on time

English: The white-lipped snail (Cepaea horten...

I have noticed a disturbing tendency in myself lately.  I am “moving through” things.  You know what I mean, right?  You’re reading a book to your kid and flipping over two pages at a time hoping they won’t notice, because it’s a repetitive f-ing book anyway and you’ve got things to do.  You’re eating yogurt while standing up and simultaneously reading because it takes too long to stirfry burdock and wild greens. You’re internally rolling your eyes when your child takes up an interest in quilting, because oh my god, are you kidding? Do you have any idea WHAT A TIME-CONSUMING PROJECT THAT IS?

But, at the same time, you have no idea what you’re cutting all of these corners for.  At the end of the day you’re just napping, or reading, or checking facebook.  What was the point of all the hurrying? And wait just a second, isn’t it freaking AWESOME that my eight-year-old wants to QUILT?  What happened to me?  Because I say “you”, but I mean “me”.  Me, the one who used to live in a hut made of twigs I’d built myself heated by a lard-can-stove I’d made myself, writing my college papers on a manual typewriter because I didn’t have electricity, eating groundnuts I’d painstakingly dug and sipping tea made with water tapped from trees because I didn’t trust the cleanliness of the stream.  Now I somehow don’t have time to read the even-numbered  pages of Green Eggs and Ham?

And I can’t blame it on my children.  Sure, life is about 879% harder now that they’re around, and the sheer busywork of feeding/cleaning/clothing them is staggering, but they themselves are expert at moving slow.  They can see the pattern on the shell of a snail and recognize it as the same individual they saw a month ago.  My three-year-old sat in the greenhouse last week watching the seed trays we’d just planted because he didn’t believe me when I said seeds take time to sprout.  We planted them at 10 am.  He was still sitting there, watching, when I called him in for dinner.

Most of the stuff I say I’m doing for them is really for me, anyway.  They don’t care if their clothes are mended and washed, or if their jackets are zipped, or if there are perfectly balanced seasonal snacks in their lunches.  They’d be just as happy digging in the mud with sticks instead of participating in the enriching, mentally stimulating playdate activity I organized (I only did it so their friend’s mom would be impressed when she asked about the playdate later, anyway.)  They don’t want to go to the museum to catch that important exhibit that will open their minds to other cultures.  I do these things for myself.  And they are important.  But it is not my children’s fault when I feel stressed out trying to fit everything in.

And everything around us is speeding up.  It’s zero hour.  If we don’t solve global warming RIGHT NOW we’re going to fry! If you don’t impress a potential customer in THREE SECONDS on your website you’ve lost them forever! Sign this petition IMMEDIATELY or there will be no more freedom in America!  There’s a plague of urgency, and it’s addictive because there’s truth in it.  We get in a habit of urgency.  We rush through breakfast because species are going extinct.  We scan quickly rather than reading deeply because the world economy is collapsing. But we don’t stop to wonder if our behavior makes sense.  No time to stop! Haven’t you heard about FRACKING??

But when I stop, and breathe, and look at the seedling trays with my son, I know that I am not going to stop fracking by rushing through dinner. We don’t need to speed up.  We need to slow down.

We need expansive time, hours and hours of teaching an eight-year-old to piece fabric together.  We need deep time, time spent watching seeds crack and sprout.  We need slow time, time spent walking in this world, observing the changes, noticing the strengths, mourning the losses.

In permaculture design that’s the most important step, observation.  Sitting there.  Preferably for a year or longer.  Watching where the light falls, how the wind changes, where the animals walk, when the water collects. Only then do you act, because now your decisions are informed, and you won’t be wasting your time putting plants that love well-drained soil in a part of the property that floods every June, or a hot tub in the most mosquito-infested corner of your land.

At Tom Brown’s tracking school they called it “Dirt Time”; time actually spent outside looking at the dirt.  What we might think of as “wasted” time…just sitting there, in the woods, staring at a square inch of muddy ground until the pattern of an animal’s paw finally reveals itself.  Or not. And those of us who went out and did this, who sat in the woods in the cold and in the rain and in the heat, we noticed something.  We noticed that after about fifteen minutes the world around us had changed.  We noticed that we had never really been in the woods before.  We had been moving through the woods, which is a very different thing.

When you are IN the woods, you have been still long enough that life isn’t afraid of you.  Creatures small and large emerge from hiding and for the first time you hear the birds’ REAL calls–not the panicked sounds they make at the approach of a human, but the relaxed baseline songs of daily life.  Some of us have never heard them before.

And here is my life, the life that I am not in, but rather moving through.  What songs am I missing?



March 6, 2013 · 3:40 am

7 responses to “on time

  1. What an excellent post! I just trundled on over here from Serendipity Farm with interest to see who was visiting and I feel compelled to cram pack you into my RSS Feed reader because I don’t want to miss any of these powerful words. So right that our kids could care less about their clothes and what we are doing to their hair…they just want out into the world and at it. We are the ones that put conditions on everything and in so doing we stint, we limit, we shape and we guide and some of these ministrations are worthwhile but so very many of them reflect where society funnels us. Kudos on this insightful beautiful post and cheers for a really good read. I don’t often find blogs like this to appreciate over my first early morning cup of tea and I savour them. I store them up like Easter chocolate and I slowly digest them and enjoy that silken taste of something special. Cheers for liking my post on Serendipity Farm but CHEERS for doing me a favour and allowing me to sit in on your muses. You never know where muses will go if you let them 🙂

    • wow, thank you! i so enjoy your funny, informative posts, so i’m glad i was able to give something back! recently I’ve realized that i HAVE to live vicariously through others if i’m ever to get all the things I’ve planned for my life done. so i’m glad you’re out there…also, i just had my first success growing kombucha culture from tea, it DOES work!!

      • So true on the vicariously bit ;). I think social media and blogging in particular gives us a way to explore the world through someone elses eyes. We just have to find the right “someone else” to guide us and that takes time and a whole lot of hunting. My rss feed reader is stuffed full of quality reading. I learn so much from the blogs that I follow and each and every one of them gives me an incredible amount of information and understanding. I am stoked to find out that the kombucha tea will grow a mother! Here in Australia it’s sometimes hard to find live cultures so hopefully I will be able to track one down in a local health food shop. I am really into doing things for ourselves and growing, doing, making it up as we go along. I love the philosophy of “first do no harm” and am loving discovering our place here in Tasmania. I really loved your blog and it struck a chord with me. You write amazingly well and your post resonated with me. My kids might be older and I may be living a different life but sometimes you get echo’s of truth through people and I really enjoyed your meanderings and am really looking forwards to more of the same 🙂

  2. thanks and right back at you! now i have to go peek at the blogs you follow. of course. cheers and good luck with the kombucha! i’ve been starting to use it externally in my herbal preparations, and it’s fantastic.

  3. This is so beautifully written, and so engaging….and SO true! I spent a few years doing everything I could to ‘change the world…’. Then, the past two years, this urgent drive softened and I realised that the most important thing to nurture, and nourish and love, and connect to, is ourselves and then it just naturally flows outwards into the world….into the pockets that need it the most. by connecting with ourselves, we connect with the world around us, and i believe then become protective and proactive about it too. Like you said, rushing through dinner isn’t going to stop fracking, if anything, doing the opposite is more likely to stop it! that is what I’ve learnt, through illness, that we are no use if we feel like crap or are knackered!
    Really glad to have found this blog. Excited to read some more. X

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