I don’t like the cold. Thus, I tend to have very harsh feelings about winter, especially the whole working outside in the cold part of winter. But as with everything, there’s a silver lining. Local food may be harder won in the winter, but it’s also sweeter. I won’t bore you with the science of cold temperatures on the natural sugars in veggies, but the resulting effect on the taste buds is sensational.
I’m sure this can be a metaphor: harder won things are worth working harder to win them? Perhaps (although don’t ask Mallory, who had to take two consecutive hot showers last week to warm up). All I know is that ever since we made the decision to keep growing food through the winter, my taste buds have warmed me up to the idea. I say this, of course, as I sit inside my, um, “corner office” (which is actually a closet) inside a heated and insulated house. So there’s that. But the sun is out, there are still some gorgeous leaves on the trees, and we're setting up a temporary winter produce wash station in the heated greenhouse and, well, I'm headed south for a bit.
The first heavy (“killing”) frost, no matter when it arrives, is the harbinger of our annual semi-retirement. This used to mean switching gears from farmer to pickleball playing, gym going, yoga class attending, playing at city folk. More recently, however, we’ve discovered the power of credit card miles and have been exploring realms further south. And we’ve got these young whipper snappers here that want to keep growing in the winter!
So the first heavy frost, which didn’t arrive until late last week, now means a sudden scrambling to get all the soil testing done, crop analysis and next year’s crop planning completed, seeds ordered, structures winterized, pack shed moved to heated space, and fields turned to cover crops, and make sure all our inside beds are filled for winter production. Gone is the downshifting, the sleeping in, the slow progression toward hibernation. Instead, this fall frenzy of activity.
At least mother nature was sympathetic this season. She swooped in, froze everything, then left to give us a gorgeous week of t-shirts and azure skies—a little breathing room to work long days to get everything accomplished before the cold returns for real.
Sometimes you just have to put everything aside revel in the joy and laughter of each other’s creativity and silliness. Sometimes, you just have to play. I find Halloween to be the perfect time to do this. It’s a celebration of each other, of levity, and of the slowing down of life (where we can actually concentrate on pulling off a fantastic party).
We can so easily become bogged down beneath the burdens of responsibility and obstacles etc. ad infinitum that we forget how to crawl out from underneath and breathe. So setting aside an official time to do so, say, for example, Halloween, is actually an important life task, see? Now I don’t really care about the history or the meaning or the evolution of the “holiday” of Halloween, I’m only interested in some set moment in time to clamber out from under the weight of the world and giggle. Or even guffaw. Because we all deserve a guffaw.
Did you know that we live in a beautiful place? I forget sometimes. I’ve been here long enough that I’ve forgotten to be a tourist in my own backyard. Everything has become “normal” and I forget to notice the astounding beauty surrounding me. I know I’m supposed to, but inertia takes over and I keep putting one foot in front of the other, never pausing to notice.
Autumn leaves are nature’s way of tripping us out of our chronic torpor. Fall is like a toddler stomping their feet and screaming “look at me! Look at me! LOOK AT ME!” We can’t help but notice. And noticing does not go un-rewarded. Colors crawl slowly down the mountain like waking on a lazy Sunday, tiptoeing into our beds before jumping up and down yelling “wake up!”
And so autumn becomes the noticing season. You can tell by the sudden appearance of weekend traffic jams in Wilkesboro-people are noticing. Seasonal changes seem designed to make us pay attention. The first appearance of green in the spring after the greys of winter, the fall leaves after we’ve become immune to green in the long-winded summers, all these shifts, year after year, stop us and force us to look up to pay attention to the beauty around us.
I read this the other day: “How wonderful is it that we laugh because our bodies cannot contain the joy”. I love to laugh. Who doesn’t? I love the random acts of funny that people create just for the amusement of others. This, I believe, is the only true altruism. Have you heard of improv everywhere? They’re a group of random people that create amusing live acts mostly in New York City just for the amusement of other people. And how about all the funny memes all over the internet that are created just for our laughter. The creators don’t even get to see us laugh! But they create them and send them out into the world anyway. Humor connects us.
I have had complete strangers send me pictures of faces in things, and distant acquaintances send me puns. I love that people far away from me see an amusing thing out there in the world and think of me and want to share a moment of laughter with me. Humor can cross distances both physical and political. I mean, kitten antics are funny in any language and no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. So, let’s all take a moment together to let the joy escape us in magnificent laughter. What have we got to lose?
Someone recently pointed out that we are never quite done becoming. That we are not just one “thing”. For so long I’ve clung to the identity of “farmer”, it never really occurred to me that I have already been other things, and that I still have yet to become another “thing” or two. That it can be “also” rather than “and then”.
It is in this knowledge that I find myself longing for the bourgeois tableau. For the mingling of writers and artists and absinth and low hanging smoke. For the Café Deux Magot and the Stray Dog Café and the inspiration and illusions that smolder there. To eat and drink and dance unimpaired by the mundane, to let go the tangible if just for a moment.
And then return to hands in the soil, the humility of growing food, the practicality of the peasant. To come back to the solidity of “farmer”. Nothing like a free fall to make you appreciate roots.
This week ends in October. I watch, with alarm, this year slip through my fingers with liquid ease as I attempt to hold onto it with my iron grip. The farmily, the most productive season ever, the warmth: all of it sliding away from me. Then I realize that this only brings us closer to Belize! It’s good to give ourselves something to look forward to in winter—the blazing equatorial sunlight at the end of the tunnel. A reward for months and months of extremes. A relief to the exhaustion that clings to us like days old sweat.
October is arguably the most beautiful month, with its days warm beneath a languid sun and nights slow and long and blanketed. We ease our aching bodies into its bath of lessened workload and lowered cortisol levels. We reflect and revise, formulate ideas of improvement. We glide awhile, just enjoying the view. We celebrate the season, birthdays, anniversaries, and those that passed before us. We soak in the Epsom salt of gratitude and linger there, catching our breath.
Something came up at Merlefest this weekend that reminded me of a joke we have on the farm. I laughed and wanted to share the joke with my companions but it was going to take a lot of backstory explaining and would definitely not be funny to anyone who wasn’t there. It was a “you had to be there” moment. These are the moments we share that make us a farmily.
It’s the inside jokes, the pulling together, the belonging, the taking care of each other, the “finding your tribe”…it’s the farmily. We share so much of each other, our highs, our lows, and so so much love. It’s so much more than coming to work, doing a job, and going home. We linger in each other’s thoughts, we text each other outside of work, we worry about each other’s well-being. And yes, we have fun. But also, we accomplish so much together. I am overflowing with gratitude for this tribe, this farmily.
There’s an art to the living of an ordinary life—a beauty in the mundane. The enlightened acknowledgement that you’ll never move mountains or part seas, that you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but that your importance lies in those immediately around you. That completing the boring mundane tasks like making the bed and washing the dishes and going to work and loving your spouse and children are enough. That your existence is enough.
You know what extraordinary people have? Drama. Plenty of it. Maybe that’s your thing. If so, I wish you the strength to move that mountain, but as for me, I’m going to put one foot in front of the other and try not to knock anyone down as I walk my slow path through this incredible ordinary life. That mountain is a minor inconvenience that I can walk around. I may never make it to the other side, but this side is enough.
Our house painters briefly showed up today before immediately leaving because they thought we might be sleeping (at 10a.m.!) because it’s a national holiday today. Ha!
Labor Day is a day “set aside” to recognize the contributions of American workers to society. The irony is never lost on me that most farmers I know work on Labor Day. That farmers, borne of a fierce independence and social isolation, are not considered part of any great labor “force.” Farmers, who have mostly existed in the lower socio-economic factions of our society, shy away from any recognition of their place as the backbone of said society.
We just plow forward (pardon the pun), coaxing life from the land and distributing it amongst our fellow citizens. We just do what needs to be done. Humble. Quiet. Steady. Content to work “behind the scenes.” We labor in constant companionship with the land. And yes, it’s a labor of love. A love like a long marriage: one that runs deep and true, and whose faded passion melds often into bickering, but whose constituents could never imagine being apart.