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Setting Out in a Brave New World

Text & Photos—Sarah Ryhanen

I don’t know how much I want to believe in numbers anymore. Specifically, I don’t know how to accept the utility of numbers while acknowledging their absolute meaninglessness. As each of us here in New York and abroad watch the numbers of victims from Covid-19 climb, the wave of grief that follows each individual death, each sick and scared citizen, is impossible to comprehend. I remind myself that every part of this crisis—the sickness, the scramble, the heroics, the hoarding, the sharing, and especially the caregiving—are facets of our humanness, forming a picture that is much larger than us.

This moment is leveling. I think a lot of us are watching the spring’s progress more than before, because watching the world turn reminds us that it’s not actually falling apart.

On instagram I’ve been watching the spring surge through everyone’s feeds, and perhaps like you, I am clinging to nature like a rock—an observable aspect of my world that remains unfazed by the numbers.

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On the farm, we are healthy so far, and fortunate to have our normal spring routines: garden prep, wood cutting, and lambing. These typical early spring routines keep me buoyed between news-cycle spirals and often I spend hours forgetting the pandemic while I do chores. I am lucky to be in this line of this work. We bred a heterozygous white ram named Ramses, which means we’ll have some variation in colours and patterning this year. We’re expecting about 12 more lambs in the next 2-3 weeks. Males will be named Ramses (Ramses II, Ramses III, etc) and culled this fall for meat and pelts, and females will be named after Egyptian queens or goddesses and likely added to our future breeding stock. Naming in this way helps us remember sheep generations year to year.

These dancing lambs, their preciousness, goofy shenanigans, and total inability to know about pandemics is a constant comfort.

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In these surreal times, my parents are moving to the farm. I’ll leave you to imagine the complications of moving during a pandemic. Suffice it to say, I just made a desperate call to my mother asking her to remind my father to not touch his face after he gets gas on his way up with another truckload of soap factory equipment. Susan, my mother, has fashioned ziploc bags of hydrogen peroxide and paper towels that we travel with—the new normal.

In Bloom

Read Sarah’s profile

I’ve canceled most of our spring programs, and like so many of you, we are nervously watching the economic implications of this crisis. It is confusing to feel grief for the families of the sick and the dead, to imagine the bravery and strife of healthcare workers, and to also keep my farm business out of bankruptcy. I am trying to remind myself that it is OK to have these conflicting feelings—that perhaps they suggest deeper questions about the structures and systems that are no longer serving us.

I think it’s imperative right now to imagine what the future might look like. If we don’t take seriously the task of imagining a brave new world, we won’t have a sense of direction when we’re ready to really go back to work.

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I want the new world to feel smaller—to be a network of smaller communities held together by shared values and debts to each other rather than to faceless institutions and corporations. I want this brave new world to seed creativity and spirituality in every aspect of daily life so that art is not only reserved for artists and creativity and caregiving are not separate ideas.

I want massive wealth redistribution. But perhaps more than that, I want a paradigm shift around what constitutes wealth. I want old people to live with young people. I want both grandiose pleasure and scarcity to co-mingle at the dinner table. And I want more fire and dancing for everyone.

Sarah Ryhanen runs Saipua, a 107-acre flower and sheep farm in upstate New York, where she hosts residencies and classes heralding the emergence of meaningful ways of living amongst women. Her Spring programming is currently on hold, but Sarah is still managing to run her online store as well as her famous lamb-cam on Instagram.

The New Traditional

Sarah is featured in BESIDE’s first book, co-edited with international publishing house gestalten.

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