I skipped doing a bulletin last week. I didn’t have the mental energy. If you had asked me how I was doing, my answer would have been “eh”. I was feeling somewhat down, lost in a sea of uncertainty.
I don’t think I have been alone in this feeling. When I ask friends how they are, their answers are at best equivocal. They see a government that abdicated to a pandemic and they fear the consequences. Yesterday I got strikingly similar messages from two friends, who generally see the world very differently from one another (one conservative to his core, the other a committed progressive). The first said “I feel that something has been happening generally in the past month that people are only dimly aware of. The world is much more horrifyingly damaged – maybe fatally so — than people had thought possible. We’ve been ‘transported to another dimension,’ as Rod Serling used to say.” The second said “I just can’t recognize anything anymore. I feel like the walls around me could just shatter at any second. Like some kind of post Soviet state surrealism. Vaclav Havel on acid couldn’t have imagined this shit.”
Maybe in other countries, where they’ve done a better job of controlling Covid-19, there is greater sense of assurance. But here in America where the pandemic rages there seems a head on collision of fear and ennui. Our economy contracted more in the last quarter than in any comparable quarter in the last 70 years of record keeping. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, taken July 2 through 7, found that:
• 49.9% of American adults live in households which have experienced a loss in employment income
• 34.9% of American adults expect to experience a loss in employment income
• 25.3% of adults either missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or had slight or no confidence that their household could make the next payment on time
• 10.8% of Americans lived in households where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the previous 7 days
And all this is when there has been an infusion of cash through expanded unemployment benefits and other government programs which are uncertain to continue. The emotional toll is severe:
• 24.5% of respondents reported having little interest or pleasure in doing things more than half the days/nearly every day last week
• 22.7% reported feeling down more than half the days/nearly every day last week
• 32.3% reported feeling anxious or nervous more than half the days/nearly every day last week
Even those of us who have been getting by reasonably well, continuing to earn incomes, have to live in fear of a general collapse that may be imminent. Newspapers have begun carrying articles about how the Black Plague spurred Europe out of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, as if looking for a silver lining in the anticipated collapse. I find small comfort in thinking that things may be better in the 23rd century.
I’ve moved on somewhat in the last week from that passive listlessness to a somewhat more assertive state. That is to say, I’ve gone from “eh” to “feh”.
“Feh”, as I recall it, was one of the most prominent words in the vocabulary of my most beloved great aunt, Tante Jennie Warman. I remember Jennie, who lived six floors up in the same Bronx apartment building as my family did in my pre-K days, as a person of immense cheer and boundless love. She bounced me on her knee, played games in which she sang to me and bumped her forehead against mine (“budgie budgie keppeleh”), made wonderful treats like sweet cabbage borscht with raisins.
Given Jennie’s generosity of spirit, it is odd that “feh” is the word I most vividly recall her saying. I guess that loving demeanor coexisted with a strong judgmental streak. Perhaps because she was widowed young, and struggled to raise two sons on her own. She had to run a tight ship and she was not shy about sharing her opinions. Whatever situation met with her disapproval merited that one word epithet, “Feh”. I was rude to my mother? “Feh”. Ate un-kosher food? “Feh”. Didn’t get the top grade at school? “Feh”.
Implicit in the expression “feh” is that standards exist, and we can always come closer to meeting them. As I’ve kept repeating the word to myself in the past week, it’s had an unexpected effect. I’ve felt less the passive victim of a broader collapse, and more like I can make choices that will improve the future, including the future of the farm.
For example, come November I’m giving over a big portion of the land to a young couple who will farm it for vegetables. But how will I manage the parts they don’t use? There’s an approximately three acre swath of land to the west of the house that I’ve been worrying about, much of it wet and swampy where the pigs now live. When the pigs are gone how can I keep that land under some semblance of control without committing to far more work than I have time or physical capacity to do?
Since I’ve lately been hacking back rampantly growing blackberry vines to keep them from shading out their own berries, it occurred to me that they might do well taking over the swampy area and going a little wild. I investigated and found they would not tolerate growing in saturated soil, but that other crops like rhubarb and asparagus would both be right at home. I already love these two crops for the way they basically take care of themselves, are fairly resistant to animal marauding, add landscape beauty, and seem to have a ready market. So now I have a plan. Come fall, I’m dividing my rhubarb and planting the starts there, buying new asparagus crowns, and will begin to transform the pig run into an asparagus and rhubarb field.
Passivity and hopelessness are friends. If we want a bulwark against things falling apart, and want to live in a world that resembles the good part of our pre-COVID lives, we’re going to have to plan and act accordingly. Surrender to a social collapse? Feh.
Speaking of maintaining high standards, two young musicians of The Orchestra Now, playing at Opus 40 on July 26 photo by Mark Scherzer
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Fennel, small bulbs, $1 each
Blackberries plentiful, $6/pint
Green shiso leaves $1, pack of 10
Kale, (curly leaf or lacinato) $2/bunch
Swiss Chard, $3/bag
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.
Sorrel, one gallon bag, $3/bag
Mint, $1/ bunch
Garlic chives (the flat kind), $1/bunch
Dill and lettuce back soon
MEATS: Have been largely cleaned out during the supermarket shortages of this spring. What is still in stock:
LAMB: a few remaining , leg of lamb $14/lb, lamb shoulder roast $7/lb.
PORK: fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
Chickens will be available again at the end of summer (September 15), additional lamb shortly
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.