by Erin Smith (far right in photo)
Three themes emerged during my summer agriculture internship. Beauty, Silliness and Humility.
Arriving at A Rocha somewhat weary from a prolonged attempt at making life make sense, I didn’t know what exactly this internship would mean but I had a hope that it was a step in the right direction.
I can recall with fondness our first evening together as interns at the new Internship hose. The internship coordinator, Sarah, jokingly referring to the internship as summer camp for adults. It was in that moment that I realized I didn’t exactly know what I had signed up for. Now I was trapped here but at least the company would be interesting!
And then, the internship began to take shape. Instead of potentials, there unfolded what Seamus Heaney calls “the music of what happens”. Along the way there were some major and minor notes that have stood out to me.
It begins with the bombardment of beauty, experienced in the row upon row of green vegetables in the sunlight. Or as the extravagance of the fennel leaves covered in water. And then there’s the purple cabbage opening like as a rose. Or the corn’s transformation from wee transplants to mighty stalks.
Beauty has confronted me this summer and I’ve stared back, attempting to understand its message.
Which leads me to a poem I memorized one day while transplanting zucchini. I’ve found its words, and my experience at A Rocha, in a sort of conversation with each other – the poem drawing out parts of my experience that I might have otherwise failed to notice. It’s a poem about beauty and what Christian Wiman calls, “the gift and the cost of consciousness”.
And I was Alive by Osip Mandelstam.
And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear
Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree
It was all leaflife and starshower, self-shattering, unerring power
And it was all aimed at me
What is this dire delight flowering, fleeing, always earth?
What is being? What is truth?
Blossoms rupture and rapture the air
All hover and Hammer
Time intensified and time intolerable
Sweetness ravelling rot
It is now, It is not.
As I ponder beauty, I keep coming back to an article discussion we had one warm summer day over lunch. The article was on wilderness. A wilderness, it would seem, is at its core a bewildering affirmation of diversity. As I learned in a permaculture course held at A Rocha, this diversity encompasses light, soil, creatures, topography, age.
This summer has been one of confrontation with beauty, including the beauty of the individuals at A Rocha – those interns and staff I got to know, and those I observed from more of a distance.
In community, here and elsewhere, I am faced with a strong tendency to compare myself with others. Living in the same house as 15 other people provides an excellent ecosystem for such comparisons. It’s easy to notice in others what you might wish to see more of in yourself. It’s taken awhile, and there have been gains and setbacks, but over the 3 month term, I began to trust the vitality of difference.
And so, as I am leaving one lovely social ecosystem to find my way in another, I must take the wilderness lesson with me. It requires paying attention to the world – seeing that the teeny tiny insect and the tall and mighty tree – each equally and strangely, a part of this world.