"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience..."
----Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Very shortly after moving to this farmstead we named it, for reasons as inscrutable then as now, "Taproot Garden." I don't know from where the name came. I wasn't even aware of the need to select a name. When one brings home a dog, a name becomes a pressing imperative; but never before had I considered a name for a new home. Nevertheless, the boxes were scarcely unpacked and the pictures hung on the walls before the name had emerged, we had commissioned a graphic designer to create a logo, and not too long after taking possession of the finished art that we contracted with a sign maker for the entrance. The name, it seemed, had chosen us.
In some small way like Thoreau before us, we had gone to the land because we, too, wished to live deliberately and deeply. I don't think we anticipated a lot of marrow sucking, but we were indeed intent on drawing from the wisdom of life's core. If a taproot reaches down into the depths of the soil to more solidly anchor whatever stems and leafs and fruits above, and to gather richer, more remote nutrition, then a taproot was precisely what we were after. Our move felt and continues to feel like one that brings the marrow of life closer to hand.
This is not to suggest that my prior vocational endeavor was artificial or fruitless. I am forever grateful for the calling, for the evocative mentors who helped discern it with me, for the grandeur of its purpose and imagination, and for the people into whose proximity it drew me. But something about the execution of it always chaffed -- the machinations, the protocols, the institutional expectations and obligations both implied and stated. Like the teeth of transmission gears that never quite meshed, the operational and the vocational aspects of the work never quite found in me their rhythm.
This, of course, says far more about me than about the work. I have no real idea how the work should be done; I only know how I did it. To be sure, there were peers and role models that I watched and variously celebrated and derided. But I don't truly know what it was like for them. A wise teacher once noted that we are always comparing the "outside" of others with the "inside" of ourselves, and it's never a fair or accurate comparison.
All that, plus a certain inexorability about it. I recall a comment my brother made after returning with his family from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Describing the incredible density of the crowd he observed that you could almost pick up your feet and the crowd would carry you where it wanted you to go. My prior work had an element of that. For all its flexibility, it had a way of carrying me along in the directions it wanted me to go, and always swept along I never quite felt capable of reconnecting with the pavement and initiating an alternative direction of my own within it.
Stepping, then, outside of it, we settled on the land....deliberately...to "front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." I wouldn't assert that it is the only way to do it -- resettling onto a piece of land -- but I suspect it's harder the further away from it we move.
Once grounded and home, we began to send down the taproot that this stretch of soil invited.
And we have been anchoring and learning. This morning I weeded a few garden rows, nestled into the soil a few dozen transplants from the greenhouse, harvested several more cucumbers, a pepper, along with the first of the garlic and the squash. Later this afternoon I'll gather a dozen or so eggs.
And pull some carrots -- taproots. Then, with every sweet and crunching bite I will savor the earthy richness of the minerals and micro-nutrients drawn up from the deep, and consider how the same has been happening in me.
And gratefully resolve to continue Thoreau's deliberate deeper growth and experiential learning...
...tasting the marrow as I come to it.