Friday, January 18, 2008

If I Knew Now What I Know Now

I’ve seen that one of my very best life skills is the ability to ask questions. Lots of questions. Even uncomfortable questions. And the ability to see options, possibilities, a lot more options and possibilities than the average joy seems to be able to see. But that ability starts with the questioning.

I didn’t always do this. I probably always had questions to ask, but discerning the most relevant questions is a trick. And being willing to hear and sift through whatever answers you get is difficult too. I think when I was a lot younger, I didn’t ask questions because I didn’t trust the adults around me because they all had agendas for me and I knew what they’d answer, or how they’d disapprove of my questions even. So there were opportunities I didn’t see and questions I didn’t ask, from big to small. One that I remember was that I had access to a ton of real experts when I bought my dressage saddle and I didn’t ask them -- and I didn’t buy the best possibility because of that. That’s a small thing. There were possibilities that I didn’t see because of the default thinking like ‘of course you have to go to college’. Stuff like that.

I first started thinking about asking questions, and the quality of those questions, when I was twenty. It was in this moment of suspension in the midst of the rent in my life when I went fishing with a college English professor who felt sorry for me (and my parents no doubt). I’d never ever fished. We were just at a water hazard on the golf course in the Valley and the lesson started with basics such as ‘this is a hook.’ I got my hook caught on branches and stuff a few times and then, suddenly, Ron had a fish on his line. He reeled it in, showed me how to get the hook out, and released the fish, and I said, “How did you do that?” “What?” he asked. “What exactly did you do to catch that fish?” I asked.

And he said, “Wow. That’s a good question. Most people don’t ever think to ask that.” Well, more’s the pity, but it seems he was right about how few good and relevant questions people are willing to ask but it is something that I never forgot: when someone is doing something you want to do, ask them how they did it. And don’t let them off the hook. Likewise, when someone’s life is bearing fruit you don’t want, don’t do what they are doing. Despite what people might say about preferring to focus on the things they want to do, it is just as important to be aware of what you do NOT want to do.

So, what are some of the important questions I’ve managed to ask? Well, perhaps most important is, “What do I really want to do?” It is important to ask that one in this moment but also long term. And frankly, it is often a difficult question to answer. And it is often as not answered by what you don’t want to do. Especially long term, pay attention to what you don’t want. “Who do I really want to be?” is perhaps the most spiritual question there is, way more than who is God or why am I here and other questions that there aren’t any real answers to. Or it could be phrased, “How do I want to be?” “What is really important?” is another, and a place where I think people screw up most often when they say one thing is important but what they do is another thing. What is really important to them is what they actually do no matter what they say. The law according to CG.

It is also important to pay attention to who you are asking. Like I wouldn’t really ask Al Gore how to lessen my carbon footprint because it isn’t anything he is personally the least bit familiar with. I only know one other person (except my grandparents who are all dead) who has actually hand-milked a cow and that was the person I bought my cow from. What people know “from the boys on the internet” is far less reliable than what I know from my grandparents’ example. I pay far more attention to what I know from my experience than to what other people think they might know from their thought experiments.

Another really important question is, “What is happening, really?” Again, discernment is important but if you don’t know what is happening around you, how can you prepare for it?

“What are the options I haven’t thought of yet?” I guarantee you that if you don’t have a solution to a problem that works yet, you haven’t yet thought of enough possibilities. There are always more. Always.

There are more important, relevant, incisive questions too. But it is time for supper which is itself an important question (as in "What are we having for . . . ?") which tonight was answered by baked acorn squash stuffed with onions and butter and topped with cheese, canned McCaslin green beans, and pickled beets. With a pone of corn bread of course. And a big glass of milk. Off the place.

It has been cold. It snowed again. Life is largely cutting wood, feeding the fire, milking, making bread, keeping warm, dealing with mud, feeding animals. But there is a greenhouse taking shape in the garden. And plans for plowing when it dries off a bit. And new thoughts on fencing and barns and the like. Sure, it is mud season but also movie season when we rent cheap videos which also makes it popcorn season. It is seed catalog season and remembering what you learned last year season. It is, no matter how cold it is, knowing that the sun is coming back season, and appreciating long sleepy nights season. It is the season to remember, and the season to dream.


Ren said...

~~but discerning the most relevant questions is a trick. ~~

I think that's a really good point. It's especially hard when you're trying to learn something new, because you don't know enough to know what questions to ask!

I think you really have to start something, just dive in and then you start figuring out what questions to ask. So the "doing" part is huge.

We don't have the soil turned yet, but in the planning and ordering and seed collecting I am finding my questions. Last night it was all about space and which plants should be near each other and where different beds would go. Lots of questions.

I wrote my Grandma (the grandparents that spent their entire lives farming and are still on their hilltop in OR in the house they built themselves in the 40's) this week and told her of my plans and some of the varieties I was choosing because I remembered her telling me it was a good variety (Gravenstein apples for example).
She is more than happy to answer my questions. Good person to ask questions of. I miss her farm.

CG said...

But people often take information that they get somewhere as gospel without being critical of it. Like the people who decided their cow needed to stay with the other cows on the farm, which is far away from where they live, which makes them milk just once a day. Sure, they've read that. But milking once a day is done by people who's cows are very fresh and who plan to dry their cows up inside of a year, AND every old timer I knew had one cow. *I* have one cow, and she's fine. So people don't open their eyes critically to information, weigh it all, put the weight on who has been successful.

Like the clown who put up a paid website to give farming advice who herself had failed as a farmer. Really, seriously, I saw that. And people drank it up. Because they want people to tell them what they want to hear instead of the truth.

Now, to our cow people's credit, they know more than gawd about raising fruit. And we have only been marginally successful at fruit. But the thing is, they spend a LOT of time at it, doing everything perfectly. I have found that we don't model successfully after perfectionists because we are just not.

So the questions go on.

eyemkmootoo said...
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CG said...

Well, depends on who you ask. You can find references for all herd animals needing to be in herds. On our farm that would include our goats, our equines, our bovine. Yet at some time, we've had all those animals in "singles" and they've been fine.

At the barn I work at, they won't even leave a horse by itself in a pasture while you take another horse into the barn (so that you are leading two horses so as not to leave a single horse in a pasture for even those few minutes), yet I had my pony by herself from the time I was three until I was about 15 and got another horse. Except for times she went to the Vandiver's field while ours grew, or the times when Mr. Whitesides put his mules on the hillside above her field. And she was fine.

I find the bovines the least herd bound. When we had a single goat, she rather herded with us. I mean, dogs do the same thing -- they are really social and just make you their social group. The horse, when we first got him, herded with the single goat we had then . . . and he was so big he scared her to death but still to this day he will let her eat out of his bucket and she does like that.

My cow, I'm pretty sure that I'm her herd and that she's fine with that. In our mixed field, all the animals are aware of each other and generally move together, but only most generally and with many exceptions.

CG said...

I also wanted to second Ren's opinion that there is no substitute for doing. Except that it is important to still ask the questions even (or perhaps especially) then.

Ren said...

And people who don't critically analyze information drive me insane. Its interesting to throw information at them in the break room at work though....and see that deer-in-the-headlights effect.;)

On that note, I kept questioning that Jeavon's book I bought...not because I don't think his advice is sound. It seems SO damn technical and I am learning towards the square foot style (without all those raised beds because of the cost) but tweaked towards what works for my brain.

CG said...

Well, square foot is a good mental paradigm, but Jeavon's is good technical info.

Although the thing that made me entirely scratch my head -- the "costs" of raised beds? Maybe the way Bartholomew does it. *IF* you garden in the same place, AND you garden in beds that don't change, they will enrich. It can't all be done the first year. Well, not without costs I guess. Only the stupid would do that. One thing that we have done, and we have beds of greatly varying sizes, is to make small intermingled plantings. It breaks things up so it is harder for pests to get them all, and it makes it so that you can say, hey, I'll weed and de-bug the kale and you can get through at least one whole patch and not feel overwhelmed which is what happens to people in gardens when the weeds and bugs start.

Visit Mize for some great seeds.

Sudiegirl said...

This is a great post...I'm going to send it to a friend that's going through tough times.

Ren said...

Yeah, the raised beds he recommends are all wood (which does add up if you do a lot of them these days) or those pre-fabbed plastic things. I have one of the plastics a friend gave me, but I'd NEVER spend $40 each to make a whole garden. Yikes.

I'm using the square foot ideas in beds that are in the ground, enriched and tilled the way he recommends except I'll probably use some of the Jeavon's advice there too. Maybe not double dig everything, but at least loosen the soil much deeper than Bartholomew says to do it (he now recommends NOT loosening or digging the soil beneath the bed at all).

I've been meaning to visit Mize. We have quite a bit of seed already, but I've got a list of stuff to round it out. I may be in over my head.....oh well.:)

Ren said...

Oh, and the question for today is about how far apart you need to plant corn to keep it from cross-pollinating. Off to google...

CG said...

On the corn, depends. And only really matters is you are planning on saving seed. Which you can't if you are planting pretty much any variety of sweet corn. So, more info is needed. But we plant different varieties of OP corn closer than recommended and save seed. Because the corns we plant are different colored, cross pollination is easy to spot and occurs mostly on the edges. Plant corn as much as possible in squares. Have different patches coming to sexual maturity at different times (although it will thwart you on this and all come to tassel at the same time ANYWAY), plant a screen in between patches (tall sunflowers are my favorite), etc.

On "tilling" (or digging or whatever), you can go a no till route (or "lasagna gardening"). We find judicial digging to be a benefit, but we also mulch DEEPLY. We mostly let crops loosen any tight soil (like potatoes breaking new ground). You'll see a lot and find the husband can answer a lot of questions when you come up.

Ren said...

Cool! I found the corn info. fairly inconclusive online, but pretty much what you said. I should just ask here.;)

I mostly want to plant an eating corn and a popping corn, so I don't suppose its that big of a deal. One article said at least 400 yards apart, which is NOT going to happen on 3/4 of an acre! Ah well.

Ok, one more question and then I'll wait until a visit. Would you go with Iochief or Golden Queen? I'm leaning towards the Golden Queen but have seeds for both. Haven't purchased the popping corn yet but thought that would be a cool thing for the kids and it saves well.

My thoughts on spacing were to grow it in 4 foot strips using the square foot formula (one plant per sf) and then I can reach in from either side with no need for rows or paths for walking.