Alongside his neighbors, he enjoyed the nightly custom of visiting from home stoops until the cows returned from pasture. Field, a former computer analyst and teacher, lives in rural Willits, Calif. In this letter, he shares the environmental perspective he gained from his Transylvanian internship. For the full text and photos, click.
There is power in the knowledge of a place. The French have created a new word for this -- “terroir” -- which combines the word for land with the word for knowledge and ability. While I may have guessed at the reality of this, I don’t think I truly understood it until I came to the Homorod Valley of Transylvania.
One could walk the length of both the big and little Homorod valleys in a couple long days. The distance between villages is very small. But in each village, you will find slightly different ways of life and slightly different ways of working the land and raising animals. This is not from some sense of novelty or innovation. Nor is it the result of radically different geography. One village may have access to more wood and trees while another may have easier access to stones. But, in general, the villages of both valleys are basically similar in geology and climate.
The residents of each village have built up over generations an intimate knowledge of their microclimate and locale. Each tiny difference is probably unnoticeable to the outsider, whether it’s small variations in how hay is stacked, when or where different crops are planted, or how animals are kept and pastured. It is even reflected in the contemporary use of cement, tractors and combines. One can even see slight but systematic variations in the selection of construction materials and tractor attachments.
In planning for travel to Transylvania, I prepared myself for the worst possible conditions. I did not know what my house would be like. I did not how I would eat. I did not know if people would be hungry or dirty or begging in the streets.
In the villages I have seen nothing like this. People are poorer here than in America. But rural poverty here is similar to rural poverty at home. Houses are heated, food is cooked and water is warmed by burning wood. Most houses have electricity and most houses I have visited have a washing machine for laundry. While many things are stored in cellars for winter, every house I have visited has a refrigerator.
In my hometown there was recently a small conference on economic localization with participants from seven states and several countries. The point of this conference was to look at how local economies could survive the eventual collapse of an economy based on cheap oil and shrinking reserves through sustainable agricultural and supplies available within a 100-mile radius. I try to tell the farmers of the Homorod Valley that what they have practiced for hundreds of years, people I know are paying to learn. And it all comes down to an intimate knowledge of a place and its particularities.
I think some Unitarian Universalists probably suppose that we in North America have a lot to teach other religions, even our brothers and sisters in Transylvania, about earth-based spirituality. But the truth is that people like me (and most modern UUs) who are generations removed from living off the land, may have a millennium of learning to catch up on. For we are small and the earth is big. And we can only live in one place at a time. And similarly, we can only observe the rhythm of life and its cycles in one place at one time. In the lives of our brothers and sisters in the Homorod Valley are holy volumes of this knowledge.
To make a contribution and keep the Parish Immersion Field Experience in Transylvania Pilot Project going beyond its planned two years, contact.
Photo: James Field