Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Little Farmer

After returning from snorkeling at Menjangan Island yesterday, we were sitting at a table in the warung waiting for our nasi campur and, although I should have been listening to what my wife and her friend were saying, I found my attention fixed instead on a little boy as he played in the dirt near our table.

He had brought a package of some kind of powdered stuff he had been eating and he emptied the remainder of the package's contents very carefully on the ground, distributing it in a line along the concrete edge of the warung's platform. Taking, then, a plastic fork, he began to work the powder into the soil from one end to the other, taking care that the powder was fully implanted beneath the dirt, tongue working pensively at the corners of his lips. When the fork became too clumsy, failed to be thorough, he would drop it and use his fingers to perfect the task -- and I came to realize that this boy was not playing at all. He was farming. He was planting crops. He was doing what he had seen to be done in his world, by his elders.

And I remembered playing like that when I was a child -- or, again, not playing, but constructing, preparing, creating. Under the porch in the summer, we moved dirt with little metal trucks, painstakingly building roads, clearing lots, stacking little stones, making the highways and streets and side lanes of entire towns.

We interacted then with the earth, with soil and moisture and stone and vegetation. We grew very, very small and entered our microcosm somehow bodily, occasionally glancing up at ourselves as one might to the peaks of surrounding mountains, pausing to brush away sweat with a dirty fist. We built things, improved them, and improved them again, and in the winter the rains made new worlds in waiting.

Young people now play within computer screens, in an electronic world that they do not touch. Generally, they do not build, but destroy. The object is to erase, to obliterate, to be the last one standing. How different from ourselves we have become, how detached, how simple. What world is this, that has no farmers, no builders, no manual labor? What goes missing when we no longer touch the earth nor soil the hand nor lift the stone nor wipe the brow? Where are the mountains that used to need moving?

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