I’d Better Make it Meaningful

By Cam Mather

I spent the morning weeding. On my knees in the brutal heat, with a lot of deer flies buzzing around, pulling weeds from around my corn. It’s highbrow stuff. The kind of thing that could score me a Nobel Prize, or a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

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As I pulled those weeds, this commentary ran through my head. “What am I doing with my life? What is this? Pulling weeds … is this what it all comes down to? Have I reached my potential? Pulling weeds. Growing corn. Sure it’s organic. It’s sustainable. And the people in my CSA are going to appreciate it, but is this what the universe had in its master plan for me?”

It’s like I’m suddenly in that Talking Heads song ‘Once in a Lifetime’ with the lyrics “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile, and you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. and you may ask yourself.. well…how did I get here?” (See it on YouTube; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1wg1DNHbNU)

I loved this song in the 80’s, but I never ‘got it.’ Now I finally do.

Because here I am. Pulling weeds. Running a CSA. Living in the woods. Off the grid. Making a bizarrely small amount of money. How did I get here?

I did the whole ‘some’ post-secondary education, worked in a computer business, ran my own electronic publishing business, run a publishing business, do websites… but here is what I spend most of my time doing. How did this happen?

I think I get it. It was an evolution. I started out like everyone else trying to make money. But living in suburbia was doing me in. So we moved off-grid. I still wanted money, but it became less important. Then I hit 50. Then we dealt with a major health issue. Then a friend from public school died. Holy crap! How could he die? I still picture him in my mind as a 12-year-old. So apparently time does march on. Apparently even though I could never conceive of getting old … I am.

I find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. I read a book by Andrew Nikiforuk called “Empire of the Beetle.” I love his books. He wrote an exceptional book about Wiebo Ludwig about the effects of sour gas/natural gas drilling on the people that live where it goes on. He wrote a great book on the tar sands, and let’s be very clear, regardless of what Canadian politicians want to call it, it is tar. Bitumen is what they use to pave roads. Also know as tar.

“Empire of the Beetle” is about the devastating effects of the pine beetle and how human folly has exacerbated its effects. Fire suppression and a warming climate are allowing it run roughshod over North America’s forests.

He writes about people who built dream homes in pine forests and who now live in a field. Can you imagine? Watching the towering pines that surround your house die? It sounds devastating. And he finds an artist trying to makes some sense of it, to help people deal with the grief of the loss of their forests. And he quotes the artist Peter von Tiesenhausen trying to deal with this loss and how it has motivated him. He says “What am I going to do with the time I have left? I’d better make it meaningful.”

I keep coming back to all of this as I pull weeds. Do I want to go back to the corporate world? I worked for years for a company that made industrial strainers. Some of them ended up in water treatment plants. That’s a good thing. But my inclination is that more of them ended up in oil refineries and pipelines. And that was always an ethical dilemma for me. Money versus what I thought about the impact of humans on the planet.

Running a CSA removes that dilemma. If I have to boil down all my beliefs about the state of the planet, and the state of the climate and my impact on it, growing food just seems to be the ultimate way for me to tread the lightest. Jumping on planes and going to environmental conferences and blabbering on using oxymorons like ‘sustainable development’ is just a huge hypocrisy.

But people have to eat. And the more local the food the better. And the more sustainably grown, the better.  And of all the things I could do, ultimately the universe has said, “It’s all about the food.”

Growing food is hard, hot work. And while I’m busy growing food I spend a lot of time asking myself ‘Why am I not sitting at my computer doing a catalog for a strainer company? Why am I watching my brassicas getting eaten and spending everyday feeling as if I’m never ever caught up to what has to be done in this garden? Why not just get back in that money economy. Why not let someone else do this for me? Why not just be like everybody else?”

I finally accept that for me, that’s not meaningful.

Buddhist monks spend their lives trying to find meaning through meditation. And some people walk the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain trying to find meaning. And some people go to the mall each weekend and search for meaning in stuff they bring home in a bag. Stuff taken from the earth.

In the time I have left, I am going to grow food. It is meaningful. It’s hard and hot and frustrating but there is nothing that can come close to the gratification of being able to fill boxes with the fruits of my labor to share with my CSA members.

If you are reading this as you work at some job that doesn’t seem to be providing you with meaning in your life, it is important for you to avoid thinking that growing food is some sort of ideal. It is tough work. You can’t always control the results. You can’t take a holiday at the time of year when most people are relaxing at their cottage. And if you live in North America and are bombarded by the constant noise of the media reminding you of the importance of saving for your retirement, you will spend a great deal of time freaking out about the fact that you haven’t. That you choose to take one day at a time, and to live the way most humans who ever lived on this planet always have… actually working up until the time you die. And being productive in those final years.

Once you remove yourself from that money economy, you basically say “This will be my life.” There will be no retirement. And that’s OK. No days reading on the dock at the cottage. No mall walking. No trying to find some activity to give those final years meaning. I got off the bandwagon early.

“What am I going to do with the time I have left? I better make it meaningful.”

I will grow food. It is meaningful.

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17 Responses to “I’d Better Make it Meaningful”

  • This just brought a tear to my eye…

    Thank you.

  • Gil Harris:

    We need a bumper sticker that says “I’d Rather Be Weeding”. We recently included a post on our blog about our homesteading called “The Zen of Weeding” (on TheExistentialGardener.blogspot.com). The heat here in Maine has let up a little and getting my hands in the dirt is what I’d rather be doing than most anything else.

  • Michelle Mather:

    Just discovered your blog via my sister who sent it to me because we share the same name. So HI from Michelle Mather in sub-tropical Queensland, Australia.
    I live in the suburbs on a qtr acre block and our house is run on solar power and solar hot water. We have water tanks also. I try to grow food and am sometimes successful, it is a work in progress! Our growing seasons are the opposite of yours with Winter being the best time of year. Summers are far too humid and wet for much to grow properly.
    Absolutley love where you live and what you are doing.(We are visiting Alberta, Canada next year)
    So glad I found your blog, I will follow your journey avidly.
    Cheers from a new fan,
    Michelle

  • william:

    My morning in the heat of Muskoka was spend like yours weeding my onions and garlic,love to get dirt under my nails.Had a wonderful dip in the lake after to cool off.
    If you companion plant pumpkin’s among the corn it will keep the weeds down,always best to work with mother than against her.Then you get the added fun of carving a mean looking jack-o-lantern in the cooler weather,lol.
    Keep up the good work and faith.Billy

  • Foothill Farm:

    We’re about the same age, and have the same occupation. I have found meaning in saving seeds, planting a new variety, harvesting corn, packing my CSA bags. I have found meaning in farming, if meaning is a “oneness” this is as close as I get. Gophers, bugs, brassicas, dirty potatoes, a humming bird showering with me, the tiredness that seeps into my bones at the end of the day, yep it all has meaning. Be happy. Thanks for the words.

  • Shreesh:

    I’m starting off developing my farm … I’m like DECADES behind you. And I get these moments quite often. In a way comforting to read the article … misery loves company 🙂 And in a way unsettling that you .. light years ahead of me .. are also battling this.

    Its funny … the same thing gives so much meaning and purpose to my life … and yet it gives me such moments too.

    Thanks for sharing, it helped me.

  • Glee Bohanon:

    I look forward to your posts. It’s like you have telepathy or something. Often you mirror what’s going on upstairs in the cluttered attic I call my mind. This heat seems unrelenting. I read about other people trying to find some meaningful explanation for it – some reason for it. To me, it just “is”. It means that instead of spending my afternoon in the garden, I now go out there in the cool of the morning. Thanks for being there, Cal and Michelle.

  • Too funny…. we had a similar discussion with a friend who was showing us around her garden. She pointed out each of the weeds and identified them to us and proclaimed “I don’t mind the weeds.” Cam and I talked afterwards about her lovely, laid back attitude. To us, weeds (especially if you don’t plan on eating them!) compete with the plants for water and nutrients. With the drought we are having, we don’t want our plants to have to compete!
    Also, I have to admit that the photos are from a couple of weeks ago. It was just too darn hot to go out and take photos today. The plants are all a little bit bigger now and so are the weeds!

  • Cathy:

    Weeds don’t have a chance in your pictures..too picture perfect. Everytime you chop at weeds, you break up the ground and it dries out faster. You need a 12 step program for perfections who obsess over what is meaningful and what is not. Make some ice tea and chill… 🙂

  • Cat:

    When I get back to Alaska, I will spend time in Ninilchik. My favorite clam digging spot in the USA.

    “I spent the morning weeding. On my knees in the brutal heat, with a lot of deer flies buzzing around, pulling weeds”…..Weeds are only weeds if you don’t eat them…look into wild edibles. They are not just for livestock.

  • Ha ha … that’s definitely an optical illusion! What you can’t see behind the post is a “crib” made of logs and rocks that Cam built for that reservoir….

  • Kirk:

    All I want to know is how you balanced a 250 gallon reservoir on top of a post? (First picture)

  • Faith, I would. Can you provide a link?

    Cam, I hear ya. I’m sitting here reading your post because it’s hot out there and I’m tired of looking at locusts eating my beans. But we gotta keep going, because soon the only food anybody will be able to get is what we peons manage to grow ourselves.

    I think of it as getting back to the Garden of Eden, because tending the garden (and reproducing) was our first command and would have been our only command if Adam and Eve had kept their hands off that darned tree!

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Thanks Cam, that was a profound meditation and it stimulated me to think deeply about my situation. Best wishes.

  • Faith:

    I grew up on a farm in Bristol Bay in what is now Dillingham, Alaska. We had nothing electric and did 3 5-acre fields by shovel until the late 50’s. My Dad was from Idaho and, of course, knew well what to do with spuds. I eventually went to higher ed and decided it was not what it was cut out to be, either. It did not teach what people REALLY need to know. I eventually was married, raised my choldren with as much of the old way as I could. Fortune blessed me with a medicine woman for a mother. I now have children, grand children, and a great grandchild and am comforted that they all can simply walk away into the arms of mother nature and survive well.

    In addition to what I knew from common use, I also went and got a “Master Gardener” title from the UAF and put greenhouses and tillers into villages every chance I got as director of Community and Economic Development for the SW regions in Alaska where my husband(deceased) was their state senator. I never stopped researching for more for my people and now have a way to grow food year-round for next to nothing with modern recycled components. No, not greenhouses. If you are ever interested, let me know.
    Faith Braswell
    Ninilchik, Alaska

  • Bruce:

    Cam,
    there is NOTHING on this Planet more meaning full than what you are doing
    we don’t need all the Corporate BS or the Mall full of Mall Rats

    Grow Food and grow Graceful….

    I envy you…

  • Jaeson:

    For some reason I am reminded of a quote I read recently in Victor Frankles book Mankinds search for meaning.

    There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings. Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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