Saturday, 05 February 2011, Macerie di Filatteria/Pontremoli, Italy
Nothing ushers out a winter cold like the first day of Spring. Little Tibo had it in his step as well, and we bundled up at the first sign of golden sun to help Papa prune the trees. Of course, “pruning” is a relative term. A proud man with a powerful chain saw sees no contest in facing nature’s survival of the fittest, and the area around the vegetable garden-to-be transformed from rustic to classic Tuscany in a few buzzing strokes. Summer will certainly paint in the foliage and bring the postcard to life. The farmer down the road, the man with the dairy cows, has claimed that, although only early February, Spring is here to stay, with no further threat of snow or wind storms. This further warmed me, for a farmer in these hills knows intimately each and every sign.
The children’s incentive to collect sticks and add them to the pile was a bonfire with all the trimmings, save for the ones that will become chippati for the earth-friendly furnace that burns wood clean, and whose ashes are a perfect addition to compost. Twenty-four minutes of twelve helping hands became a full day of only four, all others either feeding a bottomless baby or careening through the fields on bicycles… then with a soccer ball… then with plastic could-have-been-guns-cold have-been-light-sticks… then running off and disappearing down tiered terraces, one level at a time, fire engine red cardigan splashing color into a barren and grey scene. But it won’t be long before green. Tiny buds on branches were already pushing their points upward, and a single yellow wildflower, then a pink one, basked in the early days of sunshine. The stillness of Spring into Summer is definitely in the air, and longer shadows are beginning to form, liquid strokes across the lawn in the latter part of the day. Yes, the quickening of summer’s approach can be felt, and four energetic boys played roughly all afternoon, tumbling down hillsides of aromatic herbs bordered by juniper and wild strains of kale that will be balled into Maria’s gnocchi dough and served with butter and our garden sage.
The dogs, too, could feel the change in the air. Farm dogs that live outside are seldom inspired by wooden sticks, I imagine, given the bevy of grounded segments present on any given day. But today a simple lichen-sheathed branch was grounds for a dogfight, perhaps fueled by Spring’s gift of rebirth. Is it not in the Spring of life’s seasons, the formative years, that we begin to practice possessiveness and greed? Anyone raising a toddler is no stranger to “MINE!” I witness daily each of four children who will trick the three others into believing there is nothing left of the apple nectar, while having a secret stash to himself in the cupboard. I have seen tears from the others over how much pasta one boy has taken, regardless of the heaping remainder in the master pot at the center of the table. And I have seen adults in this world plot viciously over possessions, both in the home, and in societal domination. In fact, it is this animal nature that Earth is instructing us to overcome, so that we can find in our minds the most powerful of all domination, complete independence from the ball and chain of havingness.
Is insatiableness a learned behaviour, or merely an involuntary reflex formed deeply within the helix of our anthropological makeup? I tend to believe the latter, our human tendencies only a few postures beyond animalism. The unfortunate truth is: that which differentiates us from the entirety of the animal kingdom, a great gift and curse of complexity, is the mind. Beautiful mind, so expansive, endless supply of energy that is creation, one that allows us to move beyond the mere instincts of survival. We can never understand its potential, its powerful ability to manipulate our own perceptions for convenience, while we shape our world with second-rate brainwaves formed by the mass dismissal of conscious evolution. We are doing it daily, without knowing it. With our animal instincts of greed and gluttony, consuming and hoarding, clinging to ideals created by an earlier evolution of man and guided by abbreviated truths, we are unwittingly counteracting the creation of a paradise so grand, we are too immobilized to conceive of it, much less get out of our own way to create it and claim it for own. Perhaps it is that inability to perceive our own potential, to exercise and grow the mind, to learn and study and to entertain the “what if’s” that keeps us rooted in animal and not quite ready for the power bestowed on creator, the mind. If only there were an owner’s manual. If only we could forgo school of training for school of thought. It is the responsibility of the owner of a mind to create evolution beyond the prowess of land-bound instinct.
Long shadows instructed us to laugh and play in the remainder of the daylight, bonfire ablaze on the hill somewhere, early afternoon’s forgotten offering. The dogs and children were possessed by Spring energy, tirelessly running in fields against the backdrop of hillside villages and steeples in the brush. Rough and tumble micro-battles continued throughout the day until a small evolution happened right on the lawn. Little Tibo, who did not have a partner in the game and was all day in tears, was offered Lincoln, my dachshund, as a partner, since the game revolved around Lincoln’s fetching a tennis ball from the kids’ new American acquisition, the “Chuckit” Tennis Ball Launcher. Lincoln was winning nearly every round against the other children, and Tibo, the youngest, lacked strength. The other boys elected Lincoln and his low-ground advantage to team with Tibo’s size disadvantage. And it worked. And everyone was offered what he needed, and all were satisfied and productive. Yes, there were winners. But there were no longer losers.