The Depths of Fall: Planting Garlic, Meeting Old Students & Slow Blogging

Time moves inexorably towards November. An enormous flock of robins clusters in the near copse, resting and feeding; the yearling deer have separated from their mothers and are hanging about together as hunting season approaches. The turkeys gorge on wild apples. What leaves remain, deep gold or rust, rustle noisily, catch and hold the clear afternoon light.

We humans careen about inside the steady tick of days and seasons as though they don’t exist. The very real threat hanging over the UBC farm–condos as invasive species–(go read Keira’s post!) shows how hard it is to hear sense, to make sense. We’re at the brink of madness. Especially this fall. Panic fills the air. Trouble. War.

And yet there’s also hope. Next week we’ll all know whether the U.S. can transcend the deep and closet racism; the fear of difference; the insular, selfish, wasteful individualism and greed that characterize so much of who we are and how we behave. We’ll see if we can be better than ourselves.

As I plant garlic today, clove after clove in the cooling soil of my raised beds, I ponder what the winter will bring. I think about where the world will be when the green tips push up in the wet, even snowy late spring. Will my daughter, recent college graduate, still have her job? Will my neighbors have suffered through a long, lean winter, scrimping on food in order to heat their homes? Will we hear specifics, glad tidings, like good news from UBC that the farm has been saved? Will I find funding for the Centers for Community Digital Exploration and start helping communities explore social and creative digital media practices as a means of coming together, sharing, collaborating, solving problems? Will conserving become as natural as expending? Will more bikes fill our roads? Will schools be moving away from NCLB and towards modeling deep creativity, connectivity, collaboration? Will we start acting as connected and inter-dependent with the rest of the world? That troops are being brought home while clinics and community centers for learning are being built? Will the crashing economy shake us from our consumerism?
Will spring bring the first shades of new growth?barn details

I’m thinking about the future today not only because I am all a-jitter about the election next week but because something is going on with my former students. Malaise. Over the past week my mailbox, my email box, Facebook, phone have been awash in contacts from my old students. They’re nervous, uneasy, confused. The ones still in school are restless, missing the wild cycles of disruption and repair we experienced together in class. Why aren’t their courses electrifying, they ask. Why isn’t there the sense of community they now crave? Creativity? Risk-taking in the classroom? What do traditional disciplines taught in traditional ways have to do with the world exploding around them? The ones outside of school are reporting back with examples of digital creativity, and with questions about how to find or create spaces for creativity, for connection, for collaboration that will help change the world.

I’ve been telling (retelling) them my favorite James Martin story, the one in which his daughter poses one of the great what-if questions: If you could live at any time in any place during human history, when and where would that be? And he shocks her by saying, “Right here, right now, because we stand at the door of the most crucial time in human history. Your generation has 50 years to solve the problems my generation and the one before it have created. Fifty years to save the earth or there will be no earth to save. You can either move humanity forward, to become better than it has ever been, or that’s it.” I say to them, “If he’s right; if that’s true that we have fifty years to reverse the environmental degradation and related political and social turmoil we have caused, what role are you preparing to play? How are you using these four college years to equip you to participate actively?” I also like to remind them of the Richard Miller quotation about how we have mastered the art of teaching about how worlds come to an end, but we do little to help our students bring better worlds into being. How to connect, how to collaborate, how to be intensely creative, how to take risks, how to fail. How to be inclusive, to get off the hill and into town. Meaningfully.

the woods dance before winter

I’m also thinking about the future because there’s new interest in slow blogging, thanks to a recent post by Chris Lott, a wonderful post in which he explains slow blogging better than I ever have:
“Slow blogging is mindful wandering is meditative reflection is an attempt to face the fear, to take a stab at the heart, take responsibility and risk, and in the process create a gift of immense value to others, a manifestation of our particular truth.”

This blog has never attracted a great deal of traffic or attention. Indeed, the Small Town Mama (and Papas) for Obama Blog I started just a few months ago routinely pulls in many more readers, many many more readers, yet the posts I do there take me maybe five minutes, and that’s when I’m adding a few lines of commentary to the links I’m posting. Don’t get me wrong—I like that blog and I like blogging there with my six fellow active posters. It gives me a positive outlet for my deep concern about this country, my perspective on this being a watershed moment. But it is a blog for the moment, not the one I have returned to through the years, seasons, job changes, idea shifts. It is a blog to spur immediate action rather than more thought. Perhaps that is something missing from the slow blog, from this slow blog.

Chris’ s post brought new readers here for the moment; my blog stats spiked, incoming links, too. I’ve been asked for interviews, even, by journalists wondering if the new interest in slow-blogging comes in response to the convulsions occurring on the world stage. A yearning for the local, the meaningful, the dependable–contact that is enduring, deeply connective, both serious and not. Balance. Interesting question. I am hopeful that next spring when I am watching the the garlic break through the earth, I can honestly say that we have become more actively thoughtful, more thoughtfully active, combining action and reflection and connection as a response to the world in crisis. Moving beyond fear. At the polls next week. And after Tuesday.

venerable resident of the woods


9 Responses

  1. You’re very generous… both to me and to the world of blogging. Thanks for regularly helping me keep right mind in mind…

  2. Comments that have something or nothing to do with your post, per se…

    Your photos are gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever said that to you, but I love the composition, the colors the clarity.

    I realized why your header photo makes me uneasy — I’m afraid of heights and then angle makes me worried that you are going to run into the mountain which, of course, you don’t, or didn’t.

    slow blogging…all for it. I suspect that the next great trend will be that people will slow down to appreciate what is actually right there in front of them. Fastfastfast has its merits, but I think many people crave meaningful connections.



  3. Barbara, thanks for the links back to the ubc farm issue. I like that it’s connected in this post to your upcoming election. I’m going to meander here, without a destination in mind: there was something so deeply cynical about the timing of our Canadian election last month, slipped in while we are all distracted, wondering what will transpire in the empire, wondering whether we dare hope.

    A minority Conservative government hoped to sneak in a majority (they didn’t, but oh how we wish they were trounced. Most of us didn’t vote for them.) I’ve never been so deeply bored by an election in my life. Even as a kid I loved elections; staying up late watching our collective choices manifest into peace, order and good government.

    What saps all our energy and our hope are these processes where our voices are not heard and respected. In terms of the Canadian election, there are voices for electoral reform and for some kind of proportional representation but we still at least have faith in the basic mechanism.

    But those voting machines you’ve got! And this UBC farm process where “public consultation” seems to be so much blah blah blah while the condos spring up like mushrooms.

    By the way, the Kim Stanley Robinson series I mentioned in that post “Science in the Capital” is set in DC and has fun with many of these themes. Very fun popcorn read- gobble, gobble. A hopeful series about institutions and politicians responding to climate change! That’s got to be science fiction.

    It’s gorgeous here today. I’m heading out to plant garlic too. Will be thinking of you on Tuesday.

  4. Chris, your ability to blog both fast and slow amazes me. I feel as though the conversation is extended through your posts in very interesting ways.

    Thanks for the feedback on my photos and slow-blogging. I would welcome more people going deep and wide, connecting and reflecting and using the visual quality of the screen far far more than many do. As for the bg-in-heli pic making you uneasy–that’s great, actually, for we should be uneasy, unsettled and filled with awe as we explore these new realms, yes?


    Your comment is as good as a post–so generous of you. Through Twitter and the ranks of Canadian bloggers (a high percentage of my Bloglines subscriptions are of non-U.S. bloggers–interesting, that) I followed with interest (and dismay) your elections, knowing full well that you have to deal with your own inept, corrupt or egomaniacal politicians up there while being unduly influenced by what goes on down here.

    That the Republican Party is using horrible scare tactics to try to keep people from voting on Tuesday, and that they distort the facts, and will go to any lengths at all to win frightens me beyond anything. As if this should surprise me–it has happened before.

    I will read that post, and I will fret and make phone calls this week, and cheer on all the people working to transcend the horrors of cynical politics.

    I will keep my fingers crossed, too, about the farm. What a magical place it is, one of those rares places where the spirit can soar.


  5. Barbara – a few fragments to respond to different pieces of your post.

    I’m afraid we have to fail more, much more before we might heal. There is still mostly an explaining of the problem as”them” rather than as “us.” I’d be delighted to be wrong about this but, for example, the rapid decline in the price of gas is likely to thwart many green efforts. And I don’t believe the psychology is really there yet that we’re all in this together. It’s still look out for number one. I’m definitely guilty here, terribly frightened, but for me and my family, not for the species as a whole.

    Robins, yearlings, and Turkeys all fit my mental model of New England. Garlic was a surprise. I don’t know anyone else who grows it.


    Reading your comments about slow blogging, I was reminded by this Saul Bellow essay ( Bellow was content to to write for those who appreciated his art, unlike most people with more pedestrian tastes. Is that the fate of the slow blogger? Or might it become a popular movement while keeping true to the ideals of the Chris Lott post?

  6. Lanny,

    So good to hear from you. I’ve been following your slow-blog posts, so full they are of your interesting thoughts. You exemplify the slow blogger; I would love to think that if people slowed down to connect with the land in a deep way, if they stopped to connect with ideas and creativity through this slow conversation, then the world might be a better place. But I do share your concerns that this is simplistic, naive thinking. We are in a far darker place these days as the appalling reports about voter suppression come out. Evil has no limits, it seems. But I see people ordinary people who have never spoken out before, never worked for a candidate doing that right now. January 20 could be a day of hope, a first step towards healing.

  7. I like the idea of ‘slow’ blogging. Just catching up on your writing. Back later.

  8. Hi Barbara … Like a million others I’m sure, I read the Times article today and was intrigued …I just spent an hour or so exploring/enjoying your thoughts and links and was inspired to write you. I have a business that employs five people and I have made a point of hiring young people, some with college or college like training, and some without. I was hammered by your comment
    “Little we do in school prepares students for negotiating common ground in a real-world context where the stakes are considerable and real. We do not teach real sharing of ideas or negotiating with the Other, if our institutions, as Scott Leslie suggests, do not do so. We do not explore listening. We reward glibness as much as deep consideration. We honor the “maverick” but not the collaborator. We do not know how both to be the creator and collaborator.”
    In my business all we have is collaboration, from one piece to the next.. We need to teach it as a basic skill. It’s how life works ….
    I have been blogging for almost a year, just throwing my ideas out there to see what happens and to explore my thinking about processes. It’s been great. I’ve also thrown in a few slow blogging posts like this one

  9. […] People who know me as college writing professor specializing in social and creative  media or as consultant helping rural towns around issues of civic engagement and participatory democracy through storytelling might be wondering if this is the same Barbara Ganley.  Indeed it is, I am.  Open View Gardens, LLC is a direct outcome of those endeavors–of my desire to pursue a creative life, to do good work for the world, and to explore the relationships between the deeply local and the wildly global, the slow and the fast, the traditional and the new. […]

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