Throwing dice*

How is writing different from farming? The question comes to me after combining the two for about a year[1]. The most striking difference, I have concluded, is being more or less in control versus being dependent on what we can call aleas – a word from Latin the root of which can be found in aleatory. In French there is the noun, mostly in plural: les aléas.

I can write, delete, write again, until I have forged a text I am more or less satisfied with. Of course writers may feel that the writing writes itself, yet it is us, writers, who decide whether a text may continue to exist or not. Farming (organically, within a living ecosystem, I add) is more like throwing dice all the time. What will the weather do? Storm, rain, drought, frost, they all impact on cultures, soil, greenhouses, and can hardly be foreseen. Fluctuations superimposed on a trend of global warming, yet it is the fluctuations which count on a seasonal term.

There are fluctuations in the living as well. If you try to respect, even restore biodiversity on your farm, you will have to make do with wildly varying populations of voles and other rodents, for which pumpkins and beetroot are a staple. The cultures themselves may behave whimsical for whatever reason – it is for you, the detective farmer to find out. Then there are the markets, existing by the grace of clients, who may choose to stay home with bad weather, shift to shopping on internet or choose another local farmer (hopefully they don’t go to Leclerc).

For sure, writing is an uncertain business as well. But it is not like throwing dice all the time. Perhaps the frost will destroy my early potatoes – how much energy should I spend on covering them? Shall I plant 10.000 leek, even though the soil is dry and no rain is forecast? Should I order cabbage plants again now that the worm of the white has devoured those planted earlier? Does it still make sense to refurbish this tunnel greenhouse given the winter gales? There is no sense of the finished, and ownership, as with a text.

In our age, the French les aléas has a connotation of risk. Yet there is also the other side of the coin: chance. Or fate, depending on one’s metaphysical orientation. In any case, living with aleas on a daily basis, like an organic farmer does, gives a heightened sense of being with the elements, being with the earth and being with the other beings. Plants, toads, bees, worms, birds, cats and humans, all throwing their dice.

*This post also appeared on www.knowledgeforthecommons.org


[1] This piece is the first in a series in which I reflect on my stay as a wwoofer, volunteer, researcher at Les Jardins de Lézérider in Brittany