Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cloud's Path Farm, Sheffield, Vermont

I've only been on the farm for a week, but it seems like I'm a million years away from riding the B train from china town to the upper west side. When you first get to the farm, you appreciate its beauty from afar, admiring the house that was made out of trees from the land and the rows of green crops that roll down the hill. But after a week, the real beauty of this place has surrounded me. The real beauty has roots far deeper than the tomato vines or maple trees and can be felt more than it can be seen. Simple, happy living is what makes Cloud's Path Farm one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to.

Many people talk, and write, about simplicity. “Living simply” is a theme of blogs, articles, books and discussions. I much prefer the living of it than the talking about it, but I'll try my best to share the genuine happiness that comes from this type of lifestyle. This farm life is truly a simple one and by simple I don't in any way mean easy, unimportant, unintelligent or lesser than anyone or anything. These are not “simple people”, they are intelligent, witty and charming. I mean simple as in there's no chatter, no drama, no trivial nonsense. There is no crap to get in the way of living. There's a blue sky, hard work, and fun everyday. There is a loving young family, friends down the road and dreams mixed in with daily life. There are shared meals made with “simple” ingredients of amazingly fresh food (on the farm, “fresh” means picked less than 5 minutes ago). There are two fantastic kids running around being just that, fantastic kids. They have dirty faces and genuine smiles, intelligence beyond belief and an endless supply of giggles. There is NPR and BBC on the morning radio and good books and DVDs at night. There are two of the bravest people I've ever met who built this place of beauty, and they don't even seem to realize how courageous they are, because they are just “simply” themselves, doing what they want to do.

The simple days start early, but not at dawn (no need for 6am gym schedules here). They start with roosters making their noise and sleepy eyes in the kitchen. Everyone makes something good, maybe a smoothie, or a freshly gathered egg, anything with a little protein to get you going in the morning. There is always a huge variety of fresh baked goods, a truly dangerous thing for someone with a carb-sweet weakness! After a relaxed breakfast, Sally and Sam each grab buckets and tend to their respective animals. There are chickens, goats, pigs and of course Dogarella and Sheba, the best farm dogs ever. The day's activities depend on the day of the week, but there is always a wide variety of work to be done. Sally may be pounding bread dough in the kitchen, making over 50 loaves each week to sell at the farmer's markets. In between the white, wheat and sour dough creations, there are also cinnamon rolls, blueberry scones, ultimate chocolate chunk cookies and maybe even a whoopie pie or two. Meanwhile Sam is probably in the fields, obsessively examining swiss chard , pulling down trees, rotatilling new beds for planting or chopping firewood for winter. There's always weeding to be done and something delicious to be pulled or planted, and that's where I come in. Some days I'll be with Sally in the kitchen attempting to control the dough balls, but other days I'm trying to find the carrots under the “weed pressure” or slicing off fresh broccoli heads. There is corn to be hoed, firewood to be stacked, and bread to be rolled and patted. If its hot enough, a swim in the quarry feels amazing in the afternoon, (the Romans would be seriously jealous of this marble pool). After a good day's work, its back to the main house for a fresh dinner, one night it was .38's soup, another it was stirfry with locally made seitan and snow peas and greens from the lower garden. After the kitchen is cleaned all of the stars come out soon, and I mean ALL of them, and really all you want to do is curl up with that awesome book you've been reading to find out what's going to happen next. There are fun things to do in town, the occasional dance party, neighboring places to explore or a Bread & Puppet Show (blog coming soon), so don't even think that I'm anywhere close to bored yet. The days are filled with fun and new things to learn and figure out, and yet somehow they are “simple”. There's not a lot of crap, there's not a lot of noise; there is just work and fun and damn good food in between.

I'm not on any timetable to be here or to move on, I'm just here for awhile. I had decided to do some farm work to learn about growing food, but in this effort to live simply, I've discovered that I'm simply living.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I am so damn proud of you.

Usually when one person says, “I'm so proud of you” to another person its being said from a parent to a child, or a teacher to a student; its typically from a person of higher authority to an underling of sorts. Not often enough to we say these words to our counterparts, our family, our friends; but today I feel like shouting it from the empire state building. I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by truly inspiring people, and today I was literally beaming with pride as I watched one of them in her glory. (I was smiling so much at on point that my face hurt!)

This morning I found myself sitting in a classroom of a historic NYC high school. There were TV cameras and reporters milling about, anxious for the press conference to start, and audience members chatting about what an exciting morning it was for the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). For a bit of context, the NYCLU is the local chapter of the ACLU and it “defends and promotes the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution.” This morning's press conference was to announce the release of a report “documenting the successes of six New York City public high schools in maintaining safe, nurturing educational environments without using metal detectors, aggressive policing and harsh disciplinary policies”. And guess who co-wrote this amazing study about how we can treat students as people, not rabid animals? My college roommate and lifelong friend!

I can't even describe how exciting it was to open the first glossy page and see her name listed (third from the top!) as a co-author. I was so thrilled to be in town to see her standing proudly in front of the cameras as a host of fellow civil right-defenders discussed the importance of this report. I am so damn proud of her. Not everyone's friends are fantastically smart, and not everyone's friends do truly important work, not important like “I'm going to make a million dollars on this deal” important, more like “improving public education for generations to come” type of important. But my friend does! She spends hours upon hours in her downtown office fighting the fight for students who don't even know who they should be fighting against to protect their right to go to school and not be greeted by “machines instead of hugs” as one Principal referred to metal detectors today. The students should be concentrating on passing Algebra and who the new cute kid in class is, not trying to figure out how to get the Dept. of Ed. to not install surveillance cameras in their bathrooms. And lucky for them, they don't have to worry about any of this ridiculous policy because she does their worrying and fighting for them.

Proud doesn't seem like a big enough word to describe how I felt this morning, but its all I got. (Maybe an adverb would help). I'm overwhelmingly proud of my friend, the New York civil liberties lawyer, who isn't in it for the fancy gold leaf lobbies (although who doesn't love being greeted by marble in the morning), she's in it to truly be an advocate for those who need her, and the city of New York is lucky to have her fighting on their behalf.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

As American as Central Park

New York City was a great place to be for the Fourth of July. It wasn't because of the fireworks (which I hardly saw any of), or the great rooftop parties (even though I went a fabulous one), it was the people, specifically the people in The Park. I spent Saturday afternoon strolling through America, via Central Park.

For the first Saturday in weeks, the sun was shining, the sky was bright blue and New Yorkers were soaking up every second of it. The park was bustling with energy and there were tons of people walking/biking/strollering the paths, but not to the point that you felt like you were at Disney on Memorial Day weekend. The people were all shapes and sizes, shades and styles- young couples holding hands walked the paths, groups of friends picniced on the great lawn, musicians shared their talent at each intersection and kids and dogs chased balls and frisbees. I heard no less than 10 different languages being spoken, but they all shared the same tone: happiness. I don't know Croatian, Chinese, Japanese, German or French, but I know happiness when I hear it, and the park was teaming with it on the Fourth of July.

I can't even remember what I did last Forth of July, but this one I spent observing Americans in their finest. I heard a Chinese man playing Phantom on a beautiful string instrument, a jazz quartet singing classics to a small audience on a hill, and an interesting gypsy named Thoth belt out amazing opera while playing a violin and dancing in circles in a gold loin cloth (his performance alone could warrant an entire blog post). I saw a a graceful 65+ woman “rollerdancing” in black tights and pink gloves, a group of hip hop dancers pay tribute to Micheal Jackson and some reality TV stars who were out enjoying the park just like me. I may have very few things in common with the people that I saw in the park on Saturday, I can't speak Chinese and I don't play an instrument, but we all share one thing that's sometimes gets a really bad rap, we're all American and that means that Thoth can dance in a loin cloth if he wants to, and multi-ethnic hip hop dancers can be in the same routine, and I can wander the park and soak it all up just because I feel like it. Our country does some seriously idiotic things and hopefully we'll continue to grow and evolve in a positive way (Go, Obama, Go!), but in the meantime, I appreciate it for all the positives that it offers, like a beautiful green space amidst the cement jungle that I, and everyone else, can enjoy on a Saturday afternoon.

Central Park is this beautiful oasis in the middle of the chaotic city, a peaceful refuge from the madness and in a way such a perfect example of how people from every background can all be in one place and coexist, not only peacefully, but happily. Sure a pedestrian may accidentally cut off a cyclist, but they just smile and say “permiso/excuse me/scusi” and carry on their way. There's no need for nukes here, just an apology, some understanding and a positive outlook on humanity.
Happy Fourth of July from Central Park.