Monday, April 21, 2008

The Digitally Literate Go Back to the Land

Balls of marble-sized hail started to pelt the cars and tables outside the small "strip mall" -- if you could call the antique store, country grocery and coffee shop that -- where we paused to gas up for the final leg of the trip home from Humboldt County. "Now I get to laugh at all my friends who just finished planting their gardens. I told them to wait until May 1st!" a shop keeper chuckled as she rushed passed me to bring chairs inside her antique store. "That's country living for you!" she threw in.

I know plenty about country living myself. Growing up, I had few neighbors -- none of them under the age of 30 -- and miles of country around me to explore. I know about scraping knees on the rough bark of Crabapple trees and poking sticks into strange holes in big fields. I know about ice skating on hidden ponds and walking barefoot in the late spring grass. I know about baby ducks and biting things -- mosquitoes, horse flies, greenheads, spiders, ticks, and noseeums. I know about gardens that change with the seasons. I know the patience of letting the land set the rhythm of one's existence. This was the way I grew up. Why was it so challenging to return to this mindset for one weekend?

I moved from rural Ipswich, Massachusetts to San Diego, California the summer before 7th grade, and traded the time I spent exploring outdoors for time newly spent exploring the Internet (note me doing the robot in my new school uniform on the left). 

Since then, the rhythm of my life has been less about seasons and more about e-mail. When I work, I'm online. When I relax, usually I'm online. Whenever I see myself, it's online. Even when my neck hurts, I can't turn away from this technology. Am I addicted or is this the way it has to be?

When we, the Davies students, arrived (finally) at StoneLake Farm for our "logged off" retreat last weekend, I still couldn't turn away from technology completely. My life has become so interconnected with others through it that after only a six-hour drive with my cell phone tucked into my suitcase in the back of the car, I had to answer to texts and voice messages asking me where are you? or why aren't you answering me? 

Initially, I carried my cell phone around in my coat pocket, turning it over and feeling it occasionally like a hand to hold. It reassured me that I was never far from anyone in my contact list. I also had to beg Francis Lake, one of the two homesteaders running the farm, to use his "Internet Cafe" so that I could conduct important Foghorn business from afar. Making a clean break was difficult for me. 

ideal picnic
I think I finally "logged off" when we sat together on the hillside outside the octagon (where we stayed) eating a lunch I had prepared from scratch. The meal was a rather deconstructed Spanish tortilla with seasonal vegetables and a side salad. We drank white wine, ate the tortilla and salad, and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon because we had no where else to be.

nice mosssteven looking demonicwatch the hands
Once I realized that there was no rush, the anxiety I felt fell away and I sank into the retreat. I thought about the food I was preparing and consequently enjoyed it more when I ate it. I looked at the chickens for extended periods of time and played with the dogs. I gathered and sawed wood and stared into the fire we started (Francis started), appreciating its warmth against the growing chill. I dug big holes in the garden and listened to the stream. I went on walks and admired the moss on the trees, the buttercups peaking out of the grass and, eventually, the falling snow. 

On the last day of our retreat, I was the first one up. I took a glimpse at the white snow falling (and sticking!) out the window above my bed. Some familiar rush made me throw my snow clothes on and head outside to enjoy what, fifteen years ago, surely would have been a snow day. I waited for the first person (Lis) to return from the frost-covered outhouse and then lobbed a big snowball at her from the other side of the octagon. Instead of editing Foghorn submissions that morning, I had nothing else to do but throw snowballs at unwitting victims. It was great!

Our trip to Stonelake Farm was a return to a simpler way of life that I didn't know I needed. It felt wholesome. As we packed the cars to leave, I secretly wished we would get stuck in the snow.

Oh yeah, check out my tick bite.


Andrew said...

Retreats are great and you've done a splendid job of giving the flavour here! I always think the key moment to consider (and maybe write about?) is what it feels like when a retreated-self hits the freeway, the supermarket, the office, the husband/wife/whatever... that intersection is the major crossroads, the place where you can sell your soul (to modernity) if you are not careful...

Lulu McAllister said...

Yes, good point... Unfortunately, it's back to the same ol' weekly push all too quickly! However, to calm myself before my performance last night I did recall the way I felt as I watched the snow fall on the farm. I'd say it worked, so all is not in vain.

Ivan Chew said...

"... I did recall the way I felt as I watched the snow fall on the farm. I'd say it worked, so all is not in vain."

Prof Silver will be pleased to know this!

I remember him telling me about this field trip, weeks before it happened. He said he wanted to let the Davies Forum scholars experience what it was like to slow things down. Looks like that's been achieved.