Earlier today, I stopped by a local farm to pick up some eggs. For reasons that are perhaps genetic, I fail at small talk in every arena except when I’m chatting it up about weather with a farmer. There’s something natural about the conversation- the staring off into the middle distance, the long pauses between phrases, the quiet yet satisfying rhythm of give and take. (No, I will not prattle on about becoming just like my father here, but it is a subtext, I suppose.)
We have had a lot of rain lately in this corner of Ohio. We are under our third flood warning this week. For me, it is a minor annoyance. The wildflowers I planted to attract butterflies rotted away in a flash flood. My basement is damp. The tomato and lettuce plants are rotting at the root from standing in water. I can’t take my kids to the pool because of all the rain. That sort of thing.
For my farmer friend, it is far worse. Most of their corn crop has been destroyed in the last week. They had a shot at producing the best and most bountiful- hence profitable in farmstand and high-end restaurant sales- crop of organic corn to date. If you know about corn and pests, you know that they were onto something. That’s not easy- usually it’s all about chemicals. Several other crops are in jeopardy. Last year the freakishly extreme poles of hot and cold in spring followed by unusual cold and dry summer created near disaster. Rather than stand still and mutter quietly about the day, my farmer friend paced nervously and almost yelled about the pouring rain- another 4+ inches expected this weekend. I was alarmed and saddened by the concern. There are only so many bad seasons a farmer can endure.
As I drove home, I returned to a long-standing pet theory of mine. The background- One hundred years ago, we were still a predominantly agrarian society. Then we flipped to the opposite. In my little town, I can still see solid evidence of this- in less than a block from my house in different directions stand three barns, throwbacks to a time when even those that chose to live in a village, and likely worked at the nearby college (Antioch) or local industries (small factories producing all manner of things) still had a hand in subsistence farming. There were cows, pigs, and chickens in the yards and streets. The vast majority of Americans still lived according to an agrarian, seasonal cycle. By extension, what is now a trend for yuppie assholes like me- the local foods movement- was a way of life. Think of this- we had fresh pineapple for lunch today. Think of what that meant a century ago- it would have been a rare occasion at best for most. Imagine what progress we have made in global commerce and transportation to make this possible. It’s staggering, really. But I digress.
Back to my theory. The industrial revolution pulled us out of an agrarian lifestyle that was in place for, oh, let’s just say about 10,000 years. With that lifestyle is a daily ball of anxiety. That’s in the short term- will it rain today? Will it be too hot today? What about pests?
What about the long term- what if we have 1, maybe 2, or heaven forefend 3 bad YEARS in a row. That is ruin for my entire tribe. Really. Any way you look at it, worry is a predominant way of life in agrarian cultures. It is inevitable when dealing with something as chaotic and uncontrollable as the Earth. So here’s the theory- we are hardwired now to worry about things. In just one short century or so, we have made astounding progress in ways that removed some, and in some cases, all of that worry. We should be grateful, we should be relaxing, we should be finger-painting, maybe even writing a poem or two for fun, but we aren’t. We are still worrying. And what’s worse- the heart of my theory- when we have no reasons to worry, we manufacture them. We are so hard-wired to think – somewhere in our basic being- that one big storm could take away our food, maybe even our shelter, and make our life miserable, or maybe even take it away. So, when the photocopier jams at work, we lose our shit. That becomes the worry. We treat these modern inconveniences with the same gravity we would have treated a lost corn crop in the near past.
The world changed faster than we did. I need to remind myself of these things when, say, my iPad wont charge fast enough, or I run out of printer ink, I can’t get new tube socks from Amazon in 2 days or the like. I’m still wired to worry. You are, too. Let’s all try to get over it, shall we? I wonder what wonders we could create if we really did.