Missing What I Never Had: My Connection to the Real Food Community
camping farming homesteading nature real food sustainable living
A Summer of Goats
In truth, I did have one, very tentative real food experience (I am hesitant to limit this way of seeing the world to food. It encompasses so much more than eating what you grow, but also raising a family close to the Earth, building your own shelter, living day-to-day with a consciousness of the natural order). Last summer, a couple of close friends lived in a yurt out behind the summer camp where I worked. They kind of took me under their wing as far as the real food/real living thing goes, since I had just started caring about my food. They also let me take care of their goats while they were away for a weekend at one point.
That was a life changing experience for me. I had by then learned about all the importance of drinking raw milk but hadn't gotten my hands on any. For the whole summer, they gave me as much raw milk as I could drink, and then, one weekend, they put me in charge of the goats. Those rascals...ah the good times. Actually, mostly I remember how annoying it was to get halfway through milking Candy only to have her deftly kick some of her poop into the bucket. About nine-tenths through, she managed to step in the bucket, ruining all that milk. This was a regular occurrence. But it kind of alters the way you look at your food when you get it by gently tugging the invitingly warm breast of another animal. It's a very intimate experience. I guess for the goats it was pretty routine, and I got used to it, but I never quite got over the fact that I was handling these goats' breasts and then drinking what came out...and I loved it! I was creating my own sustenance! I made yogurt, the quintessential Arab food. There I was, in the northwoods of Minnesota, milking some random goat, and reconnecting with my Arab heritage.
Of course I wanted more. I wanted to run off into the countryside, claim hundreds of acres of land, build a house with my own two hands from trees growing nearby, set up a garden, have a herd of goats, some chickens, a couple dogs, learn how to forage, grow, raise, and slaughter, how to make my own clothing and tools. The urge to do all this burned like a hot coal of longing in my naive heart. I was reminded not to get caught up in the romanticism, to realize that living so close to the land was hard work, and most of my dad's hippie friends who had tried it eventually gave up, he said. And truthfully, I didn't really know all the details, but I had been pretty frustrated with waking up at 6 on my only days off to milk goats that didn't let me keep their milk, and still wanted to do it, so I figured I would just keep loving the challenges. Camping wasn't all that easy either, and I was addicted to that.
Which is probably where all this nature-lovey stuff came from in the first place: camping. When I go camping, I always felt like I was being absorbed into nature. It's so huge, and I think most people are afraid of that, and therefore don't like camping unless their truck is involved, but the hugeness of it all now makes me feel safe. But even camping isn't the same, because you carry in everything you eat. You are still relying on civilization to survive. Camping is a time of exception, carefully prepared for and rehearsed. It's not enough, I say. I want to live it. I want to walk from my handmade home into the woods seamlessly. I want to be part of the world, to have the natural world be the unified whole of my environment, rather than the separate entity that is 'the wilderness' for our society.
To Settle or to Wander?
Even when camping though, I have always felt like a transient. I don't know if I, personally, can ever feel like I belong to the land I live on. Maybe that longing, coming from some ancient wellspring as it does, is offset by more ancient wanderlust stemming from our nomadic roots. In the same way I can never really internalize my status as a resident of any particular human community, I worry that I will always feel like a visitor to the forest I hope to one day make my home. Or maybe the fact that my home will be built by my own hands, and my food will be grown of my own efforts, will finally make me feel like I do belong, while this whole time, I've been living on borrowed land and food.
I realize that this life is not practical, or even desirable, for most people. Even those who want real food don't necessarily want to be the ones growing it, and that is fine by me. But I have come to feel the Earth is like a lover I've been away from for too long. My heart longs to be reunited with her, and until I am, there will always be an aching I can never quench.
Image Source: Athena's Pix on Flickr