Monday, November 26, 2012

One Step at a Time

This morning The Washington Post ran a story on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ( It mentions her attendance at the rollout of a new online forum intended to help countries "navigate the transition to democracy." Among other things, the forum will enable new leaders to get in touch with each other. Imagine, "one day they’re a political prisoner or they’re in exile or minding their own business in their job or at the university they teach at and the next minute they’re a president or a prime minister or a foreign minister." Why would someone as "important" as Clinton attend such a small event? The event may have been a tiny step, but that's how everything begins.

The importance of tiny steps often astounds me. Our 25-acre field sits across the road waiting to teach us how to use it. Was it Wendell Berry who said not to change a landscape until you've observed it through at least four seasons? We've been watching that field, more closely now than when we bought it 8 years ago. The first thing we did, other than use it to access the river and provide hay for a cattle farmer, was to mark off a 100' by 100' area for gardening. Gardening went great the first year, pretty well the second, and very badly the third when four-legged competitors found it. It's now home to our pigs. A couple years ago we had the field re-fenced and gave the pigs some neighbors -- goats and donkeys. We also built a run-in shed and a little goat shelter, not yet having heard Joel Salatin's warning against permanent structures (although we're happy with the result). There's more to come over there, we're sure of it.

Let's go tinier. The garden beds near the house began with one boot on a shovel, another, and another. Each season finds me pulling weeds, one by one, planting seeds, one by one, picking beans, one by one, until our freezer and cupboards are full. Each morning Karen's fingers (or the electronic milker) squeeze one squirt, another squirt, until she has enough milk to fill a glass, then a jar, then a kettle for cheese-making. Most days find me typing one letter, then a word, then a paragraph, a page, an article, a book.

"It's downright amazing what we can do, bit by bit by bit," says Virginia.

You, too.


  1. It seems like everything (excluding the Big Bang?) is the result of a long-time process. I can't think of any examples of order/structure/will that appeared instantly...

    I could bulldoze your garden much faster than you could build it, though. I guess order is created slowly, deliberately, while chaos occurs rapidly!

  2. You remind me of Xavier le Pichon, the French scientist who was involved early on in plate techtonics. He draws parallels between the weaknesses that drive plate techtonics and the weaknesses that make humans different in their behavior from other animals (for example, we don't leave our weak members by the side of the road to die). In answer to a question about the loss caused by tsunamis, he pointed out that if people lived today in tents and away from the coast, as they once did, very few people would have been killed or injured. Same with New Orleans and other "natural" disasters. The huge losses are the result of human decisions. The earthquakes, the molten magma inside the Earth, are what make this planet livable, with water. If we made more careful decisions, we'd suffer less loss.