With the summer being essentially one big time off for me, it’d be almost blasphemy to suggest I need a vacation. So I won’t suggest it. Yet, the thought of driving myself to the middle of Wisconsin, taking myself offline and working on a farm for a week held a tremendous amount of appeal. So when the opportunity presented itself to do just that at the Wormfarm—the CSA in which we are members and to which we are eternally attached—I submitted a vacation request to my boss and started packing.
The week was the perfect kind of respite for me—not a complete extraction from the responsibilities of life, but more of a focused version of everyday life. Focus is, paradoxically, what I need to relax. Finding myself without something to do produces in me the worst kind of anxiety. But when I know I’ll have an hour between jobs, I can schedule in chill time. This is how it worked on the farm, with gardening in the morning, art workshops in the afternoon, and relaxing and reading time in between and after. Every night I went to bed happy and fulfilled. (It helps not to have the Internet standing by, tempting me.)
Some other lessons from the week:
You are what you eat. As soon as I found out I’d be spending time out on the farm, I paused in the middle of my current book, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, so I could continue reading it up there. I’m glad I did. Several people I met there were reading the same book at the same time, including Jay, the farm’s co-owner. Splitting my time between reading about the virtues of eating locally grown food and hunched over a row picking beans brought an extra level of resonance to Pollan’s words.
Small towns rock. As much as Chicago’s neighborhoods do their best to cultivate a sense of community, it’s not easy to forget we still live in a city. One has to develop a shield of paranoia and skepticism to live in the city. I try to keep that shield as thin as possible, but it’s still there. It’s a totally different scene in the midwestern small town. Everyone I met was friendly, and trusting, and I trusted them back. I loved that feeling. By the end of the week, I was getting invitations to stay at people’s houses the next time I came to visit.
Creativity is contagious. The reason I went up this particular week was to help with Wormfarm’s annual puppet festival. This is the festival we stumbled on last year, the one that got us in the mood for a little plunge-taking. I was looking forward to watching the festvial take shape, but I couldn’t just stand around watching people create without diving in myself. Most of this energy was spent as official festival documentarian, taking hundreds of photos with my new Canon Digital Rebel. By the end of the week, I was actively papier macheing and painting and constructing and at one point DJing the late night crafting sessions. It’s been proven to me time and again: surround yourself with creativity, and your own creativity will flourish.
Addicition comes in many flavors. I mentioned the temptation of the Internet, and how calming it is to extract myself from it. I hadn’t realized it until I went up there, but I’ve also got a bit of an attachment to the TV. I considered myself to be a relatively frugal TV watcher, maybe a half-hour average per day, but even that can have a hold on you. There’d be times when I’d make myself a meal, sit down to eat it, and look around for the TV so I could veg while I ate my vegs. Oh yeah, I’d remember, no TV. Then I’d get out the book and read, and be happy to do so.
Wisconsin is hilly. One day I rode my bike from the farm into town, about a six-mile trip over moderately hilly roads. Six miles shouldn’t be too hard, but then, I’m used to the landscape of Chicago, where the only inclines you meet are on bridges. Six miles on those tiny hills felt like 12 miles to my weary legs. I bemoaned this later to a local cyclist, who scoffed and suggested I try some real hills. That was on Tuesday. On Thursday I found the rails-to-trails bike path, about as a flat of a path as I’ve ever seen. This was more my speed. I cruised along for much of the afternoon, thanking the world of engineering for not coming up with a way for trains to go uphill.