Starting From Scratch

Farmers, as a general rule, don’t live by clocks. At least the vocational ones don’t. They live by days and seasons. Unless, of course, they have an appointment with the bank, or there’s an auction afoot. Then they’re right on time with a watch and cowbells on, because it’s unacceptably rude to keep people waiting on your sorry butt.

Days are divided Hobbit Style:

Morning Chores

Breakfast with newspaper & Farm Report

Second Breakfast

Noonday Chores

Lunch

Nap

Evening Chores

Supper

Nighttime Chores (especially during Harvest Season)

Dessert & Entertainment

Sleep…Unless the cows get out. Then you’re screwed. Ain’t nobody sleepin’!

Because, historically, farmers were the world’s true Hobbits, they didn’t (and don’t) leave home much. They survey the world primarily from the barn roof, the tractor cab, the front porch and the books they got from the public library, along with the occasional nature or travel show on the idiot box. In so doing, many vocational farmers also double as philosophers and poets without meaning to; you could call it an occupational hazard. When your hands and heart are busy, your mind wanders into deep places, puzzling together the meaning of things.

I’m a packrat so, naturally, I kept all the love letters given to me by the man I should have married in the beginning, a philosophizing farmer. He was a fifth generation dairy farmer with an accounting degree, just in case things went badly one day and he “got crippled up.” Most practical man on the planet. And, of course, his love letters were peppered with the earthy practicality of an eighth generation agrarian. It’s in his blood.

Believe it or not, I can still read that chicken scratch. Basically, it says that he went hunting for another farm to buy for us, but wishes he had made a better offer on the 70 acre one I loved – and lost to an auction – down the road from where I grew up (it’s now a subdivision); he installed a new pressure washer in the milking parlor (watch out!); a cow tore a teat and Doc Lange had to sew it back together (the cow later lost said teat), and his sister crashed the crop duster, dashing her husband’s hopes for a plane trip to a reunion. Mindblowing, eh? That’s life in the big…errr…country. And, man, what a life!

Other letters talk about rain, watching the light change on the mountains, waiting for the humidity to be right to bring in the silage corn, the way ice sheets covered the January windblown pasture like mirrors reflecting the heavens. These letters, at the time, made me homesick and terribly angry. It was like he was baiting a hook, trying to reel me back to the farm. I wanted to leave the city and go home. Screw college, screw the world. Go home and grow some pumpkins under the gladiolas and hollyhocks, make some sweet tea, and call it a life. But I refused to budge. In hindsight, I wish I had.

One important facet of getting back into the swing of agrarian life many years more-or-less divorced from it is learning the simple art of stopping the clock and watching the sky. When the sky is black, to go bed. When the sky is periwinkle, you’re probably late getting up. When the sun shines and the breeze blows, get everything done that needs doing dry. When it rains, clean the house and the barn and maybe sneak your favourite calf into the kitchen when no one’s around to cuddle whilst the bread bakes.

I’m not gonna lie; I’ve been sleeping entirely too much this past year, and it’s cost me dearly. I should have things established, already, but I don’t. Part of it, I know, is lingering depression and loneliness; part of it is the dreadful feeling of being pulled in different directions by the responsibilities of work and classes and making things to sell when I really need to be pounding fence posts. But I’ve been awake and alert enough to find my true North anywhere on this hillside without a compass in any light, even in the woods. I’ve watched the seasons change here and, whilst I’m dreading Winter, I have a pretty good handle on what to expect next year. I’ve walked every square inch of this earth, and I know what grows where, how to find the creek in the woods with my eyes closed, and where the morels and puffballs make their homes. I’m excited for next season, and I’m ready to spend the Winter months planning for new gardens in the Spring.

My friend, Mary, send me some comfrey roots from Georgia. I only got to plant them this morning because it’s been raining nonstop for the last week. The billie goat is pissed at me because I’ve made him mow the lawn during torrents, and I don’t really blame him, but I also want him to have gotten as much varietal herbiage as he can devour before the show flies and his diet is nothing but hay flakes, alfalfa pellets and the occasional handful of sweet feed.

The dogs are more reluctant to leave their beds to go outside…except Baby, he’s ready for anything, and loves to check in on the chickens, and whine at them when they aren’t where he thinks they should be. He likes to sit in the tall grass, all stately and dignified, looking out over the valley like a king surveying his domain. And I like to watch him. I wish I could be that still and focused.

Clouds jet across the sky, turning violent shades of violet and black; more storms coming, snow not far behind. I’m debating about making some banana bread, or zucchini bread; definitely need a chicken in the pot today, maybe some liver and onions. “Grandma” gave me two big buckets filled with apples, so applesauce is on the agenda this weekend, along with a carboy of cider vinegar. Winter is coming, Days are getting shorter, and I’m just relearning how to remember that days were always meant to be lived according to moments in season, not clocks.

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