It snowed in the mountains. The ski slopes are opening.
Skiing makes me feel dumpy. Coming from the flatlands, it always looked like a rich man’s sport, which, I suppose it is when you have to fly far away to find an actual mountain. But in the flatlands, it’s an even more distant idea. Snow comes, and visions enter our mind of lithe bodies, painted in tight brand name (what is a skiing brand name?) ski fashion, blond hair (they’re always blond) streaming behind them as them flit side to side down fluffy white mountains.
And I, eating sausage and pierogies and sloshing through the slushy snow and mud aftermath in bulky layers and clunky rubber boots like a surly Russian peasant in spring marching out to milk the cow again. I don’t even make it to the lodge. Put me on that hillside and I’m inching down on my butt repeating the mantra “no health insurance, no health insurance, no health insurance”. Isn’t this how Sonny died?
I pretend I would hate to be one of those people with enough money, insurance, and hair dye to be one of those bodies, but this isn’t really the truth. I came from the flatlands where we are stoic, reliable, reserved, tame, if a little bit dumpy. We know the truth, and we know not to speak it. You don’t need the truth to go out and milk the cow. You just do it.
I bet that’s really where Nike got its motto from. Sure, they paint pictures of super human athletes blah blah blah, but I bet they really got their inspiration from the Midwest. Just go out and do what needs to be done. No protestations, no hesitation, and least of all, no truth. You swallow all that and just do it. It’s not lithe or sexy or brand name (unless that brand name is Nike), but it’s probably how we’ll survive the end of the world as we know it, and it’s definitely how I survive growing produce in the cold.
I can feel myself sinking. Settling in. As the farm work slows to a crawl in November and December, I, too, slow to a crawl. Winter is a tightrope walk. Seasonal rest, recovery, and reflection are important, but taken too far they can lead to an unhealthy moody sedentary life. I have to force myself not to give in to total lazy.
Ironically, winter requires the most discipline. You’d think it would be the height of the season, but then we just never stop. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going when the going has got to be done and deadlines loom everywhere. In the winter, though, deadlines are much more liquid.
After going so hard, it’s easy to tell myself I deserve and want restful idle time. And I do. But I have to find that delicate balance up here on the winter tightrope. I’ve got to reach deep to venture out to see friends, move my body, pursue other “side quests” outside the farm. These are what keep me happy and healthy and will deliver me in tact and ready when the farm demands escalate in the spring.
But it’s hard. My November self wants to live in a lazy moment and forget about spring. I can always worry about that tomorrow, next week, next month, ad infinitum. But time is stealthy. Spring will arrive hastily and full of demands as soon as I take my eyes off the calendar.
Sandi (the dog) and I took the long way home from our delivery last week. Our deviant behavior was rewarded with a show-stopping autumn color display along a deserted foggy Blue Ridge Parkway. Luckily it was deserted, because I kept stopping in the middle of the road to exclaim, “Sandi! Look at that!” and take yet another picture. Do dogs see color? Because Sandi seemed unimpressed. But I didn’t let that curb my enthusiasm. I know it’s noticing season, even if she doesn’t.
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.
The killing frost has come and gone and left us with glorious autumn afternoons. The time pressure on farm work lifts (deconstruction happens on a much more flexible schedule), and our attention turns domestic. The detritus of lasts litters our countertops: the last beans, the last tomatoes, the last peppers. It’s our last chance to freeze, dry, pickle, and can theses lasts, and so we scurry around like squirrels before the winter, preserving whatever we can manage.
Some seasons, we’re better at mid-season preservation, but this season we did our best to preserve memories of adventures and food preservation fell by the wayside. It’s not like we’ll starve—we can live on the winter hardy greens and things we still have planted, it just limits our mid-winter meal choices. Alas, we’ll just have to thrive on the memories of those delicious warm season meals while we have yet another kale concoction.
Last Saturday, while Octoberfest shut down my market in Hickory, I took a walk down the beach to look for friends. I never found the friends I set out looking for but I found seventy-five others with whom to share the collective awe of what turned out to be one of the most beautiful sunrises ever. Pre-coffee, after a poor night’s sleep, but still the grin on my face grew. We shared a moment-me and these seventy-five would be friends-the gasps and exclamations, the smiles and knowing looks and kind comments. Talking to strangers about the beauty with which we began today, I knew-again-what bliss was.
I savored the moment. I actually stopped just to breath it in-to seal it in my memory for darker times. Because dark is just part of the light. You need the contrast to recognize the light. Darkness really steps up your light appreciation game. I get it. Moments are all we have, so creating them is the ideal course of action.
And so you have to say “yes”. Even as you worry, at least a little, about money, the farm, retirement, etc. ad nauseum, you have to prioritize “yes”. Because as David says, the more you say “yes”, the more adventures you’ll have. And those adventures become moments, and those moments become memories.
We stumbled past the equinox to stop in the solid footing of fall. And we find ourselves here, in this moment, in October, with no idea how we got here so fast and remain upright. It’s a mad thing, the main season—abundant with food, and scores of faces, and joy, and connection, and velocity. So much velocity that we inevitably arrive dumbstruck here in the October balm.
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.
Last week there was a kid at market who flitted from stand to stand exclaiming, “WHOA!” at each shout of color, at each new shape. It was an excellent reminder of how awesome everything is. It’s like when you first move somewhere and are exploring your new surroundings. Everything is noteworthy and interesting until suddenly, you’re no longer a tourist in your backyard anymore and you forget to notice.
There’s a poet, Ross Gay, who wrote a book called the Book of Delights. He practices noticing by literally putting his finger in the air and saying “delight!” when he comes across something delightful. I try to remember to at least do this in my head so that I don’t get too old and crotchety and forget what that kid at market reminded me of: we’re surrounded by delight all the time! WHOA! Everything is amazing!
I’ve been feeling big change in the air. Borne of a misinterpretation of unrelated events and my reading “When Women Were Dragons” and a haphazard “consulting” of Rob Brezney’s Free Will Astrology. I forgot to be in the here and now. I started to feel bigger than my life. I started to crave dissolutions and rebirth. I began to live vicariously through the youth around me.
I forgot, for a moment, that I was already young. I misplaced the notion that this life of middle age can also be filled with its own magic and joy. I overlooked my own experience. What is it about us that keeps us longing for our youth. I mean, there are some serious cringe-worthy moments of my youth that I’d just as soon skip, and I do NOT want to go back there.
And so I return to the present and remember. I take a deep late summer breath and feel the gentle sun on my skin, the slow arc of the shadows, and the gratitude overflowing my heart. I feel solid. Grounded. And there is magic in this. There is joy in staying put.
I’ve been in full pursuit of “living my best life” lately. I’m entrenched in an epic search for the academic concept of “True Fun”: the magical confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow. I’m learning new things and in this am reminded that in any new endeavor, you just don’t get to skip the part where you suck😊
It’s an unfortunate truth. When you’re learning a new language as an adult, you’re going to stumble around like a baby (but way less cute) saying awkward things and accidentally offending people. When you’re learning to knit, you’re going to create the most ridiculous lumpy misshapen too small sweater not even fit for a squirrel, and when you’re learning to whitewater kayak, you’re going to swim…a lot, and maybe even pin your boat😊.
And so I found myself in the heart of rivers, frustrated and exhausted, muscles aching, acutely aware of the toddler stage I am in this most recent side quest, and still grinning from ear to ear. Because that’s the thing isn’t it? Learning and growing is a hoot! Why do we think children are so happy? Is it innate joy or the process? Based on my current experience, I suspect it’s more of the process (and not knowing enough to care what other people think about where you are in that process).
That was the thing about being beginning farmers. We were so busy putting out fires to notice the myriad of newly created problems we were trailing in our wake. We look back from our current vantage point of 20 years of practice and cringe, but also see that those younger versions of ourselves were grinning from ear to ear as they learned and grew and built this system from the ground up one mistake at a time. And I suspect the future versions of us will look back at where we are now and cringe but also smile.
As we become ever entrenched in adulthood, our focus can narrow to our careers, families, and responsibilities. We’re so busy putting one foot in front of the other on the path laid down before us to…what…retirement? And then, if we make it as far as retirement (no one is guaranteed tomorrow!), we have to somehow re-teach ourselves how to play and laugh. But by that time, it is possible that we have been too far removed from play that it’s just too hard to figure out what that means anymore. Without play, will we just become grumpy old farts?
I learned from my father (who is not a grumpy old fart) that play doesn’t ever have to stop. Sure he worked, and he enjoyed his work, and though I never witnessed it, I’d be willing to bet he brought that playful spirit right there into his classroom (he taught machine shop). That guy has never stopped playing as far as I can tell.
We work a lot during the main season. We haven’t found a way around that yet. I mean, the main season is the main season for good reason: longer days, more crop possibilities, crops grow faster and better…the list goes on. But we haven’t shut ourselves out from the power of play.
Play has been shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality, and stimulate creativity. Studies show that play improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex. One of the definitions of play, from the Oxford English Dictionary, is to wield light and freely. Ha! Our work can be difficult, uncomfortable, tedious, and unending. Incorporating some play into our days lightens things up a lot! It makes us want to keep returning to the task at hand. It keeps us growing food!
This past weekend, the Tumbling Shoals team brought their A game to the world of play. We showed up to the 4th annual Farm Olympics in full costume (what do you mean it wasn’t a costume party?! Every event is a costume party!), and just upped the fun(ny) level for everyone. We wielded lightly and freely and we laughed hard. We gave our all to the power of play and are still riding the wave of endorphins.