I am so sorry for not having written this sooner.
Looking back over the things that I have written for a long, long time now I find that they aren’t always the truth. I omit the crappier parts of farming; the failures, the losses, the heart breaks, most of which are mine to bear. We write what we know, I have heard, or what we think we know at any given time and we always discover somewhere further down the pike that we didn’t know jack. I feel like that right now of course: that through lies or omissions I have made this life seem better than it is, filled with rewards and halcyon moments in sunlit pastures. Of course life’s not like that, not by a long shot. Some days are darker than other, some nights are cold indeed.
And so I ask for forgiveness.
It’s been a tough six weeks.
I’m sorry for forgetting to tell you about the old ram that died alone in our pond the day after Thanksgiving, drowned because I was in bed with my arm in a cast, broken so badly in a fall that I couldn’t move it more than a few inches for a week. I kept that to myself because I was ashamed to think that I was a poor shepherd, but you’ve heard it here first, I owe you that. Or that on the first morning of waking up next to my wife in another room in another state, free from the obligations and responsibilities on the farm for one day in the last two years it was also the same morning that I got the call that our barn was on fire. You probably heard about that by now, of course. If only I hadn’t gone away, I’ve thought…
If only I hadn’t done a lot of things…
The barn burned down, the old ram drowned and I broke my arm when I fell down.
Sounds like a C&W tune.
Our lives, last time I checked, are full of false starts and missed cues. As Shakespeare so eloquently put it, we (sic) ‘strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing…’
We put everything we had as a family into this farm, every effort, every waking moment, every red cent we ever had so that we could live a better life. We wanted our children to grow up in a healthy environment, eating good food, learning things of consequence and living responsibly. We wanted to be humane and open and to live like we thought we should live. We tried to give up consumption in order to produce and most of the time we did fairly well at it. We did a lot of things out of ignorance and more than a few out of good intentions but we did do something.
We wound up being the first farm in the state to raise tilapia in closed system aquaculture, the first farm to receive Animal Welfare Approved status for our pigs and goats and sheep and cattle. We were selected as a recipient of the the 2012 New Hampshire Farm of Distinction, restored and rebuilt both a 150 year old maple orchard and sugar house that currently produces some of the finest New Hampshire maple syrup ever made and we reclaimed a unique parcel of rock maples to preserve from clear cutting just in the nick of time.
We’ve farrowed and lambed, calved and kidded. We’ve offered a CSA, sold to restaurants and farmers markets,welcomed visitors to our farm daily, worked with local schools and colleges and done everything that we could think of to improve this land, serve this community and live our lives in peace. And when I found the time to write about it, it was a work of joy.
After the fire was like something out of a movie. By the time I got home the charred remains were still smoking, but already there were people there, unloading hay for our animals, carrying buckets of water by hand to the ewes in the field. The firemen looked as shook up as a I felt and I was so glad to see that our son was safe that I missed the other twenty blessings delivered by people I hardly knew. Everywhere there were helping hands. And every night a hot dish made in someone’s kitchen showed up on our steps so that we could eat upon our table.
How do you say thank you to that?
Where do you begin?
We’re not sure what all of this means yet- the things we’ve done here and the promise of the future is intoxicating when you think about it, but it isn’t something that lasts forever anyway and so we wonder if maybe we ought to pack it in. We are always finding evidence of the people who lived here before us, the “LIFE TIME RECORD” of deer shot by Doctor Jack Maxfield; sex, weight and point count carefully pencilled on a column in the basement of the milk house with the last date being a 196 pound 12 point buck shot in 1955, the same year that he moved away. We found a 1900 silver tablespoon next to a stream with the Shultis monogram and returned it to his great-great granddaughter Sally Harris who still owns the house down the hill.
I find foundations everywhere.
I know every family, every living soul connected to this land over the course of the last century and they know me and no matter what we do now, we’ve left our mark here and I couldn’t ask for more.
Sometimes I am convinced that we don’t own the land, but that the land owns us.
We feed the animals and they feed us.
We make our plans and God laughs…
And so I leave you with what I consider to be the greatest passage in the English language, a green light at the end of the dock…
“Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning –
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
-The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald