Declining baselines/ Diary of April 2014

Last summer I read an article in Orion by Derrick Jensen regarding what he terms declining baselines. 
I won't bother going into too much detail about the article as it was succinct and poignant in a way that I will not be able to capture. Go read it instead. To be brief he defines declining baselines as "the process of becoming accustomed to and accepting as normal worsening conditions." Specifically the worsening conditions of our natural world. His personal example is of the euphoric reaction he had to seeing a black bear, a pair of silver foxes and a raccoon in his backyard all in one day. His euphoria is dampened when he remembers that it used to be common (pre-Europeans) for a man to see a grizzly bear once every fifteen minutes in his region. Thus was the richness and density that existed once in the wild world.

In Jensen's conclusion he begs of the reader a more conscious and observant relationship with their natural world. He argues we need to be aware of our natural world so that we can truly love it and when we begin to lose it we can fight for what we loved. Be it in a city or on a farm there are annual events that we always celebrate (cherry blossoms, daffodils, fireflies) and those we may not notice (robins, wild geese, black flies). Jensen requests of the reader to keep a diary of their annual observations to note for when you first see a harbinger of the new season and how many. We need to observe, then love, then feel the pain of loss of our natural world, then fight. Our baseline stops declining; we know what we are missing.

It is a painful request but one I think we should be moved to heed. After such a wild winter of Arctic Blasts and record lows in Vermont and elsewhere, it is so obvious that this climate is changing and so heartbreakingly oblivious we all wish to remain.

I have mixed my observations of the natural world in with that of the farm. In attempts to look back year after year and see the chorus and the dissonance between farm lives and the wild ones. As with climate change the rhythms of our farm too will be forced to change.  It has always been my romantic intention to get an oversized leather bound ledger in which I would sit at a big desk (that I don't have) and write in a sloping penmanship (that I can't sustain) with a silver fountain pen (that I have lost) the daily brief of the farm and of this land. But, this will have to do for now.

Here is my diary for April. It is my intention to keep one for every month of every year. Perhaps I won't bore you with it here, but to record it nonetheless.

April  1st: Nasty ice storm last night and into today. Ardea lambed. Boy and a girl, we brought them to the upstairs part of the little barn where I formed a makeshift jug.

April 2nd: Still very much covered in snow, about 2 feet. Saw a black bear around 5pm crossing the back pasture. There is some snow melt around the base of the apple trees there and it appears he was having a little late winter snack.  Sap running. Black capped chickadees and the occasional raven remain the only birds we see, though morning songs of other birds have begun but unable to identify. Must work much harder at my bird studies.

April 4th:  Heard, but did not see, the honking of a flock of Canadian geese overhead. They must have seen the ice covered pond and the snow on pastures, and thought better of landing. Mud season has begun in earnest on our roads. Driveway holding up well! Twin lambs born today to Otus, a boy and a girl.

April 7th night:  Massive rain, thunder, and wind storm. A few trees down. Much snow melted.

April 11th: The thaw began in earnest this week. About 6inches left to go on front pasture and woods. Back pasture nearly bare. The creek is raging.

April 12th:  First sightings of robins on front pasture. A pair of geese and two pairs of ducks land in the pond. Hawkeye has tried to persuade them to leave, to no avail. The swimming rocks are covered in shit.

April 13th: Four white-tailed does spotted by the apple trees where I saw the black bear. Moose tracks found running along the driveway and then crossing into the woods behind the sugar shack.

April 14th: High of 75F. Ice completely melted. Pastures melted. Snow remaining only in the shadows. North facing woods are draining in earnest. There is a bustling vernal streams that has formed cutting apart the lower driveway. Two vernal pools at the top of the driveway, one draining to the south, the other draining towards the homestead to the north.  Sap still running, our woods are cooler than most. Than man who sugars here expects we will have another week of sap here before the trees bud.

April 15th: We have had very loud geese in our pond every day since Saturday.   Hawkeye is beside himself. Full moon tonight.

April 16th: Nellie lambed. Twin girls. She has rejected the second (born nearly 3 hours after the first). We now have a house lamb.

April 18th: Planted arugula, beets, radishes, carrots, and peas in the raised beds that are workable.

April 20th: The bull broke through the door of his stall. We fear he may have bred Annabelle, which means a young mother and a chilly calf in the middle of next winter.

April 21st: Truly beautiful, summer weather. Took the goats on much needed walk. Still some snow in the forest. Nick foolishly wore Chacos on the walk.

April 22nd: Weeded the asparagus bed, no signs of spears yet.

April 24th: Given 25 raspberry canes, three gooseberries, and one black currant by a neighbor. Planting all afternoon!

April 25th: First peepers beginning their song. Very faint but definitely there.

April 16th: Getting back to splitting firewood. A task that was made much too difficult with all the snow in March.

April 28th: Bella calved, a heifer. Ramps are up.

April 29th: The peepers have begun their chorus in earnest now. It is nearly deafening at night outdoors. The unmistakable greening of the pastures. Especially the south facing cow pastures across the brook. Little bits of clover sticking up through the winter-killed grass.

April 30th: In an act of simultaneous desperation and unbridled optimism, moved the sheep on to pasture that needs the hay seed and manure. 6 hours later, in the dark, I ran the lambs and mamas back into the barn under the nasty attack of an icy downpour.


  1. I loved (and hated) that article too, it hit me where it hurts. For us here, spring was stops and starts all the way, promises to plants that then were quickly turned around with sometimes devastating, sometimes only slightly hurtful consequences. My journals are not always observations of weather, but always, always observations of flora and fauna. This year, I talked all too much about when and where nettles were occurring, how they kept trying to come and got pushed back by the weather. The new "normal"keeps shifting from year to year, never actually settling into normalcy, it bears repeating to ourselves that that is exactly what it is not. Thanks for spreading the good word.

  2. I love reading your posts - your writing style is very enjoyable. This is a great idea, with true importance, that I will attempt to keep up with. Thanks for sharing, happy spring :)

  3. Your monthly log was wonderful. Please post more of them.

  4. I really enjoy your writing and would love to read your farm diary. Hope you are enjoying spring (as much as possible, with icy downpours and all). :)

  5. Thank you. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. loved the monthly log. keep sharing, if you don't mind!

  7. j'adore ce journal, je pense que cela est important et je vais commencer à en tenir un!
    Continue, si cela est possible, ta ferme est une source d'inspiration pour moi.

  8. I would love to read this article, but I can't find it on their website (perhaps it was paper only?). Is their any way to find the old issue of the magazine?

    And thank you, Kate for posting your daily journal. It reminds me of how important mindfulness is for everything we do. I'd love to see more of those entries.

    1. And I meant "Is there", not "Is their". My biggest pet peeve and I did it myself.

  9. I love this. My granddad use to do the same on the land. How I miss the land.

  10. We just bought a wildlife journal to make notes of for our yard, we're on a little over an acre, backed up to a large pond. Definitely don't do it daily, but it'll be worthwhile to read in the years to come anyway.

  11. completely fascinating, i hope this continues every month. my dad has his grandfathers farming journal in similar format from early 1900's. the day my grandfather born the entry was; OCT 4, Edgar born, grubbed stumps. :)

  12. Please post more of these! Your life is so beautiful.

  13. Love this. We have one of those oversized wall calendars in the office our farm. Every day I write down what we've planted, the temperature/ weather and general farm chores. Having the calendar makes it easy, and the info is definitely useful and insightful.


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