Over the past few months, my heart has broken more actively than ever before—it has also been mended by the countless threads of wonder and beauty that hold our world together. A lot of this was instigated by the lectures and readings I experienced in my first semester as a grad student. I’ve tasted a bit of what it means to know a place, and I’ve read a lot about our slim chances of having a place worth knowing if we continue this way. It became apparent that for me, it’s not possible to wait any longer. I hear about, research, write about and think about a devastating culture that has eaten away at the traditional, ecological, and spiritual strings of our land, but I barely act on this knowledge. The contradiction within me became too much—so I decided to DO something: I’m moving to northern California to conduct some pre-thesis research, or, more precisely, to live. To connect with a place, to know the people and animals and plants and weather and history of a place, the place where I was born. I’m moving back to the banks of the Eel River. I spent my first quarter of my life along the south fork of the Eel River in northern California, 12 miles as the crow or the osprey or the heron flies from the Pacfic Ocean, among huckleberry bushes and madrone trees. Perhaps you can’t ever step into the same river twice, but in a way I’m going to try.
I think one of the most painful undercurrents of modern society is the knowledge that we’re living in a way that harms our ecosystem, in a way that will make it difficult for future generations to live, in a way that currently causes 35-150 species to disappear every day. (http://forests.org/archive/general/coolfact.htm)
Here’s a look at my own behavior: According to the Earth Day eco foot print calculator, if everyone in the world lived as I do, we would need 3.3 planets- I require 14 acres just to support my living habits. My biggest requirement is food, at 5.5 acres – I’ve read elsewhere that if you grow your own food, a quarter acre could provide most of your needs, which is much better than 5.5 acres- and much more fun than all those trips to the grocery store. But the acreage alone isn’t everything- most commercial mono-crops are dowsed in chemicals, harvested by machine, and increasingly genetically altered, I know I can do better than this. So I decided to plant a garden and immerse myself in what it means to be a ‘locavore’. Following the local eating trail laid down by Nabhan, Kingsolver, Smith, Mackinnon and the vast majority of the preindustrial population, I will reintroduce myself to the food cycle, and learn what it means to feed myself.
“Distance is the enemy of awareness”- Plenty
In creating this garden, I hope to weave the threads of tradition back into the process. The first few months in my new home will be dedicated to relearning the native plants and animals, to exploring the garden that already exists. I want to grow traditional plants from the Yuki, Cato and other regional indigenous peoples, but I also want to incorporate plants from my mixed heritage- Welsh, Moravian/Check, German, Cherokee, and some other unknown English influence. I found a tomato named after the river that my mother grew up along in Iowa, where my grandparents still live. Aside from these focuses, my goal is to grow a garden that can support a family of four and supplement any neighbor’s food supply as desired. Since this is a response to devastating land management techniques and invasive practices, I will research traditional ways of growing, speak with local gardeners and carefully plan before beginning. All the digging will be done by hand, no synthetic fertilizers will be used- just compost, and heirloom seeds with a preference toward rare or endangered varieties will be chosen.
“Gardening is the principal way in which we come to understand that we belong on this earth and are part of it.” –Katherine Grace Endicott, Northern California Gardening
I’ll be living next to a creek called Chicken Coop Creek, which connects to the South Fork of the Eel River a few hundred yards away after flowing beneath a roadway . The road that it crosses connects the Pacific Ocean to highway 101 by way of a mill a few miles west of my new home. The mill, although situated among a redwood forest, processes Canadian trees that come to shore in Eureka, California, about 100 miles to the north. The huge trees are carried by truck past my house twice (at least) in their life. Once in semi-sized lengths, and once as lumber, boards, and chips. About five miles west, the deep redwood forest begins, and perhaps twenty miles farther, the Pacific Ocean, misty and grey, massages the igneous shore. To the east, it becomes a bit drier, but many of the plants stay the same.