Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our Lost Children

Ministry in Meeting for Worship on Sunday brought me to the memory of the Sandy Hook massacre and time I spent in the Zen Community of Oregon, almost 15 years ago. Here is my reconstructed ministry-not-shared with those gathered Friends, and you.
In 2001, I spent time at the Zen Community of Oregon, practicing and living into the vision of community and discipline that was thriving there. I visited for more than a week in March and most of the month of August, 2001. I participated pretty fully in the life of the monks. I practiced three times daily, sitting and walking meditation. I participated in communal 3-bowl meals, with offerings to Buddha, chanting, and silence. I worked in the gardens, the yard, and most importantly, tended to the Jizo garden.

Jizo is a Boddhisatva. My understanding of a Boddhisatva is someone who, through dedicated practice and the intense love and presence that comes from this practice, commits themselves to being present for the betterment of all beings. Jizo travels with all who are suffering, and particularly stands with, walks with women who have lost children, and children and travelers.

While I was visiting and practicing with this community on the side of Larch Mountain outside of Portland, we cleaned and prepared the garden for women to come and honor their lost children. The Jizo statues were covered in leaves. The walking paths needed a raking. My friend who was living there let me know that the women would come and place red cloaks on the statues, leaving notes for their children, if they liked.

I didn't see the women come, but on the day they came, I felt a quiet and sadness settle into the land. I remember watching a spider who was waiting outside of the zendo and had woven a brilliant web in the early morning light. I wanted to wait and watch the women, to understand what they had lost, what they gained from their visit to Jizo. I had no context with which to understand their suffering, their comfort in Jizo.

12 years later, with the loss of a child to miscarriage, I gained some context for this experience. Now a year out from that loss, pregnant with a child who by all accounts is staying, I am reminded of the 2 year anniversary of the death of 27 children, women, and men, at Sandy Hook Elementary. I wrote, at the time, about naming evil and our complicity with evil. I did not connect to Jizo because I had not experienced loss like that yet. I did not connect to this memory because I had not come to name the deaths of children as loss I shared.

I also have come to see other losses in this light. The intense and continued loss of black life to the impunity and rage of the white police state hits me differently today, remembering my loss, Sandy Hook, and Jizo. Trayvon Martin was a child. Tamir Rice was a child. Eric Garner had been a child, was a parent. Michael Brown was a child. There are many others.

What would a garden for these deaths look like? Can we honor our personal losses in a context of honoring these deaths, these wrongdoings?

Maybe they are too different. Losing a child to a disease, miscarriage--too soon, too soon-- is real and painful, but with no recourse, no way to fix it. Losing a child to gun violence, untreated mental illness visited upon the vulnerable, and systems of racism and impunity around black peoples lives-- too soon, too soon-- point in the direction of a need to fix something. A need for justice.

But there is no way to fix the death. It happened. We are left with their absence, and suffering.

I have no doubt that Jizo is walking with all of these children. Where there is suffering, we need to not be alone. I buried the baby I lost on the land, last October. I have not been able to go back and visit that spot, out by one of the big old trees in the woods. But I'm thinking about getting some Jizo statues, creating a space where we can visit with those we've lost, for whatever reason. The land can hold these losses, and there are many-- alive and beyond-- who can help walk with us in this grief.  Let us walk in this grief, together, so we can better act to build justice and end impunity in our world.

7 pm, ET, December 16: I posted this in the morning, and as I was driving to an appointment with the midwifery practice I am working with, I heard about the death of over 100 children in Pakistan at a school. I find this devastating, I don't quite have words. But I want to acknowledge in this post that this happened, and connects with what I am writing.

Right now I am thinking: is there a garden big enough to hold the grief of our lost children? Is the whole world to be our mourning place? I don't know. I don't know. Maybe.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Against Biological Determinism, or, There’s Something Growing In There!

Warning, this is explicit, and about body parts. Don’t read if you prefer to not think about body parts or sex.

A skit of James Franco competing with a 4 year old from SNL-- and being 31 weeks pregnant-- inspired me to write about bodies and what they say about who we are.

The skit itself was silly, and made me laugh to myself as Franco (who is almost constantly channeling the dirty old man he will undoubtedly become) yells into the camera about seeing the scrotum of the father of a four year old years before the boy is born. “We play squash together. He took a hard dive and his balls came spilling out of his shorts. They were huge and red and Tommy [the four year old] was still inside them.”

What this reminded me of is the myth of the homunculus. I am not sure where I ran across this thinking, but I’ve always associated it with the deprivation of non-masturbation and genital identification with sexuality. The homunculus idea is that inside each individual sperm there is a miniature person, waiting to be implanted and grown to baby form. If, as Franco jests and 16th century philosophers posited, each sperm is a potential person, than masturbation for people with penises is really murder.

When I was a child, there were whispers of this old viewpoint in the Catholic school I attended from seventh through ninth grade. I was at an all girls school, however, so it was mostly discussed at the lunch table. Lucky for me, I was not from a devout home, so my suspicion of this thinking was high. Not so for other girls. Wide eyed and unsure of what their bodies were for, these girls were the most scared of what was going on down there. I remember listening to girls talking about sins of the flesh, and the risk of boys committing murder if they made sperm come out of them.

In 8th grade, we got to health class, and all these conjectures fell away, except for the specter of the homunculus, and its attendant question-- What are our bodies for? The sisters couldn’t help us, at least not with ease or self-awareness, as they had rejected the urges of the flesh, or sublimated them in good works and self-deprivation. But for we who knew we weren’t heading that way-- once we could believe we were desirable at all-- these questions loomed large. What happens down there?  What are our bodies for?

When I started having sex, it was with people with penises, and then people with vaginas. I found pleasure down there, and I sidestepped any concern about use and function by departing from heterosexual assumption at 15. Without the phantom mythic homunculus, I was free to see my body as my own, and the bodies of my lovers as something other than strictly speaking useful, as I had been taught in middle school. I also started being able to see erotic pleasure in more things than the body, or particular body parts.

In seminary, this experience I named in a feminist sense as body-god(ess)-talk, where the information and the vicissitudes of the body become a site for naming the divine, as a site for worship, as a place that moves between peoples, that creates something new. It wasn’t about reproduction, at least not in the normative sense. It was generative, and it was both about the body and not determined by it.

And then I started wanting to have a kid. I was 32 when I really started having that feeling, and I see this as part of healing for me. Part of rejecting that determinism of the body meant that I felt I also had to reject the possibility of family and parenting. So the desire to have children, from wherever it sprung, was something I repressed, much like those sisters in middle school (I knew I had more in common with them than I thought!). At 32 I stopped repressing, and started healing work to get ready to have a kid. And at 37, #1 came through my body into the world.

And now, #2. As the last weeks of pregnancy loom large, and my belly looms larger, I wonder about the homunculus, and the fear from which he comes. Am I carrying a fully grown being? Am I merely a vessel for this creature? Some conservative thinking about pregnancy and women’s roles would say, yes. The homunculus still lives in the hearts and imaginations of those who do not see what is really happening with pregnancy.

The symbiosis of pregnancy, the incredible interconnection, and the development of a being from very little to a baby is pretty amazing. But it’s not anything to privilege over any other life changing event. Oftentimes I have heard mothers say-- you have no idea until you become a mother, until you are pregnant, until you are nursing, until you are until you are……. You know, this is true! But it’s no more true than someone having other body experiences that are singular, that are personal, that do not ultimately determine who that person is. We are bodies. We have experiences. They are powerful.

What is happening to me is a fundamental experience of the body, but so are most other things. The desire to compare or privilege this experience over other bodies and their experiences recreates the world where the homunculus can grow big in our psyches. And I am truly not saying that what is happening to me is small-- or unimportant. But it does not determine value, or create more meaning or value than other bodies and their experiences. If I did that, if I wanted to have the pregnancy pedestal made for me and other people with uteruses who choose to grow babies in them, then I would be risking the loss of my sense of self to this experience. And I would be ignoring the rich depth of body experience and sources of the divine in my life before having children, before I chose this path of engaging my biology. 

This is my body, in all its vicissitudes, holiness, and commonness. And I honor the body growing in me, as a part of me, and as not all of me.  And with each birth, with each experience of the body, I wave goodbye to the homunculus ghost in this misogyny machine, and know there is more than what we bring to the project of nurturing life, in ourselves and in each other, in this world soon changed by someone new. We'll see who they are. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

So Many Levels

I’m still pregnant, heading into week 26 this week, spending a lot of time feeling tired and hungry. This pregnancy, during which I am only part-time employed, living much more simply than when pregnant with my first child, makes for a real slowness and awareness of the minute movements of time and life. I started feeling this baby moving inside me at week 16, it’s true, and within the past 2 weeks, she’s been dancing up a storm on all parts of my insides. I am lucky because I can actually stop what I am doing and pay attention to these small movements, which feel so big inside of me, and notice my reactions to them.

Mostly I am happy to be feeling confirmation of life growing inside of me. Mostly I am grateful to be able to build more on this land than just farms, just community. Mostly I am aware that my world focus has gotten so much smaller these past months than ever I was allowed to be before. And mostly that is a good thing.

Except when it’s not. Yesterday I attended a really lovely, well-organized and spirited rally and sit-in as part of Rising Tide’s work to stop a fracking pipeline through Vermont. 60 people went into the governor’soffice to demand attention to this issue, and over 30 stayed in the buildinguntil getting arrested at around 8 pm last night.  I didn’t make it inside to the sit-in, but was able to enjoy music, speakers, chanting, and friendliness among the 200 odd folk who stood outside in solidarity.

The thing that struck me most about my experience of this was that I had an intense sense of dissonance throughout the rally. I felt disoriented. I felt tired. I kept on looking for other pregnant women, or women with small children. There were a few. I felt lonely and confused. I managed to say hello to one or two people I knew, but expressed the sentiment-- Today is a really pregnant day for me, but I had to make it out for the rally.  I had such a sense of the bigness of this rally, the level that was trying to be affected through political action and civil disobedience. And it felt just weird, somehow disconnected with what I am focusing on just now.

I am also reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. This text unpacks the systemic racism of mass incarceration, and the legal buttressing that allows for a reproduction of the injustices and oppression of Jim Crow in our current moment. Arrest, detainment, prosecution, incarceration, and life after release mirror the legal segregation and discrimination of Jim Crow. It’s painfully obvious. It’s sick and wrong.

As I read this book, in between moments of deep fatigue and midwife appointments, I find myself again aware of a dissonance in my body. How can I be so completely focused inward and still make any sense at all of this vast and brutal system? How does it sit with me, to be living so small, when there is so much bigness to work on?

It’s kind of too much. I want to watch television and eat chips. I want to dream of an ease of life that doesn’t exist for anyone. I want to think I am bringing up children in a world where we actually do make a difference to the bigness of injustice. I believe that, and it’s hard to hold it next to the smallness of my life right now. All I end up thinking about is the knitting of life in me, the uncertainty of what is to come in the next weeks and months.

I’m 41 and planning on a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). Because of my age, my weight, and the type of suturing I had done (with no knowledge or consent), I am told I have a 35% chance of success. I am working hard to say no to this quick decision, categorization, and looking to work with others who can act hopefully because there is so little certainty about any of this, and hope informs outcome. I work on this knowing that this is what is best for my child-to-be, and best for me. I also work on this because I know fundamentally that what is happening to me is not a medical experience, and no matter how much I am medicalized, my body, this life, the prospect of being a parent again is so much more than what I am being told.

I have some awareness, some sense memory of working with the multiple levels of self, group, system, of mind, spirit, body, in workshops, movement meetings, therapies and relationships-- but never have I felt this so acutely within myself. It’s like all the levels are jumbled up inside of me, and I feel carried along in a stream that I have no control over. And so I kick, I stroke, I wriggle and pull myself along. I take it in, I gulp life like breath, and seek faith to bring me on and further down the way.

I am just one body in the world, wanting to live well and with health. I feel the intensity of my desire to know myself as whole and well, just as I feel the intensity of the life in me growing and wanting to be in the world. I know there is a connection between this highly personal experience and the work of world changing. I feel it, and yet can’t know it, just now. I can only remember that there must be a connection between all of these levels, and hope I can see them more clearly, when I have come ashore.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Being Brave

I'm pregnant again, climbing up week 16 of my third pregnancy, and feeling confident that this one will make it. We've had ultrasounds, appointments, careful diagnosis of this healthy pregnancy, and that's a great relief, if not resolve for all the anxiety and uncertainty that is just the truth with being pregnant, and the added truth of pregnancy after miscarriage.

My son turned four about a month ago, and we told him about the pregnancy after the 13 week ultrasound that confirmed the health and well being of this baby. He was ecstatic and convinced that the baby growing inside of me is a girl. He alternately pretends he is inside of me or is the newborn baby, and talks frequently about wanting to hug and kiss the baby, and perhaps have the baby sleep in his room. He often hugs my belly. I know this will get more complex as the baby is more visible, and finally born in February.

This news has made it possible for Forrest to ask all kinds of questions. First he asks if daddies can have babies. Then, where is the baby inside of you? And what makes someone a mommy or a daddy?

As a bisexual queer cisgendered (mostly) woman who loves and cares about the liberation of my trans and queer friends and chosen family, I have started to imagine what it looks like to answer these questions in a way that includes all of us, that doesn't problematize the reality of biology that does not determine who we are. And I have begun to answer these questions in that direction.

Can daddies have babies?
Most daddies cannot have babies, but some daddies can. Most mommies can have babies, but some mommies cannot.

Where is the baby inside of you? Where does it come out?
The baby is in my uterus. I will give birth to the baby through my vagina. In order to give birth to a baby, you have to have a uterus and vagina. You and daddy don't have a uterus. Some daddies have uteruses. Some mommies do not have uteruses.

What makes a mommy or a daddy?
Being a mommy or a daddy is about loving a child, and choosing to be a parent. Anyone can be a mommy or a daddy, or a nana, or papi, or parent.

I have started to talk to Forrest about the difference between body parts and gender. I have started to be really explicit about the words for body parts and talk about how this is only one part of who we are.

I see Forrest take this in, and he doesn't look upset or confused. He changes the subject rapidly, as with all conversations we have, and circles around to it throughout our days together. Sometimes he declares-- Most men have penises, but not all men. Or he suddenly shares that he wants to wear a skirt like mommy. Or he gets confused about the gender of his classmate, and I suggest he ask his classmate what they identify as.

Am I making things too complex for Forrest? Will this damage him later? I imagine some folks might think so. But when I am with my son in nature, talking about the complexity of plant growth, or when I am trying to explain to him the complex and vast family we have chosen and been given through life and lineage, he doesn't blink. He just keeps on asking questions, and I keep on trying my best to answer. Mostly I just try to tell him that whoever we are is okay, and that we don't need to worry about other folks, or even ourselves, so much. That it's all good and all right. We get to be who we are.

Recently, I was walking in the woods with a family member. I was sharing my desire to make the categories of gender light for my son, and the process of possibility I want to hold for him. I told her that he says he wants to be a ballerina. I told her about his gentle nature, his heart filled desire for beauty and appreciation for it everywhere. I told her he asks to wear skirts sometimes, that I need to get on that and find him some skirts to wear.

She smiled and let me know that all of that would be gone once he started school and was exposed to other kids. Then he would get the message from his peers, and stop talking about those things. And I let her know that what she was describing made me want to homeschool my son.

I've heard a lot of talk about giving young people the education they need-- the resilience to handle harshness and criticism, the ability to function in highly competitive environments and difficult situations. If I hold this beside the desire to help my son explore who he is in a playful and possible way, I see a recapitulation of conformity and a continuation of the marginalization that I experience, that my loved ones experience. I refuse that in my life. I refuse to collude with my own erasure, and the erasure of those I love, in the name of resilience and mainstreaming.

And this includes my son, whoever he is, and whoever he will become. Maybe he will be a ballerina. Or maybe he will be a corporate lawyer (gasp). He did tell me yesterday he did not want to be an author, and he did want to be a big cat rescuer. I suggested he study zoology.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chickens, chickens, chickens, part 2: This is the Way the World Ends

Inspired by a piece I just read by Ben Hewitt, I will now try to share some of the story of our last day with our meat birds-- July 12. Warning: this gets a bit graphic. No, there are no graphic photos.


It's been almost a week since our first attempt at slaughtering our own chickens for meat. From waking at 7 to drive out and pick up the rented plucker to putting them in the freezer at 6 pm, we slaughtered and dressed 14 chickens. We didn't actually get started until around 11 am, and finished around 4, and let the chickens chill until 5:30, when I cut them and put them in our aunt's freezer. We also had a pretty solid lunch hour, so all tolled 5 hours for 14 chickens. Not bad timing for a fist go.

We started slow mostly out of reticence and insecurity. The four of us who signed up for this onerous task convened at 9, and we were still setting up, but the truth is we were slow at it. All of us wanted to do it. No one was forced. Our friend Aaron, the person with 1 or 2 slaughters already done, was our guide. He brought along a young friend Trevor, a rising senior at University of Vermont. And Norman, my partner, and myself made four. I felt like I was falling all over myself that morning, trying to be both hospitable and prepared, mindful and driven, alive to what was happening and still able to do it. I wanted to do it. I wanted to know what it was I was participating in.

It's not often that we get the chance to really know what we are participating in in this society. As a person of education and privilege, I know that there are so many people, beings on whose shoulders and back I stand in order to have the life I do have. I have had significant breakthroughs in this awareness over time, through accident and intention. But it's easy to fall into the stupor of the consumer. It's easy to forget the implications of the things we have.

If this is not ringing a bell to you, what I mean is that the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the accessories we use-- all of these are made somewhere, and often the where is far far away. Because of this distance-- of geography, culture, species-- it's easy to never know, or to never seek knowledge, or to actively ignore information that does not directly impact our lives. Mexican farmworkers treated like slaves while harvesting tomatoes on Florida farms? Feed lots in Colorado leeching nitrogen from cow manure into lakes and rivers? Factory workers killing themselves in China while churning out iPads? Not in my back yard. Not my problem.

So I approached chicken slaughter as a way to know what it is I am participating in when I eat chicken. It also was an attempt to unhinge from some of the industrial agricultural practices that are so very dangerous on so many levels. I think I have had some success on both of these fronts. I now know what it looks like to slaughter and prepare a chicken for eating. I now know what it feels and smells like.

We watched a video or two to refresh our memories on how to do this thing. We carried the first chickens to the cones, upside down, and put them in, let them chill out. We hugged each other before we started, and agreed to thank the chickens as we sliced the veins on either side of their necks. As the chickens struggled through their death throes, I watched and repeated thanks and sadness at their leaving. The blood was less than I thought, and painted the pallet the cones were tacked onto throughout the day. Within five minutes of their death, the chickens looked a lot like what we eat when we buy chicken from the store. Almost.

By far the hardest part of this process for me was the evisceration. For whatever reason, I didn't think that the inside of a chicken would want to stay on the inside. But it did. We spent a long time with those insides. And lucky for me, there were 3 other folks there who had a better handle on this than I.

I started to gravitate to the beginning of the process, moving the chickens to the cones, thanking them, saying goodbye, and bleeding them out. I also felt competent using the plucker, and removing the feet and gland on the hind of the chicken. Then I got stalled. So I went back to the cones, and the plucker, and hoped the rest would get done.

And it did. Though we had a few close calls, all 14 were slaughtered and chilling by 4 pm, and we were able to clean up and harvest some gratitude greens and scapes for Aaron and Trevor. I returned the plucker in time, and came home to chop half of the chickens in half, dry them as well as I could, and carry them in 4 paper shopping bags up the hill, where they sit, quiet, white and pink.

I am writing this easily, as if I am telling a story that did not happen to me, that I did not do. The truth of this is that I killed living beings almost a week ago, and though I haven't the stomach to eat them yet, I imagine I will, over time. I took a knife and I bled something with a brain, with an insides that looks a lot like my insides.

This happened, and it was ugly and smelly and hard.

We have a neighbor who shares the house here, staying in a large studio apartment on the land. She had no interest in participating in the slaughter. In fact, we could find her often chatting up the birds when she got home from work. She is a sweet and compassionate woman. She told us, that day, that there was a calm over the land, that the seriousness of the task at hand felt respectful.

I like to think this is true, that this was how the world ended for these chickens. But the truth is a lot more complex than that, a lot messier, a lot more than I can really grasp, yet. Maybe it's a small thing, what we did last week, but it is changing me. This life is changing me, and I hope to be up for the lessons I am learning.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Work Smarter, Not Harder

At my second farm apprenticeship experience, back in 2007, one of my supervisors was a very smart and generally grumpy and loving man who taught me a lot. Chris McNichols, spouse and co-farmer with Amy Johnson, managed the 6 acre Red Hill Farm in Aston, Pennsylvania, where a 120 family CSA had pick ups twice weekly throughout the long and balmy Pennsylvania growing season.

I worked 40-60 hours a week, with no car and no other employment. Walking, biking, bussing to get where I needed to go, I ended up sleeping in a friend's spare room and getting a ride in early morning with Amy. As sunrise spilled across the hollows, we pulled ourselves up and over hills in the surprisingly rickety canvas topped jeep, and worked morning and afternoon in greenhouses and fields growing all manner of vegetable.

Chris would come in for the afternoon shift, as Amy and he would split childcare with their two children to make their farm dream possible. He would get to sleep in with the kids and roll in around lunch. By afternoon, after I'de passed out on the floor of the farm office for 45 minutes before grabbing round 3 of coffee to motivate for weeding in the sun, Chris was the motivator and teacher I needed to get through the hump of fatigue and heat that was the norm for me.

Chris was never one to look at a problem and rush in. He would think, he would fiddle, and he would come up with the solution that made the most sense, often with the least amount of exertion.
Was this laziness? Indeed not. He taught me the saying he lived by-- Work smarter, not harder. And he lived it. And he impressed me no end with his forward thinking and effective planning.

In this incarnation of my farming life, I've taken on this saying with a vengeance. My partner and I talk. A lot. We talk about multiple solutions. We talk about myriad problems. We talk. And this means things slow down. We're sitting on the need to slaughter our first round of chickens because of all the complexity in getting the systems together. We're slowly working on finishing the high tunnel as we talk about the best ways to move forward with labor and resources. We talk.

Does this make us lazy? Sometimes, I think it does. I cannot tell you how many folks, when I share the vision for life on the land here, echo an interest and desire for the same life, saying, I've thought about that, I'de like to do that, too. My initial response, which I keep to myself, is fear. Fear that there is nowhere for the food to go, the market is saturated, my thoughts and desires are pedestrian and useless.

But then I realize that there is a fundamental difference between thinking a thing and doing it. In a society that so values the thought over the action, that values symbolic work over actual physical work, and that denies the basic reality that you cannot eat money, it's easy to get caught up in the thinking about the doing. Sometimes I feel pressure build in me, of the undone task, the project incomplete. I feel physically uncomfortable with the not-doing. Never mind the overwhelm, which I can handle a bit better than the pressure. And so, when the thing gets done-- the plants planted, the weeding started, the purchasing for the project done-- there is a relief, a release of energy into the world.

Are these actions the best solutions? I honestly can say I don't know. Sometimes the thinking about a thing can deaden it, can make any solution seem incomplete. Time will tell, and perfection in farming is both illusive and truly an inductive process. We try a thing. It works or it doesn't. We talk to other farmers. We talk to ourselves. We try another thing. It works or it doesn't. And on and on.

I got to help with haying for the first time the other week, and it was loads of fun, at the very fine Center Farm less than 5 miles from us-- neighbors, as rural standards go. I was one of a handful of grown-ups, and a number of teens. It felt exciting to be able to keep up even in the slightest with teenagers. At one point I mentioned to one of the farm boys-- maybe 17-- the saying Work smarter, not harder, and he had something to say about it. He said, Sometimes that's true, but sometimes the work is just hard. And you do it. And if you don't do it, it doesn't get done. Farming is hard work.

Smart kid.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chickens, chickens, chickens. Or, the problem with civilization.

I hate our chickens. There, I've written it.

Layers at 2 days
We ordered 40 chickens from the local seed and feed store this spring, and I was excited for this new adventure in farming. I've been growing vegetables for 7 years, and I thought it would be a good challenge to take on this new crop, as it were. 30 we ordered for meat. Yup, meat. And our plan is to slaughter them ourselves. And 10 for laying.

A short in our order, and the loss of 8 chickens due to pasty butt or weasel attack leaves us with 31. 31 chickens we are stuck with, for whatever duration.

Why don't I like these chickens? Could it be their intense creepiness? Or perhaps their highly effective digestive system? I don't hate them equally, it's true. The layers are much more enjoyable, if only because they seem more like actual chickens, and less like the genetic experiment of some farm scientist whose only concern is the rapidity of growth of their output. We bought the one step away from the every popular Cornish Cross chicken, who is touted to be ready for eating in 8 weeks. The Red Rangers we are growing are now 9 weeks, and they are giant reptilian creatures with feet like pterodactyls and as aggressive as all hell. And it is so so clear that we humans have bred them to be twisted parodies of actual chickens, and I only know this because we have other chickens as well. I imagine if we hadn't gotten other chickens, I would not know that chickens could be anything but mean and desperately hungry. All. The. Time.

Laying chicks at 8 weeks
The other chickens, the layers or layers we are raising for meat, are much more chicken-like, in whatever mythic conception I have of Chicken. They peck. They squabble. They leap and almost fly. They grow in a recognizable trajectory. They seem to be having some level of development, getting more or less adventuresome. I see that they flock together. I see that they look for things to interest them. The meat birds mostly eat, shit, and sit. And as the time comes closer to their end, I see that their weight is too much for them, and they aren't strong enough to carry their weight. But they still eat. All. The. Time.

I think what bothers me most about the Red Rangers is how they have been manipulated by us humans. I know farm animals are useful. They are meat. They are eggs. They are manure. But they are beings nonetheless, even with their specific purposes, having been bred. I know acutely that all of these birds have no place at all in the wild eco-system surrounding us. The 7 birds that had their blood sucked and heads taken off by weasels one night was enough to convince me that farming is not, strictly speaking, natural. And the Red Rangers, in their intense appetites, body dysfunction, and aggression, are a clear example of this ending of nature.
Red Rangers at 4 weeks

Michael Pollan, of Food Rules and Omnivores Dilemma fame, has a really good book about what human attempts at wrangling nature are about, called Second Nature. The irony of my listening to it was that I took an heirloom seed workshop with one of the more pretentious gardeners I have interacted with at the same time. I would travel to this gardener's home and see the intensely manicured gardens, with vibrant bursts of diversity and elevation in gardening, and listen to Michael Pollan describe the rapid dissection of his illusions about gardening as being anything about 'getting back to nature.' I'm glad I listened to this book, digested it as I drove and weeded at the student farm I worked at Westtown School. The lesson I took from it is that there is no mythic idyllic natural relationship between humans and nature, and attempting to capture that in a farm is crap. What we need to recognize is the struggle with nature we have. And instead of giving up, we must attempt to harness natural processes appropriately, with reverence, respect, and humility, and know that, in the end, we lose.

I see this all over the place in Vermont. Farmhouse ruins, overgrown hoop house frames, even decaying stone fences in the woods, all point to the winningness of nature. At some of my most cynical times, I've been comforted by the television series Life After People. In it, various scientists speak about what will happen to the infrastructures and eco-systems that are part of civilization, and what would happen to them if humans ceased to exist. It's comforting to know that nature would take things back, and there would continue to be life after our various attentions or inattentions.

Maybe I just think the Red Rangers are human meddling gone too far. Maybe I am having a hard time being confronted with what exactly we humans have done, and what I have benefited from in my consuming habits. I think by raising these birds myself I am responding to this distance from my food. It's important to engage this process, and I'm glad for it. I just wonder if on the other side, I'll be a vegetarian again.