I Am at Home on the Farm

There is a song that I was introduced to by my cousin a number of years ago called "Boll Weevil," this particular version of which is a remix by Greg Hale Jones of an early 20th century recording of a song about an invasion of boll weevils in a farmer's cotton field. The song is sung by the farmer's farm hand, who is reporting the infestation to the farmer, who, by the way, paternalistically refers to the farm hand as "my child." It is a moving and haunting song. As the boll weevils moved north from Mexico into the cotton growing regions of the United States they decimated the cotton crops. Their appearance in a field meant utter financial disaster for farmers and often ended up causing them to lose their farms. I have listened to the song hundreds of times, and it is quietly playing in a loop in the background as I type this.

One of the central lines of the song is a question, posed to the invasive boll weevil by the farmhand, "Where is your native home?" I have often thought that this is a ripe question, and have asked it of myself, both in relation to being at home in myself and in relation to the farm -- to being at home on the farm, to being at home with the pigs and to the farm's form and function.

To ask the question of oneself, "where is my native home," is not simply to ask, where am I from, but rather to ask, more searchingly, where, in myself, was I born, or, more substantially, where, in myself, did I come into being? It is, essentially, to ask a fundamental question about oneself, "who [where] am I, at my roots?" Where, when all of the chaff is blown and brushed away from the seeds of my life, did I come into being? Is my native home my childhood? Is it the moment of my birth? Is it the moment of my first words, or my first obviously intentional act? Is it the first moment that I consciously reflect on myself and feel at home in myself? Can I have native homes"? That is, can I come into being, fundamentally, multiple times, in multiple homes, and feel and be native to each?

I would argue, somewhat shallowly, that the answer is different for everyone. Some people do find their native home in their childhood. Some people do find their native home in their birth. In my own experience, I have been a person of multiple native homes, feeling as if I have come into being, in fundamentally new and different ways, over and over again, and while I might feel settled and quite native in my current home, I am not fool enough to believe I will not come into being in some new native home sometime in the future, perhaps even tomorrow. But for the time being, I find myself here, completely at home in myself as a farmer.

My native home as a farmer is a certain type of labor, it is a certain type of relationship to my body and the uses and functions of my mind, it is a certain type of relationship to my environment, especially the land and space around me and in which I move and work, it is a certain type of relationship to time and the coming and going of the seasons, it is a certain type of relationship to the weather, it is a certain type of relationship to technology and machinery, it is a certain type of relationship to ecological and political questions and problems, it is a certain type of relationship to the product, the produce, of my labor -- the pigs -- and it is, perhaps most importantly, a certain type of relationship to their deaths. My farming home is a home of ebbs and flows, of hardship and triumph, of ease and adversity, and of life and death.

I reside on (in) the farm in both its concrete and abstract forms. It is a place, firm and solid, composed of open fields, woods, streams, and ponds, and filled with pigs and the infrastructure to support them, but it is also an abstract idea, composed of cultural, intellectual, and psychological trappings that give it a shape and trajectory; it is an idealistic vehicle in which I travel, experiencing -- living -- my life as I go. When I wake up and go out each morning to do chores, I encounter the pigs in the fields in their real, concrete manifestations as pigs, but also in their idealized forms, as bits and pieces, reflections of our (counter) cultural insights, reflections of myself. The choices I make about and for the pigs are choices I make about and for myself. When I take good care of the pigs, I take good care of myself. When I take poor care of the pigs, I take poor care of myself. I find myself in an intricate web of relationships that give substance and form to my native home, to myself.

Never before have I found myself in such a place. There is something about it that, in nearly a decade, I have not been able to quite place my finger on. It is not that it is special, or that I am at home in something praiseworthy, as so many seem to think, but, rather, something inscrutable about it makes it a home that is radically and fundamentally different than any other home in which I have found myself residing.

I toil, and I oversee the lives and deaths of vivacious, gregarious, highly sentient beings. That I find myself at home in such a place is something of a wonder.