by Gretchen Mead
I frequently walk down to the creek valley, where I grew up, remembering the plum tree that was once there, the horse that rushed to me from the neighbor’s fenced-in pasture, and the large sunny space that was once my mother’s garden…. must have been an acre, now covered in almost mature succession trees that sprouted up the moment the roto-tiller stopped turning. On occasion, over the years, my heart has ached for that piece of land, the earthy loam, the fresh watercress, the deep sweeping valley, and the gurgling water. I even long to catch crayfish and boil their tails in a pot of creek water over a campfire.
This nostalgia tells me who I am and where I came from; of what I am part. It informs what I love.
The Ancient Greeks are often referenced because of their nuanced definitions of LOVE:
Eros, Agape, Philautia – Self-Love; Ludus – Playful Love; Philia – Deep Friendship; and Pragma – Long-Standing Love such as between a husband and wife. Interestingly, they forgot all about love for the earth, for inanimate objects, for the spirit—pretty much anything non-human. It seems they kind of missed a biggie.
In Greek, “nostos” is the tender looking back, and “algos” is the accompanying pain. Greek philosophers often referred to nostalgia as an illness much like we describe depression today. For me however, nostalgia has been an important part of tapping into something greater than myself, a softening of my mind and body. Its the love of where we came from, food and land—an inextricable piece.
Current culture keeps us ever forward-focused, the myth of perpetual economic growth training recent several generations to focus on what we want next. We spend all of our quiet time for reflection, if we have any at all, wishing for something else and looking toward a moment in the future when we might actually be fulfilled.
This forward thinking, though productive, lacks depth and richness somehow. It lacks love for our past. It lacks nostalgia.
As I pondered this love for the past, I asked around people to tell me about their nostalgia. I guess it was no surprise how frequently food came into the conversation. Memories of Gramma’s baking, Grampa’s raspberry patch, holiday cookie parties, ripe tomatoes, fresh cucumbers with a touch of salt eaten in the grass, the apple tree at the bus stop—the love of our past inextricably tied to the lifeblood that is our food.
There is a warmth and a tenderness waiting to be fostered in this nostalgia. There is a deep love, deeper and with more breadth, perhaps, than the Greek loves of humanity. It is the stream of life that flows through us from the land, and from the food that comes from that land. There is a way to heal the ills of an industrial, economically driven food system in this nostalgia. We just have to allow it to enter our consciousness.
So this summer, as our community’s children dig their little hands into the compost at Concordia Gardens, learn to turn baby seedlings into the veggies they love, and begin creating their own food memories on the farm, I hope you will join us in savoring each present moment of growing our food. Someday this movement will be a part of our nostalgia as we tend to our own homesteads, remembering the days when growing your own food was revolutionary.
I leave you with this poem from Rabindranath Tagore.
The Stream of Life
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves
of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death,
in ebb and in flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood
~ Rabindranath Tagore