Week 1: May 31 to June 6, 2013
The Adventure Begins! Poughkeepsie to New York City
Welcome to the Garden of Happiness, where reality lives
perhaps you can see my ice cream cup
New York City
La Finca del Sur, a woman-run 2 acre urban farm/oasis in the Bronx, was our first farm visit!
Thank you to Karen Washington and all the community members that make the Garden of Happiness flourish.
Now, how can we set everyone a place at the table?
Our last day in New York before REALLY hitting the road
The door leading to Roberta’s Pizza and Heritage Radio is a hidden but the treasure inside is quite blatant. Nested between delicious pizza cooked in an oven shipped all the way from Italy, and a roof top garden tended to by Annie Novak, Heritage Radio emanates the thoughts of engaged minds and hungry hearts.
Thank you to Erin Fairbanks and Heritage Radio members for being interested in our project and treating us to tea and pizza!
Hope we find ourselves back in the Heritage Radio fishbowl again soon!
Goodbye New York City and Hello Newark City!
After fighting off sand, scraps, overgrowth and semis we successfully traversed the Lincoln Highway Overpass and eventually made it to the spectacular Roxbury Diner in Roxbury New Jersey. George gave us some treasure to keep us cozy along the way and we found a lovely spot to sleep under the stars behind a home forgotten by people, embraced by ivy and cherished by tired bikers.
Rolling with it
Thanks Ackermanville Shop but we already got both!
THANK YOU PATAGONIA ENVIRONMENTAL GRANTS PROGRAM!
A welcomed site indeed!
Nuclear plants and corn plants
In search of lunch
Thank you Organic Girl!
A colorful caterpillar named Caitrin
When sleeping near the highway, there are many noises that meander into the ears of resting vagabonds, some distinct and others blurred in the idle hum of moving traffic. However, the noise of the lawn mower that was shearing grass around our tarp at 7:30 a.m. was unmistakable. Moving on from our not-so-abandoned resting place and getting some breakfast at Roxbury’s Bagels, we knew we’d already encountered just the first of many blind turns the day had to offer.
First, how do we get to where we are going today? This resulted in an un-expected visit to the public library and a printed Google maps cue sheet duct taped to my handlebars. The maps proved to be helpful for most of the day except when they lead us onto the New Jersey Highway.
By the time we made it to Brodsheadville it was dusk, about 8:30 p.m., and we still weren’t sure where the campsite was. After questioning about half the population we found resolution at the Chestnut Hill Diner. Rolling into camp we peered between RV homes looking for the night’s terminus.
Around the same time we realized we were going down the wrong potholed muddy gravel road, Catie’s pannier whimsically bounced off her bike and into a puddle of mud. (More a fjord more than a puddle.) Backtracking up the gravel road we eventually landed at our home for the night.
At that point we were hungry. Where was Roxbury Bagels now? Illuminated by headlamps and an abstract interpretation of multicolored light-up palm trees lining the road, we began to cook dinner. Except our stove wasn’t configured correctly. Poring over instruction manuals and with two friendly SOS visits to our rowdy neighbors we successfully concocted a delectable meal of dehydrated mushrooms and spinach.
What do all these slips, stumbles, and false starts mean? They teach us how to bear with the situation at hand even when we want to be elsewhere. Wisdom is being able to reconcile yourself with exactly what is happening. Having things going according to their own plan rather than ours compels us to open ourselves to the reality at hand: biking in the dark, being super hungry, wrestling with soggy panniers, whatever challenge big or small the day brings.
Once we open to reality as it is unfolding before us, we can rest in it. And that we did… what a luscious nights sleep it was.
Jess' Seedlings Rainer caught a chicken!
It began with the grinning faces peering from the front door. It grew as we were lead through garden plots and chicken coops by four eager children ages 3-13. It was solidified listening to their mother Jessica Draus inform us that her home-school educational model was rooted in the principles of systems thinking. Yes, we were home.
The day’s ride to bring us there had been challenging. Little “towns” marked on our map weren’t so much towns as intersections in the middle of dead mining town exoskeletons. Bald Eagle State Forest was breathtaking with its broad-leafed greenery, shining even more in the rain that started to pour around lunchtime. We chugged up and over countless Pocono ridges and peaks. By the time we reached the Draus family we were ready for warmth!
What immediately struck me was how welcoming and gregarious the young children were. They invited us to play on their indoor swings, offered hugs, and insisted on sitting next to us at dinner. They must have learned their gracious openness from their mom, Jessica.
Around the teeming dinner table we spoke with Jessica about her journey Home. At our age her plan was to be a pilot in the military; she never thought she’d return to her home state. All that changed on her cross-country bike trip from Washington to Virginia when she was twenty-three. Inspired by a family she met on the road in Eugene and by the self-reliance of cross-country cycling, a new vision emerged: radical homemaking. In her case, this translates into crafting a home that follows patterns of nature: she respects the biological rhythms of her children in allowing them to determine their own bed times, she closes the loop between food production and food waste, and has designed and built the house her family lives in.
We asked her why, as a mother of four, she opens her home to travelers like us. She brought it back to the family in Eugene whose way of living played such a significant role in the life she would go on to build when she said, “I don’t know how this experience in my home will stay with you, but I remember how much that family impacted me and so I want to be a part of creating that for you.”
Hearing those words I began to realize what a model the Draus family had already become in my mind. Jessica and her playful family epitomize the beauty of self-reliance, togetherness, cooperation, and the grace of creating Home.
Equity vs Equality: Living and Learning the Difference
In the Garden of Happiness we asked Karen what kind of values are involved in doing the kind of work she does. A pause filled the wooden picnic table between us, allowing just enough time for the songbirds’ tunes to reenter my awareness. “The human element,” she responded.
I interpret the human element as the sameness we all share as people: the essential desire to be happy, our common needs for food, water, shelter, safety, and companionship. The human element provides the ground where two gateways to justice, compassion and empathy, open onto the understanding that in many ways we are the same—across race, class, gender, national, and political lines.
But a complication that I’ve been struggling with is: at what point does “the human element” and my desire to see sameness among people become an effacement of the importance and value of difference? What is the balance between the commonality of all alongside the particularity of specific human experiences based on their race/class/gender location in society? How can I recognize commonality and the human element that Karen sagely describes as being essential to her work without assuming universality or minimizing others’ unique situation?
I suppose it comes down to learning the differences, similarities, and overlaps between equality (the human element) and equity (appreciating difference).
For anyone who has been grappling with this question, let’s talk….
Alexandra Nunez is an artist. She describes herself as one, even though I secretly already knew because of the colorful paintbrush tattoo that livens up the pale underneath part of her forearm.
"I want to have my own plot," she told me. Standing with her before a teeming raised bed--raised because the soil beneath is too full of heavy metals to grow edible food--she waved her hands like she was painting, "My plot will be like my canvas. Filling it with color and texture and life, watching it grow, adding, taking away...."
The farmer as artist. She has her media of plants and soil and water, her technical skills and practice, and, perhaps most importantly, the voice of nature that drips like watercolor, adding unexpected growth. The artist farmer has an idea to create, but she also knows when to get out of the way and let the genius of nature move through her.