Stan writes in A Garlic Testament about “the pound weight of the real,” the actual wrinkled dollars that are exchanged over a box of organic garlic at a farmers market. I’d weigh a pound, hand that weight to a customer, and accept the greenbacks that would pay my wage and Stan and Rose Mary’s farm expenses. They were constantly “snatching from the cash flow,” as Stan put it, living without savings right on the edge of subsistence like most of humanity. Yet that’s exactly what bound them with others. A kind of barter system existed in the area — I shear your sheep, you midwife for me — as well as a traditional communal relationship over irrigation that centered around maintaining tiny dirt canals called acequias. This wasn’t just pragmatism; I sensed a real passion and spirit that comes from subsistence. I saw it again all over the Global South, where living along the contours of enough, without much surplus, keeps you on your entrepreneurial toes and linked to others through reciprocity.
Sometimes other laborers joined us. On summer solstice day, twenty of us gathered at Stan’s to harvest garlic. (Garlic is planted in fall and harvested in spring.) It was one of those Ansel Adams days in New Mexico, with the lines of the mesas carving a sharp edge into the sky. Stan himself stooped a little, squinting out into all that beauty with an artist’s eye, a gently discerning gaze. Then he shrugged and bent down to pull the first garlic bulb out of the ground. We followed his lead. Pollen floated in the chilly air as we pulled up garlic all morning. At one point I threw a bunch of garlic a little roughly into the crate, and Stan mused, “Careful with my babies.” We stopped at ten; Rose Mary and their daughter Katya brought a pot of miso soup into the fields, and we drank it out of cups. The picking conversation was often revolutionary. During a discussion about a proposed hazardous waste dump in the area: “Gandhi didn’t just talk about nonviolence in an evil system,” a salt-and-pepper grandma farmer said while pulling up garlic beside me. “He was all about noncooperation.”
Another friend of Stan’s, an artist from Santa Fe, talked about cultivating a posture of “maladjustment with Empire” in yourself.
“But everything is tainted,” someone else said, wiping dirt and sweat from their brow. “We’re feeding nuclear Los Alamos.”
“Right,” the artist said, “but you stay maladjusted to the general evil. That’s true noncooperation: not letting Empire inside you.”
Stan hardly participated in such discussions. He hovered a little over every situation, Miles Davis’ “So What” coming off the mesas; a softer, clearer place. But he wasn’t aloof; after all, he was touching the earth right there beside us. I reached down and touched it, too. When pulling lettuce from my own acres beside the vineyard, I reached down through the lettuce leaves, the lower part of the plant smooth like a lover’s inner thigh. Sliding my fingers deeper, to where the lettuce met the moist earth, I sunk them a bit into those depths, and then coaxed the whole plant loose. Made a salad out of it; took it inside. “Don’t let the Empire inside you. Stay maladjusted to civilization,” someone would say, and Stan nodded, or didn’t, pulling up another top-setting garlic plant, placing it into a pile, the pound weight of the real. I think Stan took pleasure growing dissent in his fields, along with garlic, chilies, and statis flowers. His life was so obviously maladjusted to Empire — why talk about it? His very presence, such a wise, well-known intellectual and novelist, hoeing a row right beside you, elevated everything in our midst.
The summer was coming to an end, and a new semester awaited me back at Santa Fe Indian School. I harvested the first of my squash, zucchinis, and blue corn and packed my little Nissan hatchback with them, driving it into the school parking lot and giving it out to the other teachers. They oohed and aahed, joking that they knew what I’d done with my summer. Teaching during the week, I continued to work at Stan’s on the weekends. I found that the experience with Stan and the anticivilization Dixon crew blended easily into my teaching. I was no longer the Ivy League expert here to impart knowledge; I was student to these young Native Americans.
Continues in the next Texture blog….