“A stunt book,” the reviewer called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, because Barbara Kingsolver had dedicated a year of her life to organic vegetables, and she had subsequently written about it.
I wasn’t sure if the reviewer was trying to put Kingsolver down, but his words raised a good question: why devote a year to a stunt? Wasn’t there something inherently suspect about that? Might it not be a waste of time? What if a person’s motives were, I don’t know, stunty or something? Could a person who would do something like that be trusted?
Still, when I later came across a different year-challenge in Jim Merkel’s book Radical Simplicity, I decided to ignore the evaluation of Kingsolver’s experiment. I decided to do my own stunt, which involved nothing more than a yard, a red sled, and a cup of tea. (Okay, and zebra wasps, guerilla mosquitoes, architect spiders, and blueberry bushes whose leaves turn brilliant crimson in Fall).
Merkel had challenged his readers to spend a year outdoors– just an hour a day,in the same natural space. We nature-stunters were supposed to try to learn about a patch of ground about 20 x 20 feet. Learn its flora and fauna, and try not to eat anything poisonous along the way.
I was tired of my indoor patch of ground, tired of a certain emptiness that had been haunting me, and tired of life feeling amorphous. So I planted my stake (or, more accurately, my kids’ plastic sled) in the ivy under my single backyard pine tree and hoped for something.
What I got cannot really be put into words (although, technically I did put some of it into words in two different books—one a poetry book and the other a spiritual memoir). Still, how does one capture a true epiphany of the sort I had during that year? How does one plumb the depths of daily solitude and what it bestows? Can it really be communicated, the discovery that a year is an invitation to return to yourself and your deepest thoughts? It goes without saying that even the annoying mosquito bites cannot be fully communicated. We are talking about raw experience, and that has an elusive quality all its own.
The year went by, as years do, day-by-day and month-by-month, until it was gone. I got rained on. I watched a peach night sky. Pine needles used my teacup as a heliport. A single feather drifted down one day, white against the backdrop of the moss-dark pine tree. It was like the gleaming detail one might find in a film. It said everything without words. It said this was no stunt, and I was loved, and I was learning to love. It said a year is always an invitation, and don’t wait for Jim Merkel to ask you.
Since then I’ve done more time. One year for a visual art pilgrimage. A year exploring dance. Twelve months for tea and now twelve for music and bread. It doesn’t matter anymore what the reviewers say. Give it a year? I’m in.