Rising at Night

Candle

“…and when anything needs doing it ought not to be left undone, whether it be day or night. There are occasions when a householder should rise while it is still night; for this helps to make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Aristotle, Economics

I wonder what occasions Aristotle had in mind.

A need to attend to some seasonal work of the household, or some repair that otherwise simply will not get done?

Staying up with an ailing child; and perhaps not administering a drug with dubious side effects?

Or getting up very early most days of the week, just to hold a job needed to support the family?

Maybe rising before others to set aside the time one needs for silence, reflection, and prayer?

Today I completed a two day visit to a Trappist monastery, where men rise at 3 AM, while it is still night. Every single day of their lives. This makes me ponder again, just what is health, wealth, and wisdom. And for what am I willing to rise, while it is still night.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The work cited, ‘Economics,’ is attributed to him, but might have been authored by his students.

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Care for a Wife’s Health

BeskowReading

“Seeing, then, that such care is lavished on the body’s food, surely every care should be taken on behalf of our own children’s mother and nurse, in whom is implanted the seed from which there springs a living soul.” Aristotle, Economics

Aristotle is reflecting upon the practices of a good husband. He draws attention to the care, for body and soul, that is due to a wife.

I worry sometimes that even among those who greatly value childbearing, the good health of the mother can slip from the forefront of attention. Where it belongs. This is she who is sacred soil; nurse and educator. Wife and mother.

Every care should be taken—to the extent it is within human control—that she be well-disposed for this undertaking. Husbands need to make this the special object of our intention, deliberation, and action. Who else will? This demands much of us. Among other things, it requires a spirit of self-sacrifice; sometimes even in the form of abstinence. Too many woman, too many wives, are not the object of such care, even from those who truly do care for them.

I’ve heard that in some African cultures men and women engaged to be married  observe a special diet together in preparation for child-bearing. An instance of common sense that has become uncommon. The vigilant care of husbands for the bodily and spiritual health of their wives leads both to such simple, and other more demanding practices.

 

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, is considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The ‘Economics’ is attributed to him, but might have been authored by his students.

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What Will Make Me Grateful?

FieldFlowers

“The greatest benefits will not bind the ungrateful.”
Aesop’s Fables

The farmer, finding a frozen snake, pitied him and placed him in his bosom to thaw. The revived snake, unmoved by gratitude, inflicts a mortal wound.

Such ingratitude is especially repulsive. But what about the ingratitude that consists in simply not-being-grateful?

Gratitude should have prevented the snake from harming its benefactor. Yet it should also move me to act in certain positive ways—to act out gratitude.

If I am not actually, shall we say actively grateful, then am I not truly ungrateful? This is a bracing thought, especially in view of Aesop’s moral. Even the greatest benefits do not bind, do not move to action those who are ungrateful. This gives me pause: I should be concerned lest ingratitude render me impervious to the call of gifts received. Especially since evidence of my own ingratitude is real.

Flowers in my field.
Much more, my wife, the mother of my children.

When will my life, my every day, be truly bound, formed by what I have received? Gratuitously.

May we be set free, by being bound, by the greatest benefits.

Aesop (born circa 620 B.C.) was a Greek story teller. Little is known of his life, and no written works by him survive, though many ancient authors refer to his famous stories-with-a-point.

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Learning from the Bees

Beekeeping3 - Copy

“Passing their lives under exalted laws,
Alone they recognize a fatherland
And the sanctity of a home, and provident
For coming winter set to work in summer
And store their produce for the common good.”
Virgil, The Georgics IV

Bees simply stand out from other animals at the homestead. It’s as though they’re trying to teach us something. In several ways.

In no other domestic animal are daily activities so directly and obviously about the whole, about the ‘fatherland,’ as it were. The flourishing of the hive is a complex order, something far beyond the reach of any individual, or small number of bees. Each must do its part—no more and no less. The work of each is somehow woven together into a fabric, the beauty and reality of which both embodies and transcends what each alone has accomplished.

Provident foresight is likewise modeled. Calm and consistent, today’s work is given direction and importance by future needs—the needs of others, who will come later. Others’ flourishing is the object. Today.

I love to stop and watch the foragers coming and going from their home, their fatherland. (Foragers, of course, are older bees. Young bees start out with simpler jobs inside the hive.) The steady pattern at the hive entrance–closing in, hovering, landing, and taking off—is so steady that what is in fact hundreds or even thousands of foragers looks like it’s the same twenty bees doing it again and again. Thunderstorm? No problem. The sun will be back, soon enough. Nighttime? Well-deserved rest for the weary foragers. There is a time and a place for everything.

So the daily routine of the bees evidences and constitutes the sanctity of their home. And a person is honored to have ever so small a part in their foresight, and work, and its glorious fruits.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

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The Best Manure

ChickentoPost

“We must observe what parts of the land must be manured, how the manure is to be applied, and the best kind to use; for there are several varieties. Cassius states that the best manure is that of birds, except marsh- and sea-fowl; and that the dung of pigeons is the best of these, because it has the most heat and causes the ground to ferment. This should be broadcast like seed, and not placed in piles like cattle dung. My own opinion is that the best dung is from aviaries of thrushes and blackbirds…” Marcus Terentius Varro, On Agriculture, I

Clearly these ancients gave much consideration to their manures. Modern science actually backs up their findings, ranking bird manure—especially that of chickens—as having a higher nutrient density than other animal manures.

Every once in a while we need to step back and wonder. Manure has a remarkably balanced spectrum of the nutrients and other elements on which depend soil health, and plant health. And thus also our health.

We are talking here about excrement, feces, poop. But call it what you will, this typically smelly, often unpleasant stuff is vitally important for the life of plants of all kinds, and is an essential element of most sustainable forms of agriculture. It can be a very exciting and rewarding part of the home garden too.

But while it has many names, it really shouldn’t be called waste. Neither should it be unnecessarily wasted. On this score we might all re-examine our approach to manure—from large farms to the home lawn and garden.

Rather than genetically modifying pigs to reduce the phosphorus in their manure (this because of the dangerous over-concentration of pigs in factory farming), we might take our cue from the contents of the manure, using it once again to the advantage of all. On the home front we can be aware that suitable manure might be available from local farmers or homesteaders—manure that can used in numerous lawn and garden applications. Households might even look at raising their own small animals—such as rabbits or chickens, or other birds!—and thus enjoying the full complement of the natural cycle of life. What a difference it could make, on several levels, if each of us reduced or eliminated our use of petroleum based artificial fertilizers.

Will the circle be unbroken? Most of us won’t be in a position to determine, find, or use what in the abstract is the best manure. But in the concrete, the best manure is whatever natural soil amendment we can reasonably find, and use to feed the earth that feeds us in our own little corner of the world.

It might seem that E.B. White exaggerated when he wrote: “There is no doubt about it, the basic satisfaction in farming is manure.” But maybe he was thinking especially of the satisfaction of knowing, indeed enacting, that everything has its place, if we have the humility and patience to take our cue from the order of nature.

Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 B.C.) was a Roman scholar, soldier and statesman. Educated in Rome and Athens, he wrote over seventy books. Res Rusticae, or On Agriculture, begun in his eightieth year, is a practical manual on husbandry.

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Playing the Right Games

elsabeskow, stream

“But when children play the right games from the beginning and absorb lawfulness from music and poetry, it follows them in everything and fosters their growth…”
Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, Bk IV

It’s easy not to be concerned about games. After all, they’re just games.

Watching children play can be amazing. They go about their merry way, building a city, hiding and seeking, moving checkers, kicking a ball. They’re usually very serious about what they’re doing, even as they’re enjoying it.

Maybe that’s why Socrates is so concerned about children playing the right games. To a child a game is really not ‘just a game.’ It’s his or her opportunity to do something like what grownups do, experiencing it as very real.

“Look Daddy, I’ve built a bridge!”

Not, “Look Daddy, I’ve just pretended to build a bridge with these blocks, so my fake trucks can ‘drive’ on it!”

Here children form habits that carry over to what is really serious—perhaps we should say more serious—and they learn how to give, and take, in a common project structured by rules.

And of course children really do expect that rules will be followed—at least by other players. In games children can experience rules for what they truly are—standards of justice, and guideposts to flourishing. For everyone. Even when they’re hard to follow.

The seriousness, the joy, and hopefully the frequency of their play suggest that we should look more intentionally at the games our children play, and indeed perhaps that we play.

Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.

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The Mother of All Arts

CuttingHay2

“Whoever it was who said that agriculture is the mother and nurse of all other arts was right, because when agriculture is faring well, all the other arts are strengthened too; but wherever the land is forced into barrenness, all the other arts, whether based on land or sea, are more or less smothered.”
Xenophon, The Estate Manager V

I do not think I can adequately understand or defend the assertion. Xenophon himself does not purport to tell us why it is so. It seems to be an insight that has been passed down for generations. Yet his own experience, and perhaps his knowledge of history, lead him to assent to its truth.

Agriculture. The mother of all arts. That is quite an assertion.

But it simply sounds right. It makes sense. The art of cultivating the earth—and surely it is an art—is at one and the same time both accessible to all and beyond the complete mastery of any. And it seems that our own experience of the last hundred or so years, lends further credence to the assertion that wherever the land is forced into barrenness, all other arts…are more or less smothered.

But there is a reawakening in interest in agriculture as an art, an art that can be practiced by some, even many, and be appreciated by all. A simple attention to what we eat, and where and how it is produced, can foster this reawakening. And this reawakening can spread to other real arts, as to children of their mother.

Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among,  these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we get an insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.

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