catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 14 :: 2011.07.22 — 2011.09.01


The Mulberry Manifesto

I am a hedonist.

Before your take on that goes Kerouacian, I should perhaps qualify that statement: I am not a womanizing toper, if that came to mind. Nor am I some heedless, self-engrossed, insatiable pleasure-seeker, though I do sate my various longings on regular occasion. I am — or at least I think I am — a morally temperate hedonist.

Temperance, though, has never been my gift to the world. On the contrary, I am quite the man of polarizations. In the past three years, I’ve transformed from logician to budding mystic, Christian to agnostic-with-atheistic-tendencies, left to right brain-dominant, and long-suffering laborer to fully-fledged hedonist. To be sure, prudence in these metamorphoses was rarely involved.

For the past few years, I’ve attributed this lack of mental restraint to a weak mindedness, but upon closer introspection in these last hours, I’ve discovered some continuity in this pattern of mental behavior and my personal quintessence (if I were to have one): I am an adventurer. I have always been so strongly attracted to the Jim Hawkinses and Robinson Crusoes and Christopher McCandlesses of the world, so avidly swept up into their fictional(ized) worlds. My desire was to make the fantasy I encountered in storybooks more real, so I contoured my mental terrain to outlandishments and all manner of bizarre paradigms and tripped headlong into a mental version of Cook’s circumnavigatory voyage (making sure that mooring in Tahiti became an extended stay).

I love the drama of exploring a new paradigm. Reading the likes of Daniel Pinchbeck — with his musings on the end of the Mayan Long Count in 2012 and his explorations of psychedelics — opened up to me new ways of seeing and knowing. I’ve found myself so much more apt to look heavenward for UFOs, to scan fields for fairy rings and crop circles, to wander in high desert for psychoactive Amanitas and Psilocybes, and to notice life’s synchronicities and coincidences.

David Veale of Bluebird Farm did the honors and introduced me to the Post-Peak Oil paradigm while we laid up hay for his bovine and equine play-pals. His projections and theorizing and scenario-building reminded me again of the utter absurdity of free-market capitalism, a system based on endless growth, whose “creed [is that] of the cancer cell” 2.

Wait a second here. How have I managed to drift from “I am a hedonist” to free-market capitalism?

My hedonism, as it turns out, grew directly out of response to the follies of capitalism and its implications for our lives. Capitalism — which seems to monetize every body movement in cost-benefit analysis and calculate the value of actions on a time vs. productivity scale — is doomed to fail. Its perennial reliance on exhaustible resources exceeds the confines of reality’s providence. Moreover, capitalism, I believe, makes people’s lives unnecessarily complicated and exchanges daily joys and simple pleasures for 50 weeks at the grindstone and two weeks vacation on your family’s schooner.

Last week, plucking mulberries 1 and serviceberries and meadow mushrooms, I realized a profound philosophical difference between the paradigm that I live in and that of capitalism. I was nattering to myself as I often do, occasionally singing as I plucked the gifts from the trees and ground, and at one point crooned, “I am reaping what I haven’t sown.” Then and there it hit me: the capitalist’s adage, in contrast, is “you must first sow and then reap that which you’ve sown” (except for A.I.G. and Citibank CEOs, who seem to be doing fine without following protocol).

Which seems to be a friendlier manifesto?

Doubtless to me, the former of the two: harvesting that which nature sowed.

I wonder then, why it is that we flit about and busy ourselves overmuch. What is it all for? Certainly we don’t all work at a grindstone. Some of us love what we do. I do. It just so happens that few of the things I take interest in have monetary value. Collecting wild foods, for instance, may give me joy and purpose and wondrously new gastronomic experiences, but those things are hardly consistent with “time = money” lines of thought.

For some time during and after college, I was consumed with industriousness and efficiency and the time/money duality. At roundabouts, I would comment on how fluidly the traffic moved. While farming, I prided myself on how quickly I could weed a row of leeks or how my harvesting technique improved the output of the farm.

Upon closer examination of my enthrallment with efficiency, I asked myself a simple question: why so fast?

I never came up with a respectable answer. I wanted the “job,” “task,” or “chore” done. I wasn’t going to enjoy the process, and that was that.

When I looked at this time-and-productivity-obsessed mentality in the long view -brought to a head by encounters with ancient and contemporary hunter-gatherer societies in anthropologist Wade Davis’ travelogues - I realized the disparity between different peoples’ rhythms of life.

Why did these gatherers gather? What did I do anything for? Did I do it for the money or time saved, or for the rawness of the experience itself and for the social and spiritual vitality given me by that experience?

Nowadays I consider myself a wealthy man. I have a knowledge of the forest’s gifts, fast friends new and old, access to all the books I could dream to read, a practiced hand in the kitchen, two eyes for beauty, a working body, excellent nosh-bits (vittles, grub, etc.) on a quotidian basis, a growing spirituality of mysticism, a part-time job and $5,000 dollars per year to live on. The last of these things seems in so many ways an afterthought. My true holdings are the social, emotional and spiritual states that I inhabit and contribute to. This is the wealth that will not diminish with death, the “treasures… moth and rust will [not] destroy” 3.  What business have I laying up any other kind?

And so it’s true. I am a post-capitalist, self-indulgent hedonist, one day at a time. My joys are the vegetarian fajitas with refried beans stewed in roasted coriander seed; carving away at a new cedar spoon; dips in meltwater streams; gathering seeds from a poppy capsule; testing the dye of a mulberry on my face; even working at the restaurant now and again to make that green.

1 The Mulberry (Morus spp.) is one of the most overlooked and downplayed of all common berries. Its fruit is overwhelmingly abundant in June and July and many quarts can be harvested from a single tree over the course of its season. Its only lack is a dismal market value in the U.S..

2 Edward Abbey, Paul Ehrlich

3 Matthew 6:19 (NIV)

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