make – verb | \ˈmāk\
: to bring into being by forming, shaping, or altering material
: to lay out and construct
: to put together from components
Over the past couple of days as Steve and I have driven around the Hoosier countryside heading to family gatherings and holiday festivities, I’ve watched out the window as field after field of soybeans, corn, wheat, and grass passed us by. It’s growing season, and farmers around the state are producing an abundant crop.
Yesterday, while I was at my sister’s house, I complimented her on a decorative sign in her dining room: it was handmade by a friend, she told me. Just an hour or two earlier, my brother-in-law pointed out the area where he was building a new workshop, while my other brother-in-law showed me the latest ring he had fashioned out of wood veneer. The night before, we were with friends who talked about their large garden where they grow vegetables from which they make most of their summer meals.
What do I make? I wondered. I have a few tomato and pepper plants in the backyard that may yield enough for a batch of homemade salsa. I make dinner most nights, partly from scratch. Occasionally I make a piece of art or a craft project.
Other than that, though, the only thing I make is money. And with it, I buy everything else I need.
Four decades ago, if we could go back in time and peek in at my family, this would not have been the case. Then, my family made much more of what we owned and used. We grew food from seed, probably seed we had saved from the year before. My mom made many of our clothes and blankets and curtains and pillows. My dad made some of our toys and furniture; he even made part of our house with his own hands. As a child, I was given enough resources and time to make things almost every day … things my parents taught me how to make.
On another drive over the weekend, Steve and I talked about what it would be like to buy a swath of land and live from scratch like our ancestors did. We talked about what crops we’d need to grow and what animals we’d need to raise. “We’ll need a windmill,” I suggested, because we’d have to create our own energy. After I thought about it a little more, I came up with a better idea. “We’d better join up with some Amish people,” I said, “because we’re going to need some help. We don’t know how to make all the things we’ll need.”
Instead of becoming Amish, Steve suggested instead that we’d need to grow enough vegetables or some other crop so that we could sell it and then use the money to buy all the things we couldn’t make. It sounded much more reasonable, but it didn’t sound all that different than what we’re currently doing.
In Our Only World, Wendell Berry talks about making things in his essay, “Local Economies to Save the Land and the People.” As usual, Wendell is talking about much more than just the stuff we create, but this one point stood out to me as I thought about how little I actually make each day.
“The loss of a saving connection between the land and the people begins and continues with the destruction of locally based household economies,” he writes. “It happens … when the people remaining on the land are convinced by the government or academic experts that they ‘can’t afford’ to produce anything for themselves, but must employ their land and all their effort in making money with which to buy the things they need or can be persuaded to want.”
Reading this, I thought of the hundreds of times I’ve wondered about making my own clothes or furniture or even homemade food items and ended with the conclusion that it would be cheaper to buy them. Cheaper, sure, but at what cost? Berry continues:
“The conversion of an enormous number of somewhat independent producers into entirely dependent consumers is a radical change that in many ways is immediately catastrophic. Without a saving connection to the land, people become useless to themselves and to one another except by the intervention of money. Everything they need must be bought. Things they cannot buy they do not have.”
This is me. I can’t make much. To start, I have almost no access to natural resources. And more importantly, I have almost no skills. But the thought of being useless to myself and to others is almost unbearable.
I don’t know how or what or when, but I intend to start making more. To use what I’ve got to create something new instead of purchasing it. To buy resources instead of products as often as is possible. To become more useful, to my family, to my community, and to myself.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.
Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.