December first. Mother Nature is right on time with the first snow of the season. It’s really just a dusting (it drifted on the deck, here. It isn’t that thick everywhere) but that’s fine. Remember how I get through the dog days of summer by telling myself that even though it is September and that should mean fall temperatures, it’s still technically summer? Well, fall often lapses into winter at exactly the right psychological, rather than scientific, moment. And that makes me glad.
I am finally winding down from the big family shindig over Thanksgiving. Sparks and I have been watching historial re-enactment television, specifically agricultural re-enactment, and it has gotten me in the mood to read Farmer Boy again. Unfortunately, my copy fell to pieces last time I read it and there are no e-versions available. I guess I need a new copy.
Anyway: people, including me, love this “slow food” and “simply living” and “handmade” thing. It’s as if there is some kind of magic bound up in making something yourself, a benign spell of good wishes and love being cast upon the person or people who eat, wear, or live with the item. The answer to so many of the environmental and economic problems of the world seems to be, “we need to learn to live with less”. I don’t know about you, but the idea of living with fewer, higher-quality, artisanally crafted items is hugely appealing to me.
But then, we don’t live that way. We buy cheap clothes from Old Navy (and I LOVE Old Navy for their cheap clothes, by the way!), we buy cheap intensively-farmed chicken from the grocery store, and we heat our house when we could instead put on another sweater and another pair of socks. It turns out that creature comforts are irresistible. Oh well.
Bound up in this is the issue of having the time to make things, though. Do I really have the time to knit all of our socks, sweaters, hats, scarves, and gloves? Do I really have time to crochet all of our blankets, and make all of our quilts (okay, that one I HAVE done with my mother’s help, yay me)? Do we really have time to maintain a smallholding on which we grow our own meat and dairy? If we did, would we also be harvesting, cleaning, carding, and spinning our own wool? Would Sparks cut our own wood to heat the house? Would we be slaughtering the animals and butchering and making charcuterie ourselves? Would I sew our shirts and trousers and pajamas? Would we raise our own wheat field to grind our own flour? Would Sparks brew all our own wine and beer, and would we drink no spirits? And what about sugar? That has to be bought. And so do so many other things.
And buying things requires money, which takes time to earn. The answer to the questions above, for the most part, is we would do it if we had time. Whether or not two people who work jobs, or even one who works a job and one who doesn’t, have the time to do it is an interesting question… whether two people who were devoted to it full-time even have the time is even more interesting.
My conclusion is that in this modern world, we have it good because we have the choice. I don’t have to spend a whole day every week doing nothing but washing clothes by hand, and I wouldn’t want to give up my washing machine and clothes dryer, nuh uh. I wouldn’t want to be tied to home, the way farm animals tie you to your home. I don’t think Sparks wants to chop wood or thresh grain or make hay. Most of the trappings of modern life are time and labor saving miracles, and we should be thankful for them every single day.
We are at a place where we can do the handcrafting that appeals to us, as an artistic expression rather than as a practical necessity. We are always free to give up some things in order to have others… we could eat beans instead of chicken for a month, to save up for one really good free-range bird. We can wear durable mass-produced cotton/synthetic blend socks for years while I save up to buy sock yarn and take the time to knit good, squishy wool ones. If we haven’t chopped wood we can turn on the furnace and open the hot water tap. We can tend the garden exactly as carefully as we feel like tending it, without worrying about where our produce will come from in the winter months.
And that is a lot to be thankful for.