With darkness arriving at 5pm, it feels like the earth has slowed its spinning. My circadian rhythm has me, with nothing pressing to do in the dark, learning to read again. I don’t mean, of course, that I actually lost the skill of reading, I just lost the time to keep my eyes open enough to read more than a paragraph or two. This is the nature of seasonality and we are lucky enough to live within its confines.
It’s one of the things I love about my job. With schedule dictated by the sun and the relative warmth it creates (no need to rise at 5am since it’s too cold to get anything done outside until 9 or 10), I get to rediscover the pleasure of books each winter. I’ve already plowed through several books this season and we’re still harvesting and packing for markets! I’m three books ahead of our book club reading, which usually has been scrambling to finish or even get it half read before the gathering.
Each morning I wake up (not at 5), completely rested, despite staying “up late” (like 9 or 10pm) reading into the night. This is what makes the spring and summer worth it. Those 6-day work weeks, trying to cram some fun and all the house/yardwork into Sundays. The early mornings and late evenings. The struggle to keep sane. It’s all about this time here in front of the woodstove, a kitten on my feet, and a book in my hands. This is the balance that winter brings to us, and I am ever so grateful for it.
“You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory” wrote John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley. Now, I didn’t grow up in North Carolina from birth, but I did “grow up” so to speak in my farming career in central Piedmont North Carolina. I took sustainable farming classes at Central Carolina Community College, worked for Peregrine Farm and EcoFarm and Weaver Street and Chatham Marketplace there in the triangle of North Carolina, got to know all our mentor farmers there, and even had a little “practice farm” on borrowed land with borrowed equipment where we sold our meager harvests at the Durham, Hillsborough, and Fearrington farmers markets. We were very involved in the local food and ag community there.
So, in a large sense, central North Carolina has loomed large as our farm “home”. We left 17 years ago, not for greener pastures so much as for bigger hills, wilder rivers, and fresher more open markets where we could grow with the marketplace, or at least a smaller pond where we could appear to be bigger fish.
I returned “home” this past weekend to attend a local agriculture conference that I hadn’t attended in over a decade. This conference played a large part in my early farming career, and even though I would have told you I had no expectations, I found myself dazed in a completely unrecognizable place. I barely recognized a face in a crowd where I once knew everyone. The only people there that knew me had grey hair. All my mentors were retired; my peers, either moved on or too busy farming to attend this conference. The community I remembered had just lost one my oldest farm friends and mentors, and very few people there seemed to even know him. I was a stranger in a strange land.
There I stood, in a city once empty of people except panhandlers, now brimming with hip young vibrancy, at a conference once known for its, shall we say “hippiness”, now teeming with professional high caliber content, an older-perhaps obsolete-model of my enthusiastic budding farmer self of yesteryear. It’s an age-old story: the mothballs of memory, indeed. A decade of dirt now covered my footsteps here. Without google maps, I wouldn’t have recognized the paths I once tread.
Reading over this, it seems tinged with a bit of sadness, which, I suppose is honest—it’s weird to return to an unrecognizable home—but also not the complete story. There is also comfort and satisfaction to see an enthusiastic crop of budding new farmers coming up through a much more sophisticated and professional system of education. A feeling like, “yes, these kids are going to be just fine”—a sense of relief that we’re leaving the land and our food supply in capable hands. There’s also the reassurance that our mentor farmers can retire. Farmers can retire! This is not necessarily a “till death do we part” career! And, there’s the excitement of new adventures to come in my “new” home where I’ve been growing (both figuratively and literally) over the past 17 years.
So, as always in the life of a Libra, there is balance. A bittersweet return to the mothballs of memory.
When you've been doing something a long time, even if you love it, even if you love it for all the right reasons, you can fall into a routine that might feel sometimes like a rut. You forget to pay attention to the delights, to the glimmers, to the reasons you love it. Then along comes someone who reminds you that there is poetry everywhere here in this place and in what we do here. This season, that person was Holly. And so, in honor of that, I'm featuring a poem she wrote. Enjoy!
Meet out in the green beans, SE6
It was mid July when I first learned
that one of life's greatest joys,
is snapping okra at the collar.
Down in the hollar, fog settles
into the valley like the bodies
of two lovers
And I am convinced,
That everything, and everyone,
looks best dressed up in the morning dew
From the fennel fronds, to me and you.
Mid morning, and we're all out
in the green beans,
Talking about horoscopes and Hardee's,
Origins and endings.
Discussing religion in all its forms,
because what's more sacred than
the feel of dirt between your
fingers and sunlight on your skin.
I am drenched in summertime
Dripping in the kind of sweat that
the body craves
That leaves behind nothing but
Salt and satisfaction.
Late afternoon light floods the farm,
and a part of me I never knew
comes home again.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.