In New England there is an annual tradition that goes back to the aftermath of the Civil War called Old Home Day. The original idea was to welcome back the veterans and their families who had moved off of the rocky soil to seek a better future out in the vast prairie lands of the Midwest driven in part by westward expansion that followed the conflict but also to escape the memory of seeing the elephant, leaving the dead to bury the dead. When the young leave the old behind there isn’t much of a future left to be hopeful about, so some clever resident in his dotage came up with a plan to try and lure them back, if only for a while, to reconnect the generations on common ground. It’s held in the early part of the Summer, usually right around the time of the first hay cut of the year where the extra hands would come in handy. Call it a twofer. Every town and village throws a big party complete with picnics, parades, games for the children and the presentation of a ceremonial cane to the oldest living resident in the area. Families reassemble from wherever they’ve moved off to for the day and even though it is open to anyone passing through there is a definite feeling of place that runs through it all. In our town military re-enactors come out dressed in full battle garb and run drills, set up camps and offer anyone interested a glimpse into the life of soldiers from different eras from the Revolutionary to the Second World War. The Meeting House is opened up, Lincoln impersonators give speeches, bouncy houses are pumped full of air for the kids, chicken and pork are grilled in big pits on the green and American flags still fly in the gentle breezes, rain or shine. It is almost impossible not to become enamored with a people and a place that holds so closely to its kinship and connections and to share whatever it has with whomever arrives.
We’re moving into high Summer now, the list of projects and needs seeming to be just as long as it was at the beginning with just a little less light each day as the planet tips back on its axis. We’ve put on a roof, built shelters, dug trenches and installed water lines and hydrants on the big pasture. Fences have been installed, the calves all delivered, piglets sold off, hay wagons rebuilt and grass mowed. The corn is up, the first of the cucumbers are just about ready and everywhere you look there is a deeper shade of green than there was the day before. We’re stocking up the sugarhouse with firewood, building walls of it along the paddocks to dry for next season and there are ricks of cord wood piled high in various places around the upper plateau waiting to be split and stacked. Last week a couple from Indiana, long time readers of the blog, came by to visit for a few days. They came on their vacation to see a part of the country they had never seen before and we welcomed them on the farm to share their skills with the interns while we shared some of the products of our labors in return. The husband was one of the most experienced welders I have ever met and he helped us with a half a dozen projects that were so far out of my wheelhouse that they had remained on the shelf just waiting for the right hand to complete. He took the time to teach them how to grind and cut iron, prepare the surfaces and weld a solid bead. They fixed the twisted tongue of the John Deere hay wagon, repaired the ruined lift carriage on the big log splitter and came up with a way to make the auger arch solid again. I worked with his wife in the sugarhouse rendering tallow and filling mason jar after mason jar with the finished product, pale yellow like the Moon at nightfall. We ate some delicious meals as well, roasted chickens and sausages, grilled asparagus and hamburgers and all of us sat down at the new picnic table we’d built to eat the products of our labor under the cool shade of the big maples. The conversations and stories that we told each other brought smiles and laughter and the excitement of seeing the farm through someone else’s eyes gave us all a big shot of enthusiasm at the exact moment when some of energy was flagging. The weather for those couple of days was dreary and cool with a tight mist that closed the place up in space. There was the farm and there wasn’t anything else beyond it. You couldn’t see past the hedges or the back fence so we concentrated on our work soaked in the moist air. We picked berries, shared a few beers together after the day came to a close and learned about how God had worked in all of our lives, leading us to that very moment. On the last day of the visit the Sun broke through and the air dried out and the views of Kearsage rising up from the valley floor in the distance showed just how big and broad this place was and how small and insignificant the homestead looked against it all. They traded some of their home made pickles and apple butter for some of our syrup and when we shook hands and gave each other hugs it was as if we’d been friends all our lives. They drove down the lane and we watched them go with the promise that if we ever needed some help with a project and if either of us was ever in the neighborhood again, it would be like Old Home Day.
This week, I did something that I thought I’d never do and it was learning how to weld. On Friday, this week Marc had a friend come to the farm from Indiana to weld some of the farm equipment back together. Pat and I spent the entire day Friday learning how to prep for welding, safety use of a welder, and welding two pieces of metal together. Pat and I quickly learned that it wasn’t as easy as Mike made it look. We noticed that it took a steady hand, and steady eyes to weld. Mike taught us how to flux weld, which is a different kind of welding that uses a wire with a powder that stops oxygen from entering the weld. Pat and I got to use the Hobart welding machine and practiced trying the many techniques and tips that Mike showed us. Altogether I thought the experience was great and it was also very intriguing to learn something useful like welding.-
This is the great thing about this internship that I really like. Instead of just teaching us about the basics of green farming in New England he’s is teaching use different skill sets that will prove beneficial in upcoming careers. I realize that it’s important to learn the education side of environmental sciences but I believe that in future jobs me knowing trades will get me far in my career. So far, I’ve learned Carpentry, welding, roofing, agricultural planting, plant identification and farming. All of these things are new to me with little to know experience in the past and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills. These last few weeks in New Hampshire are going to go by quickly and although I miss Ohio I’m sad to soon leave this amazing wilderness.
One evening last week after our work was done I went back out to the garden to weed for a bit as the last rays of golden light streamed through the branches of the big maples. While I pulled up the emerging sprouts along the lower end of the potato patch, a single black capped chickadee flew in and began to walk along the row, carefully inspecting each plant before hopping on to the next. Every few feet or so he would pause when he came into a shaft of warm light on the surface of the soil and let out a note that sounded like “Seat!” high pitched, melodious. And then he would move on to the next plant, repeating his examination. I paused to watch him as he made his way down the entire row and then return back through the cucumbers, carefully scrutinizing each plant as if he were one of the ladies from the garden club. When he found a spot of sunlight, he paused and sang as if on stage and only then move on. He continued the linear route, back and forth up each row through nasturtiums, beets, onions, carrots, acorn squash, asparagus beds and Indian corn. Every so often he would lean in an pick off some unseen insect or seed from the soft compost spread along the edges of the rows before resuming the tour through the garden and I sat, mesmerized by his thoroughness and intensity. This went on for at least five minutes and when he had satisfied his curiosity, he flew directly over to where I was crouched and took up a position on the tip of a picket beside me and swiveled his head in my direction, black eyes gleaming. He cocked his black capped head one last time and let out a final “Seat!” then flew off over the paddock and through the orchard into the woodlot beyond. I felt as if he was acknowledging my efforts in some way, maybe thanking me for the work I’d put in so that he could come down and enjoy his last few moments of sunlight in the orderly rows of lush vegetables, having his evening snack before heading off to whatever nest or perch he’d occupy for the night. I remained where I was a bit longer than I would have and when I stood up and stretched my legs at last I looked back at the garden with a new set of eyes and smiled.
I miss the way that things were when I was younger. It seemed to me to be a better world; saner, healthier in many ways than the bloated and tattooed reality I bump into whenever I venture out into the public sphere but it is gone and it is never coming back. Nostalgia is an old man’s game, the young have no understanding of it and all they can perceive is the possibility of the future before them. I have come a long way back to finding purpose in my life from living in the midst of modern culture to finding this perch on the furthest edge but it suits me. Knowing that at least a few of the things I have picked up along the way will be useful to someone just starting out gives me a much better feeling about the world than to pine for what is gone. This week we’ll button up a few more little things around the farm and talk about one last project before the interns make ready for their return to college. I hope that they’ve gotten half as much out of this experience as we have. We appreciate the work that they’ve accomplished here but more than that they’ve helped us to become comfortable with the thought of moving into the next part of our lives, where our contributions aren’t measured so much by the calories we burn and the labor we expend, but by the knowledge we pass on. I have come to believe that virtually everything we do in this life that arises from our conscious decisions repays us in similar fashion. You reap what you sow and if the choice is to do good things, good things come back. We will miss our son and his friends very much and we hope that they will have the kinds of memories that will draw them back to visit, maybe on Old Home Day, and they can pitch in for a bit as we move closer to that ceremonial cane and the certain future that lies ahead of us all.