Friday, March 29, 2013

The Human Pace

It occurred to me many years ago that we are living at too fast a pace.  Just a few human generations ago, the fastest person on Earth rode a horse.

We count our travel time coast to coast in hours now, not months. We 'run to the store' to grab ingredients for dinner and often are able to return in time to add them in just a few minutes, really. If there's no cream for coffee, we can set the brewer to make a pot and by the time it's done, we're back with a carton of half and half.

My wife and I have lived remotely for many years and with $4/gallon fuel, each trip to the store costs $10 extra. There's no way we're going to do that, so we plan ahead and don't make 'quick trips' to the store.

A while back, our friend Kaitlyn gave us this amazing World War 1 vintage waffle iron and we made waffles last weekend with it. Karen dug up her recipe and set out to assemble the ingredients while I heated up and oiled the very well seasoned, heavy cast iron kitchen appliance. We keep a full pantry (very full, actually) so there is no running quickly to the store necessary for us.

Our meals proceed at the human pace and are usually begun by prepping with a good sharp knife, then stirred by wooden spoons and usually cooked in a cast iron vessel of some sort. Old ones. We have an enviable collection of beautiful cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, cornbread and muffin pans, griddles and this incredible waffle iron.

It takes about 5 minutes to cook a waffle and just a moment to pick it off the perfect non-stick finish, created over decades of use and love. Then the waffle is placed into the oven to stay warm until they're all done and it's time to eat.

One at a time, it would have taken a long time to cook enough waffles for a working family on a cold morning a hundred years ago on a wood heated cook stove. It also took a lot of skill to keep the heat just right and the batter just right so that things wouldn't stick or burn. Folks took the time to learn the skills then because they couldn't just go out and buy a plug in electric teflon waffle iron.

When I am dust, my waffle iron will still work and that feels good to me. I hope the people that end up with it when we're gone appreciate it as much as we have. Would you feel good with a Mickey Mouse waffle iron, really?  I don't think this one would last through 2 World Wars, a couple of Depressions, the Model T and the Moon Landing. It's pace is wrong. In a few of years it'll likely be at Goodwill or the landfill.

When are we going to find out that it's OK to move more slowly? Why can't we take more care of the details as we go along and appreciate the Human Pace of living?

Try to learn to understand and accept the pace of a hand plane, a chisel, a waffle, a broadfork, or a scythe.

Learn to build your soil slowly and carefully and let the worms and cover crops do the work for you as you sleep. Develop the skills of those long gone and find the beautiful rhythm of tool in hand and "The grip on Earth of outspread feet, The life of muscles rocking soft And smooth and moist in vernal heat"*

Good soil to you all.

*from the poem Two Tramps in Mudtime by Robert Frost


  1. I like how you said "Learn to build your soil slowly and carefully and let the worms and cover crops do the work for you as you sleep" because compost can throw off the balance in the soil. Steve Solomon's new book "The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food" talks about this. You could be adding way too much Potassium or Nitrogen. Get a soil test and adjust it. Then only add 1/2 inch of compost per year. Cover crops are essential to keep the soil life going. Removing all plants and roots starve the soil microbes and also causes nutrients leach away into deeper soil layers.

    I've put my fork (#365) to work the last week. Temps are going up to 80 here in Philly PA. Kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussels, lettuce, potatoes, collards, are all in now. Onion, shallots, garlic were already in. We'll probably get another freeze before May, but I made those hoops that can be covered with plastic or floating row cover (I have both) for frost protection.

  2. Thanks for your note. It's so true that we sometimes 'love our soil to death,' with too much amendments and additives. We want it and we want it NOW! Nature just doesn't apply a foot of compost every year, you know.

    I am shipping out broadforks now in the 800s, so I know you've had yours for a while. I appreciate your comment and your good, solid advice. I'll take a look at that book, too.