My name is Miles Raymer, and this is words&dirt. (email: email@example.com)
The words&dirt blog is separated into two sections. The “words” section is a running list of favorite quotes lifted from whatever I happen to be reading. I generally update this section five days a week, Monday-Friday. I usually read one piece of fiction and one piece of nonfiction at a time, so I pick one quote from each book per day, totaling ten quotes for a typical week. I do not provide any personal commentary. The idea is just to put a couple enjoyable or thought-provoking bits of language out into the world each day. My hope is that these quotes can be a source of regular amusement or inspiration for anyone who cares to read them.
I also write reviews for every book I finish. I started doing this on the website Goodreads, but starting June 2014, I began posting the reviews in the “words” section as well. If you are curious about any reviews I wrote before that time, you can look up my Goodreads profile here.
The “dirt” section is where I post journals about my home projects, and also personal essays. I update this section every few weeks, depending on how busy I am. The goal for this section is to offer documentation of my work at home, which varies between garden, kitchen, and building projects. I describe how these projects have succeeded or failed, and try to share some of the lessons and insights I develop along the way. My hope is that this can be a source of useful information for other people interested in spending time improving their home life. I also write personal essays, some of which relate directly to home projects.
The idea for this blog grew out of a desire to create a project that brings together three of my favorite pastimes: reading, writing, and gardening. Though I have been reading and writing for years now, I am just beginning as a gardener. I grew up in a house on a six-acre plot of land in Northern California’s Humboldt County. My mother has always been an avid gardener, so I grew up helping her with various projects. For most of my childhood and adolescence, my mother’s garden didn’t interest me beyond the opportunities it provided to earn a few hours’ pay here and there hauling manure, weed-whacking the driveway, spreading woodchips, or completing other menial tasks that needed doing. My parents are both white-collar professionals––a professor and a physician––so I always assumed I would follow them into a world of button-up shirts, graduate degrees, and extra cups of coffee. When I attended the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon and decided to major in philosophy, I seemed well on my way.
During my undergraduate education, I began to struggle with the reality that I didn’t really know what to do with myself in the long run. I went through the motions––attended class, made friends, got good grades, played on the club ultimate frisbee team, sang in choir like I’d done in high school. I was lucky to experience the kind of “college life” my parents had always talked about. I loved school and didn’t want to leave, but I also knew that I was living in a bubble with other privileged kids. I wasn’t out in the real world, wasn’t charting my own path or carving out a permanent place for myself. I decided to major in philosophy, which was both helpful and problematic. It gave me the tools to begin analyzing my motivations and attitudes, but it also made it difficult to ignore the gloomier aspects of my generation’s future outlook: the specious foundations of the American economy, the growing influence of money in politics, the industrialization of food production, the uncertain effects of globalization, and the growing benefits and risks of the blooming, protean technology revolution. Like many of my friends, I felt lost and overwhelmed, uncertain that this world would accommodate a space for me that I would actually be excited to explore.
I responded to this uncertainty in the most basic human fashion: by doing what I’d always done. I graduated from UO and moved home to get my teaching credential at Humboldt State University. Continuing my education seemed like the right decision (or perhaps merely the safest one), but I’d never been particularly passionate about teaching. I just didn’t know what else to do. I found that while I enjoyed certain aspects of being a teacher, I was generally ill-suited to the task of working with students and coming up with creative ways to help them learn, as a good teacher ought to. Early on, I identified an apathy in my attitude toward the job that I knew wasn’t healthy.
I did gain something wonderful and unexpected from my credential year––a partner. Jessica was a part of my English cohort in the program, and while we instantly liked each other, it took a while for things to become romantic between us. Our relationship was a slow burner at first, but we eventually realized that, despite the fact that she was moving to Daly City to take a new teaching job, we had fallen in love. We decided to stay together at a distance. It wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t feel like we could let each other go.
When I graduated with my English credential in spring 2011, I didn’t look for a teaching job. I was tired and disheartened, feeling burned out on the job before I’d even begun. My mother generously let me keep living at the house while I tried to figure out what to do next. I spent a few months helping her in the yard and completing some personal projects, but I still felt aimless. To give myself some direction, I spent the fall applying to the JET Program to teach English in Japan starting in summer 2012. I was accepted to JET in the spring, during which time I moved to Cave Junction, Oregon for three months to help an old family friend run his one-man organic farm. It was a good experience––I spent most of my time working and reading. By then I’d convinced myself that pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy would be my next move after JET, so I started researching the field of naturalized ethics, which had captured my interest during my time at UO. I was fascinated with the subject matter, but the idea of tossing myself once again into the ultra-competitive world of academia didn’t thrill me. I spent most of my time in Cave Junction looking ahead to the future, so when the three months came to an end, I was surprised to find myself realizing that I’d been living pretty much my ideal existence on that small plot in rural Oregon.
Around that same time, I began to face my fears regarding climate change by actively informing myself about the scientific community’s consensus on the matter. Though my parents had always encouraged me to be environmentally conscious, I’d dodged the issue for a long time, probably because I knew I wouldn’t like what I’d find. The books and articles I read didn’t just unsettle me––they left me downright terrified. I began thinking like a survivalist, plotting to disappear into the hills somewhere to stock up on automatic weapons and wait for the world to end. Not wanting to make any rash decisions, I decided to wait for a while before deciding how to respond to this new, urgent feeling that something in my life had to change.
At the beginning of summer 2012, with my departure for Japan on the horizon, Jessie and I moved to Washington, DC for two months to teach in a summer school program for students from underachieving districts. We enjoyed living together for the first time, but I felt wilted by the scorching DC summer and became further convinced that teaching was not the right job for me. Anxious about what my coming year overseas might mean for our relationship, Jessie and I began talking, slowly at first, about moving back to Humboldt to live in my mother’s house and farm the land there. To me, small-scale farming seemed the most appealing and ethically defensible response to climate change that was available to me. It appealed to my nature as a homebody and would allow me to take care of my mother during her retirement, while also providing an alternative to the daily grind of professional life, which I find suffocating. Jessie offered to look for a job as a teacher, and I planned to work from home, growing food and tending the house. When we floated the idea to Ma, she was thrilled. This helped turn our cautious enthusiasm into a flood of future planning. I discarded the idea of applying to graduate school and was surprised to find that it didn’t feel much like quitting––it felt more like a reprieve.
Though there were certainly many surprises, my year is Japan went pretty much as expected. I had lots of great experiences and learned some of the things one ought to learn living abroad, but unsurprisingly I found myself disliking my job more and more. I squirreled away whatever free time I had at work so I could sit and read, escaping into whatever textual world was handy. Jessie and I were both working full time on either end of the Pacific, so we were able to scrape together enough money for her to come visit me twice, which helped us through the long periods of separation.
Now that I am back in Humboldt, I am excited to try something entirely new for the first time since leaving college. Jessie managed to get a full time job our first year back, a development for which we are very grateful. As for farming, it is a brand new project for me, so I don’t have very many clearly defined goals yet. I do know that I want to make my family’s life easier, healthier, and more sustainable, and that I’m open to pursuing those goals in whatever ways I can. Additionally, I plan to keep reading as much as possible. As with most avid readers, I have a list of books so long that it seems I could never get to the end––but I’m determined to try!
Please make use of this blog in whatever way you can. I’m always happy to receive feedback and/or criticism. You can email me or just leave a comment on any of my posts: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!