Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Once upon a time, there was a village not so far from where we are right now. This farming village had grown over time to become a prosperous community, and was composed mostly of farmers. In this village was a group of elders who had seen many seasons come and go had had become very practiced in the ways of agriculture. They knew when was the best time to start preparing the soil, and how to prepare the soil, and when the spring rains would come, and what types of crops would grow best and where, and just how ripe the crop should be before harvesting, and how to prepare the harvest so that it would last through the cold winters that sometimes visited the little village. They had learned through many mistakes (planting or harvesting at the wrong times, choosing the wrong crops) how to make the best yield from their labours.

Because these elders had seen so many harvests, other, younger farmers would sometimes seek advice. The elders took this as quite a compliment and found themselves (over time) giving out more and more advice. Over time, they found themselves giving out advice as a full time job, in return for grain from the younger, less experienced farmers. The young farmers didn't seem to mind the arrangement, either, as the advice seemed to save some time and indecision on what to do with regards to their own fields.

As the years wore on, the younger farmers looked to the elders for advice more and more, and the elders (by now feeling very important) would advise them on each of the smallest details. "Plant your seeds exactly three inches deep - that will yield the best results," they would say. Then, if the crop was poor, they would berate the young farmers and say, "You must not have done as I said. How do you suppose we are all going to be able to eat from that poor crop?" The elders seem to forget that they had gone through the learning process as they worked the land. Now, they only visited the fields occasionally and were not as familiar with the land as the young farmers were. Yet, the young farmers relied heavily on what the elders said and understood less and less on how to read the soil, the wind, the calendar and their own common sense.

The land that the young farmers were working was not the same as the land that the elders had worked. Erosion had changed the way that the rains affected the fields, and the soil held different nutrients due to years of farming the same area. Also, the spring thaw and rains came a little bit later each year, as did the fall drying winds. As these changes happened, their advice to the young farmers became less and less helpful, but because the young farmers had become reliant upon the elders, they didn't know that their directions came from memories, and not from what was actually happening in the fields.

As well, the young farmers seemed less happy in their lives. They became angry with the elders for not helping them through these hard times. They blamed the elders for not telling them how deep to run the plows, and how far apart and deep to plant each seed. They wished that the elders would somehow become better at advising them on how to work the fields. One farmer would often say to another over an evening cup of tea, "If the elders would tell us to plant barley instead of grain this year, I think it would be a much better yield. Why can't they tell us to do that?"

As the harvests became worse and worse, the elders called a meeting amongst themselves. They pooled all their memories of what used to be the right thing to do, and then decided on a course of action. They went to the young farmers (who by now stood blindly waiting for instructions from the elders) and gave them their edict. They told the farmers to plant beans. So, the farmers waited until the appointed time, tilled the soil, planted the beans and tended to the fields.

As the farmers tended to the fields, the elders began to wonder whether they had given the best advice to the farmers. Had it been too late in the year to plant these beans? Had they advised them on the right type of bean to plant? Had the rows been far enough apart? They wondered and wondered for weeks until finally their uncertainty was too much for them to take. They went to the farmers and demanded that they plow up their fields and try to get them ready to accept a different crop.

Begrudgingly (and against their better judgment, if they had had any judgment left), the farmers did as they were told. They put in the crops, but they were a bit too late in the season to get a good harvest off the land.

That year, a very bad winter followed and many of the farmers (and elders) did not survive, due to the poor stock of rations.

Good thing that this is just a fable, huh?

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