I drove to Cornish Flat today to buy some lambs from a farmer there. He had a really nice farm, bigger than most in this area with some wide open plains on both sides of his place. He told me on the phone, “Make a left on the dirt road just past the General Store and look for the gray barn, you can’t miss it.” He was right. The lambs I bought were Romneys, three ewes and a ram and they were as well built as they were easy to manage. It was obvious that this guy was doing everything right on his place- his two granddaughters were there with their mother helping out with the stock in the snow in their muck boots and parkas, the fields blinding white behind them.
It’s been a pretty good week all around. There was a nice deep snow right after Christmas followed by howling winds and then by nothing but clear blue skies. I’m reading Scott and Helen Nearing’s book on maple sugaring when I can find a free minute and the kids are off from school this week for the holiday. I walked around outside tonight, after dark and at one point I stood near the sugar house and tipped my head back as far as it would go and just looked straight up into the sky for a little while. It was a moonless blue, filled with a wild scatter of stars, twinkling on and off, like in the Christmas carols. No matter how hard you looked up, things came at you from the edges; the silvered tips of rock maples jiggling just a little bit in the frozen air, the film of woodsmoke from the barn stove, the glow of Concord to the south. You could hear Dickie’s son’s hound dogs going at it way up beyond the rock walls in the back forty, probably responding to some further sound of howling dogs out of my range of hearing. I’d put a new cage filled with golden shiners in the upper brook, Ed and I chopping a hole in the ice just before the Sun went down to settle the baitfish in, and when I came back to check with the dogs they caught a scent of something and started in on their own little rant. The ice had started to skin over and you could see that some fish had found their way out of the hand made trap, but the majority of them looked good and darted back and forth in the glow of the flashlight. Up the hill behind the ruins of the old sugar house you could see the trail of footprints in the snow, the galloping tread of black bear moving up and down along the edge of the stream. Maybe we hadn’t missed him by much, maybe that was what the dogs were barking at, maybe not, but he had been there between the time I had lowered the metal cage into the hole in the ice a couple of hours before, in the glow of twilight and now.
We had steaks for dinner, two thick bone-in strip steaks salted and seared in hot oil and thrown in the oven until they were just this side of cool on the inside. Three kids and myself left nothing behind but a few smears on the cutting board and couple of forks in the sink. The two boys played in the snow most of the day and my daughter had an all day visit with a friend from down the road. When I picked her up I gave them one of our last bottles of maple syrup and asked them if they wanted to come by when we sugared in late Winter. It won’t be long now before we start to tap again, so it only makes sense to use up what’s left and to start fresh.
I stopped writing for a long time because farming is busier work than I thought it would be. I also started to get involved with the politics of farming, a decidedly unpleasant kind of activity that seems to be based on the idea that in order to farm, one must beg the permission of a State level bureaucrat to produce food that he or she has never produced before. It’s hard to believe that you have to pay a fee and ask permission to filet a fish or cut a chop from a side of beef and sell it to your neighbor when someone in China or Paraguay can not only do so without oversight, but sell it in our local groceries without inspection to anyone who walks in the door with an ATM card. I suppose I shouldn’t have asked in the first place, but that’s another story for another day.
Today was great.
I love what we do and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I met good people today and I talked about food more than I talked about the economy or what’s going on in the Capitol. People like what we do and they support us and even if it isn’t rocket science, it is important.
Outside right now, somewhere out beyond the hole in the stream where my shiner cages sit in the cold, black water there is a bear not yet in hibernation, banging around in the dark and I understand where he’s coming from.