Life Epiphanies, While Tilling a Squash Field by Peter DeMarco
Jack Truesdale ’16 spent his Senior Spring Project in Hawaii, but paradise, at least for him, was turning out to be a pretty miserable place. Signing onto a small farm for two months to learn all he could about sustainable agriculture, Truesdale found himself picking mostly weeds and digging holes all day. When it was time for dinner, instead of joining his host farmer’s family, or gathering for a community dinner as bigger farms did, he ate alone in his room, a converted shipping container dropped on a hillside. One week, he got food poisoning from eating too much coconut oil. His car’s battery died while on a mountain, so he had to wait hours for a ranger to come to his rescue. While amiable enough, his co-workers were much older, with scars from addictions Truesdale just couldn’t relate to. They weren’t much fun to hang out with, either.
Truesdale’s cousin, Jake, lived on the island, and every time he called to go surfing, Truesdale would zip to the beach, even when he was tired, or didn’t feel like it. One day, not long after the hike, Truesdale got a voice mail from Jake that the waves were up. Instead of calling him back, Truesdale climbed a stack of fallen eucalyptus trees, pulled down his hat, and let his eyelids drop, leaving them open just enough to see a beautiful sunset. Tired from a long day of planting kale, squash, collards and shards, he clicked off his phone, crawled into his storage container, and fell happily asleep. “I think a little bit of me believes in the power of the island,” Truesdale says. “I call the time after my hike my ‘Golden Days.’ I think the volcano was trying to purify me.”
So Truesdale set out, alone, to hike Haleakala, the House of the Sun, an ancient volcanic crater on Maui. Some 12 miles in, he set up his tent, but it sheltered him little from torrential rains that night. He awoke with his bare feet submerged in puddles, and as he started to climb out of the crater, his skin blistered horribly.
In the midst of his self discovery, Truesdale, who is headed to Colorado College to study computer science or engineering, actually learned plenty about farming, too. From basics like keeping squash vines straight in their rows, to proper planting, to maintaining a wild compost pile (the more gnarly looking, the better, he says.)
The landscape was stunning, rising 10,000 feet into the clouds, but all Truesdale could think of was how much every step ached, and how much he wanted to be home.
The farm he worked at produced honey, and Truesdale, an insect lover, spent hours learning the craft, scraping out gooey hive frames and watching bees for so long that he could recognize the choreography of their dances in flight.
But that hike, more than anything else, was also what saved him. The Hawaiians had preached to Truesdale about “mana,” their idea that everything is related, that all living things are connected. After finishing the hike, Truesdale realized that he’d been fighting mana since the day he arrived on the island. Determined to learn as much as he could about permaculture farming—hands-on, organic, self-sufficient agriculture—he’d ignored his host farmer’s advice to slow down, to clear his head, to enjoy the routine nature of the work and take pride in simple accomplishments. So, Truesdale stopped worrying about what he wasn’t doing, what he wasn’t achieving, and soon enough, he began to enjoy tilling the fields. Instead of judging the people he was working with, he began accepting their differences, even respecting them, and enjoying some of their quirks.
Now, when he walks down a supermarket aisle, he questions how much energy, in fuel and refrigeration, was exhausted to bring New Zealand passion fruit to Cambridge. Or why a carton of almond milk, which he learned to make raw on the farm, has at least a half-dozen extra additives. “Some of the healthiest people in the world are the Okinawans, the Sardinians,” Truesdale says. “They eat all natural from their gardens. They’re not going to eat a pineapple. Here in America, we eat what we like to, rather that what we’re designed to.” If people could just follow nature’s lead, Truesdale’s learned, we’d all be better off. “I used to hate papayas because we’d get them from a store,” he says. “In Hawaii, my cousin invited me over one day after they had just picked some. ‘Just eat it!’ he said. So I did, and I was like, ‘Oh My God! It’s so good!”
He began following his instincts, too.