all that remains

winter, poetry, writing, natureIt is cold tonight, stepping out onto the porch to return the pile of outer layers we gathered up throughout the day.  Damp jackets.  Grandma’s woolly crocheted hats.  Knitted gloves too small already, my own handmade holiday gift last year to those little fingers, grown.

I don’t mean to, but I shiver.  Days when I’ve been inside so much, only out to feed and water the animals and gather wood, days that I don’t really mind all that much because they are filled with the kind of still, quiet warming that I need in winter–just one of these days and the chill that wants to catch my skin and stay, in just seconds, shows me just how easy it is to soften.

And my mind wanders for a minute in the dark, the light burnt out a while back, in high summer when no light was needed, and still hoping to be replaced, to see a check next to its name on the long, winter to do list. I realize I don’t know.  I’m not sure how soft to be.

But soft or not, I return into the arms of the fire full house, letting the wind and cold beat the last bit of life out of things as we wash the evening dishes, finish a thousand drawings, and put to bed so many tiny, household lives we’ve lived, today, this one winter’s day.

This Sunday, this Monday, they are the first relaxing days I have had in a long while.  Since September.  And these two, just the start.  So many remain, days such as this.

This year, like every year, we find that we are not great at growing onions on this farm.  Rather, it is like this–we don’t really know if we are great at it or not because limited space and time and the lure of the green onion to eat and sell all summer long always wins over the much more sensible idea that we should just let those onions grow.  So that they might now remain, for winter.  Every week, at market, I buy onions from much more sensible farmers, with much more land and a whole winters worth of alliums to caramelize in my skillet.

And for their sense, I am thankful.

But even though our larder doesn’t house them, our home does.  Us, the onions, brought inside.  Chill morning by brisk eve, winter is the fine task of pulling back the layers to reveal what grew in us this year.  What is new there, what gone?  Opposite the bundling we take on to go out the door, inside, we peel away all but the naked remains, the new seed of us.  What will that look like?  What will we have to offer the coming, new year?

The rest is shed and buried back in the ground, the old skins, like the plants we once were out under the sun.  And my life, shaped and severed each season by these elements–sun, fire, earth, rain–at least I know how to grow it well, I think to myself.  The longer I live here, the more well shaped I become.  This land, these seasons, our little harvest, our life, it grows fuller with each and every winter that comes.  And so, I let go, the wandering mind, and slip under the heavy pile of covers for the night.  Faith can be as simple as this.

A pattern found worth trusting.

moving forward in a circle

into the unknownWe are one week away from the start of our summer farmer’s market season.  We have been so steadily putting one foot in front of the other this spring, getting ready for this stretch of the year, these next 20-30 weeks or so, our “main” season here on the farm, and now that it is just one week away, of course, we are feeling not steady at all but instead just rushed, rushed, rushed.  Those gooseberries I wrote about that never got weeded are nearly giving me nightmares, they have all but disappeared underneath the bindweed.  And the strawberry patches we hope to be harvesting from in the next few weeks are playing hide and seek in some knee high grass. 

Oh, the adventures of it all!

We are fairly used to this routine by now, seven years in, but that doesn’t mean we can always control our feelings of ineptitude when we encounter, even repeatedly, the sheer force of the wild world.  With a leftover sore throat caught from the children, today I feel it overtime.  Today, I dream about the many hired hands we could use if only we could afford to hire them.  I dream of a week straight of childcare so that I can get ahead.  I dream of the sleepy feel of winter. 

So silly!

Life on the farm truly is about routines and cycles, and as such is fairly predictable, at least in general, even if it is not in the particular.  Those things change every season, and are always a mystery we have to watch unfold as we go.  But the cycle remains the same. 

Every year, at least once at this time of year, we will feel overwhelmed.  Some years it is the weather, the waiting for the land to dry.  Some years, it is the planting and keeping things going in the ground on schedule.  Some years it is the money and do we have enough right now when we spend it the most. 

And this year, I swear, it is the weeds. 

I walk the farm with the babe of a boy on my hip and worry about getting some air to our perennial fruits.  And I can’t seem to catch up.  And everywhere I look I see another thistle or burdock or hemlock plant that needs to be knocked down before it blooms.  I sigh and let the one rainy day in this month, today, comfort me with rest while I make the lists that will keep us moving forward.

Then, tomorrow, I will set out again, one step at a time, moving towards this unattainable goal of getting to all those weeds.  With or without reaching it, just like every year, I know that soon the summer will fully set in and we will be back in the swing of it all.  We always “catch up” eventually.  We always move from this kind of busy to the harvesting kind of busy, all fun and full, hearts raised and beating hard, out in the sun while it lasts.

The farm is always moving, both in a forward-upward motion, as well as in a circle.  Kind of like life.  The path it takes always leads somewhere good, even though it is not always right on target or 100% predictable.  We start a farming season in all possibility, all hope.  Then, inevitably, we get a bit waylaid for a while in the weeds, until we emerge and find that once again, everything is again.  Even more than okay.  We find that just like every year, it is bursting in greatness.  We find ourselves swimming in the river on hot summer afternoons, staying up late not just working but playing by the bonfire, wishing on twinkling stars.  We find ourselves blissfully breathing easy again, while the land provides, ever abundantly.

I could almost say that it happens with or without us, and that would almost be true.  The earth provides.  It cycles, on and on, ever and always.  But we did, and do, a lot in order to receive this fecundity year after year.  This, we must always remember, no matter what kind of spring craze we are feeling. 

This, we must remember, no matter if we feel a bit like we are still at the bottom of the staircase of the year.  Because all of us, most likely, have been doing the work we need to do, moving forward on the journey, even when we are at that point when we can’t exactly see it.  Perhaps a few steps more forward, even with a blindfold on, will lead us up and into the light.

From the trenches of a holistic life

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There were some great big sunny days this week!  So much sun that I was able to grab handfuls of it and stuff it in my pocket to pull upon when needed, because it was needed, being squashed between rain and more rain.  Serious, heavy rain.  We’ve had so much early flooding this year, its surprising even when we know not to be surprised by the weather anymore.

On the sunniest and warmest of these days, the kids and I walked to the main field together, presumably to pick grapes to snack on because the farmer had admonished us for letting the very last of them languish up there.  We were definitely too late on that one, the grapes were completely done for.  It seemed like an odd expedition anyways, here at almost Christmastime.  But then again, some of the things we found along the way weren’t really of winter as I still think of it–the mid-western type, where surely no flowers are still blooming?

The baby was very proud of his calendula blossom.  He was fascinated by the running water.  We found exactly enough apples left on a tree out there to feed each of us–and my oh my, were they sweet and good.  I thought about how much better it would be to have more of them still, to save them for December, or late November at least, this variety is so much sweeter then.   I made a mental note for next year.

It was a glorious day, almost beyond glorious (that sun!).  But I was burdened with a little melancholy too.  As we walked through the quiet, mucky rows of spent food and tattered beet greens, I couldn’t help but think of how this weekend would be different.  No harvesting at all, not even the farmer walking the fields.  The first week without a harvest in a long, long time.

He has been day and night in the wood shop, getting ready to start a new market this weekend in the city with the woodworking business.  Our booth at the most wonderful (idyllic is the slogan), local, year round market was taken down last week.  We have been bringing our winter produce there for the last two cold seasons, spending every Saturday there for the last two and half years, and it has been so great.  But it is definitely time for us to find a better way to manage just about everything on our farm and home better, and this was part of that lofty goal.

It was an amazingly hard decision.  Taking things down last Saturday was heartbreaking.  All of the other vendors there are like our family.  Our children roam that space, interact with their community there.  We all barter and exchange goods in a way far removed from societal norms.  The whole experience enriches us beyond measure.  And all of those intangible benefits made the business decision that much harder to make.

In the field, with my sadness–because of my sadness–I found myself coming to terms with it all.  That this impacted us emotionally struck me as a great and wonderful thing.  It was like a perfect affirmation that we were, in fact, doing things the right way.

Shouldn’t all businesses be so connected to their community, to the people involved far and wide, to altruisms, expectations, intangible rewards?

Wouldn’t that trump a business model based solely on numbers?

I’ve always liked to apply the word holistic to our farming enterprise.  Much like it is used in the natural health fields, I think of our farm and the way we choose to farm and run our business as whole.  Our lives, the lives of our customers, out greater community, the world at large.  The micro-organisms in the soil, the macro-organism that is the entire farm.  It is all connected, and we like to look at it in its entirety.  Taking in every aspect of it, from the human to the bacterial, from the profit margin to the life experience, we have never been the type to be able to separate or isolate one part of it from the other. To hold any one part above the rest and focus too much on it.   Just like with our own health, if we don’t consider all of the aspects of what make a thriving person, we know we won’t ever have true well-being.

And so even though part of me was cursing the fact that we felt this way, that we have to worry about these larger ties and commitments to building something for our community besides our own farm, that we can’t just easily say that it isn’t the right thing for us at this time because we are also concerned about what the right thing is for a whole host of other people, that we are so unforgivingly idealistic…even though all of that weighs on us sometimes, I am glad for it.

There is much talk right now about what the end of the month might bring, if anything at all.  Prophecies, doomsdays, jokes, fears.  I do not get worked up about these kinds of things usually.  I let it all come and go, and I’ve always felt like as human beings we are just the same stories playing out over and over again, good and bad.

But something hit me over the head a few months ago and has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, things are changing.  It is hard for me not to imagine the coming youths living any way but holistically.  There is so much growing interconnectedness.  And seeing these threads that connect us all, and choosing to live and act with this in the forefront of our minds, maybe that will bring an evolution of sorts.

Or maybe I am, once again, being overly idealistic.  I know that for us, we aren’t very good at doing things any other way.  Even though we won’t be harvesting for market this winter, we are still moving forward.  Easing the burden a bit by harvesting by special orders each week, lessening the overhead, still getting what we do grow in the winter into the hands of someone in our community, from some wonderful local chefs to a handful of  hungry community members waiting for the bulk of our production to kick in.  It is all good.

We say this all the time, I know.  But even though things change and morph constantly, and the line we are walking on is not a straight shot like we were led to believe it would be, so far in this life, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

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