Patrick Long: Losing Touch with Reality

One thing that I often find myself thinking about is our connections and disconnections.  I feel that in our current society, we have lost most of our connections with nature, with ourselves, and with each other.  Many of us are no longer aware of basic things like where our food comes from, where our trash goes, or even who our neighbors are and what they do.  I think that connections such as these are what are real in life, and in losing them we have, in a way, lost touch with reality.  Instead, we often sit in the artificial climates of our living rooms, watching what we call “reality” TV.  We eat food from who knows where, and set the scraps and trash on the curb where it magically disappears.  Many of us likely have a stronger connection with “reality” stars than we do with our own communities.  Although it now seems to be second nature and normal to live without these connections, things have not always been this way.

Historically, people had a direct connection with nature, themselves and the people around them.  They either produced their daily and life needs personally, or knew someone in their community that did.  People relied upon themselves and their community to stay alive.  I think that these connections are fundamental to all life, and to live without them leads to an unsatisfying and unsustainable life.

When visiting a farm, run by a 71 year-old Hopi woman named Dorothy, we got a chance to experience some of these connections for ourselves.  This farm, though it is small, has no electricity and its only source of water is a seep located on the property.  Dorothy tries to follow in the traditions of her native ancestors while maintaining the farm.  One of these traditions is dry farming, planting crops with no irrigation at all.  While staying at this farm, we repaired her bread oven and, and planted one of the dry fields.

To restore the bread oven, we mixed water and clay from the earth to make a mud.  We then used this mud to fill in the cracks and thicken the walls of the oven.  We got a little dirty, and had to use a little muscle to mix and spread the mud.  But we all thought it was an amazing experience to create a structure using only materials found there in the earth, and getting a little dirty was just another bonus.  The next day, our work more than paid off when we were treated to delicious bread that Dorothy baked in this oven.  This is one example of the many connections we have with the earth.  Nature supplied the clay and water, and in turn we were able to enjoy some delicious food.

The next day, we went to work preparing and planting one of the dry farming fields.  In the hot sun, we pulled weeds and loosened the soil with shovels and hoes.  If the weeds were left to live, the crops would need to compete with them for water.  After all the weeds were pulled and the rocks carted away, the field was finally ready to be planted.  But the work wasn’t done yet; we still needed to measure and stake out where the corn and beans would be planted.  With dry farming, the plants need to be much more spread out to account for the little natural rain that falls in this region.  So we divided up the field, allowing 4-6 feet in between each proposed planting spot.  Finally, we went around to each spot, dug down to the wet sand below to drop the seeds, and then covered them back up.  This was a tiresome and hot day, but our work will not go unnoticed and will eventually help provide food for Dorothy and her community.  We were also able to immediately reap the benefits of out work in a way with dinner, when we ate a meal consisting of last year’s harvest of corn.  Although it was not us, the work we did this year was also done last year to provide this food, and someone next year will be eating a meal produced from our work.  This work is a necessary connection to the land and nature; without it the food would not grow and would therefore not help to nourish Dorothy and her community.

Experiences like these reconnect us with the world.  I first felt this connection when doing an internship at the University of Montana’s CSA farm.  It was a wild and life-changing feeling to know that the work I was doing was actually helping to feed my community.  When talking to CSA members picking up their food, or dropping some off at the local food bank, it was easy to really feel the connection with the community.  Just to know that what I was doing was actually real was amazing.  I helped reconnect me, even if only a little in one aspect of my life, back to reality.

Without connections like these, it is easy to overlook what goes into living our lives.  I think that when we lack these connections it is easier to justify living lifestyles that are completely unsustainable, but have come to be the norm.  If people experienced everything that went into the technology we use, the cars we drive, and even the food we eat; I think that we may feel differently about the lives we live.

I believe that establishing these connections has the potential to lead us into much more satisfying lives.  If we work to establish these connections again with nature, ourselves, and each other; maybe we won’t feel that life is about keeping up with the trends or buying the next “best thing”.  I think that we could maybe be satisfied knowing ourselves and our world, knowing that there is a community behind you that supports and cares.  I think that these relationships and connections are fundamentally necessary, and could allow for a satisfied feeling in life.  Satisfaction is not easily obtainable or common in our society that constantly advertises something better, things that no one can achieve. But that’s just one thought from one person; I believe we need to reconnect the dots between ourselves and nature in order to live a life that’s both sustainable and satisfying.

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