It’s All You, Anyways
Into the woods, behind our home.
My freshman year of college, I took an Existentialism 101 class. I’d read a bit of Camus and Sartre in high school and wanted to explore the topic more in depth. What resulted was a bit of a week-long existential crisis of the soul. When you’re 18, you’re so vulnerable and open to suggestion anyways, and taking a class that challenged and questioned the very nature of existence and meaning itself cut a deep divot thru my skull. I was being confronted with ways of thinking I’d never before encountered, that suggested that we were at the helm of our realities, guiding our own fates and determining and plotting the course of our lives, not puppets being moved to and fro by outside forces.
While I reconciled my own leanings towards the notion of a higher life form having created us with the concept of our emerging from the void without meaning written into any actions, I found solace in a quote I discovered in another course, a required humanities class. Walt Whitman, in Song of Myself, wrote “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” What I ended up with, when I combined what I’d learned at such a tender age, was the idea that identity is fluid. Contradiction is built into the nature of reality.
Around the same time, I also encountered another quote that would stick with me, this one from Heraclitus. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Life, and identity, and who you are, or who you might think yourself to be, are constantly in motion. Fixed notions of who we perceive ourselves or others to be are illusions, just like the notion that winter is a time of stillness and quietude. Underneath the surface, if you push back the mulch, there is so, so very much going on.
So what do existentialism and Whitman and Heraclitus have to do with homesteading and my life in the mountains of western North Carolina? A great deal. For as long as I can recall, I have loved winter. Pined for it in summer, thrilled at its arrival when the leaves turned color and cascaded down in late autumn. I’ve told everyone that will listen how much I love cozying up with blankets and mugs of hot tea indoors, tending to the wood stove as I pad about in wool sweaters and fuzzy slippers. What I realized a few weeks ago is that, while true, there’s also a part of me that suffers in winter. I go deep, turn into a bit of a recluse, and hide inside my heart, my mind, and often times, my home.
That’s what I’ve been doing these past few months. Creatively, this has served me well. I find my largest rushes of creativity when the weather is cool and cold. Mentally, though, it’s not the best. I struggle. I feel the winter blues a bit, especially if I don’t spend time outside and get a nice dose of Vitamin D, courtesy of the sun, to elevate my mood. I sequester. It’s always good, until it’s not. Lately, I can feel both the tug of my heart and mind to contradict myself, to say, “You know what? I don’t know that I really do enjoy winter anymore, for now.” The two thoughts are not mutually exclusive-they’re sides of myself at different times. Life is moving, and so am I.
Later today I’m going to collect soil samples in the garden with my friend (and neighbor!) Natalie. We’ll send them off to the local extension office for testing, to see what the nutrient profiles are of all 14 raised beds, and amend the soil accordingly. Tomorrow, it’s going to be in the upper 60’s. Next week, we three Englishes are taking off for a long overdue visit with family in Florida. I need these things to happen just like I needed winter to greet me with open arms back in December.
You never step into the same river because you’re never the same person each time. The river is never composed of exactly the same water. Go ahead, contradict yourself. It’s all you, anyways.