Most of our ancestors spent their summers in a stoop. Not all did. Some rode horses into other horses, sniffed game trails, threw clay, or cast nets, but, for the preponderate number of peasants in our collective line, stooping was definitely the most popular pursuit of the season. And why not? Ancient grains don't reap themselves.
We still stoop today, of course, but it's often over a computer, for want of a posture-correcting Aeron chair. Slouching is the new stooping, and its practice extends far beyond the month of July. Whether a life of slumping is progress over several months in full-stoop, intermingled with generous periods of genuflecting, skulking, folk dancing, fleeing, and kowtowing, I'm not smart enough to say—but it does feel good to occasionally return to your roots.
My friend Max Ross discovered this during his trip here. I took him up on his offer to help me in the garden. We stooped to harvest garlic—over a hundred bulbs. Then we graded them on the gravel drive, before trimming their stems and roots and hanging them to cure. Honestly, I did the trimming and hanging on my own. After zealously throwing himself to the labor of garlic plucking, which lasted a heroic ten minutes, Max preferred to spend the remainder of the day on a couch, napping and reading Knausgård. We all have our own ancestors to impress.
I've been friends with Max for nearly a decade. We met at New York University's graduate program for fiction, where the two of us attended workshops and classes together. His fiction, which is always very funny, has been published in several well-regarded journals, including American Short Fiction, The Common, and elsewhere. His essays, reporting, and reviews (as funny) have been featured in the New York Times, Boston Globe, L.A. Review of Books, and online at The New Yorker. My favorite of his work was written for the latter: a short, Talk of the Town-style piece about a radically egalitarian soccer organization in Minnesota, where Max was born and raised. He currently lives with his girlfriend in San Francisco, a shining city where agriculture is something its citizens expect to be sustainable and trucked in from elsewhere.
One Saturday afternoon during his week-long stay, the two of us enjoyed the company of the Gombai Art Collective, a loose fraternity of local painters. They held a gathering by the lake. Though Max spent the majority of their visit reading (more Knausgård), he looked up when someone noticed an object falling from the sky. It splashed down a mile offshore. One painter described it as a huge, half-deflated balloon, "but with heft." Another claimed he'd conjured it through sheer force of mind. Debate ensued about whether we should swim out to identify the thing, which barely floated. But then it was swallowed by the lake. So we barbecued sausages, eggplant, and summer squash instead.
The latter two items were harvested from the garden, which is now in high season. These days my neighbors, parents, and I are enjoying nightly helpings of beans, tomatoes, sweet onions, cucumbers, beets, watermelon, and more. There's so much produce, in fact, that I might put a stand out by the road. That would mark a first, and reestablish the Woodbridge Farm as a working farm, rather than just an ancestral place name. Hawking produce is something I've thought of doing for years. It's an honest ambition—the sort of dream you stoop to.