Today, September 20th, brings in this year’s Harvest Moon which is said to give a few extra hours of bright moonlight skies in order to gather the remainder of the year’s harvest. I have always loved this time of year when the air grows crisp, the trees burst with color, and tree ripened fruits are plentiful. I typically do a lot of canning and preparing food for the winter since the taste of ripe tomatoes, apples, and pears are unparalleled. Having a bit of that fresh delicious flavor over the winter months is so much better for our minds, bodies, spirits than the sad and colorless food that our industrialized food system offers us.
The systems in which we live have moved us so far away from the real harvest season. It is now more about buying pretty gourds to decorate our homes than gathering the food that we have spent the months tending. I am saying this from personal experience since I grew up in a home where no food was ever grown, farmer’s markets didn’t exist, and all food came from the local big box grocery store. I had no idea the difference in taste, smell, and texture of the foods that I could grow on my own versus the foods that came from that place until I was older. I grew up around farms and farmers. Lots of houses in the area where I grew up had canning kitchens in the basements. But somehow, unless you were raised by farmers, people still moved away from that for the convenience of the grocery store. I find it so mind boggling that for families to survive, everyone needed to work more and more which resulted in growing their own food less becoming more dependent upon the systems that are forcing us into survival mode in the first place.
There are a lot of little defunct coal towns in hollers where I grew up which are getting slowly retaken by the forests as they decay since the mines shut down. These towns were called company towns. People would work for the coal company, live in the coal company’s houses, and buy at the company store. At the end of the week, people received no pay or even owed the company money because all of their earnings were already taken from the paychecks. You know that song, Sixteen Tons and the line, “I sold my soul to the company store.” They were stuck there regardless of what they wanted for themselves or their families. And at the end of the harvest season when the mountain is all but destroyed, the company would reap the profits, shut their doors, and the workers were left with nothing for all their labor.
Here in Oregon, the heat has finally subsided, and a torrential downpour of rain came after several weeks without any precipitation at all. I have never missed the rain as badly as I do now that I live in a place that has a fire season. Last night, I was awakened by a bright white flashing light followed three seconds later by a thunder so loud that the house shook beneath its fury. I laid there in my bed awake, so grateful to the rain and praying that it was enough water to tamp down any fires caused by the lightening.
A few years back, I had an arborist come and look at our trees as we had four dead Douglas Fir trees in our yard that needed to be removed for the safety of our home. He told me that before Oregon was settled, the indigenous tribes would use fire to keep these trees out of the area because there wasn’t enough water to sustain them like up in the mountains and that they really shouldn’t be here in the valley. Oregon didn’t keep up those practices and instead made their wealth from logging. Allowing the timber companies to reap the financial benefits of each harvest. But not to worry, the laws here force them to plant new trees to harvest later. So, they follow it up by pouring chemicals on the ground to keep the new trees from dying while not cleaning up the forest floor beneath. And here we are, breathing in the smoke from decades of mismanaged forests. Those with money will eventually pick up and move out when the time comes, but the poor people that labor for them will be stuck here.
Each season has a reaping, some are a year and some are decades. For this past year, I wonder what the collective reaping will be and who will benefit. What seeds have been sown? We are living through a global pandemic and instead of empathy, compassion, and community being sown into our lives so that we could gather to acknowledge the problems and structures that we see in the world around us; the seeds of discord are everywhere. The problems that we are having are all blamed on others, not structures.
I keep reading about how Covid has ruined nursing and that it is the reason that nurses are quitting the profession in droves. I have not seen any in-depth discussion about how hospitals, including the non-profits which need more and more money to grow larger and larger, are capitalistic structures that operate on a model of being at or near capacity as much as possible to maximize profits and so when there is a strain on the system, all the hard work and suffering falls on the actual people that work within the system. We don’t have systems in place to deal with additional emergency illnesses. And instead of discussing how our systems are not set up for this, the narrative gets changed to blame individuals so that the labor force can get back to being productive.
Who will reap the rewards of going back to business as usual? Who will be left to pick up the pieces and figure a way forward on their own? Maybe the “great resignation” is being driven by people who see these structures as the company store that they truly are and are opting out wherever and whenever they can. It isn’t in the news because it doesn’t really benefit the system. The labor class holds up every structure with their energy and the structure gives nothing back. Sure, maybe we get health insurance which we desperately need as that structure makes us ill. Maybe we get a 401K so that we can give our hard-earned money to investors to put money into the places that make more money for someone else. That money might disappear because the investors mismanaged it. That money might be invested in places that are in contradiction of everything that we believe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a benefit, right? Someone is reaping the rewards of our hard work and labor, is it really us though?
Individually, we each may have sown some amazing seeds and are reaping the benefits of the work that we have done over the past few months. Or maybe the harvest this year is small because of the trauma that everyone is experiencing made it hard to grow. And I truly hope that everyone feels okay with that as it was a difficult season for us all. In more agrarian times, communities came around each other for support during these years, helping neighbors survive the winter. And that is what we should be focusing on instead of the constant judgement, shame, and blame of other individuals that is being played on any screen. People are doing what they can in a system that uses everyone as a product. Maybe not everyone recognizes it, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
I will find a community to support through the winter. One that supports me back even though it is full of people who were forgotten and used by the system. And with each season, this community will plant more and more seeds, requiring the company store less and less. So that come harvest time, we have something tangible instead of being all used up and left for scrap.
This harvest season, I ask you to look at the harvests that have affected your life. Did your ancestors lose touch with growing food in the Earth because their labor was co-opted, land stolen, bodies policed? Does the land that you live on look different because it is has been all used up then abandoned and poisoned? How can we reap the rewards of our energy output instead of allowing that energy go into the system that destroys us?
I don’t know the answers which is why I am asking and searching. But I won’t be able to look for answers without first acknowledging the truth. I do think that the winter is coming and the seeds that have been sown collectively are not great. Our current society likes to think that we are evolved and therefore the “mistakes” of the past are just that, the past. But the marketing and optics have just become cleverer. So, let’s look at the current harvests with the extra illumination of this year's harvest moon.