Monday, November 25, 2013

This is a short letter about practice, and scars.

This is a short letter about practice, and scars.

First, the scar.

I have an indented sliver of moon above my right eye that my friend tells me is called an “idiot mark.” Being marked as an idiot, as I can testify, is an excellent cure for self-importance.

An idiot mark is caused by the recoil of a rifle. (I realize I am taking a risk writing about this, knowing that some of you disagree with the eating of meat, the use of firearms or the taking of life through hunting. I don’t mean to argue that everyone needs to hunt or eat meat, and I agree with Michael Pollen’s mantra: “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”) There are two important rules to manage recoil—first, brace the rifle securely against your shoulder, and second, keep a healthy distance between your eye and the rear of the scope. If you fire a rifle without following these rules, the recoil will drive the scope against your forehead with great force. You are now marked.

I got mine while practicing for my first deer hunt, when I was 33. I’ve since learned that I was one of many older folks taking to the woods for the first time. 

Practicing. Because, like most of you, I had been railing against the “litany of catastrophe”—climate change, peak oil, environmental degradation on a massive scale, and the extinction of plants and animals caused by, well, us. Big. Global. Predicaments. It got easy to feel more and more deflated by the challenge and the scale of it all.

But slowly, something changed. 

I began to work in miniature. Me plus a few people. Small, thoughtful projects. Close to home. Any of you who have begun to keep chickens or bees, or planted a few fruit trees, or installed a rain barrel, or organized a meeting or movie or skill swap or speaker, you know exactly what I mean.

This was new territory for me. Like my practice with that deer rifle, I found myself as part of a larger practice—adaptation. I was quietly becoming a more resilient member of my community and my species.
Ecologically, resilience is the capacity to adapt to sudden or severe changes in the ecosystem (like floods, droughts, major storms, shifts in temperature—sound familiar?) Resilient communities can more effectively recover from disruption. 

But it goes beyond that, too, and this is where it gets awesome.

A resilient community doesn’t just mean preparing for and worrying about ecological disruption. It means re-creating communities that honor our connection to small places. That honor working directly with the land through smart, sustainable agriculture. That honor the tools and traditions of the past while forging our own path forward; and that honor the voices of our most creative makers and thinkers.

We created ISLAND to be a small but powerful force in that process of re-creation. We work to be an institution of prototypes—observing, creating and applying countless models of community development and seeing what sticks here, in the woods and water of northwest lower Michigan.

Here’s what the work of re-creating resilient community looks like:
  • The new farmer residency at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy’s Maple Bay site, helping talented beginning farmers make the leap into full time sustainable agriculture.
  • The Hill House artist residency, now in its fourth year and supporting more kinds of artists than ever with the time and space to make great work.
  • Preservation Station, a canning kitchen on wheels that connects the dots between fresh farm produce, learning new skills, building community and supporting our local food economy.
  • The Chicken Coupe, a mobile, state-licensed chicken processing facility that allows farmers to sell pastured poultry direct to customers.
  • Guilds—enhancing and radically shifting the standard “top-down” workshop model by creating informal networks of mentorship, education, mutual support and economic interconnection.
  • Plus lots of traditional workshops, our role as planning partners and fiduciary of theNorthern Michigan Small Farm Conference (now in Traverse City!) and starters of small school and community gardens around the region. 
We’re moving as a community along a line of learning, somewhere on the edge of what we can begin to practice and what we still need to discover. It’s a remarkable place to be that is at once invigorating and humbling. Confronted by the massive challenges ahead of us, this is where we learn to adapt. But this is no easy task, and before we’re done, we may all sport a few fresh scars.

Please support the work of ISLAND with your year-end contribution. Help us strengthen the bonds of our communities and move, in slow, small, endlessly creative ways, to reshape our ways of living in place.

As I finish writing this, I am also thinking of the doe that, just last night, peeked cautiously out from the red pine, then watchfully stepped out into the last light of the day. I am thinking of how, quiet and hidden, heart racing, I lifted a rifle, braced it firmly on my shoulder and looked (carefully) through the scope.

As for that scar - let’s just call it a “transition mark,” ok?

Brad Kik

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