On Building a Box

Eva King is an over wintering intern at the Grange Farm School

It’s winter time at the Grange Farm School and it has been raining non-stop. With California being in a pretty serious drought, I’m not allowed to complain, especially to the farmers. This El Nino is welcomed here and it’s making itself so at home, it is literally inside of my home. I live in a canvas wall tent, 10 by 12 feet, raised on a platform and complete with a wood burning stove. Its a pretty cozy lifestyle but the chimney top was installed a little crooked so water began building up and then there was a hole in the ceiling and the outside quickly became the inside. My tent looked little like a scene from Jumanji or more accurately, how my father imagines I’m living: outside, wet, muddy, and cold. 

After grabbing every rag on the farm and throwing them on the ground, Takashi, the industrial arts teacher at farm school helped fix my roof. I threw out the destroyed cardboard boxes holding my firewood and decided I’d build a wooden crate instead. So I walked to our scrap wood pile where you can find all kinds of things: old chalk boards, endless chicken wire, tree branches, redwood, drawers, strange structures nailed together for no apparent reason and so on. I chose some beautiful redwood and then looked over to a mostly dilapidated box and squatted there, hood up, in the rain for about 30 minutes. Staring. Just…staring.

I’m currently mid way through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is a great philosophical book about rational thinking, frustration with building, and how to accomplish a task you feel stuck at. So I thought, perfect, let’s get zen. Box. Box. Box. After repeating the word, “Box” a couple times I knew I was in trouble. The book talks about the importance of breaking down your project into simple parts and to start from there. But a box is already such a simple part I couldn’t figure out how to break it down. Which side do you start with? How do you put the last side on? How do you get those corner pieces in? Or is that what you start with… How on earth do I have an undergraduate degree? It was starting to drive me insane. I was getting pretty wet by this point and totally discouraged and definitely not zen and was on the verge of giving up and googling it.

I’m a little short of a year out of college and it has blown me away how many times I have had moments like this, seemingly fundamental gaps in knowledge. My first job outside of school was working for the Greenhorns in upstate New York. The first day I was told to build an electric fence for five American Guinea Hogs. They weighed about 20 pounds so I was essentially building a cat-sized electric fence. After an hour of googling “how to build an electric fence,” and being confused on what the grounding rod does or how many poles I need per feet or how not to electrocute myself, I was more confused than when I started and finally had to take a step back and type in, “how does electricity work?”

Other things I’ve googled post-college: “what is obamacare?” “are there actual ‘books’ for finances?” “are marionberries really poisonous?” “how to make sheep treats?” and a few months later for the second time “how does electricity work?” (I still don’t know.)

My point being, my liberal arts education gave me great friends, an intellectual grounding, and a degree but I hardly know anything practical. That’s why I’ve decided to enroll for the Spring term at the Grange Farm School, because I want to be a better person and I want to know things like how to change oil in my car, grow the ingredients for a salad, shear a sheep for wool, and how to build a damn box.



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