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.
We are but infinitesimal blips in the grand scheme of things. We know that in principle, but living in our own skin can diminish that perspective. We find ourselves enveloped by a strange sense of self-importance which can lead to dramatic fist shaking cries of “why me?”.
But really we’re just components of compost. Literally is still, somehow, illegal, but figuratively. Each insect, arthropod, worm, bacteria, and mushroom quietly fills its roll in the breaking down of things without regard for the big picture of returning waste to nature to be reused.
I can’t help but assume we’re the same. Just plugging along here doing our little farming thing, contributing to a whole that we don’t fully understand. We fill a little tiny niche in our community, which fills an even tinier niche in the world, which fills an even tinier niche in the universe, and so on. I don’t need to understand the whole picture to feel comfortable filling my little niche in my little community. I’m perfectly content to know I’m a part of your world and you’re a part of mine, and that we somehow fit into a larger picture.
July and August are always the peak of busy in farm life for us and others like us. We’ve been going hard since May and are starting to feel the exhaustion of making our living in just 7 or 8 months. But we’re accustomed to this and just before we burn out we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This cycle is why we traditionally have taken the winter mostly off from active growing.
This year has been heavier though. I actually cracked a bit last week. Heartbreak on a global scale and worry over the health, both mental and physical, of my farmily who have been plagued with injury and illness, combined with a renewed worry over spreading a more virulent virus that hit too close to home when it killed my cousin’s husband, and zero time for the self-care that is needed to keep this ship from running aground. And I cracked just a little bit.
But then I read a fretful blog post from a distant farmer friend and realized that the weight of the world is pushing down on all of us. Check in on your friends and neighbors y’all. They may not be okay. Let’s take care of each other.
When it’s cold in the winter, and we are tucked safely indoors with the heat and the hot chocolate and the pretty Christmas lights, it’s easy to romanticize working on an organic farm. Isn’t it? I mean, even we do it. When we’re gazing at seed catalogues all misty-eyed, envisioning the perfect season with the perfect weather and everyone working hard in perfect harmony here in this beautiful valley.
Somehow the sweat never enters the romantic vision. Nor the back aches. Nor the exhaustion. It’s just human nature. Especially young human nature. Young people envision dirty smiling people posing for a group picture after accomplishing some great but difficult goal and it make our hearts sing. Yet somehow, the abusive sun and dripping sweat day after day after day remain evasive to our romantic montage.
Then we find ourselves deep in a North Carolina August haze with our muscles sore, our skin sunburned, sweat dripping into our eyes, and yet ANOTHER weed to pull and can’t remember how exactly we got here and wondering whether we should question our own sanity.
Or at least I think that’s what happens to some people. Despite the brutal sun and aching back (and feet and hips) and ALL those weeds we thought we would prevent in our romantic winter visions, I still love my job. But I’ve been around this rodeo before. Somewhere in the back of my mind, while sipping hot cider with my feet up in front of the wood stove, envisioning the perfect season blah blah blah, there’s the little cynic laughing and remembering the sometimes harsh reality that is running a farm. Even a lovely little organic farm set in a picturesque valley with a gurgling creek running through it.