One thing about farming that you can’t undo is the endless cycle of birth and death. There are times, plenty of them in fact, where everything seems to stand in some perfect balance around you. The animals are fed, the fields mowed, the equipment maintained and stowed away, and the breeze moving through the trees in a way that makes them sigh. You stand wherever you are and you simply regard the moment. Sometimes you have a bucket in your hand, and sometimes you are knee deep in snow halfway up a hill and your body just stops of its own accord and time has its way with you. And yet all around you the chores you’ve finished doing, the things you’ve put in place, the lives that look so full and vigorous are in some steady state of decline.
We painted the barn last year and several of the out buildings and even so I can see some spots where it’s pulled away from the boards beneath, not much, but enough. Last night it snowed for awhile and then the wind picked up. The snowed turned to rain for a few minutes, a hard driving rain with wind behind it and then I saw a flash. I thought it might be the motion lights out front but far away, twenty seconds later I heard a peal of thunder that rumbled on and on, and following that the sounds of hail. In the morning there was a thick crust of ice on the snow, four feet deep in places now, and embedded in it was the pattern of millions of pea sized balls of ice. How can you fight back against that kind of awesome work? How can you keep it in check?
You can’t. And yet that’s all we do. Every day we clean the filters, stoke the fires, feed the chickens, clean the stalls, sharpen the saws, rake the leaves, shovel the snow, freeze the meat, cut the wood, plant the seeds, drive the posts, check the lines, run the dogs, milk the goats, harvest the bounty- the list is endless, to a point. Some parts of what we do repeat themselves daily, others less often on a schedule that is seasonal. In the end however, is the underlying truth in all of what we do, that nothing will ever be enough to stop the process of chaos. Decay, rot, age and death are as integral in what we do as growth on germination, birth and flower. There has to be something inside of you that believes in the eternal sunrise, in all that is good and clean, an optimism unfettered by reality that propels you day by day into the meat of what it is to farm. I never thought of myself in this way until now. I have never been anything but a cynic, a curmudgeon, a pessimistic stick in the mud who dwells on cataclysm and doom, but surprisingly I get up every day and collect eggs. I talk to the goats and the pigs like we have something in common, I wash out their water buckets until they’re the kind of clean I’d drink from, even though I know they wouldn’t know the difference. I plant things, I thin the orchard. I pick leaves and I make maple syrup. In the milk house there is wine fermenting, in the fish house the fry are growing. I find myself enjoying my trips to the dump because I know there isn’t that much garbage in my bags that hasn’t been cleansed three times over for usable stuff, scraps for the hogs, paper for the worms, etc., etc. And still the guys at our dump go through everything one more time and keep a record of the cost of what the recover for everyone to see on a big blackboard they salvaged from God knows where.
We make things, they get used. Food comes out of the ground and we eat it and it returns again.
In and out, up and down, living then dead, the cycle goes on.
Earlier today my oldest son and I stood out under our biggest maple tree and tossed our heads back until the moving clouds above looked like we were standing still and the branches above us looked like we were moving, spinning on our planet hanging in space. Both of us stood that way long enough to have to speak and when we did we said the same thing to each other, that we were glad we’d done this. He wear shorts now, even in Winter and I wear overalls, even in the Summer, but in some ways we were dressed alike, wearing the same kind of smile on our face.
I wish that I could make a difference in this world and even though I know I can’t it doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying. Pretty soon now, after I post this on the blog and my wife tells her mother good-bye on the phone, we’ll both resume our roles and get back to the feeding and cleaning, to ordering and making all the things that we do every day, whether we feel like it or not, because that’s how we roll on this farm. And outside in the dark the forces that keep tearing down and bringing on ruin will continue to do what they do to everything we touch, whether we want them to or not.
But for now?
We just watch it all, in awe and hope that we’ve done the right thing.