Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Probably not a world record, but definitely a farm record!
If the mist didn’t set off the orange and red colors on the maple tree outside my office window, I’d say today was gloomy. But it does, and it isn’t. Besides, I’m here, inside, cozied up to my computer with a cup of tea, gazing absentmindedly out the window at the brilliant colors changing slightly in the subtle undulation between cloud cover, mist and fog. This is what it means to be November. This and early morning gunshot echoes, hollow call of crows, scurried scolding of squirrels and a kind of mid day stillness that seeps through the skin like the moment before a memory with eyes glazed and her head cocked. But today it is the rhythmic tapping of rain on leaves that sifts through thoughts, soft as flour on my fingertips. This is the pause before the pause. Tomorrow will bring sunshine and cold fingers in the dew and wash water. Memories of my grandmother, whose hands were short, fat and nail bitten like mine, and evidence of a lifetime of hard work. Days like these I can almost touch the rows of jars in the root cellar, lined up like soldiers, protecting the seasonal bounty.
Speaking of seasonal bounty, this is the official last week of our season here at Tumbling Shoals Farm. We will have produce available for pick up here at the farm on Friday, November 19th from 4p.m. to 5p.m., and we’ll be at both the Hickory farmers’ market (7a.m. to noon)and the Boone farmers’ market (10a.m. to 2p.m.)on Saturday, November 20th. After Saturday, we call it a season! Thanks for your support this year and happy holidays!!
I do declare I have a thing for hats!
Which is serendipitously good since
A farmer has to wear many hats.
Though I never intended, I sometimes find myself clad in a plumber’s hat;
The same could be said for the electrician’s cap.
It’s the nature of the job, these accidental hats.
Once a week I like to try on a photographer’s hat,
A writer’s cap-
(A tweed beret I’m sure),
And in the office on a cold and rainy day
I need my thinking cap!
Why, I need a whole shed for all these hats!
Today, it was a rain hat for me,
Tomorrow, I’ll don a sun hat with glee!
When the season begins as well as when it ends,
A wool cap fits best.
But Saturday afternoon, once we’ve bid each other a temporary goodbye,
I’ll put on the best hat of all:
My beach vacation hat!
See you at Thanksgiving!
Jason harvesting those gorgeous carrots
It’s hard to work in October. Not because the work is more difficult, or because it’s colder or hotter, or because it’s my birthday or our anniversary, but just because it’s hard to muster up the want to. Self discipline has gone on vacation: already lazing around at the beach, its nose buried in a book. The days are shorter, the alarm clock silent, we sleep longer, prepare meals longer, and just sort of dilly-dally around until time is wasted and we feel guilty for not having put in a twelve hour day. With our minds at the beach already, we just simply fail to put new things on our “to do” list so rather than getting longer, it’s just getting dustier. Every task is herculean. The weather has been approaching perfection for days now and the fall crops are the happiest I’ve ever seen them, but even so, my motivation rocks itself to sleep on the porch where I sat to put on my shoes for the day. This is October. It’s the prolonged sigh that signals the end of the hustle and aching hamstrings and backs. The slow slide into fireside winters.
Shiloh harvesting giant napa cabbage
Reading is seasonal as well. Winter brings technical books, or deeper “thinking” novels. I never thought I’d get so into popular fiction. But reading during the season requires this sort of reading. Sometimes we find ourselves just thinking too much. By this time of year it gets to be a bit overwhelming and the mind just desires a little repose. So I’ve been reading lots of novels lately: face paced page turners that suck me into their worlds completely so I can’t think about farming or anything else. I’ll read a little over tea and breakfast in the morning. My mind will stay partially in the novel while out in the fields all day until I jump back in before bed. It’s a great relief valve from the cumulative exhaustion we feel this time of year: plentiful and beautiful veggies still happily coming out of the fields, while our minds and bodies are ready for the onset of winter and the end of the season. Last night this paradox really came to a head in my dreams: I had the characters from the novel planning meals around what’s coming out of our fields!
Nature at work: ladybug larvae eating an aphid on butterfly weed
I heard it again the other day: “I mean, these are doctors and lawyers we’re talking about.” The two occupations most thrown out as examples of, not just wealth, but intelligence. Why is that? While I’m sure that doctors and lawyers, having endured some of the most rigorous years of academic and practical study and testing, are quite intelligent, I can’t help but wonder about the most proper examples of smartness for the rest of us. When it comes to working around a problem, farmers are some of the most incredibly intelligent people I’ve met. I’m not talking about myself, of course, I have years to go before I get as creatively brilliant as some of these older farmers I’ve met. But challenges and problems arise all the time on a farm that farmers, not often able to just throw some money at it, have to think around creatively. In Africa, they call it “bricolage”. It’s an art, reflected in the twinkling eyes, lit by pride, of the farmer who shows it to you. Like a small child giving you a crayon drawing, saying, “look at what I did!”
This year's okra stand-last week stading before the mower gets it!
There is a steady “plink, plink, plink” somewhere nearby. My mind scrambles around the sound but it’s just water dripping onto metal somewhere. I try not to begrudge us this rain. We really needed it-all those disassembled fields waiting for rain to germinate their freshly seeded cover crop. But I’ve grown used to the happy crinkles around my eyes and the daily quick shedding of the early morning layers. Sunshine is a happy habit for me. I’d never survive in Seattle. Like skin wrinkled from wetness, I shrink into myself with the rain. My mind curls up on the bed with a good book and a hot cup of tea and refuses to budge. So my body sort of stumbles blindly through the haze of tasks that can’t be put off. I’m like a tomato plant in this way: I hate to be rained on, but I need the water at my roots. Such a paradox.
Our farm worker modeling session with the track hoe-but that's another story for another time
It’s 8:00p.m. and we’re stumbling out of the fields in a fit of irony singing “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere!” Or at least we were for most of the season. These days, five o’clock comes and my feet stubbornly go on strike. Sunday afternoons have become disjointed distractions of food preservation that embody that “light at the end of the tunnel” hope, but also conveniently keep us in the house and out of the fields. The last few weeks of the luxury of an employee upon us, we take steal these little subtle moments-just here and there to tidy the house, or cook a complex meal. We brand this onset of laziness “cumulative exhaustion.” Like we’re just making up for those earlier long days. It’s probably a euphemism, or perhaps a rationalization, but either way, we’ve arrived at the seventh inning stretch before we head into the closer.
I know it’s only September but the sun is in a dramatic mood. It’s the preview for things to come, I’m sure, but it’s as if the sun is cutting off its nose to spite its face, moving slightly aside so the sky can solo for a while. And the sky, well, it puffed out its chest and stepped right up to the challenge. No longer content to play the backdrop, it put on its makeup and is standing out on its own. I can’t help but be awestruck as I reach up for the okra that now towers above us. Even the wispy clouds have gussied up nicely, putting on a freshly laundered shade of white to excellent effect. I want to applaud, but perhaps the neighbors might think that a bit eccentric? If this is just the opening act for autumn though, autumn has its work cut out for it.
Summer's last bright stand
Fields transitioning to cover (see Jason's head in the okra in foreground)
A moth getting the last of summer sugars
Do you ever have days where your mind just draws a blank? I don’t mean stupidly (though I have those days too), but comfortably: days when you just can’t find anything to fret about. Perhaps it’s some sort of resignation, but it feels more akin to acceptance. Where things are just set in motion and you refuse to worry about them anymore. I’m having one of those days, well, weeks, maybe even months. I am aware, somewhere in my conscience, that there is still some scrambling around left to do, still some large projects looming, but I can’t resist the ease of cool evenings, open windows, the front porch. It’s an alluring lullaby, the end of August. More and more fields trade in their feverish reproductive fervor for a simple cover with no expectation other than to hold onto the soil over the winter and hold hope for the spring. Even the buckwheat with its whirring metropolis of insects scrambling to store enough sugar for the winter season sounds like a sigh.
Return to shades of green (napa cabbage growing in the field)
This weather makes me think. Just imagine us sitting there with our chins propped up in our hands, thinking about next season. It’s not entirely logical. We are smack in the middle of a delicious pepper harvest, and a bumper okra crop, not to mention tending the fledgling fall crops. There is more time for thinking later, but the cool(er) breezes sweep through the open windows of our open hearts and settle us into some sort of resignation despite the logic. We’ve still got months to go, but the return of various shades of green in the fields brings us round again to the renewal of our vows. Not our wedding vows (though that probably isn’t a bad idea), but the vows of why we do what we do (trust me, it’s much better to do this in a cool September breeze than in high July). It’s not a conscious decision, but just another cog in the wheel of the cycle of the seasons. Call it the “thinking season.”