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Tuesday, November 15, 2011 @ 02:11 AM
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SENECA ON THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE

LIFE IS LONG IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT

PENGUIN BOOKS GREAT IDEAS

TRANSLATED BY C.D.N. COSTA                     1997

PART I

 

Seneca: c. 5 BC –AD 65

 

Chapter 1: On the Shortness of Life

Most human beings, Paulinus, (a friend of Seneca’s) complain about the meanness of nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, and because this spell of time that has been given to us rushes by so sweetly and rapidly that with very few exceptions life ceases for the rest of us just when we are getting ready for it. Nor is it just the man in the street and the unthinking mass of people who groan over this – as they see it – universal evil: the same feeling lies behind complaints from even distinguished men. Hence the dictum of the greatest of doctors (Hippocrates): ‘Life is short, art is long.’ Hence too the grievance, most improper to a wise man, which Aristotle expressed when he was taking nature to task for indulging animals with such long existences that they can live through five or ten human lifetimes, while a far shorter limit is set for men who are born to a great and extensive destiny. It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Just as when ample and princely wealth falls to a bad owner it is squandered in a moment, but wealth however modest, if entrusted to a good custodian, increases with use, so our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly.

Why do we complain about nature? She has acted kindly: life is long if you know how to use it. But one man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks. One man is soaked in wine, another sluggish with idleness. One man is worn out by political ambition, which is always at the mercy of the judgement of others. Another through hope of profit is driven headlong over all lands and seas by the greed of trading. Some are tormented by a passion for army life, always intent on inflicting dangers on others or anxious about danger to themselves. Some are worn out by the self-imposed servitude of thankless attendance on the great. Many are occupied by either pursuing other people’s money or complaining about their own. Many pursue no fixed goal, but are tossed about in ever-changing designs by a fickleness which is shifting, inconstant and never satisfied with itself. Some have no aims at all for their life’s course, but death takes them unawares as they yawn languidly – so much so that I cannot doubt the truth of that oracular remark of the greatest of poets: ‘It is a small part of life we really live.’ Indeed, all the rest is not life but merely time. Vices surround and assail men from every side, and do not allow them to rise again and lift their eyes to discern the truth, but keep them overwhelmed and rooted in their desires. Never can they recover their true selves. If by chance they achieve some tranquillity, just as a swell remains on the deep sea even after the wind has dropped, so they go on tossing about and never find rest from their desires. Do you think I am speaking only of those whose wickedness is acknowledged? Look at those whose good fortune people gather to see: they are choked by their own blessings. How many find their riches a burden! How many burst a blood vessel by their eloquence and their daily striving to show off their talents! How many are pale from constant pleasures! How many are left no freedom by the crowd of clients surrounding them! In a word, run through them all, from lowest to highest: one calls for legal assistance, another comes to help; one is on trial, another defends him, another gives a judgment; no one makes his claim to himself, but is exploited for another’s sake. Ask about those whose names are learned by heart, and you will see that they have these distinguishing marks: X cultivates Y and Y cultivates Z – no one bothers about himself. Again, certain people reveal the most stupid indignation: they complain about the pride of their superiors because they did not have time to give the man audience when they wanted one. But can anyone dare to complain about another’s pride when he himself never has time for himself? Yet whoever you are, the great man has sometimes gazed upon you, even if his look was patronizing, he has bent his ears to your words, he has let you walk beside him. But you never deign to look at yourself or listen to yourself. So you have no reason to claim credit from anyone for those attentions, since you showed them not because you wanted someone else’s company but because you could not bear our own.

  • Men do not let anyone seize their estates, and if there is the slightest dispute about their boundaries they rush to stones and arms; but they allow others to encroach on their lives – why, they themselves even invite in those who will take over their lives.
  • People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

I would fasten on someone from the older generation and say to him: ‘I see that you have come to the last stage of human life; you are close to your hundredth year, or even beyond: come now, hold an audit of your life. Reckon how much of your time has been taken up by a money-lender, how much by a mistress, a patron, a client, quarrelling with your wife, punishing your slaves, dashing about the city on your social obligations. Consider also the diseases which we have brought on ourselves, and the time too which has been unused. You will find that you have fewer years than you reckon. Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore its natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed; what work you have achieved in such a long life; how many have plundered your life when you were unaware of your losses; how much you have lost through groundless sorrow, foolish joy, greedy desire, the seductions of society; how little of your own was left to you. You will realize that you are dying prematurely.’

So what is the reason for this? You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply – though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that your fear, and like immortals in all that you desire. You will hear many people saying: ‘When I am fifty I shall retire into leisure; when I am sixty I shall give up public duties.’ And what guarantee do you have of a longer life? Who will allow your course to proceed as you arrange it? Aren’t you ashamed to keep for yourself just the remnants of your life, and to devote to wisdom only that time which cannot be spent on any business? How late it is to begin really to live when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

You will notice that the most powerful and highly stationed men let drop remarks in which they pray for leisure, praise it, and rate it higher than all their blessings. At times they long to descend from their pinnacles if they can in safety; for even if nothing external assails or agitates it, high fortune of itself comes crashing down.

  • Among the worst offenders I count those who spend all their time in drinking and lust, for these are the worst preoccupations of all.

You can give me a list of miserly men, or hot tempered men who indulge in unjust hatreds or wars: but they are all sinning in a more manly way. It is those who are on a headlong course of gluttony and lust who are stained with dishonour. Examine how these people spend their time – how long they devote to their accounts, to laying traps for others or fearing those laid for themselves, to paying court to others or being courted themselves, to giving or receiving bail, to banquets (which now count as official business): you will see how their activities, good or bad, do not give them even time to breathe.

Finally it is generally agreed that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied – not rhetoric or liberal studies – since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet here is nothing which is harder to learn.

Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die. So many of the finest men have put aside all their encumbrances, renouncing riches and business and pleasure, and made it their one aim up to the end of their lives to know how to live. Yet most of these have died confessing that they did not yet know – still less can those others know. Believe me it is the sign of a great man, and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away: he has the longest possible life simply because whatever time was available he devoted entirely to himself. None of it lay fallow and neglected, none of it under another’s control; for being an extremely thrifty guardian of his time he never found anything for which it was worth exchanging. So he had enough time; but those into whose lives the public have made great inroads inevitably have too little.

  • The man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day.
  • You must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.
  • If each of us could have the tally of his future years set before him, as we can of our past years, how alarmed would be those who saw only a few years ahead, and how carefully would they use them!
  • Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.
  • The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

Life is divided into three periods, past, present and future.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 @ 07:11 AM
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WHERE I LIVED AND WHAT I LIVED FOR

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

GREAT IDEAS PENGUIN BOOKS         1854/2005

PART 1II

 

Where I lived, and What I lived For

At a certain stage of our life we are accustomed to consider every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus surveyed the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live.

  • This experience entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate broker by my friends.
  • The nearest I came to actual possession was when I bought the Hollowell place, but the wife changed her mind and wanted to keep it.

The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its complete retirement, being about two miles from the village, half a mile to the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last occupant; the hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I heard the house-dog bark.

  • Old Cato, whose De Re Rustica is my ‘Cultivator’ says, ‘When you think of getting a farm, turn it thus in your mind, not to buy greedily; nor spare your pains to look at it, and do not think it enough to go round it once. The oftener you go there the more it will please you, if it is good.’
  • When I first took up my abode in the woods on the 4th of July 1845, the house was not finished.
  • I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds; not by having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near them.
  • For the first week, whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain. The very dew seemed to hang upon the trees later into the day than usual, as on the sides of mountains.
  • This small lake was of most value as a neighbor. From a hill top near by, there was a pleasing vista southward across the pond, through a wide indentation in the hills.
  • It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy to and float the earth.
  • One value of even the smallest well is, that when you look into it you see that earth is not continent but insular. This is as important as that it keeps butter cool.
  • Though the view from my door was still more contracted, I did not feel crowded or confined in the least.
  • Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those parts of the universe and to those eras of history which had most attracted me.
  • Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.
  • I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did.
  • There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world.
  • The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour.
  • That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.
  • All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time, and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, ‘All intelligences awake with the morning.’
  • It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.
  • To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.
  • We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.
  • I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.’

  • Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
  • In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.
  • Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, it if be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five, and reduce things in proportion.

The nation itself, with all its so called internal improvements, which, by the way, are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldly and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it as for them is a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast.

  • Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. As for work, we haven’t any of consequence.
  • For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I have never received more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage. And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper.
  • To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.
  • How much more important to know that is which was never old! Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous.
  • If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
  • When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence – that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.
  • I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be.
  • The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then.
  • Let us spend one day as deliberately as nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through new York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, That is, and no mistake.

 

Winter Animals

Conclusion

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from that inhospitable board.

  • How long shall we sit in our porticoes practising idle and musty virtues, which any work would make impertinent?
  • There is not one of my readers who has yet lived a whole human life. These may be but the spring months in the life of the race.
  • We are acquainted with a mere pellicle of the globe on which we live. Most have not delved six feet beneath the surface, nor leaped as many above it.
  • We are sound asleep nearly half our time. Yet we esteem ourselves wise, and have an established order on the surface.
  • As I stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on the forest floor, I am reminded of the greater Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over me the human insect.
  • There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dullness.
  • The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands.
  • Everyone has heard the story of a strong and beautiful bug which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood, from an egg deposited in the living tree many years earlier.
  • Who does not feel his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by hearing of this?
  • Who knows what beautiful and winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead life of society, may unexpectedly come forth to enjoy its perfect summer at last!

I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

Thursday, November 3, 2011 @ 08:11 PM
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WHERE I LIVED AND WHAT I LIVED FOR

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

GREAT IDEAS PENGUIN BOOKS         1854/2005

PART 1I

 

Economy (Cont.)

If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life in years past, it would probably surprise those of my readers who are somewhat acquainted with its actual history; it would certainly astonish those who know nothing about it. I will only hint at some of the enterprises which I have cherished.

in any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.

  • For a long time I was a reporter to a journal, of no very wide circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk of my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only my labor for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their own reward.
  • For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow storms and rain storms, and did my duty faithfully. I looked after the wild stock of the town, which give a faithful herdsman a good deal of trouble by leaping fences.
  • I went on thus for a long time, faithfully minding my business, till it became more and more evident that my townsmen would not after all admit me into the list of town officers, nor make my place a sinecure with a moderate allowance.

Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to offer me any room in the court house, or any curacy or living any where else, but I must shift for myself, I turned my face more exclusively than ever to the woods, where I was better known. I determined to go into business at once, and not wait to acquire the usual capital, using such slender means as I had already got. My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be hindered from accomplishing which for want of a little common sense, a little enterprise and business talent, appeared not so sad as foolish.

I have always endeavored to acquire strict business habits; they are indispensable to every man. If your trade is with the Celestial Empire, then some small counting house on the coast, in some Salem harbor, will be fixture enough. You will export such articles as the country affords, purely native products, much ice and pine timber and a little granite, always in native bottoms. These will be good ventures. To oversee all the details yourself in person; to be at once pilot and captain, and owner and underwriter; to buy and sell and keep the accounts; to read every letter received, and write or read every letter sent; to superintend the discharge of imports night and day; to be upon many parts of the coast almost at the same time; – often the richest freight will be discharged upon a Jersey shore; – to be your own telegraph, unweariedly sweeping the horizon, speaking all passing vessels bound coastwise; to keep up a steady dispatch of commodities, for the supply of such a distant and exorbitant market; to keep yourself informed of the state of the markets, prospects of war and peace every where, and anticipate the tendencies of the results of all exploring expeditions, using new passages and all improvements in navigation; – charts to be studied, the position of reefs and new lights and buoys to be ascertained, and ever, and ever, the logarithmic tables to be corrected, for by error of some calculator the vessel often splits upon a rock that should have reached a friendly pier – there is the untold fate of La Perouse; – universal science to be kept pace with, studying the lives of all great discoverers and navigators, great adventurers and merchants, from Hanno and the Phœnicians down to our day; in fine, account of stock to be taken from time to time, to know how you stand. It is a labor to task the faculties of a man – such problems of profit and loss, of interest, of tare and tret, and gauging of all kinds in it, as demand a universal knowledge.

I have thought that Walden Pond would be a good place for business, not solely on account of the railroad and the ice trade; it offers advantages which it may not be good policy to divulge; it is a good post and a good foundation. No Neva marshes to be filled; though you must everywhere build on piles of your own driving. It is said that a flood-tide, with a westerly wind, and ice in the Neva, would sweep St Petersburg from the face of the earth.

As this business was to be entered into without the usual capital, it may not be easy to conjecture where those means, that will still be indispensable to every such undertaking, were to be obtained.

  • No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience.
  • But even if the rent is not mended, perhaps the worst vice betrayed is improvidence.
  • A man who has at length found something to do will not need to get a new suit to do it in; for him the old will do.
  • It is desirable that a man be clad so simply that he can lay his hands on himself in the dark, and that he live in all respects so compactly and preparedly, that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.
  • The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.
  • When a soldier is hit by a cannon ball rags are as becoming as purple.

I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is becoming every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be wondered at, since, as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that the corporations may be enriched. In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though some may fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

As for shelter, I will not deny that this is now a necessary of life, though there are instances of men having done without it for long periods in colder countries than this.

  • Man wanted a home, a place of warmth, or comfort, first of physical warmth, then the warmth of the affections.
  • It would be well perhaps if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies.

However, if one designs to construct a dwelling house, it behooves him to exercise a little Yankee shrewdness, lest after all he find himself in a workhouse, a labyrinth without a clew, a museum, an almshouse, a prison, or a splendid mausoleum instead.

  • Consider first how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary. I have seen Penobscot Indians, in this town, living in tents of thin cotton cloth, while the snow was nearly a foot deep around them, and I thought that they would be glad to have it deeper to keep out the wind.
  • I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night, and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free.
  • Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this.
  • A comfortable house for a rude and hardy race, that lived mostly out of doors, was once made here almost entirely of such materials as nature furnished ready to their hands.

I think that I speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds of the air have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half the families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now help to keep them poor as long as they live.

  • If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man – and I think that it is, though only the wise improve their advantages – it must be shown that it has produced better dwellings without making them more costly; and the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
  • There is an important distinction between the civilized man and the savage. I wish to show at what a sacrifice this advantage is at present obtained, and to suggest that we may possibly so live as to secure all the advantage without suffering any of the disadvantage.
  • When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, who are at least as well off as the other classes, I find that for the most part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real owners of their farms.
  • The encumbrances sometimes outweigh the value of the farm, so that the farm itself become one great encumbrance.
  • On applying to the assessors, I am surprised to learn that they cannot at once name a dozen in the town who own their farms free and clear.
  • What has been said of the merchants, that a very large majority, even ninety-seven in a hundred, are sure to fail, is equally true of the farmers.
  • Bankruptcy and repudiation are the spring-boards from which much of our civilization vaults and turns its somersets, but the savage stands on the unelastic plank of famine.
  • And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.
  • Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.

Granted that the majority are able to last either to own or hire the modern house with all its improvements. While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings. And if the civilized man’s pursuits are no worthier than the savage’s, if he is employed the greater part of his life in obtaining gross necessaries and comforts merely, why should he have a better dwelling than the former?

But how do the poor minority fare? Perhaps it will be found, that just in proportion as some have been placed in outward circumstances above the savage, others have been degraded below him. The luxury of one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. On the one side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and ‘silent poor’. The myriads who built the pyramids to be the tombs of the Pharaohs were fed on garlic, and it may be were not decently buried themselves. The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns at night perchance to a hut not so good as a wigwam. It is a mistake to suppose that, in a country where the usual evidences of civilization exist, the condition of a very large body of the inhabitants may not be as degraded as that of savages. I refer to the degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich.

  • Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.
  • Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?
  • Shall the respectable citizen thus gravely teach, by precept and example, the necessity of the young man’s providing a certain number of superfluous glowshoes, and umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for empty guests, before he dies?
  • Why should not our furniture be as simple as the Arab’s or the Indian’s?
  • When I think of the benefactors of the race, whom we have apotheosized as messengers from heaven, bearers of divine gifts to man, I do not see in my mind any retinue at their heels, any car-load of fashionable furniture.
  • It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions which the herd so diligently follow.
  • I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way.
  • Men have become the tool of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper.
  • We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.
  • We have adopted Christianity merely as an improved method of agiculture.
  • We have built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb.
  • The best works of art are the expression of man’s struggle to free himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is merely to make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten.
  • When I consider how our houses are built and paid for, or not paid for, and their internal economy managed and sustained, I wonder that the floor does not give way under the visitor while he is admiring the gewgaws upon the mantelpiece, and let him through into the cellar, to some solid and honest though earthy foundation.
  • The first question which I am tempted to put to the proprietor of such great impropriety is, Who bolsters you? Are you one of the ninety-seven who fail, or the three who succeed?

Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall arrowy white pines, sill in their youth, for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it.

  • By the middle of April, for I made no haste in my work, but rather made the most of it, my house was framed and ready for raising.
  • I dug my cellar in the side of a hill sloping to the south.
  • At length, in the beginning of May, with the help of some of my acquaintances, rather to improve so good an occasion for neighborliness than from any necessity, I set up the frame of my house.
  • I began to occupy my house on the 4th of July, as soon as it was boarded and roofed.
  • There is some of the same fitness in a man’s building his own house that there is in a bird’s building its own nest.
  • The exact cost of my house, paying the usual price for such materials as I used, but not counting the work, all of which was done by myself, was as follows: …in all, $28 12½
  • Thus I found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually.

 

Where I lived, and What I lived For

Sunday, October 30, 2011 @ 07:10 AM
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WHERE I LIVED AND WHAT I LIVED FOR

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

GREAT IDEAS PENGUIN BOOKS         1854/2005

PART 1

 

Economy

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone in the woods, a mile from my neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.

  • I have traveled a good deal in Concord; and every where, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways.
  • The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken.
  • I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of.
  • Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in.
  • Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born?
  • How many a poor mortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn 75 feet by 40, its Augean stables never cleansed, and 100 acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot!
  • The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.
  • Men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost.
  • By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal.
  • It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.
  • Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the fractious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.
  • The labouring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he has no time to be any thing but a machine.
  • It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live, for my sight has been whetted by experience; always on the limits, trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt, always promising to pay tomorrow, and dying today insolvent, making yourselves sick, that you may lay up something against a sick day.
  • Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
  • The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What old people say you cannot do you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the phrase is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned any thing of absolute value by living. Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything, to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about.

  • But man’s capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried. Whatever have been thy failures hitherto, ‘be not afflicted, my child, for who shall assign to thee what thou hast left undone?’
  • The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad. One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.
  • So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one center.
  • Confucius said, ‘To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.’

Let us consider for a moment what most of the trouble and anxiety which I have referred to is about, and how much it is necessary that we be troubled, or, at least, careful. The improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of man’s existence; as our skeletons, probably, are not to be distinguished from those of our ancestors. By the words, necessary of life, I mean whatever, of all that man obtains by his own exertions, has been from the first, or from long use has become, so important to human life that few, if any, whether from savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to do without it. To many creatures there is in this sense but one necessary of life, Food. None of the brute creation require more than Food and Shelter. The necessaries of life for man in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed under the several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel; for not till we have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true problems of life with freedom and a prospect of success.

  • At the present day, and in this country, as I find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbarrow, etc, and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be obtained at a trifling cost.
  • Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind.
  • With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor.
  • The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward.
  • To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.
  • When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced.
  • Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above?  – for the nobler plants are valued for the fruit they bear at last in the air and light, far from the ground.

If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life in years past, it would probably surprise those of my readers who are somewhat acquainted with its actual history; it would certainly astonish those who know nothing about it. I will only hint at some of the enterprises which I have cherished.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 @ 06:05 AM
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Book Review

Introduction

In Part 2 of Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed we learn that: “Almost all of the next one billion of net global growth will take place in urban slums. What will these conditions breed for the future? Hopelessness, crime, extremism, terrorism? Who will deal with these chickens when they come home to roost on a globalized perch?” “Left to its own devices, globalization will sow seeds of ever-greater poverty, disease, and hunger in the cities and lead to the loss of viable, self-sufficient rural populations.” “If all the money invested in agricultural biotechnology over the last 15 years had been invested in developing genuinely sustainable techniques – those that work with rather than against nature – we would have seen extraordinary and genuinely sustainable progress.” “The problem is that techniques such as intercropping, agroforestry, green manuring, composting and biological pest control offer less prospect of commercial gain to those who have money to invest.” “There is a growing body of evidence that we are creating a nutritionally impoverished underclass – a generation which has grown up on highly processed fast food from intensive agriculture and for whom the future looks particularly bleak, both from a social and a health standpoint.” “The Slow Food Movement is about celebrating the culture of food and about sharing the extraordinary knowledge – developed over millennia – of the traditions involved with quality food production.”

 

MANIFESTOS ON THE FUTURE OF FOOD AND SEED

EDITED BY VANDANA SHIVA

SOUTH END PRESS                       2007

PART II

 

Chapter 2: Agriculture: The Most Important of Humanity’s Productive Activities by Prince Charles

  • The fact that no fewer than 5,000 food producers have gathered in Terra Madre, under the Slow Food banner is a small but significant challenge to the massed forces of globalization, the industrialization of agriculture, and the homogenization of food – which seem somehow to have invaded almost all areas of our life today.
  • Agriculture is not only the oldest but also the most important of humanity’s activities. It is the foundation of civilization. Today some 60% of the 4 billion people living in developing countries are still working on the land.
  • When I read “visions,” such as that for the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, based on transforming traditional, local agricultural economies into “powerhouses” of technological agriculture, based around monoculture, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), my heart sinks.
  • The missing ingredient in these great plans is always sustainable livelihoods. Its absence increases the existing, awful drift towards degraded, dysfunctional, and unmanageable cities. 
  • The one resource the developing world has in abundance is people, so why are we promoting systems of agriculture that negate this advantage and seem bound to contribute directly to further human misery and indignity?
  • Almost all of the next 1 billion of net global growth (over the next 12 to 15 years) will take place in urban slums. What will these conditions breed for the future? Hopelessness, crime, extremism, terrorism? Who will deal with these chickens when they come home to roost on a globalized perch?
  • Often the consequence of globalization is greater unsustainability. Left to its own devices, globalization will sow seeds of ever-greater poverty, disease, and hunger in the cities and lead to the loss of viable, self-sufficient rural populations.
  • Slum dwellers are not going to head back to the land overnight. The first step to finding solutions is facing up to the causes and scale of the problem and this requires the globalization of responsibility.
  • It is both legitimate and important to ask whether people’s faith in the potential of genetically modified food and other new technologies is wishful thinking or the hype generated by vested interests. Are these methods going to solve humankind’s problems or just create new ones?
  • There are many examples of well-meaning attempts which have gone drastically wrong. I am not convinced that we have absorbed the lesson that manipulating nature is, at best, an uncertain business.
  • Even if we discount the potential for disaster, there is still the question of whether this is the right direction to take. If all the money invested in agricultural biotechnology over the last 15 years had been invested in developing genuinely sustainable techniques – those that work with rather than against nature – we would have seen extraordinary and genuinely sustainable progress.
  • The problem is that techniques such as intercropping, agroforestry, green manuring, composting and biological pest control offer less prospect of commercial gain to those who have money to invest.
  • One of the arguments used by the agricultural industrialists is that it is only through intensification that we will be able to feed an expanded world population. But even without significant investment, and often in the face of official disapproval, improved organic practices have increased yields and outputs dramatically according to a recent UN-FAO study.
  • Imposing industrial farming systems on traditional agricultural economies is actively destroying both biological and social capital and eliminating the cultural identity which has its roots in working on the land.
  • It is also fueling the frightening acceleration of urbanization throughout the world and removing large parts of humanity from meaningful contact with nature and the food that they eat. 
  • Trends toward urbanization are almost inevitable while societies throughout the world continue to put a low valuation on their food, denigrate food to the status of fuel, and abandon any loyalty to their local and indigenous farmers.
  • There is a growing body of evidence that we are creating a nutritionally impoverished underclass – a generation which has grown up on highly processed fast food from intensive agriculture and for whom the future looks particularly bleak, both from a social and a health standpoint.
  • Fast food, as Eric Schlosser has pointed out in his brilliant book Fast Food Nation, is a recent phenomenon. The extraordinary centralization and industrialization of our food system has occurred over as little as 20 years.
  • Fast food appears to be cheap because huge social and environmental costs are being excluded from the calculations. These costs are not reflected in the price of fast food, but that doesn’t mean that our society isn’t paying them.
  • At the end of the day, values such as sustainability, community, health, and taste are more important than pure convenience.
  • The Slow Food Movement is about celebrating the culture of food and about sharing the extraordinary knowledge – developed over millennia – of the traditions involved with quality food production.
  • The coming together, the cross-fertilization, invigoration and sharing ideas at Terra Madre, and joining the Slow Food Movement, will exercise an influence that cannot be easily ignored.
  • The other great food movement which I am associated with, the organic movement, has much in common with the Slow Food Movement, and this communality of purpose and direction ought to be a source of co-operation and, also celebration. I hope that we may see ever closer links between these two important movements.
  • The importance of this movement cannot be overstated. That is, after all, why I am here – to try and help draw attention to the fact that in certain circumstances “small will always be beautiful,” and to remind people , as John Ruskin in the 19th century did, back in England, that “industry without art is brutality.”
  • The food you produce is far more than just food, for it represents an entire culture – the culture of the family farm.
  • It represents the ancient tapestry of rural life: the dedicated animal husbandry, the struggle with the natural elements, the love of landscape, the childhood memories, the knowledge and wisdom learnt from parents and grandparents, the intimate understanding of local climate and conditions, and the hopes and fears of succeeding generations.  
Thursday, May 19, 2011 @ 03:05 AM
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Book Review

Introduction

In part 1 of Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed we learn that: “Slow Food, the movement that has put the culture of growing and eating good, healthy, diverse food at the heart of social, political, and economic transformation, brought together 5,000 members from 1,200 food communities in 130 countries.” “Over the past few decades, food production, processing, and distribution has shifted out of the hands of women, small farmers, and small producers and is being monopolized by global corporate giants such as Cargill, Monsanto, Phillip Morris, and Nestlé.” “Small producers everywhere are being displaced and uprooted by the unfair competition from heavily subsidized agribusiness. The vibrant energy of Terra Madre came from the resilience of producers who had continued to save and share their diverse seeds, live their diverse cultures, speak their diverse languages, and celebrate their diverse food traditions.” “In Terra Madre’s world, small farms produce more than industrial farms while using fewer resources; biodiversity protects the health of the soil and the health of the people; and quality, taste, and nutrition are the criteria for production and processing, not toxic quantity and superprofits for agribusiness.” “By eating organic, we are saying no to toxins and supporting the organic farmer. By rejecting GMOs, we are voting for the rights of small farmers and people’s right to information and health. By eating local, we are taking power and profits away from global agribusiness and strengthening our local food community.” “Eaters are also co-producers and a critical link in creating a sustainable, just, healthy food system because we are what we eat. In making food choices, we make choices about who we are.”

 

MANIFESTOS ON THE FUTURE OF FOOD AND SEED

EDITED BY VANDANA SHIVA

SOUTH END PRESS                       2007

PART I

 

Introduction: Terra Madre: A Celebration of Living Economies by Vandana Shiva

  • In a world dominated by fear and fragmentation, dispensability and despair, a magical gathering of food communities – Terra Madre – took place in Turin, Italy, in October 2004.
  • Slow Food, the movement that has put the culture of growing and eating good, healthy, diverse food at the heart of social, political, and economic transformation, brought together 5,000 members from 1,200 food communities in 130 countries.
  • Terra Madre was a gathering of small producers who refuse to disappear in a world where globalization has written off diversity of species and cultures, small producers, local economies, and indigenous knowledge. Not only are small farmers and local food communities refusing to go away, they are determined to shape a future beyond globalization.
  • Over the past few decades, food production, processing, and distribution has shifted out of the hands of women, small farmers, and small producers and is being monopolized by global corporate giants such as Cargill, Monsanto, Phillip Morris, and Nestlé.
  • Small producers everywhere are being displaced and uprooted by the unfair competition from heavily subsidized agribusiness. The vibrant energy of Terra Madre came from the resilience of producers who had continued to save and share their diverse seeds, live their diverse cultures, speak their diverse languages, and celebrate their diverse food traditions.
  • This was not the world of the World Trade Organization (WTO), where only agribusiness exists; where agricultural trade basically means soya, corn, rice, wheat, and canola; where one company (Monsanto) accounts for 94% of the world’s genetically modified organisms (GMOs); and where most food grown is not eaten by humans but by billions of captive animals in factory farms.
  • In Terra Madre’s world, small farms produce more than industrial farms while using fewer resources; biodiversity protects the health of the soil and the health of the people; and quality, taste, and nutrition are the criteria for production and processing, not toxic quantity and superprofits for agribusiness.
  • Diversity provides the ground for us to turn our food systems around – diversity of crops, diversity of foods, and diversity of cultures. Diversity provides both the resistance to monocultures and the creative alternative. Our strength is our uniqueness and variety, a strength that can be eroded only when we give up on it ourselves.

 

Another paradigm for food

  • Terra Madre provided an opportunity and platform to articulate another paradigm for food. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, called upon everyone to defend the rights, knowledge, and creativity of small producers all over the world and to abandon the gap between consumer and producer. 
  • By eating organic, we are saying no to toxins and supporting the organic farmer. By rejecting GMOs, we are voting for the rights of small farmers and people’s right to information and health. By eating local, we are taking power and profits away from global agribusiness and strengthening our local food community.
  • Eaters are also co-producers and a critical link in creating a sustainable, just, healthy food system because we are what we eat. In making food choices, we make choices about who we are.
  • The industrialization and globalization of our food systems is dividing us: North-South, producer-consumer, rich-poor. The most significant source of our separation and division is the myth of ‘cheap’ food, the myth that industrial food systems produce more food and hence are necessary to end poverty. However, small, biodiverse organic farms have higher output than large industrial monocultures.
  • Globalized, industrialized food is not cheap. It is too costly for the earth, for the farmers, and for our health. The earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species, and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt inevitable in industrial farming.
  • Industrial farming is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. It is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy.
  • Corporate agriculture uses 10 times more energy than it produces, 10 times more water than ecological agriculture. It is 10 times less efficient. If all the people involved in nonsustainable food production were counted, the labor efficiency of industrial food would be lower than that of ecological food.
  • Industrial food is not cheap because it is efficient but because it is supported by subsidies and it externalizes all costs – the wars, the diseases, the environmental destruction, the cultural decay, the social disintegration.
  • In India we are creating food democracy through freedom farms, freedom villages, and freedom zones. Organic farms free of chemicals and toxins and zones free of corporate (GMOs) and patented seeds are creating a bottom-up democracy of food to counter the top-down food dictatorship.

 

VOICES FROM TERRA MADRE

 

Chapter 1: Communities of Food by Carlo Petrini

  • We never imagined that 1,200 food communities from 150 countries would converge together at Terra Madre. Founded on sentiment, fraternity, and rejection of egoism, these food communities have a strategic importance in designing a new society based on fair trade.
  • These communities are depositories of ancient and modern wisdom. Cooking is language, identity, and a primary need of all humankind. No one food culture is more important than another. Each expresses a profound identity and its language through food. We have to respect these diversities. All foodstuffs are representative of the great wisdom of humankind and the never-ending fight against hunger.
  • Terra Madre reveals not only evidence of this wisdom but also the environmental, social, and economic problems that affect our daily labor and must not be threatened by the logic of productivity, by the manipulation of genes, by the profit motive of a privileged few, by a lack of respect for the environment, by the exploitation of workers.
  • The battle we are waging to defend the biodiversity of the planet is a battle for civilization. The right to own land and seeds is a sacrosanct right for all the world’s vegetable growers.
  • The strong seed of the Terra Madre is the practice of the local economy, based on three principles: solidarity, support, and subsistence. In producing food locally, people adopt the habits that shorten distance between the producer and consumer, that contribute to the well-being of the community, that help those who work in the fields to prosper, that give health, that give beauty to their own land. The local economy is in perfect harmony with nature.
  • The world’s food crises are a fact of life: water shortages; excessive use of chemical fertilizers, infertile soils; loss of biodiversity; global warming. The unsustainability of this economy is becoming clear.
  • What is not clear is the degree of our own complicity, our own responsibility as individual consumers in this so-called developed world. The citizens of the so-called underdeveloped world must show us the way toward an economy that relocalizes consumption and agricultural production.
  • The damage wrought by the many authors of the market economy is not simply the disaster being created; it is also the ridicule, the sneering, the derision of the local economy, declaring that local economies are not scientific.
  • Food must be good, clean and fair. We are not condemned to eat badly. Clean because one cannot produce nourishment by straining ecosystems, ruining the air, and destroying biodiversity. Fair because the citizen must be paid; young people working the land must have dignity and fulfillment. They must be valued.
  • Never as in this moment of time have consumers shared a common destiny. The safeguarding of our food heritage is a mutual obligation. Only if consumers become co-producers and fully grasp the fact that production is being threatened, can we leave this difficult moment behind us. We must seek out alliances in every community and become an active part in the fight against malnutrition and hunger.

 

Chapter 2: Agriculture: The Most Important of Humanity’s Productive Activities by Prince Charles

 

Thursday, May 5, 2011 @ 05:05 AM
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AMERICAN FARM SCHOOL

BRUCE LANSDALE MEMORIAL

PART VII

Introduction

On February 1, 1990 Bruce Lansdale was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Agriculture by the Faculty of Agriculture of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki. This part of the Bruce Lansdale Memorial is the Introduction by Professor Lucas Ananikas, Chairman of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Assistant Dean of the School of Agriculture. It is followed in Part VIII by The Power of Myth in Rural Development presented by Bruce M. Lansdale

THE POWER OF MYTH IN RURAL DEVELOPMENT

 

BY

 

Bruce M. Lansdale

 

 

PRESENTED ON THE OCCASION

 

OF HIS BEING AWARDED

 

AN HONORARY DEGREE

 

OF

 

DOCTOR OF AGRICULTURE

 

BY THE

 

FACULTY OF AGRICULTURE

 

OF THE

 

ARISTOTELIAN UNIVERSITY

 

OF THESSALONIKI

 

 

Thessaloniki, Greece

February 1, 1990

 


DECREE

Of the department of the School of Agricultural Sciences of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki

Because

BRUCE M. LANSDALE

A National of the United States of North America during his Presidency at the

American Farm School of Thessaloniki

Has been a successful servant of Agricultural Science through research and teaching

THE DECISION WAS TAKEN

By the Department of the distinguished School of the Agricultural Sciences of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki at its meeting on the First Day of the Month of February of the Year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Ninety

TO PROCLAIM

BRUCE M. LANSDALE

Good Teacher and Distinguished Servant

Of the Science of Agriculture

AS A

HONORARY DOCTOR

And Bestow unto him all the privileges pertaining to this office

At Thessaloniki the First Day of the Month of February of the Year

Nineteen Hundred and Ninety

The President                                                                                      The Secretary

Thomas A. Alifakiotis                                                                         Asimina G. Bellou

BY THE GRACE OF GOD

UNDER THE PROTECTIVE SHELTER

OF THE HELLENIC REPUBLIC

 

 

Under the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki Rectorship of

ANTONIOS CHRISTOS TRAKATELLIS

Professor of Agriculture

Currently at the Department of Agriculture of the School of Agricultural Sciences

PRESIDENT

BRUCE M. LANSDALE

Coming Forth from the United States of North America

Good teacher and Distinguished Servant of the Sciences of Agriculture

As a Tribute to him for all he contributed to this service

By unanimous decision of the Department of Agriculture of the

School of Agricultural Sciences among its Honorary Doctors

In the Year Ninety and Nine Hundred and One Thousand

First of the Month of February

The Rector                                                                                          The President

Antonios C. Trakatellis                                                           Thomas A. Alifakiotis

INTRODUCTION BY PROFESSOR LUCAS ANANIKAS

CHAIRMAN OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS

AND

ASSISTANT DEAN OF THE SCHOOL OF AGRICULTURE

I want to express my deep gratitude to the Department of Agriculture of the School of Agricultural Sciences for the honor they have bestowed upon me to allow me to introduce to you Mr. Bruce M. Lansdale, Director of the American Farm School, with whom I have the good fortune of working over a period of many years. I and those of my colleagues who applied to the Department of Agriculture asking for this distinction to be conferred upon Mr. Lansdale, had in mind his long and continuous contribution to the development of agricultural education in Greece, to the distribution and application of agricultural improvements and to the application of community development programs; his continuous effort and activity in the area of preserving the customs and traditions of rural Greece; his multifaceted social activities; but also his contribution to the National Sector through his spreading the Greek ideas and philosophy internationally, all accomplished during his forty years as Director of the American Farm School in Thessaloniki.

Mr. Bruce Lansdale was born in 1925 in the state of Massachusetts in the United States. He completed his grammar school studies in Greece and his high school in the U.S. In 1945 he received his B.S. degree in Engineering from the University of Rochester. He returned to Greece in 1946 at the age of 21 and worked there as Assistant Director on a volunteer basis. In 1948 he enrolled in the School of Agriculture of Cornell University. In 1949 he was granted a M.S. degree from the same university, in the field of Agricultural Social Studies and Agricultural Education. In 1949 he married Elizabeth Krihak, also a University of Rochester graduate. They have four children.

In 1949 he returned to the American Farm School in Thessaloniki and became the first Fulbright Program Professor in Greece. In 1952 he became Associate Director of the School, and in 1955 he took over as Director of the School until 1990.

Since 1951 he has been busy with educational and research projects in the area of Agricultural Education and Community Development for rural population. As a result, the Greek Ministry of Agriculture launched its Rural Applications Program at the A.F.S. facilities, while many agriculturalists specializing in rural applications were encouraged to study further in the United States.

Very early on in his career, in 1957, Bruce Lansdale organized a special community development program for 165 rural Greek communities, with the objective that local government should undertake development initiative, and create a pool of locals to work in development. His work toward the introduction and utilization of modern technology in Greek agriculture is also considered important. He contributed to the meat production industry with improved breeds of chickens (1958), with importing the first spindle-type cotton picker (1959), importing frozen bull semen, and through the embryo transplant program (1985).

The Greek government, in recognition of his contribution to the development of Greek agriculture awarded him the medal of Officer, Royal Order of King George I, (1963) and the medal of Commander  of the Order of Honor (1986), considered to be the highest decoration awarded to private foreign citizens who live and work in Greece. He has also received a great number of scholarships, awards and distinctions both from Greece and the U.S. He has been granted scholarships by the Fulbright, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and he has been a member of the boards of directors of several philanthropic societies in Greece.

During his years at he American Farm School, more than 1500 boys and girls from all parts of Greece have graduated from the school’s vocational agricultural lyceum. Many of them have been sent to the U.S. under scholarship to further their education, to participate in exchange programs, to attend seminars, and to obtain degrees in agriculture. There are more than 2,500 people in the U.S. today who have helped the AFS financially, offering scholarships for the Greek boys and girls from various villages around the country.

Bruce Lansdale became known as a fine philhellene not only through his contribution to the School, but mainly because of his unselfish love for Greece and the Greeks. The educational climate that developed at the School is not simply one that educates the students and thoroughly prepares the youngsters for a career in agriculture, but it creates responsible individuals, wholesome human beings with deep faith in their Greek identity and Greek orthodox tradition. In his frequent visits to America, Asia, Europe and Africa, he spreads the Greek idea and philosophy and contributes to the development of contacts between our country and countries from these regions.

As a result of these contacts, special seminars have been organized at the AFS since 1987 on agricultural education and rural development for agricultural extension agents and educators from Africa and Asia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What you have heard, and much more I do not have time to cover, give you an idea of Mr. Bruce Lansdale’s multifaceted personality. For this reason, it has been an especially pleasant duty and great honor to present to you, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Bruce Lansdale.

Saturday, April 23, 2011 @ 05:04 AM
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FARMERS OF FORTY CENTURIES

OR

PERMANENT AGRICULTURE IN CHINA, KOREA AND JAPAN

F. H. KING, D. Sc.

RODALE PRESS     1911

F. H. KING, D. Sc.

F. H. King was formerly Professor of Agricultural Physics in the University of Wisconsin and Chief of Division of Soil Management, US Department of Agriculture. He was author of The Soil; Irrigation and Drainage; Physics of Agriculture; Ventilation for Dwellings, Rural Schools and Stables.

Back cover

A classic, this book is an invaluable resource for today’s gardeners and small-scale farmers, as well as for students of agriculture, organic techniques, and ecology.

Follow the fascinating journey of an extraordinary man who travelled to Asia to uncover the secrets of the ancient farming methods that have been used to feed millions of people for more than 40 centuries.

Dr. King, former chief of the Soil Division of the US Department of Agriculture, went to Asia in the early 1900s to find out how farmers in China, Korea, and Japan could farm the same fields for 40,000 years without destroying their fertility and without applying artificial fertilizer. This landmark book chronicles his travels and his remarkable observations of intensive cultivation that wastes nothing and conserves natural resources.

Rich in wisdom and information, Farmers of Forty Centuries details for modern farmers and gardeners information on:

  • Composting
  • Crop rotation
  • Green manuring
  • Intertillage
  • Irrigation
  • Drought-resistant crops

Preface by Dr. L. H. Bailey

We have not yet gathered up the experience of mankind in the tilling of the earth; yet the tilling of the earth is the bottom condition of civilization. If we are to assemble all the forces and agencies that make for the final conquest of the planet, we must assuredly know how it is that all the peoples in all the places have met the problem of producing their sustenance out of the soil.

  • We have had few great agricultural travellers and few books that describe the real and significant rural conditions. The Spirit of scientific enquiry must now be taken into this field, and all earth-conquest must be compared and the results be given to the people that work.
  • This was the point of view in which I read Professor King’s manuscript. It is the writing of a well-trained observer who went forth not to find diversion or to depict scenery and common wonders, but to study the actual conditions of life of agricultural peoples.
  • We in North America are wont to think that we may instruct all the world in agriculture, because our agricultural wealth is great and our exports to less favored peoples have been heavy; but this wealth is great because our soil is fertile and new, and in large acreage for every person.
  • We have really only begun to farm well. The first condition of farming is to maintain fertility. This condition the oriental peoples have met, and they have solved it in their way.
  • The newer countries may never reach such density of population as have Japan and China; but we must nevertheless learn the first lesson in the conservation of natural resources, which are the resources of the land. This is the message that Professor King brought home from the East.
  • It is a misfortune that Professor King could not have lived to write the concluding “Message of China and Japan to the World.” It would have been a careful and forceful summary of his study of eastern conditions. At he moment when the work was going to the printer, he was called suddenly to the endless journey and his travel here was left incomplete.
  • But he bequeathed us a new piece of literature, to add to his standard writings on soils and on the applications of physics and devices to agriculture. Whatever he touched he illuminated.

Introduction

A word of introduction is need to place the reader at the best view point from which to consider what is said in the following pages regarding the agricultural practices and customs of China, Korea and Japan. It should be borne in mind that the great factors which today characterize, dominate and determine the agricultural and other industrial operations of western nations were physical impossibilities to them one hundred years ago, and until then had been so to all people.

Density of population

It should be observed, too, that the United States as yet is a nation of but few people widely scattered over a broad virgin land with more than 20 acres to support every man, woman and child, while the people whose practices are to be considered are toiling in fields tilled more than 3,000 years and who have scarcely more than 2 acres per capita, more than half of which is uncultivable mountain land.

Waste

Again, the great movement of cargoes of feeding stuffs and mineral fertilizers to western Europe and to the eastern United States began less than a century ago and has never been possible as a means of maintaining soil fertility in China, Korea or Japan, nor can it be continued indefinitely in either Europe or America. These importations are for the time making tolerable the waste of plant food materials through our modern systems of sewage disposal and other faulty practices; but the Mongolian races have held all such wastes, both urban and rural, and many others which we ignore, sacred to agriculture, applying them to their fields.

A people morally and intellectually strong

We are to consider some of the practices of a virile race of some 500 millions of people who have an unimpaired inheritance moving with the momentum acquired through 4,000 years; a people morally and intellectually strong, mechanically capable, who are awakening to a utilization of all the possibilities which science and invention during recent years have brought to western nations; and a people who have long dearly loved peace but who can and will fight in self defense if compelled to do so.

Learning from Chinese and Japanese farmers

We had long desired to stand face to face with Chinese and Japanese farmers; to walk through their fields and to learn by seeing some of their methods, appliances and practices which centuries of stress and experience have led these oldest farmers in the world to adopt. We desired to learn how it is possible, after 20 and perhaps 30 or even 40 centuries, for their soils to be made to produce sufficiently for the maintenance of such dense populations as are living now in these three countries. We have now had this opportunity and almost every day we were instructed, surprised and amazed at the conditions and practices which confronted us whichever way we turned; instructed in the ways and extent to which these nations for centuries have been and are conserving and utilizing their natural resources, surprised at the magnitude of the returns they are getting from their fields, and amazed at the amount of efficient human labor cheerfully given for a daily wage of five cents and their food, or for fifteen cents, United States currency, without food.

Japan

The three main islands of Japan in 1907 had a population of 46,977,003 maintained on 20,000 square miles of cultivated field. This is at the rate of more than three people to each acre, and of 2,349 to each square mile; and yet the total agricultural imports into Japan in 1907 exceed the agricultural exports by less than one dollar per capita. If the cultivated land of Holland is estimated at but one-third of her total area, the density of her population in 1905 was, on this basis, less than one-third that of Japan in her three main islands. At the same time Japan is feeding 69 horses and 56 cattle, nearly all labouring animals, to each square mile of cultivated field, while we were feeding in 1900 but 30 horses and mules per same area, these being our labouring animals.

As coarse food transformers Japan was maintaining 16,500,000 domestic fowl, 825 per square mile, but only one for almost three of her people. We were maintaining, in 1900, 250,600,000 poultry, but only 387 per square mile of cultivated field and yet more than 3 for each person.

Density of population

  • The rural population of the United States in 1900 was placed at the rate of 61 per square mile of improved farm land and there were 30 horses and mules. In Japan the rural population had a density in 1907 of 1,922 per square mile, and of horses and cattle together 125.

 

Need of mutual understanding

  • It is high time for each nation to study the others and by mutual agreement and co-operative effort, the results of such studies should become available to all concerned.
  • If some broad plan of international effort such as is here suggested were organized, taken in the interests of world uplift and world peace, it could not fail to be more efficacious and less expensive than increase in fighting equipment.
  • It would cultivate a spirit of pulling together and of a square deal rather than one of holding aloof and of striving to gain unneighborly advantage.

 

High efficiency

  • Many factors and conditions conspire to give to the farms and farmers of the Far East their high maintenance efficiency.
  • The portions of China, Korea and Japan where dense populations have developed and are being maintained occupy exceptionally favourable geographic positions as far as these influence agricultural production, giving them longer seasons where they grow 2, 3 and even 4 crops on the same piece of ground each year.
  • Nearly 500 million people are being maintained, chiefly upon the products of an area smaller than the improved farm lands of the United States.

 

Rainfall

  • The rainfall in these countries is not only larger than even in our Atlantic and Gulf States, but it falls more exclusively during the summer season when its efficiency in crop production may be highest.
  • The selection of rice and of the millets as the staple food of these three nations, and the systems of agriculture they have evolved to realize the most from them, are to us remarkable and indicate a grasp of essentials and principles which may well cause western nations to pause and reflect.
  • Each of these nations have selected the one crop which permits them to utilize not only practically the entire amount of rain which falls upon their fields, but in addition enormous volumes of the run-off from adjacent uncultivable mountain country.
  • It is evident that these people, centuries ago, came to appreciate the value of water in crop production as no other nations have. They have adapted conditions to crops and crops to conditions until with rice they have a cereal which permits the most intense fertilization and at the same time the ensuring of maximum yields against both drought and flood.
  • With the practice of western nations in all humid climates, no matter how completely and highly we fertilize, in more years than not yields are reduced by a deficiency or an excess of water.
  • China alone has as many acres in rice each year as the United States has in wheat and her annual product is more than double and probably threefold our annual wheat crop, and yet the whole of the rice area produces at least one and sometimes two other crops each year.

 

Conserving soil moisture

  • The selection of the quick-maturing, drought-resisting millets as the great staple food crops to be grown wherever water is not available for irrigation, and the almost universal planting in hills or drills, permitting intertillage, thus adopting centuries ago the utilization of earth mulches in conserving soil moisture, has enabled these people to secure maximum returns in seasons of drought and where the rainfall is small.
  • These people have with rare wisdom combined both irrigation and dry farming methods to an extent and with an intensity far beyond anything our people have ever dreamed, in order that they might maintain their dense populations.

 

Fertilization

  • Judicious and rational methods of fertilization are everywhere practised; but not until recent years, and only in Japan, have mineral commercial fertilizers been used.
  • For centuries all cultivated lands, including adjacent hill and mountain sides, the canals, streams and the sea have been made to contribute what they could toward the fertilization of the cultivated fields and these contributions in the aggregate have been large.
  • In China, in Korea and in Japan all but the inaccessible portions of their vast extent of mountain and hill lands have long been taxed to their full capacity for fuel, lumber and herbage for green manure and compost material; and the ash of practically all of the fuel and of all of the lumber used at home finds its way ultimately to the fields as fertilizer.
  • Both soil and subsoil are carried into the villages, composted with organic refuse and used on the fields as home-made fertilizers.
  • Manure of all kinds, human and animal, is religiously saved and applied to the fields in a manner which secures an efficiency far above our own practices.

 

Leguminous plants

  • It was not until 1888 that it was conceded that leguminous plants acting as hosts for lower organisms living on their roots are largely responsible for the maintenance of soil nitrogen, drawing it directly from the air to which it is returned through the processes of decay.
  • But centuries of practice had taught the Far East farmers that the culture and use of these crops are essential to enduring fertility, and so in each of the three countries the growing of legumes in rotation with other crops very extensively for the express purpose of fertilizing the soil is one of their old, fixed practices.

 

The oriental farmer is a time economizer beyond all others

  • The husbandman is an industrial biologist and as such is compelled to shape his operations so as to conform with the time requirements of his crops. The oriental farmer is a time economizer beyond all others. He uses the first and last minute and all that are between.
  • They are a people who definitely set their faces toward the future and lead time by the forelock. They have long realized that much time is required to transform organic matter into forms available for plant food and although they are the heaviest users in the world, the largest portion of this organic matter is pre-digested with soil or subsoil before it is applied to their fields.
  • It lengthens their growing season and enables them to adopt a system of multiple cropping which would not otherwise be possible.

 

Intertillage

  • By planting in hills and rows with intertillage it is very common to see three crops growing upon the same field at one time, but in different stages of maturity, one nearly ready to harvest; one just coming up, and the other at the stage when it is drawing most heavily upon the soil.
  • By such practice, with heavy fertilization, and by supplemental irrigation when needful, the soil is made to do full duty throughout the growing season.
  • They save in many ways except in the matter of human labor, which is the one thing they have in excess.
  • By thoroughly preparing the seed bed, fertilizing highly and giving the most careful attention, they are able to grow on one acre, during 30 to 50 days, enough plants to occupy 10 acres and in the meantime on the other 9 acres crops are maturing, being harvested and the fields being fitted to receive the rice when it is ready for transplanting, and in effect this interval of time is added to their growing season.

 

Silk culture

  • Silk culture is great and, in some ways, one of the most remarkable industries of the Orient. A low estimate of China’s raw silk equals in value the wheat crop of the United States, but produced on less than one-eighth the area of our wheat fields.
  • The cultivation of tea in China and Japan is another of the great industries of these nations.

 

Sanitary measures

  • Judged by the success of the most thorough sanitary measures thus far instituted, and taking into consideration the inherent difficulties which must increase enormously with increasing populations, it appears inevitable that modern methods must ultimately fail in sanitary efficiency and that absolute safety can be secured only in some manner having the equivalent effect of boiling drinking water, long ago adopted by the Mongolian races.
  • But above any other factor, and perhaps greater than all of them combined in contributing to the high maintenance efficiency attained in these countries must be placed the standard of living to which the industrial classes have been compelled to adjust themselves, combined with their remarkable industry and with the most intense economy they practice along every line of effort and of living.

 

Economy and industry

Almost every foot of land is made to contribute material for food, fuel or fabric. Everything which can be made edible serves as food for man or domestic animals. Whatever cannot be eaten or worn is used for fuel. The wastes of the body, of fuel and of fabric worn beyond other use are taken back to the field, before doing so they are housed against waste from weather, compounded with intelligence and forethought and patiently labored with through one, three or even six months, to bring them into the most efficient form to serve as manure for the soil or as feed for the crop. It seems to be a golden rule with these industrious classes, or if not golden, then an inviolable one, that whenever an extra hour or day of labor can promise even a little larger return then that shall be given, and neither a rainy day nor the hottest sunshine shall be permitted to cancel the obligation or defer its execution.

Friday, April 22, 2011 @ 05:04 AM
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AMERICAN FARM SCHOOL

BRUCE LANSDALE MEMORIAL

PART V

Introduction

In re-making the American Farm School to fit the post-war era, Bruce Lansdale knew that he could not do it alone, especially in a world where the values on which the School was founded found little support from the general public. The success of the institution preparing students combining high ethical values who would also be competent conducting their business in today’s world could only be accomplished with a strong and supportive staff who were prepared to work for much less than they could earn in the outside world – men and women who placed service above money. One of those people was Theo Litsas.

A review of

MY METAMORPHOSIS

A TAPESTRY OF PEOPLE, PLACES AND EVENTS

ELIZABETH LANSDALE

ENARETOS PRESS                        2007

info@afs.edu.gr www,afs.edu.gr

PART III

Chapter 10: My Earliest Mentor, Theo Litsas: 1950-1963

From the moment I laid eyes on Theo Litsas, doing jumping jacks on the runway at the Thessaloniki airport when I first arrived, I felt a strong bond with my first Macedonian Greek. Indeed, he became my most enduring friend and my number one mentor, “wise and trusted counselor” as he was to countless others. Theo taught me how to live with the Greeks, to absorb their unique effervescence, to laugh at their foibles, and to cry with them in their overwhelming sense of loss at death. It was impossible to be in his presence and not find oneself laughing, or at least smiling. He found life so amusing. The most mundane occurrences evoked his inimitable chuckle.

Bruce learned much from Theo too. He was beginning his job as Assistant Director of the Farm School, with very limited administrative experience: he was green around the gills. Whenever Theo saw the inexperienced young director about to take a wrong path, he would say, “Bruce, I would like to tell you a Hodja story, and Bruce understood he had a lesson coming.

On one occasion, before Bruce had a chance to fire a miscreant worker, Theo told him the story of Hodja who was trying to break into a store by filing away at the iron grillwork.

“What are you doing?” a passing policeman demanded.

“Oh, I’m playing my violin,” replied the quick-witted Hodja, using the file as a bow to sweep across an imaginary violin.

“But I don’t hear any music,” the befuddled policeman said.

“Ah, but you will tomorrow,” replied the Hodja.

Bruce laughed but quickly realized that there would be significant repercussions if the man were fired.

When I first met Theo, he was in his forties and prematurely gray, although he had the body and energy of a teenager. He was slender and wiry with a Chaplinesque demeanor, and moved effortlessly, gracefully, yet with a tensile internal strength. One thought of him as being tall, but he wasn’t. He had angular features, with a large Grecian nose under bushy eyebrows and angular ears sticking out the side of his head. “So I can hear you better,” he would laugh.

As Program Director, Theo was intimately involved in all the school’s activities, interacting with students, staff, graduates, parents, refugees and villagers. He loved to mix with the boys and play their games with them. A favorite game was a strenuous “Long Donkey.” A row of about seven or eight boys each bent over and tucked his head between the legs of the boy bent in front, making a long, strong back. Then the fastest one made a running leap to see if he could reach and land on the hump of the leader. Others followed until the line collapsed in a heap of roaring laughter. Litsas was usually at the bottom of the pile, laughing uproariously at the tumble.

But he was also a respected teacher for these young men. One day, as I was on my way to morning assembly, the game reached a crescendo of mirth just as the school bell rang. One tiny first class boy, Spyros Papalexiou, from the village of Kolindros in the foothills of Mount Olympus, took his place in chapel along with his classmates. He was still laughing at their antics. I noticed Mr. Litsas watching him, and with a nod of his head and roll of his eyes indicate to Spyros that he was to remain after chapel. Years later, Spryos became a successful businessman, amassed a fortune, and was elected a trustee of the School. He confided in me what had happened when he and Theo met after the assembly:

“‘My boy,’ Litsas said as I stood trembling. ‘Don’t you know that there is a time for everything? When we play, we play. When we pray, we pray. You’ll have to be punished for breaking the rules.’

“In those days the Greeks followed the English discipline of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ Litsas picked up the teacher’s pointer and slapped it against the palm of my hand. Then he exclaimed, ‘But look at you. You’re nothing but skin and bones. Go to the dorm and put on the heaviest overcoat you can find and then I’ll beat you.” Spyros explained to us, “Mr. Litsas treated me as his son. I was wild and needed the discipline. I got the beating I deserved – through a heavy winter coat. It was a lesson for me that I never forgot. Tough discipline with loving compassion.”

Aletheia Pattison, daughter of a former governor of Ohio was visiting the School when war broke out, forcing her to leave her touring car behind. After the war, she returned to the School and inquired, “Where is my car, Theo?”

“Give me a day, Miss Pattison,” Theo replied, “and you shall have it.” It seems that Theo had dismantled the car when the Germans arrived, and pieces of it had found their way to various places about town. Miraculously, the very next day, its sundry parts were collected, and it was reassembled in the School’s machine shop and returned to the owner.

One afternoon, Bruce came home from a meeting, furious. “I’ll never understand that Litsas. The editor of the New Truth newspaper came to the School to ask us to collaborate with large corporations and institutions to build floats to celebrate the opening of the Thessaloniki Trade Fair. Theo and I knew he was coming and had agreed beforehand that we couldn’t possibly afford to get involved. But it was as if our conversation never happened. You should have heard him going on and on about what the School could do. He suggested that the School’s grand finale would be to release white doves over the officials. I couldn’t believe it.

“When the editor left, he could see me fuming. ‘No, Bruce,’ he said, ‘it is like Hodja who was sentenced to death, but he told the Sultan that if he commuted the sentence, then he, Hodja, would teach the Sultan’s camel to talk. The Sultan was amazed and agreed. They set off for a ten-day pilgrimage to Mecca. Every hour Hodja would stop the long caravan, get down and whisper in the ear of the Sultan’s camel. This happened so often that the Sultan became exasperated.’ “Tell me what you’re saying to the camel and I’ll spare your life.” “I’m telling him that either he will die before Mecca, or the Sultan will die, or I will die, so let’s just go along with it.” That, in a nutshell, was Theo’s philosophy. Within a week, he ran into our house waving the local newspaper. “Look, Bruce. The editor has just died! You see, aren’t you glad we didn’t let him die an unhappy man?”

Theo would often invite us to his Litsas farm in the nearby village of Sedes, now Thermi, where he had single-handedly created a green oasis of tall pines and fruit trees.

“It was a barren field when I married Chrysanthe,” he told us.” It was her dowry. I would walk to the University Farm, a demonstration farm run for the agricultural students. It is located about six miles from the Farm School, heading toward the airport. I would go every morning before work and carry saplings on my back. The local farmers who were sitting in the coffee house, would laugh at me and call out, ‘Hey, Litsas, are you planting a forest?’ But now they bring their children to play under the trees. In summer I turn it into an outdoor camp for orphans.”

The multifaceted venue of the Farm School offered Theo a perfect stage to connect rural boys with people from all walks of life. In June of 1928, the nine graduates were preparing for their overnight excursion to Mount Olympus when Dorathea Hughes, an American Quaker, begged to go along. Following an arduous eight-hour climb, they sat around a small bonfire. Gently, Dorathea’s voice touched their reveries. “Tell me what is your biggest dream for your future?”

“I wish I could have a tractor. What a difference it would make on my farm.” “I wish I could have a farm.” The dreams continued around the circle as the boys poured out their innermost desires: continuing their education, going to America, building a house.

Back at the School a few days later, Dorathea invited the class, along with Ann and Charlie House and Theo Litsas, to her small room for tea. Quietly, she smiled at each one.

“You will be happy to know that an anonymous benefactor has granted all your wishes.” This simple lady turned out to be a person of vast wealth. The boys could only blink in astonishment.

When Theo finished narrating the story, he concluded, “It was one of the typical miracles that continually happens at the School.” I looked wide-eyed at Bruce. Theo was one of the first people at the School to teach me about miracles, extraordinary events that surpassed all expectations.

The summer of 1932 was a time of financial crisis for the School following the Depression in the US, and there was talk of closing the American Farm School. Theo’s counter-initiative not only sent a message to the Board, but also set a pattern among the staff. He wrote:

June 2, 1932

Dear Mr. House,

Taking into consideration the heavy financial problems which the School is facing these most difficult times by the depreciation of income to the School, due to the crisis, I ask you respectfully, to accept another reduction of 10% on my salary, beginning this month and up to the time you think it helpful.

Respectfully yours,

Theo Litsas

When Germany declared war on the US, the Houses were arrested, taken to Dulag 183, a military prison in Thessaloniki, and later sent to internment camps in Germany and repatriated to the US in March 1944. On September 22, 1945, they returned from their war years away from the School, and picked up the reigns of leadership with scarcely a missed beat, thanks to the diligence and resourcefulness of Theo.

Theo was a study of perpetual motion, a modern day saint who put the needs of others first, and never stopped to eat or sleep, or so it seemed. As a refugee from Smyrna on the Turkish coast, he was steeped in grass-roots wisdom. Their general level of culture and material prosperity under Turkish rule had been distinctly higher than that of mainland Greece. They brought with them agricultural and industrial skills which were of great value to their compatriots, particularly in developing the production of tobacco.

“I arrived in Athens, but then left for Thessaloniki, where I hoped I would find my family. I took to the road to walk the 500 miles to the north. I scavenged for food, sometimes stopping at overcrowded refuges camps, always asking for my family. When I finally reached Thessaloniki, I sought out the cotton merchants, but no one had seen my family. I guess that was the lowest point in my life. I had never been so tired, so hungry, so discouraged. I went to the largest cotton merchant and said, ‘If you will give me some shirts and underwear, I will sell them on the street and bring you the money each night. In that way I might find out something about my family.’ I was in the pit of despair when an American teacher from my international high school in Turkey came walking down Venizelous Street. ‘You’re just the one I’m looking for. Look, the Red Cross is setting up another camp for refugees down past the harbor. We just can’t keep up with demand. We need a Program Director who can speak Greek, English and Turkish, and put a little spirit into the place. I remember all the plays and programs you put on in Smyrna for the school and for the community. It’s just what we need. Will you do it?”

Under his leadership, “Theo’s Camp” soon became a prototype of organization, skills, activities and optimism for the thousands of camps set up around the country. Greece was reeling from having to cope with a 25% increase in population. There was no infrastructure, no roads, no telephones, no communication system to deal with this swell of humanity.

Five years after the population exchange, the refugee camps were turned into orphanages and trade schools, gaining a reputation for producing hard-working men and women who were progressive in their outlook.

Theo often went out into the fifty outlying villages to work on community development projects, one of which was to help control malaria, which was widespread. This effort was Theo’s first contact with students from the Farm School. Theo was impressed that these young men organized clubs that went out to treat mosquito swamps and brought quinine to the afflicted. It was the earliest student outreach Extension Program with the ministry of agriculture and still later, a Community Development Program.

Theo also worked closely with representatives of the British Society of Friends, commonly referred to as Quakers, a dedicated group of foreigners who arrived after the Population Exchange to do relief work. Their headquarters, as it happened, was at the American Farm School. They used the School as a distribution center for food, and his close connection with the Quakers allowed him to become increasingly familiar with the School.

Theo continued to be amazed with the work ethic of the students, based on Father House’s belief in the “dignity of manual labor,” and was impressed that staff and students would undertake any kind of project deemed necessary for the well-being of others. He too, was jack-of-all-trades at the Farm School where he began as a worker, while soon his leadership abilities propelled him to the position of Assistant Director. There was a spirit of faith and service at the School with which he identified. He was committed to sharing the School’s mission and worked tirelessly to instill high values in students over the years.

Theo was killed in a tragic automobile accident in 1963. Bruce was immediately called to the scene by the president of the village of Vassilika, fifteen kilometres away. He called me from the village, and in his straight-forward way, said, “Theo has been killed. Please go over and tell Chrysanthe.”

Bruce came home ashen, and tears began to well in his eyes as he told me what had happened. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry.

Over 2,000 people came to Theo’s funeral. Most of them were crying as if they had lost their best friend. I knew I had. I remembered my lowest points in adjusting to the challenges of the school. How often I had been discouraged and downcast. I realized that just as Ann House’s life was turned around by her friend on the train, so mine was turned around by Theo. And I knew that I was not alone in my gratitude. He had done this for everybody, from homesick students to alienated staff.

A twenty-five ton rock was hauled down from the nearby town of Panorama to grace the entrance of the newly laid out Litsas Playing Field. A friend wrote a districh, “Rocklike thy faith, and like it, unbudgeable thy works, Theodore Litsas.”

Four students were asked to speak about what Theo had meant to them. Two were class devils, and I had mixed feelings about the choice. I shouldn’t have. Each spoke from his heart and with a natural eloquence and sincerity. More tears were shed.

The first student stood up in front of the gathering, his back straight, his eyes looking above our heads: “There could be no one who knew Theo Litsas who didn’t love him. Even if only meeting him for a few minutes, one felt one had made a real friend. No matter how rich one is, or whether he is a diplomat or a king, for me he is unlucky if he never had the chance to meet Mr. Litsas.”

The second boy spoke in a quiet, yet forceful way: “Who of us can’t remember coming to the School, lost and lonely, and seeing Mr. Litsas with his special smile and a few words of welcome that made us feel we’d found a friend.”

These were the two rascals I had worried about. Theo would have scolded me.

The third boy was the class president, and had worked closely with Theo: “Although he was the Associate Director, no job was too menial for him. He was with us in everything we did, as he was with everyone. He was truly an “Hyperanthropos,” a Superman. He was up before us in the morning, and he was the last to go to bed. He never thought of himself, only what he could do for others.”

The last boy to speak said: “He was a worker of God. A true saint who lived a life of love and kindness. Even when he punished us, we knew it was for our good. What he meant to us we shall remember all our lives.”

It was Theo who had taught me to cry with the Greeks, sharing their loss. Never did I dream how deep his loss would be to me. The Greeks say it so well, “Eons to his memory.”

On his grave in the school cemetery is an inscription from Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:8 which he kept on his desk:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is TRUE,

whatever is HONORABLE,

whatever is RIGHT,

whatever is PURE,

whatever is LOVELY,

whatever is of GOOD REPUTE,

if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,

let your mind dwell on these things.”

And so he did. Thank you, Theo for being the unique golden thread shining through my Farm School memories.

Friday, March 18, 2011 @ 06:03 AM
posted by admin

THE FIVE LESSONS OF LIFE

BILL ADAMS

RIDER                 2000

PART V

 

Chapter 7: The Philosophy of the Amchi

  • It was six in the morning, the day after my meeting with Sangratan in Chinie, and again I was setting out to meet him. This time he had promised to teach me about the Amchi, and also allow me to travel with him when he visited those who needed his healing powers.
  • I looked at Sangratan’s small bag, aware that he was carrying all his worldly possessions. ‘The day will be hot, Bill-ji, and the path is not an easy one. It is better to travel light.’ I thought of the possessions I was carrying, my possessions back at the farmhouse, and my possessions back in Delhi.
  • Sangratan tapped his half-filled black bag. ‘Medicines,’ he said, and smiled. And so we started out, through the clearing and into the forest, Kirti, Sangratan the Amchi, and his overweight, over-burdened, city-dwelling follower.
  • Our path was steep and getting steeper. Sangratan maintained a steady pace and I struggled to keep up.
  • ‘Today is the day you learn of the work of the Amchi,’ he said. ‘Soon we will be at the farm where he who needs us will be waiting, and you will see for yourself, but first you should know why we do what we do.’
  • He then recounted to me the story of how the Amchi came to be. This is the story he told.
  • Though the Amchi have traveled the mountains for centuries, long before the time of the Buddha, it was not until the time of Tenzin that the true Amchi adopted all the Lessons of Life.
  • Tenzin was a Buddhist and incorporated much of Buddhism into the ways of the Amchi. In particular it was Tenzin who introduced the underlying Buddhist concept of ‘mindfulness’ into the Lessons of Life, though many claim that Buddha himself was the first Amchi.
  • All the Amchi know that the monk Gautama, before he became the Buddha, while he was still searching for ‘the way’, decided to practise severe austerities so that he could master physical desires, and in this way find enlightenment.
  • One day he was meditating as darkness began to fall. With the breeze and the relief came the realization that the mind and the body form one reality, and that to abuse the body was to abuse the mind.
  • There and then the monk Gautama resolved to regain his health and use the joys of meditation to nourish and develop body and mind so that he could pursue the path of enlightenment.
  • No longer did he wish to escape the world, but rather he realized that to gain enlightenment he should meditate on what he perceived, so that he could understand it better.
  • He meditated on his body, on his feelings, on his perceptions and on his thoughts, and he saw the oneness of everything. He saw that as mind and body could not be separated, so all things were without a separate self.
  • He saw that everything changed, and that impermanence and the emptiness of self are the very conditions necessary for life. He saw that a grass seed which was not impermanent and empty of self would never grow into a plant; it would simply remain static. Similarly with all things, including us.
  • The monk Gautama, he who became Buddha, realized that everything was interdependent, everything was part of the oneness. And the teachings of the Buddha influenced all who lived in these mountains, especially the Amchi, the ancient healers.
  • The true Amchi, the followers of Tenzin, learnt from the Buddha that to heal the body you must heal the mind, for they are one. Also, they know that a man or woman who is not in harmony with the environment and those around will continue to suffer dis-ease.
  • The true Amchi seeks to create harmony and balance within the body, and with the body and what is perceived as the external world, for they are all one. So it is that all true Amchi attempt to bring harmony between all that is one.
  • The Amchi know that to exist we need to take into our bodies that which is outside, and let out that which is within. The true Amchi understands this process and seeks to balance what is taken in, what is within, and what is given out. And they do this through plants, oils and medicines, and good counsel and teaching.
  • Often these medicines are created by men and they are made in the peace and harmony which comes through chanting and meditating. When we take them they change and pass through us, as we change and pass through the world and the universe.
  • To overcome sickness we need to live in harmony and balance with the world around us, especially those things and people we value highly. To be free of dis-ease we must seek to balance that which is within, as we seek to balance that which is not. For all affect us as we affect everything, for we are all one.
  • The Amchi’s counseling and teaching seeks to help us live in balance and harmony. We know that conflict, anxiety, fear, despair, jealousy, anger, sadness, hate, separation from those whom we value highly, all these things bring dis-ease and suffering.
  • It is for the Amchi, the healer, to help restore the harmony of body and mind, and the world, and to bring peace and joy, and to do this we have to help those who are suffering from dis-ease to be mindful of that which they value, and mindful of what they seek to develop and nurture.
  • The Lessons of Life are the practical application of the Amchi’s art in seeking to harmonise the person with his or her oneness.

‘This man we are going to meet, he is not a follower of the Buddha. He is influenced by his place in the universe. He is typical of those we seek to help, for this is a meeting place of many great ideas and cultures. These ideas come and are changed by those experiencing them, as all ideas and teachings are changed, for they are as impermanent as all things. We Amchi counsel that they meditate on what they value, knowing that being mindful of what they value will bring understanding, and understanding defeats ignorance and brings love, and love will bring nurturing, and nurturing will bring joy, and joy is the end of suffering. So, understand that when we attempt to heal someone who is suffering we seek not only to balance the body but to help balance that sentient being with all. Do not see only the herbs and medicines. Do not hear only the words. See the suffering and see all the ways we seek to ease the suffering and bring joy to all.’

 Chapter 8: Love