.  May had to be half tempted with barley/half dragged in, and was a real pain.

There was still so much to be done, we went back the next day, picking up PJ and Miranda's two daughters (at the chorusing request of our children) for moral support.  I couldn't believe how much more work there still was.  We bagged up organs, chopped sausage meat.  I was plugging away at the sausage meat for a long time - it seemed like forever, and everyone kept piling more scraps into the cooler.  It felt never-ending.  The children were tired, and squabbled, although not as much as I expected.

Ethan had a stroke of inspiration on an alternative fairytale to Rumplestiltskin, called "Grumplestiltskin."  It's where you have an impossible, never-ending task to accomplish, and Grumplestiltskin shows up - but instead of doing the work for you in exchange for your first born child (an easy bargain, Ethan added, especially if the first born is being extremely surly that morning), Grumplestiltskin instead whines for ridiculous things that he could easily do himself.

But it was done at last, and everything cleaned and scrubbed and taken back to Karen's house.  We set off with just enough time to do the chores in the dark again.  I had to milk May by the gate, because it was impossible to convince her that there were no predators lurking by the shadowy milking shed.  Night Hawk managed to make himself a nuisance, too.  He has been in disgrace since he shocked Mirin in the crotch last week, leaning his head through the electric fence.

We will be taking the rest of the week very easy.  Today we did very minimal lessons, and the kids spent a lot of time drawing on the road with sidewalk chalk.   There will be no cute dragon breads, or complicated hand sewing, or art projects, or dragon songs.  The harvesting of the three pigs will have to do for our observance - and rather poignantly, too.  In ancient British lore Mabon, whose name was the old name for Michaelmas, was the only one who could steal the magical razor, scissors, and comb from between the ears of a monstrous boar who ravaged the countryside.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fall begins with Leaves

I used to laugh sarcastically when anyone mentioned September being autumn here in Florida.  It always seemed to me that we never quite had anything but autumn, starting in November, and ending in February.  Some years there are a few weeks of actual "winter" in January, but autumn certainly didn't start in September.  I remember my first grade teacher - dear Ms. Frisco, the one with the long, red fake nails who jabbed you in the shoulder with them if you annoyed her for some reason...it was easy to annoy her....she told us that the months that ended with -ber were cold, like brrrr!  Even then, I knew she was wrong.  Autumn here doesn't begin with cold.  It begins with leaves, and a different quality of air.  The high, long, feathery clouds that come before storm fronts strew the sky, pushing back the big, billowy summer-storm clouds that have faces on all their corners.

The garden is as tall and intimidating as ever.  We are using chickens to push it back some.  The yuca is enormous.  I pulled some last week.  It wasn't at it's full massive-root-glory yet, but it was very tender and delicious.  We're mired in pumpkins at the moment, but the wild sumac berries and roselle make wonderful sour drinks to help along our monotonous meals.

My fall greens are still just little nubs.  I needed to plant things two weeks ago, but didn't have time, or energy, or it was pouring on me.  I can't remember which now.  But the last few days have been dry, blessedly dry, amazingly dry.  I never would have believed dryness feels so nice and free.  I've been working like a horse, inside and out.

I'm longing for fall greens.  It's amazing how having a garden can make you long for things.  I never longed for squash, or yearned for collard greens the way I do now.  I nearly broke down and bought some inferior store-bought kale, but was detered by the terrible condition of the vegetables.  It looked like someone had hit them with a flame-weeder.  I know I am spoiled, but this was really bad.  So I am having to be content with just longing right now, and meanwhile sipping some sumac-berry-ade and honey-fermented roselle soda.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Perfect Gardening Days

Ferocious squash vine

Saddleback caterpillar on the old hammock

I've been having writer's block.  Everything seems so rainy and boring - hardly worth writing about.  I get my kids fed, and chores done, and then I escape into a Diana Wynn Jones book.  I am in the middle of The Dark Lord of Derkholm, my favorite book ever.

This weekend I worked hard in the garden.  Yesterday, mostly.  It was a perfect day for it.  My perfect gardening days are not what most people would think of as good gardening days.  Not the clear, blue sky days.  I like drippy, miserable days where the sun doesn't dare show itself, but there's no lightening.  It was like that yesterday, cool and wet and not sunny.  Perfect.  I got another bed built, and am re-thinking my garden arrangement.  There are some really serious weeds out there, I'm not sure I can cope with them without the frost on my side.  And there's some awful plant out there giving everyone itchy rashes.

A month ago Mirin, Rose and my dad all wandered around in the garden looking for passion fruits.  Mirin was unwise enough to be completely without clothing.  On the drive home, they started itching.  Mirin had itchy red patches all over his body - in some very uncomfortable and undignified places.  Rose had the most awful-looking rash over most of her face, including the tip of her nose.  My dad got some on his arm.

Not really thinking about how paranoid people are these days about that sort of thing post-vaccine industry-led-measels panic (and, naturally, assuming it was poison ivy  - there were no other symptoms) I met a friend at the library the next day.  Rose's cheeks looked like a diseased child out of a medical text, but she was well in every other way.  Everyone moved away from her at the library, and it really freaked my friend out.  I had to write her a long email describing our lack of other symptoms, and how only people who went crashing through the garden had gotten it, right afterwards. 

After working in that same part of the garden, I now have three big itchy red blotches on my arm and leg, and Ethan got some, too.  He wasn't wearing a shirt, and has it on his belly and back.  No fun.  It was keeping me up last night.  So I will have to do a poison ivy hunt now.  It's probably gone rife in there among the yucca.  As if the blackberries and sand spurs weren't enough!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Rain, Rain, Rain

A gorgeous Imperial moth that was in the barn

Really the only one word sums up the past few days - sopping.  Buckets of rain.  Three inches in one afternoon (in the space of a couple of hours).  That was the day I felt like I was walking through a sprinkler.  The afternoon sun was still shining, like a bright pearly dot through the clouds, making all the yellows and greens jump out at you.  These rain storms have not had much lightening, thank goodness.  It's really the lightening I don't like.  I don't mind the flickering heat lightening, or the thunder.  It's the violent, earth-crashing lightening.  There have been trees out at the farm that have been hit.  Mirin found a fine glass tube made from a lightening strike on the last grazing line.  I always hide in the sweaty, suffocating truck when that kind of lightening is out.  Ethan just laughs at me, and keeps doing his chores.

We started back with homeschool this week.  Today was better.  Yesterday was hard.  Everyone had a tantrum at me yesterday, but Mirin had the most. Apparently anything more rigorous than summer vacation makes him flip out.  I am not terribly sympathetic, especially as his first day "back-to-school" involved sleeping in until ten, playing with toys in the morning, and only two and a half hours of focus (all review), and a painful math-practice of carrying and borrowing that involved three whole problems.  (There were supposed to be more - we only got through three before he became insensible).  It seems so wimpy, but he doesn't have any perspective on it at all.