Evolution is An Act of Art
“The most important evolutionary events take the longest.” R. Buckminster Fuller.
When I first started working with regenerative groups I was tasked with learning about soil and systems underground. For me this was no big deal since I am less than two generations out of the agricultural peasant life. I had hours of fun and surprises watching people talk about growing practices that they considered revolutionary, whereas I had been taught those things pretty much from birth.
When one famous farmer asked me about my grandmother he said, “Was she a homesteader?” I couldn’t help but say, “No sir, that would imply she had left and returned. She was a widow living through the aftermath of World War II in Europe. My grandmother never left the land so she never had to go back.”
So it goes with cultural lenses and regeneration and the American innocence towards global history that sometimes feels like blindness. Luckily and to the old man’s credit, it didn’t feel like deafness. You see, true to his revolutionary nature and the very things that made him an organic farmer, he was a damn fine listener, an attentive and curious human.
Like him, I was curious and unlike my grandmother, I was not bound to a thing. Pursuing and disciplining myself in the arts for years, I somehow decided that the world was falling apart and that more practical skills were much more urgent.
The funny thing I realize now a few years later is that I never had to leave being an artist. In fact, the fact that we still tend to separate art from the rest of everything we do is at its core a dysfunction. It makes no sense in the least to think that art and science, or that art and farming, are not intertwined. Ask anyone what makes their colleague truly brilliant and it’s usually in their innovative and unique way of approaching a challenge. That innovation or singular approach requires a kind of internal poetry. Someone can teach you the laws of physics, but no one can exactly teach you which ones to question. Schools can teach you but they can’t make you curious.
Last year, at the end of my regenerative rope I began to feel that somehow I had failed because I myself hadn’t acquired some land and become a successful neo-homesteader or something along those lines. I began to feel that indeed, all the truly smart people must be mathematicians with their own stocks of heritage chickens. I began to feel a bit like composting myself because my new dreams kept leading me back to my old dreams. Instead of building upon all the good I had done, I realized that reinventing myself had simply made me a beginner, over and over again. Maybe I realized, I really was an artist, but maybe it was too late?
I have forgotten and been reminded again that during times of transition, it’s natural to want to update and change our skills, our focus, our absolute everything. What I realize now more than ever, that it is exactly during these pressure points of transition that we have to integrate the new, never trying to replace the old.
Nobody is prepared for these massive changes that seem to be sprouting all around us. The most accomplished people with the greatest plans all find themselves checking their proverbial bingo cards, and realizing that “Nope,” they hadn’t seen that one coming. They probably won’t see the next big disruption coming. The best thing people can do is build themselves up as humans, never regretting the path, always finding a way and a reason to learn and do better.
Nothing is perfect, not even the regenerative movement, not even the people inside it. It has its moments and it has its luminaries. It has its perfections within its unavoidable imperfections. It has its chickens and it will have its interconnected, ecological roosts. It will have its stories and it already needs its storytellers. It needs its dreamers who don’t ever give up on dreaming but who are dedicated to dreaming deeper and more effectively. We need applied poetics. We need jumbles of images to be recorded and distilled back out into beautiful bits and pieces so others will pick them up and make them into new things. We need all of this the way I needed to hear someone think of my grandmother as someone with agency and choice. It was in that moment that I realized how many of my own choices I had taken for granted. It helped my older friend realize his own state of privilege and first-world innocence.
To be sure, no one person or program defines a movement, but each one plays an integral part. The systems design we seek is in not in a manual nor in the soil or a lab alone. The regenerative process lives in our hearts, in our very desire to keep trying even when our plans get re-written by fate. Evolution is a slow process and we may simply be bridges to the generations who will have an easier, better time of managing this planet’s resources and treasuring all its many beings. If that is the case we should be beautiful bridges alive and extending ourselves past our limitations towards each other, and towards the vistas we can not see. In that sense we must be poetic. We must reimagine the bridge not as a thing but as a system of tensions. We must understand what it feels like to both reach, and to support.
The more you believe in your right to be an artist the more your actual profession does not matter. The more you can imagine yourself as a bridge, the more everything you do will make a difference. The more you can see the existence of a bridge as an act of poetry, evidenced in nature before any human architecture, the more you will embody its purpose and your very inner truth.