The bluegill were popping the surface of the pond, loudly glopping up insects knocked off the tall grass at water’s edge by the rain. Becky, our English shepherd, was nudging a box turtle crossing in front of the log where I sat. I called her off, and she settled into the wet grass to wait me out.
After a long week away from the farm, I was exercising my favorite spiritual practice, staying put. I had just come off spending time in one of my least favorite cities, Seattle. Apart from a dramatic setting, good beer, and good food, it is much like most cities in this country: too many people, too much concrete, too many drivers — too much of everything — and too little civility. But, lest you think I’m picking on Seattle, let me confess that I just don’t like cities. Give me the chance of spending time in New York or London and I’d turn it down for the same time in a small rural city or town.
I appreciate and understand appropriate scale. I spent a night on this trip in McMinnville, Oregon, visiting with my niece. A small city of 20,000, McMinnville is relatively compact and accessible, surrounded by rich agricultural land. The vineyards, nurseries, and orchards that surround it keep the land prices high enough to fend off the encroaching growth of Portland … for now.
My niece and her fiancé are both employed in the wine business. They are definitely my kind of folks. They are hands on about all aspects of their lives, from the crawfish aquaponics to the raised garden beds, from the handmade staircase banister made from recycled oak staves to the sweat equity invested in renovating their modest home. They get the importance of community, family, food, and work. And after a few peripatetic years, they are now staying put.
Staying put fosters both conservation and conversation with place. It spares resources and allows us to become invested in protecting and being a part of the land, the community, and the people.
Moving about, on the other hand, translates into waste and disconnection. It’s a form of consumer capitalism that encourages a callous disregard for our planet’s resources and cohabitants. It removes the connections of kith and kin from our experience. It’s turns us all into emigrants and immigrants of the world, both spiritual and physical nomads from heart and hearth.
As someone who travels frequently for a job, I know the occasional enjoyments of travel. But I’m also all too aware of the impacts and demands I place on the earth in doing so. Like footprints on a fragile landscape, each trip we take, whether across the country or to the corner store, leaves an indelible mark.
Remaining in place certainly doesn’t solve all problems. But, as I got up from the log, I resolved to be more like the bluegill, the soil, and the fruit trees on our farm, staying put as if I didn’t have a choice.