my sister autumn’s newsletter is incredible this month

by autumn brown

Hello Good People!

The transition to our new life here in the great MN continues. We’ve spent the month of August swimming in the lake, harvesting incredible produce from the garden, and putting food up for the winter. In the last few weeks I have canned Yellow Tomato Jam, Corn Chowder, and many jars of Arabiatta Sauce. It is the most satisfying kind of work: hard and finite. I look forward to the taste of summer that I will treat myself to in November, December, January, and on.

And like any transition, I find myself thinking very hard about things that are very hard to think about. Yesterday Sam took me and Finn and Siobhan on a long walk through a restored wetland protected and cultivated by Saint John’s University. We walked slowly on a tilting boardwalk through the tall grasses and shallow green water smelling of manure, that fecund smell of deteriorating biomatter. The boardwalk became a path through dark Eastern Hardwoods. And just beyond the ridge I could see another forest begin, the white grey of the boreal forest. Sam tells me this collision of forests is the mark of biodiversity resulting from living at the very point where the glaciers descended and would go no further. Our path continued into a restored Oak Savanna and Prairie melange. At that point, the mosquitoes became ferocious and I was no longer waxing poetic.

But I came away feeling very deeply this same sense I have had now for months – that I am standing in the flow of time, and watching it stretch out behind me and watching it stretch out before me. And there are small signs – how my hands are beginning to age. And there are very very big signs – how my three month-old daughter can laugh and stare and seem to see right through me. How in a weird way, my son Finn seems to know me better than anyone (is that a first kid thing?). I feel lucky and I despair my own death, and I feel carefree and I am burdened by choices, all at the same time. Now isn’t that living?

Then this morning I am listening to MPR, hearing the economy defined as “everything that people make and do and buy and sell,” and it occurs to me again how insane capitalism is when you consider how precious and finite life is. The very idea that a people’s economy – that which creates and impacts a family’s livelihood – could be predicated on how many unnecessary things can be invented, patented, produced, marketed, sold, bought, consumed, accumulated, wasted, and thrown away. It is curious as a practice, but it is appalling that such a practice can be defended or worse: normalized.

I am reading an incredible story, The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, of his journey through Australia in the effort of understanding the Aboriginal’s practice of singing their country and keeping it alive and whole through the continued songs that march every inch of ground. The book was written in the early 80’s. Hear this message from one of the white men Chatwin spoke to while on his journey: “Today, he said, more than ever before, men had to learn to live without things. Things filled men with fear. The more things they had, the more they had to fear. Things had a way of riveting themselves on to the soul and then telling the soul what to do.”

And later, a central figure in the book, Arkady says, “The world, if it has a future, has an ascetic future.”

So I am challenging myself to an ascetic future, to consider how to do more making and doing, more remaking and trading and giving, and less buying and selling and accumulating and throwing away. More generosity, and less hoarding. Now isn’t that living?