I am overwhelmed by this beast but I am also in awe. She has not been blessed with a gardener that loves her or respects her. She was instead laden with one slithering, fearful wretch that ignored, sabotaged, and abused her. For the entire month of July I neither watered, weeded, nor fought off the pests that plagued her leaves and fruit. I would only creep into her paths at dusk stealing a cabbage or a handful of radishes and scurrying away before the guilt of the garden caught me.
I had managed, by some grace of God (and the healthy, friendly interference from neighbors and friends) to plant the garden after our last frost at the end of May. Rachael had come by with tomatoes. Sarah had given me kale and chard. Billy, Toby, Aunt Molly, Nick, and I seeded cucumbers, corn, beans, beets, radishes, potatoes, winter squash, carrots, lettuce, sunflowers, and edamame. After each planting I would squish up my face, shrug my shoulders, and turn by back to her thinking Well, this will never work.
I had assumed, as the unfailing narcissist that I am, that the success of the garden would depend solely on my intervention. This I have discovered to be untrue. With the exception of my Planting of the Seeds the soil below and the skies above were all she needed. There was a week in June where I manned a vicious attack on weeds. I labored in her paths all day, every day for nearly a week until the rows were only straw and the beds were the green beginnings of plants and the dark cultivated soil around them. There were a couple spurts of concerted effort to destroy the cucumber beetles and the Japanese beetles. Both efforts (done by hand) felt chivalrous at first and then useless by the week's end.
I tried to be a better gardener. As the summer wore on I felt increasingly guilty about the way I had treated her. This would result in the aforementioned bouts of love and attention towards the garden. I found myself buoyed by the bounty she began to put forth. Proclamations of pride and plans for next year's garden have been loudly and boldly made. Two of my neighbors (unaware of my contemptible behavior) even complimented me on the "Beautiful!" vegetables.
This is all to say that the garden has humbled me with her resilience. I am emotionally wrought from the highs and lows I have had with her this summer. Albeit unwarranted, I am proud of her. I am emboldened by this season and feel a bit more prepared for the next.
Now we are in the thick of the harvest. Today is the last day of August. A full blue moon tonight will carry us into September. The cupboards are filling steadily with canned tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and berries. We will spend the next month before the first frost making sure all of the hard work by the garden was not in vain. In the upcoming weeks I will be sharing some of our new favorite recipes for canning, drying, and lacto-fermenting to ensure the garden's summer ends with the dignity and respect she deserves.
An aside: I have in the last week taken an interest in the traditional uses of capitalization and punctuation. Please, bare with me, as I am rather new to such formalities but am an eager, vicious, learner.
Nick did an incredible job solo-ing the farm. But of course, I allowed the little stuff to come in and over shadow all his work. Last night to set me right, Fiona and I took ourselves on a sunset run where the paths through the woods became so dark I lost the trail a couple of times. The moon was so bright when we reached the big fields on the top of the mountain that we, the fields, the horses, and the surrounding hilltops were bathed in her light.
My sister is here, and so is Toby. So, while we are normally two, this week we are four. Dividing and conquering the farm. Making up for the month of August where "we" were just one.
Today we make yogurt and sun dried tomatoes and harvesting the garden that is pouring out the veggies. Nick is in town shopping for a chest freezer as we prepare (gradually) to slaughter Ted. Then there is milking and giving the sheep choppy haircuts. They appeared to have cuddled up to the burdock while I was away.
No more kayaking across the bay with Rudy. No more sleep-ins. No more cookies for breakfast.
Vacation is over and it feels damn good to be home.
And, thank YOU so very much for every book recommendation you gave me last week. We have managed to further stave off the philistine farmer I was fearful of becoming. I have a mental stack of books a mile high next to my bedside.
Hello decent people. I find myself on vacation. Holiday. Time off. August. The escape. Whichever you prefer to call it, I find myself there. I wouldn't say I deserve it, insomuch as anyone in these cushioned times can deserve a suspension from responsibility. But here I am with my parents, my sister, my dog and a good book (Blindness by Saramago that Ayana gave me to read over Two Years Ago). We are in, as we are every summer since I was 12, an older than stone wooden green house that sits as directly upon the St. Lawrence river as she is able. If she were to lean her aged self just a hair forward we and she and our good books would tumble into the water. Such is the proximity.
I don't return to Nick, the farm, our animals, or our garden until Monday which will make my time away from them so long that it nearly qualifies as abandonment.
As I find myself reveling in vacation I ask for your help in only one brutishly selfish way. That is for you to recommend to me a good book or two. Preferably one that has nothing at all to do with farming. I am nearly finished with Blindness and have a collection of Nora Ephron's essays to devour and then I am stranded. And because I have enjoyed this johnnycomelately foray into reading I may even deign to bring these books back to the farm and Make Room for such an indulgence in my daily life.
1. excessive and overbearing pride or presumption
2. (in Greek tragedy) an excess of pride ultimately causing the transgressor's ruin
but i am rocking the farm. fixing chicken coop doors. cleaning out nest boxes. putting up dilly beans, and cornichons. schooling our bull like the little lamb he is. the house isn't a tornado. the garden is looking...better. incrementally better. i have only left the washing on the line in the rain twice. the tomato hornworms and japanese beetles have been served a serious blow. the sheep were moved and their pen for the weekend is already set up. the entire perimeter fence for the beef and dairy has been walked and checked for shorts.
i miss nick and very clearly need him here with me despite this overbearing pride of doing it alone. i have little idea of what today will bring or tomorrow or friday. i could be eating my words by the time this week is done with me.
but it feels really really good. very empowering to think, at least for a couple of hours, that i can handle this all myself.
BUT, we each need our holiday-from-the-farm. i cannot impress upon you how often i have spoken with farming couples that bemoan the realities of never leaving the farm together. ever the tag-off vacation.
so, here i am. solo farmer this week. feeling a bit more confident in my abilities and embracing the purity of a week of just me and my farm.
to top it off, we had a full moon and leading up to the moon the animals were in rare form.
1. i am so profoundly incompetent at photographing the night. but here is the moon. much less fierce than in person rising over the mountains, flooding the fields in her light.
2. nick (finally) dragged me to the cucumber corner and we were bombarded. pickling is the number one agenda today. now you know what to dread from me come christmas.
3. fiddlehead is always sleeping (see photo 13 for more). he slept through a welcomed beer break with neighbors as we all lounged on the front deck pretending we had not a care in the world.
4. the dr.bronner's swim up bar.
7. a perfect summer's sky.
8. thursday was a Three Pond Dip day. it was hot. we were flat out. and i have a theory that each pond dip is a reset button. yesterday i had to reset three times.
9. nick trying out dad's guitar.
10. taking down the yurt!
11. yogurt making.
12. drying the blueberries with sun-power.
13. those useless "barn" cats.
1. nate, the bull, in full moon form, kicking up dirt, shaking his horns and bellowing at us, blocking our access to winnie, when we went to fetch her these past two days for milking.
2. nate, running, like a little heifer calf, away from dad and nick spraying him with the hose, leaving winnie to us.
3. my precious little ewe lambs who were sprayed by a skunk wednesday night. shearing isn't for another 60 days but i'd love to hear any suggestions for this one.
4. the cock fight over a new hen. hackles up. talons flashing. nick wanting to let the animal kingdom take her course. me running between them yelling to break it up.
5. 4 separate dinners with new friends in the last week. such undeniable proof that we are making a new home for ourselves here.
6. trading lard for blueberry jam.
7. bathing the kittens in the pond.
8. getting a new bigger water for the pigs, filling it clear, and cold, and clean.
9. watching rose instantly and methodically, climb into the new trough and submerge her dusty self. blowing bubbles and leaving behind a muddied water, warm, and half emptied.
10. dad and his guitar playing for winnie and nick during milking.
11. a tractor bucket that, disappointingly, bent to the will of a tree.
12. the very torrid beginnings of farm/land hunting.
its 8:23 and i have just pulled myself out of bed. i've been up for two hours and was, just two hours ago walking around doing the run of morning chores. letting the chickens out. filling their food and water. collecting eggs. throwing some hay to the donkeys. but no sooner had i appeased the most immediate needs of the farm i slinked back into bed. the temperatures of summer have already retreated and it is only august 1st. the pleasure of folding myself under the weight of our 3 blankets was too tempting. i lay there unable to return to sleep, my mind already racing with farm lists but my body requiring the extra rest. so, instead, i read. something i haven't done much of lately despite my continued manic accumulation of books.
the money i spend on books is one of my most egregious luxuries. if i actually read them i wouldn't consider them as such but i am often, despite this morning, too tired to read. too tired to entertain myself in any way that requires active participation. i buy and collect and scavenge all number of books, but in the past 5 months since starting a farm with nick i have been hoarding reference books and howto books. books like howto care for sheep. and howto care for sheep the natural way. and howto make soap. and howto make milk soap. books on wild mushrooms. books on the weeds of the northeast. books on flowers and birds. books on cows and pigs and chickens. books on the garden. encyclopedias of the garden. books on pests. books on what to do after the garden gives you her bounty.
i have this subconscious belief that if i own the books the knowledge will transfer by proxy and i will feel secure in this endeavor. i will feel safe in the farm.
but of course that's absurd. as its equally absurd that i can run a farm based on what books tell me. i spend all week fretting about the sheep and my intentions of dealing with parasites naturally and at worse organically. but when the natural sheep book comes i just put it in the pile of to read. a pile that is only touched to be re-stacked or moved to a more permanent spot on the over-burdened bookshelf with the hazy hope of being read in winter.
it isn't just the thought of wormy parasites slowly drinking the blood of my lambs that has me silent and useless with fear. it is also the selenium deficiency in vermont soil and the sheep's seemingly unreasonable requirement for this mineral i know nothing about. the cabbage root maggot has the same paralyzing power. as do the cornichons that are growing (my guess by now) out of control in the part of the garden i have inexplicably abandoned. i carry a vague worry about happiness of the pigs and if the slice from vangogh's tusk on rose's side is infected or healing. i worry about winnie's hooves and if they need trimming or if their growth is my imagination.
the worry of the farm consumes me and on the, thankfully rare, day it exhausts me.
this morning it left me cowardly hiding in bed. reading a book that doesn't have a word to do with farming. a book that is only teasing my head with ideas of running away and solo-hiking the PCT.
there are mornings like these where i worry that this is too much foolish responsibility. that we only have the most ambiguous idea of How to Farm and how monstrously irresponsible we have been to put our money into this and to embrace the lives of these animals into our flock.
these doubts and fears are, i would hope, runofthemill. runofthemill to doubt and fear a life that everyone you have met has told you will be as hard and tiring as it is rewarding and nourishing. perhaps these Doubts and Fears aren't normal. perhaps this is the beginning of the end for me as farming. that i will be more overcome with worry and doubt until i sell our flock at auction and pack nick and rudy up for a quiet surfing life on the eastern coast of australia.
but i do truly hope that it does get easier. not the farming bit. that will always be hard. but the uncertainty bit. i have little hints that tell me it will. by making the mistakes i am afraid to make and getting over it. the very facts that i find myself ravenously planning next year's gardens, or finally getting Back on the Tractor hint to me that i will eventually, one by one, overcome the anxieties and fears of the farm.
of course, this is why i have nick and why he has me. to help each other through the periods of uncertainty. to help figure out the best ratio of selenium to salt for the sheep. or to go brave the cucumber patch and then the water-bath canning dance. to herd our cows together in a push and pull when we are both as afraid as the other of the bull. i am with him when he needs to redesign the pasture rotation and he is milking every day for two weeks in my place as i try to heal the tendinitis in my right hand.
as i lay in bed this morning quietly gulping in the pleasures of a book that has nothing to do with my life. i kept intertwining my cold legs with nick's warm body. so grateful for his presence in bed as i realize that he is as tired as i. as in need of a slower morning. so grateful for his companionship on this farm and in this life. the gratitude quieted the mornings' worries. helped me to slow down and enjoy the rarity of a relaxed wakeup.
at my bedside; books that are largely Disrespected & Ignored:
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy
Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons
New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman
The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry
Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and DiTomaso
Making & Using Dried Foods by Phyllis Hobson
Natural Sheep Care by Pat Coleby