Gene Everlasting

The Contrary Farmer

That’s the title of my new book soon to be out. It is sort of a testimonial on how living close to nature can give comfort to those facing the inevitability of death which is all of us. I also try to work in a little humor about the futility of trying to avoid the inevitable. The sub-title says it better perhaps: “A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts On Living Forever.” I started writing it after I found out, much to my amazement, that I was not going to live forever. I had cancer. I was not taking bets on whether I would see the book published or that I would even get it finished but it seemed like a good time to write about things like immortality. If I upset some readers, they could go stomp on my grave. But modern medicine worked its wonders and the cancer went into remission. The docs now think something else will kill me, probably an irate religious fundamentalist. But getting over cancer became something of a story line for the book, running under the main topic about the meaning (if any) of life everlasting.

As I looked closely into how society faces the subject of dying these days, I learned that there are a growing number of people who are not satisfied with the usual religious attitudes about death and are looking for something that makes more sense to them. You may have heard of death cafes and death dinners where people gather together in a sort of party mood and mode and talk about dying. Surprisingly, these discussions are becoming popular. There is also something called “green burial” coming into practice where much of the ritual and display and expense of traditional funeral practices is replaced with simple burial in ways that allow the body to decompose naturally into fertilizer rather than encased in sealed tombs. One might call it the birth of the organic cemetery.

Another surprise came my way in doing research when I discovered Taoism. I even learned how to pronounce that word correctly. For years I was vain enough to think that I had originated the idea that matter is eternal. That concept is at the core of Taoism and uncounted thousands of people thought of it long before I did. But it is a dangerous conclusion to reach. If matter is eternal not only is a religious god unnecessary to explain life but not always will a scientific cause be necessary to explain natural phenomena either. Such an outlandish notion brings down anathema on me from both scientist and theologian.

I had abandoned long ago most of the religious notions about living forever in some faraway paradise. I honor everyone’s right to believe what they want to believe in this regard, but I reached the point where I honestly could not accept it anymore myself. I sought refuge and relief in science for explanations of the mysteries of life. But as  I bumbled along writing this book, it seemed to me that scientists now are beginning to sound like theologians, demanding of me belief in theories for which they do not have positive proof except in their own minds. I like a quote accredited to the late Terence McKenna, the famous (or infamous, depending on one’s views) researcher into psychedelic drugs. The Big Bang theory, as he described it, was “just the limit case for unlikelihood, that the universe would spring from nothing in a single instant for no reason… It is in fact no different from saying ‘and God said, let there be light’.  What these philosophers of science are saying is, give us one free miracle and… it will all unfold according to natural law… Well, I say to them, if science gets one free miracle, then everybody else gets one free miracle.”

In my book, I apply this kind of contrariness to what scientists are saying about Higgs bosons and black holes and outer space and all that stuff they try to define with numbers no one can count.  Seems to me, science is trying to reinvent God.

But most of the book is about the homely and homey life of farm and garden. Yes, it is sad sometimes. If anyone can read it without one tear at least, I’ll give them their money back. But living close to nature on one’s own little garden farm can be a soothing, almost happy, consolation in the face of death, especially for those of us who get all the paradise we can stand by walking through the woods on a quiet evening in June, listening to a wood thrush singing.