We have all heard the phrase ‘Mother Earth’ and it serves as kind of mythic but generic Ur-Mother who gives us everything, such is her generosity. And we should be kind to her and not pollute her and do all the proper things that good children should do. This understanding of Mother Earth I think also tracks with what we ask of mothers – always be there, always give, and that she always loves us. She can’t stay hurt or mad at us forever. Forgiveness is bound to come. Eventually. This is one model.
I write today not to dismantle that notion but I have heard another mythic notion that is worth holding for a moment – Lover Earth. This notion of the Earth as a lover gives our relationship a different cast. With a lover your courtship must be continual, you must find new ways to express your love and devotion. Receiving eternally is not on the bill. Surprise and mystery and tension is as necessary as regularity and security to keep such a relationship going. You may have a generous and broad armed lover but you can’t just eternally be on the take and never give back or express true gratitude or give them a break sometimes. To do the everyday maintenance of lover-ship means that you feed the relationship and that is also possible that the relationship can go sour and it might even end.
Things that get fed are not only held in esteem but are also, in their own way, alive. That food is praise in action.
Two years ago or so I was in the midst of a being tour manager for a 28 show US/Canadian event. The majority of the shows were in the US, which I was broadly in charge of. I had a Canadian counterpart, not only a man who I hold in high esteem, but also a friend – Tad Hargrave. While each of us ostensibly were in charge of our respective countries shows and all the wrangling entailed to make the shows happen, we worked together a lot on building systems and best practices and methods for motivating our sizable volunteer brigades in each city. The job was overwhelming. Swallowing really. It was far more than full time. I was not only dealing with the tour but also running Primal Derma and trying to have something that looked like a regular life: reading, friends, exercise, rest.
Tad was doing the same from his home in Edmonton, Alberta. It was heartening work and joyous in many ways but it gulped us despite our devotions to it. In the midst of this I was really admiring not only Tad’s mighty offerings to the tour but also noting that while he had zero time he was still writing truly thoughtful pieces about things he was reading and wondering about in the world at that time but also going further back as well.
While I also had zero time, I nevertheless decided to prepare to give Tad a substantial gift that would acknowledge his capacity and the way he carried himself and showed up in the world. I started to research his family name and its etymology. I found his ancient family motto and their crest or emblem all without letting him know. I found a Latin epigram in a book that I was reading that made me think of him. I started to really wonder about why the motto was the motto and what the name Hargrave might more deeply be naming. Then I found an Edmonton based traditional calligrapher named Lynn Babuk who grinds and mixes her own ink and is a beautiful throwback of a handmade artisan.
With her I told her about this desire to honor her artisanship and to only tell her very loosely what I was looking for with the words and image that I had and then trust her to implement her own skill. I asked if she had any velum from sheep or deer from Edmonton or Alberta and, by a stroke of luck or fate, she did. And that was that. Though she had never really received a commission like this she would send me updates on progress but she mostly ticked on with me giving a digital thumbs up from New York. I had time for none of this. I also didn’t have time to reach out to a mutual acquaintance in Edmonton who I didn’t know well and rope her into being part of a ruse to give this gift. But such was my devotion. Give time to that which I didn’t have time for because I valued him and the friendship.
Tad Hargrave is brilliant. He runs an excellent business called Marketing For Hippies
, where he helps people who find most marketing to be distasteful and antithetical to their core values of the services they provide to find a way to approach marketing in a good way. He reads widely and verges on bookish (my kind of guy). He is quick witted and funny and thoughtful. I’m lucky to call him a friend. In November of 2018 the ruse of meeting a cool local calligrapher one afternoon went into action.
Part of the letter I had pre-written and mailed to be read at the unveiling said:
“Here she is, a gift for you that you didn’t know was coming. A gift crafted and calligraphed by the steady artisan hands of Lynn Ann Babuk of Babuk Ink Calligraphy. Calligraphed on velum made from a deer. Is the hole in the velum where the deer was shot? Maybe it is where the cord went through to stretch the skin or maybe an errant knife. But let it be a reminder that a living deer who didn’t ask to be involved in this got involved.
A word on the text – Lector Princeps. Princeps Continuum.
It plainly means ‘First among readers. Maintaining firstness continually.’ But a finer rendering might be something like ‘that person who doesn’t simply read the most but finds more in what they do read and keeps doing this” And even finer might be something like ‘the fine reader of our times who submits themselves to the consequence of that again and again.’ It’s a Latin phrase I came across and I knew it was yours.
The emblem, near as I can tell, is the simplified Hargrave crest. Your old ones must have been able to read the field for wild hares and read them well. Your appearance is evidence of that. You have inherited their eye.
The Latin inscription ‘vinci amore patriae laudumque immense cupido’ was the traditional Hargrave motto according to all my research. It is from the Aeneid and means, ‘for the love of homeland, and a longing for praise he shall prevail.’”
There was more in it but that gives you the gist. Tad is a man of words. Speech comes easily to him. I’m told that he was struck dumb by the whole thing. He wrote this of the event a few weeks later…
I sat there just marveling at that one I was now holding in my hands. Marveling at the beauty of her and the labours involved. Marveling at the unlikelihood of her appearance in my life. Marveling that I know the sort of man who would, out of his love for me, spend months going back and forth with Lynn Ann to craft not only this gift but this mysterious manner of giving her to me during one of the busiest times in his life when spare time must have been non-existent.
And so, this is a very fine way to give a gift: by surprise, with immense thoughtfulness and an eloquence to pierce the heart, all delivered through the hands of another loved on.
Might it be that I deepen in whatever skill I have to read this world.
Might it be that we all deepen in our love for our homelands and in our longing for praise – not only praise for ourselves (although sure, that too) but perhaps more so the skillfulness and capacity to praise the life we’ve been granted. Might our old timers recognize themselves in our speech.
So why do I write all this and tell this story that seemingly just makes me look good? And what does this have to do with Primal Derma? I promise it does. I never really tell the story above but it was mandatory context for the next part.
A few days I was sitting at home and a package was brought to me by someone who had answered the door. I wasn’t expecting any package but the return address was from Tad. The brown cardboard envelope was already open from rough transit but the content was still inside. The book was a collection of all the newsletters I had written for Primal Derma with all the pictures in color. Each newsletter a chapter with its own big and clear font.
Maybe a year ago Tad and I were talking and he said that my newsletters were so good that I should bind them together and make a book and sell it. I shrugged at the suggestion and thanked him for thinking the writings were good enough to be a book but I didn’t have the bandwidth to turn all of them into the appropriate formatting and then start a marketing engine for a book that I wasn’t sure anyone wanted or needed…And he understood and let it go.
I’m a man of words. Speech comes easily to me by and large. And my tongue was stilled and the salt seas in my eyes hit high tide as I held the immensity of effort and praise and love in the form of one singular book. I was done in and wrecked that I could be loved like that. Simply marveling at the unlikelihood of this book’s appearance in my hand. Marveling that I knew the sort of man who would, out of his love for me and my writing and my work, spend untold amounts of time to make one book. And I felt a second ripple of wreckedness come because Tad was blessing you all because you have made Primal Derma and my writing about all these things alive by purchasing and reading. Without you, no writing. Without writing no expression of this particular kind of devotion from Tad that echoed my gift to him.
And so, it seems to me that this is a very fine way to give a gift: by surprise, with immense thoughtfulness and a wordless eloquence to pierce the heart simply by reflecting back or maybe re-organizing what was already there.
Not every gift and giving can be like this exchange between Tad and I. And maybe it shouldn’t be. Small and simple ones matter too. But these sorts of surprise occasions à propos of seemingly nothing except the virtue of the other person act as a magnificent buoy to a life. If done between lovers it might be the sort of thing that keeps the two in a kind of sweet tension. If done between humans and the living world, who knows how she would respond and how we would?
Here at Primal Derma we try to approach each of the vendors as people of consequence and hold the farmers and producers in high esteem and cultivate relationships with them so we can be confident in their approach and carriage as far as is possible. It is why I write notes to each of you when you order as a kind of recognition that you are out there contending with all this and allowing it to be.
But I suppose my prayer from all this is perhaps to start wondering what labor-rich, slow to gather and offer gifts can you start to praise with your effort and devotions? What live thing needs your gifting? It could be a person and relationship. But it could just as easily be a place that has been so good to you – a house, a river, a tree. And just as much it could be a cause…but money is not the main currency for these sorts of gifts but it certainly can be involved. The currency is your labor and perhaps your speed. Our lives before corona virus were tethered by speed and immediacy. While there is a hunger of all kinds of shapes at the moment to return to it, there is still a kind of slowness and in-placeness that is governing the time. But these kinds of gifts are Slow Gifting or maybe Gourmet Gifting. And while we still have this slow in-placeness let us perhaps submit ourselves to a well wrought undoneness that might come with such work.
As always, thanks for your ongoing support. And Tad thank you for undoing me.