Notes from Windward: #71




June 15th:

     I am one of those people that has planned much of my life. It wasn't until the purchase of my first car a few years ago that I understood how much serendipity can play in the Way Things Work Out. I would venture a guess that part of the reason I thought that I could plan exactly how my life turned out was because I grew up in a world that was wholesome but not well grounded, I experienced the seasons, but not the cycles, the ground and sky but not the interplay of soil and sun. I had little opportunity to internalize the entirety of all that is out of my control and realize that in this life it is far more frequent that I have to adapt to the world I live in than that world has to adapt to me.

flax germinating in May
     In this life of trying to live rightly with the land, it appears we have choices. It is our choice to grow potatoes, or raise sheep or harvest trees at a certain size. It appears that choosing to live a life close to the land affords us far more personal agency, far more capacity to make decisions and impose those decisions on the world around us, than say a life in suburbia.

     But, I am finding that this process of choice is not as specific or widespread as it seems. For the choice involved is really just the choice to live within the bounds of our ecosystem (if even this can be considered a choice) and all that follows is just learning what this means‒in detail. There is not necessarily one way to live rightly with this forest of oaks and pines on this high plateau.

     Since Life is supported not by a singular point but by optimal ranges, we do fortunately have some room for choice, its just not much and its locally defined. Particularly on marginal land, which by definition can only support a narrow range of life, we have little wiggle room within which to choose a path that can be sustained. While I surprise myself by hinting that there is a Plan by which we are to live, I think this is a useful framework, particularly as it relates to our material life‒the exchange of energy and nutrients from one form into another. And so our task is to figure out what is essential to this Plan, what is best practice and what truly is optional.

last year's flax crop just before harvest
      This train of thought has been triggered by watching the flax grow. As the seeds germinate and grow vigorously with very little water and human attention I experience yet another wave of the understanding that farmers do not necessarily choose what they grow, the land does. Its not as magical as it may sound to say that the land speaks to those that listen, its just that the language is form, function and pattern, and the listening happens with the eyes.

     Flax is an annual native to the Mediterranean, the seed can be consumed by humans or animals or used to make oils and the stalk is commonly used to make fibers. Like many Mediterranean plants, flax is relatively cold and drought tolerant. All these characteristics make it, in theory, an attractive plant for us to grow, however what makes it even more attractive is that it actually grows well here. Last year I sewed a small experimental plot of golden flax seed, it produced well and we harvested and saved the seed.

     In the beginning of May, I sewed the saved seed, doubling the size of this year's flax seed bed. So far the plants have been growing extremely well and since the seeds can be sewn quite densely and early in the season flax outcompetes the weeds. I am hopeful that this year's harvest will be as successful as last years. If indeed it is, we might be able to look to expanding even more, beyond an experimental plot into a site that could potentially provide a notable yield.

this year's flax already a few inches high
     One of the challenges we face in producing food for ourselves is providing sufficient sources of fat and protein for the table and hence for the animals (primarily chickens) that help feed us. Flax seed is high in omega 3 fatty acids, and contains about 20% protein, so in addition to being directly consumed by humans, the flax seed grown on a larger scale could be an important contribution to animal feed. And in the quest to be able to produce materials for clothing and cloth, linen is a grown-in-a-temperate climate compliment to wool.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71