A Letter to The Catcher in the Rye

Dear Catcher in the Rye,

        I planned to visit you and the wheat field several times, but I never did. I need to apologize, to say how sorry I am. During the July harvest time, our friends went on a journey to see you and they carried back some wheat flour. When I smelled the scent of the wheat and I saw a photo of your retreating figure, I suddenly felt released and at peace. I always think that you and only you, such an upright and honest man, would accept our “unreasonable request” to grow an experimental wheat field that only uses organic fertilizers, despite the fact that all the people around us have been mocking it. To be frank, I always feel a bit sorry for bringing you trouble. 

        As the wheat was becoming fully-grown in your field, I went to the Lungau region in Austria (a mountainous area that belongs to the Salzburg state, the hometown of Mozart) to visit a farmer named Sepp Holzer. In 1962, Holzer took over his parents' farm on the mountains. He was just 19 years old. Since then, he has been using farming methods that he has invented and which have redefined the ways that humans get along with the land, animals and plants. Through his work over the past 50 years, Holzer’s farm Krameterhof has completely changed the way we view agriculture. Because of his unorthodox methods, some people call him the“rebel farmer”,but some also call him the “pioneer of Permaculture”. And Mr. Holzer is always the same farmer, full of curiosity and always wanting to try new things. He went to Kazakhstan the day after we met, taking with him his wisdom and practical advice on how to improve agricultural practices.

        When Holzer was a young man, monoculture and governmental farm subsidies started to become popular in Europe. All the farmers in his region destroyed the ancient forest and turned it into a forestry industry with only one breed of plant. Sepp Holzer foresaw that such a practice would bring serious harm to the land and the ecology. He was determined to explore a working method that respected nature, and he went about using such methods to maintain, protect and cultivate his own piece of land. As a result, he transformed his 45 hectares of mountain farm land into an enormous forest garden. There exist now 70 ponds that he has designed and managed meticulously, that nourish the terrace fields. The only people working in this huge piece of land are Holzer and his wife, Veronika, yet all the pigs, chickens and even the field mice that run freely about are their good helpers. Different kinds of vegetables, grains and fruit trees have been planted; they grow naturally and take care of their own lives. In places that human hands cannot reach, they grow even more bountifully and healthily. For us Chinese, what this piece of land represents is perhaps a realized version of Lao Tsu’s “Doing Nothing” philosophy:

Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
——Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 37

        I looked at that photo of your retreating figure: you were walking towards the faraway wheat field and in the background stood a windmill in the open field. I thought it was a beautiful sight, because the wheat field under your feet was growing naturally, and within its healthy colors there was nothing artificial. It was the real look of nature.        The rocks and rotten twigs that were put into the many ponds that Holzer constructed originally served as elements to build up eco-systems for different organisms, but they also created their own unique kind of beauty. This coincides with what Masanob Fukuoka, the first advocate of natural agriculture in Japan, understood as ‘the art of farming’ (compared to production-oriented agriculture) --- Farming is not just a means of producing food, but also an aesthetic and spiritual approach to life. It ultimately leads to the cultivation of human beings. 

        Anyone who is loyal to his or her own heart must be a “Catcher in the Rye”. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, says something in a monologue that can be compared to the situation of natural famers today:“… All these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

        We used the wheat flour to make noodles, buns and dumplings. It assimilated its way into our daily lives and into our bodies, bringing peace into our hearts. It made us feel like we could do something to change our lives.  

        I look forward to seeing you soon! 

        With my best wishes

                                                                                                  H.F.

                       (Translated by Anthony Yung from Chinese, photo by Hu Fang: Pond at Krameterhof)