- The Grim Reaper, Agrotherapy, Kokopelli, and Pinochet's Darkness
I farm with an old-fashioned scythe. I can cut skillfully between my berry rows with it. I like how my body dances while swinging this long, efficient partner. I enjoy seeing what falls, but I must avoid killing small oaks and redwoods. The sharp blade forces me to keep my attention on the ground, which holds up all of us, each creature, no matter how small, each with its important role. The sounds of the scythe comfort me as it swishes through the grass.
The noise of gas-operated mowers, on the other hand, does not appeal to me. Having been raised in a military family—the one that gave its name to Fort Bliss, Texas—and having served in the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam War, I have developed sound trauma. From living on air force bases—subjected to roaring planes, discharging weapons, and people shouting things like "YES, SIR!"—I can get a little jumpy.
Like the sounds of swishing grass, recited poetry also relaxes me. And I love the multiple, joyful utterances my chickens make when their beaks celebrate the new day and the fact they are still alive. When the wind sweeps through the tall grass and bamboo that I planted on my farm, here in the Redwood Empire of Northern California, it soothes me as if it were a harp. I hear Orpheus—the father of ancient Greek poetry and music—and his enchanted lyre. The wind and the redwoods make another incredible pair of dance partners. Near my house, an incense cedar and a sequoia lean on each other; I call them the couple. At night I sometimes sleep out on bedding beneath them and drink in the sweet darkness and the diffuse light of the moon and stars. My farming and animal-husbandry practices are part of the healing I call agrotherapy.
A few years ago I went to a "Bad Seed" party. The idea is to go as your shadow self. I took my scythe and dressed up as the Grim Reaper. People still talk about that character. I stayed shrouded the entire night, my identity hidden. Even my close friends did not know who was beneath the shroud. I find that in the darkness, things hidden by the bright daylight can emerge and become visible. [End Page 87]
Everything that lives also dies: individuals, nations, and even planets. The Grim Reaper gets all of us, even empires. The United States seems to be at the end of its life in many ways—a losing war, a declining economy, decreasing prestige among the peoples of the world. The question now is how to live during the transition from the no-longer of the American Empire and how to salvage the best of America, fashioning the not-yet.
Nearly a year before writing this, I returned from two weeks in Chile. I had lived there in the early 1970s, during the administration of President Salvador Allende. Since returning from my 2007 trip, I have been hiding some things, unable to speak about what happened to my soul while I was there. In this essay, I want to find the words to express the consequences of having seen Evil close up, face to face. But first, I ought to describe the path that led me back to Chile, after an absence of more than thirty years.
Moving to Kokopelli Farm
In the early 1990s, after twenty-five years of college teaching and administration, I left higher education for agriculture. Aware of our uncertain future and diminishing natural resources, I wanted to learn more about the basics of food, water, plants, animals, soil, and climate. I wanted to be able to feed myself and others with good, nourishing food in the times ahead. So about fifteen years ago, I selected a place in Sonoma County, in my home state of California. Nearly 500, 000 people live in Sonoma, in the San Francisco Bay area. I bought some land that had been planted with berry vines, apple trees, oaks, and redwoods; it also came with a tiny house. The property is...