Monday, July 27, 2015

Worms, gardening, and curation

My mind is wandering, and there are so many interesting and curious things to notice as the #CLMOOC meanders into a a 5th Make Cycle, Stories and Spaces. This is sort of that, in its way, more on my lifelong love affair with worms. Their undergroundedness, in particular, makes them essentially unphotographable in their native habitat without elaborate preparation and equipment. But I could sort of snap a fake photo of them at work by lifting off the burlap coffee sacks which cover their workspace in my backyard bricoleur's worm farm:

This is the frontline team, in the bin which regularly gets new buckets of kitchen scraps to go to work on, every week or two get their whole space disrupted by a "turning," mixing up the bottom layers where those workers who think they might be getting done here start trying to see if they can get out through one of the drain holes, and the few brave pioneers who've been working on all the fresh stuff at the top and maybe are feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and are hoping to have some fresh recruits to their ranks [odd how military language is creeping in here]. So once everything's been mixed up again, and the burlap sacks put back in place, I thought it would help the groupness of this #PhotoFriday essay I planned to write in response to Kim's call if I also singled out a random individual from the group:

This little guy is the Chosen One, but what's it to her? All she ever wants is to get back underground, away from this useless [to her] light which only means the danger of drying out, so she wriggles along, fishing in the interstices of the burlap for a way to make an exit. She finally found one, and I actually made a little movie of her escape.

Our Blatantly Obviously Sexually Mature Chosen Specimen of the Worm Group Makes Her Daring Escape!

I just love worms. There was a short-lived radical magazine during my youth called "Root and Branch." Thinking about roots and the underground, unseen parts of plants mattered to me then because of the feeling that persisted for me throughout my childhood, from my earliest memories up to entering a more public world in junior high and high school, and only began to fade--or rather, transform--in the early 1960's, of being part of a very small group of radical outcasts, the failed communists who did not succeed anywhere--we lost Spain, we lost to the witch-hunters, even the bastardized versions of communism as a system of government were utter failures with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuba was the one spot where perhaps there might be a glimmer of hope for some success... So, in my interior emotional landscape, we were probably better off hidden underground, not likely to be able to pull off realizing any of our dreams anyway, even if we could crawl up into the light. 

Then came the explosion of the Sixties, and that reticence flipped to its arrogant opposite--we were the future, the Vanguard of the Revolution, the visionaries able to deconstruct the entire public sphere and remake it into an egalitarian, loving community of Free People. Of course, not everyone was ready, but those who were would form the vanguard, go back to the land, learn to nurture and heal the earth, and thereby save her, us, and everyone in one swell foop! And that meant gardening, not really farming in the conventional large-scale sense of tens and hundreds of acres, but not backyard scale either: we had three full acres of relatively flat fertile land, three year-round creeks meeting on the property, a herd of up to 30 goats, and various chickens and other animals, including a pig for slaughter and a cow who was inadvertently slaughtered out of our ignorance of proper husbandry. There was not the currency, caché, nor confusion about the word "organic" then--it just made sense, sort of, though Rodale's earnestness seemed somehow discomfiting, and we were more drawn to the European tradition of biodynamic farming, a more honest and resonant term in any case. It was the British as colonists in India wanting to create self-sustaining farms not needing external inputs who developed the concept of mixed animal husbandry for manure, and crop rotation and cover cropping for soil building, which we implemented as best we could. I wrote about some of the work we did there building terraces in "Markings on her face."  Among the many jobs I did there was to become a keeper of worms, and among the worms in my garden now are some distant descendants of some of those worms, quite possibly, as I've brought some of them along from each garden I've tended to the next, over these almost 50 years.

Among the most important of the gardening lessons I've carried over into many other areas of my life, and now to curation, is the balancing of positive and negative orientations and behaviors as one cultivates. While cultivars deserve as much room as they need to grow as big as the cultivator might want them to, there's nothing competitive or aggressive about the volunteers which happen to be growing near the cultivars--they are not enemies, that word "weed" is a piece of vile profanity, not be uttered in humane and compassionate gardening/curating circles. They have availed themselves of the opportunity to grow where there was room, and if you, gardener, want to give that room over to one of your chosen pretties, well, go right ahead, but spare me, the volunteer, your moralizing, just say thanks for creating the pathways for worms and roots to follow later, and leave a few corners and nooks around the edges of your garden for some of my sisters and brothers to survive. The cultivator's attention should be on the positive energy she is directing towards the chosen plant, not on the removal of the surrounding volunteers. Their removal allows access to the ground, the surround, where the real cultivating takes place, where soil is rustled and nestled and fed with worms and compost, so that she can hold the water and the nutrients the cultivar needs. The magic happens underground, where our fingers wriggle around.

It is nice to see what emerges above ground, too.

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