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.
The world is a conflicted place. The tiny insignificant speck of our lives juxtaposed against the infinite universe causes a great rolling of the eyes as we cry in the shower (or the walk-in—if you know, you know), over our silly little human problems. But narrow down the focus and those problems become tangible suffering to our momentary selves. The shit gets real, so to speak. And difficult.
Still, I contend that we have not only the right to our own joy, but an obligation to it. After all, we are the way (the only way as far as we know) the universe reflects upon itself, and wouldn’t it be a travesty for the tragedy to outweigh the joy. What good is a depressed universe? It is for the great tragedies of the world that I become so committed to joy. We have to maintain some semblance of balance so as not to shift the universe into a darker more somber place. There must be light to balance out the dark. There must be weightlessness to balance out the gravity.
It is a serious undertaking, this commitment to joy and light and weightlessness. It takes effort and discipline and-quit rolling your eyes! I’m serious—practice. Have you tried focusing on a beautiful sunrise in a war zone? Pushing past a heavy veil of grief to find the laughter beyond? It’s not always easy to find the joy. But it looks to me like there’s plenty of darkness to go around, and so I, for one, am choosing to play for the other team. Even when it takes effort and discipline and practice. I might not always excel, but for the universe’s sake (okay, okay, and for mine), I’m going to do my very best.
For a while, I remembered the first time I said “ten years ago”. It was remarkable. Up until that point, ten years was an eternity, unfathomable, an entire lifetime. By now, though, the memory has faded to a faint hint of that youthful surprise-a memory of a memory. Now, as I stand upon the brink of our 20th wedding anniversary, I realize how little time that is. Not a lifetime, but a fraction of a lifetime if everything goes well.
To happen upon this day as if it were just another gorgeous October day, and find myself pleasantly surprised to run into an anniversary of some significance, is not nothing. Though I suppose we’ll treat it mostly as such. This is not a lament-no-but an acknowledgement of how we got here in the first place: each day skipping along merrily following the day before, rendering each other indistinguishable, until surprise, (!), you arrive at day 7,300 with no fanfare, no grand entrance.
Day 7300 will melt into day 7301 ad infinitum and one day we’ll be pleasantly surprised to have stepped into the 10,950th day and maybe we’ll pause a moment and look at each other, nod in acknowledgement before walking (or hopefully paddling) into another decade together. Because once you’ve gone this far, you measure things in decades. Decades of thousands of insignificant days punctuated by a few significant memories, and too many stories to recount.
“If it feeds you more fear than joy, skip it”, she says to me. Perhaps she can see the fear in my eyes, but I’m familiar with the feeling. I shrug, and keep going. I know the order of operations. It’s not “more fear than joy”, but rather, “first fear then joy”. Always. The joy comes from powering through the fear, from doing it despite being afraid.
I’ve been told that this is what courage is: being afraid and doing it anyway. I never would have considered myself a courageous person. I know I tend more toward the “flight” end of the adrenalin response. But in some contexts, I find fear to be a signal of future joy and power though.
I want to say I just learned this from our new hobby/addiction/obsession (whitewater kayaking), but I know there was fear as I headed off into the unknown of west Africa at age 19. Or even to the unknown of Kentucky at 17. And certainly at the unknown jumping off the cliff into full time vegetable farming.
And oh! The joy that is borne from that fear. The celebration of spirit that clambered over that boulder of apprehension. The printed exclamation point does not do the exhilaration justice (even multiple ones), but alas, this is our medium of expression at the moment, so feast your eyes on the joy: !!!!
I was patiently waiting with my left turn signal for the oncoming car to go by when it suddenly turned left in front of me without using a turn signal. It was a police officer. I found myself extra grumbly about it because I hold those who preach, enforce, etc. something to a higher standard than the rest of us. So as an enforcer of the law, I expect police officers to abide by all traffic laws. I expect preachers of religion to uphold all tenets of that religion, etc.
And then I thought about myself. Probably as an organic farmer, I should strictly eat organic healthy food (insert sheepish grin here), but in reality, I am a Saturday 5am regular at the local Hardees. I mean really, they know me and know what I’m going to order. Saturdays are a whirlwind, with the 3:45am alarm and loading for three markets and driving an hour and 15 minutes and setting up and running market and there’s no time to cook breakfast or eat anything until about 3 pm, so Hardees (the only thing open at 4:30am) to the rescue. It’s how I keep going. But look at me, justifying my less than healthy choices like a regular ole’ human being.
And as it turns out, police officers and preachers and ilk are regular ole’ human beings too. So even though it took nearly 50 years for me to figure this out, I think I’ll start cutting everyone a little bit more slack. Lest my own hypocrisy be highlighted.
This is tomorrow’s joy. When you spend every Sunday playing, it’s difficult to get all the Sunday things done. Sometimes, a little catch up is necessary. Or at least useful.
I steal a Monday evening to vacuum and clean the bathroom and fold the laundry and finish putting away all the Sunday playthings. I’m just scrubbing away when I realize: this is tomorrow’s joy. Tomorrow, when I get in the shower confident that I’m going to emerge cleaner than when I went in. And when I can walk barefoot in the house without stopping to wipe my feet off every few steps. And when I open the drawer, I find clean clothes.
There is joy in the drudgery of housework, but I’m confident that if it happened more frequently, I would learn to take it for granted. So for now, I’ll continue to steal Sundays for play.
I took a nap yesterday. A nap! It’s been years since I’ve taken an actual nap. We ditched our plans to head to the whitewater center and had a lazy Sunday instead. Because, as it turns out, living life to the fullest on Sundays leads to continuous scheduled fun which, as it turns out, can also lead to exhaustion. So, every once in a while, (as it turns out), we need to stop and recharge our fun batteries. To let our minds wander, to practice idling.
You’d be surprised how difficult it is not to accomplish something. I mean, “have fun” is an agenda item in our lives. And so, if we’re not doing that, then we need to do something else on our list! Clean, preserve food, mow, etcetera ad infinitem. It takes a sheer force of will to idle. To just rest. To be.
It’s not habit alone that we must overcome, there’s also the guilt. The “I shoulds”. One of my favorite phrases, I think coined by Glennon Doyle, but maybe by Abby Wambach, is: “be careful not to should all over yourself!” Ha! It’s surely a cultural problem. The whole “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” mindset. Who came up with that anyway?
The ‘shoulds’ and habit and culture all gang up on us to keep us in gear and the clutch is burnt out from fighting them. But Sunday we prevailed. We repaired the clutch. We disengaged. We took a nap.
My costume suitcase (doesn’t everyone have one?) is overflowing with delights. I opened it up yesterday to search for last year’s snake skin leggings from our WWE costumes and out tumbled some “jorts” (I just learned that word) and jean jacket from several year’s ago 80s costume. My mind skittered back to that rather epic Halloween party and my cheeks began their daily delight work out.
I’m not going to go as far as to say that costume gatherings are going to save the world or bring about world peace, but I do assert that costumes can up the joy ante just about anywhere. And this is why:
Costumes embrace our inner child, our inner silly (which we all have somewhere in there, believe it or not). Costumes free our spirits, and let down our inhibitions. It’s as if in wearing a costume, we become something other than ourselves and thus, free ourselves from self-consciousness. It’s intoxicating without the chemical intoxicant. It is through this that costumes increase the fun factor and deliver laughter in larger doses, both in the costume wearer and those around them. Yes, while the more costumers the merrier, the effect spreads to those around just one intrepid costume-wearer.
Several years ago, my friend and I were attending an event filled with awkward self-consciousness and nervousness. Just one man showed up in a batman costume and we were all suddenly free. The whole room lightened a bit and nervous laughter morphed into joyous laughter. Batman eventually dismissed himself but I’ve never forgotten the effect.
And so, yesterday my team showed up in full embrace of the silly to the (5th? 6th?) annual Farm Olympics. And I will yet again avow that the fun factor was increased 10-fold because of the “Tumbling Shoals Toots” Farm Olympic team. And now, to begin work on my Halloween costume.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.