Perspective returns with the geese in Spring. The clean sweeping winds, the return of the sun, and the thaw of the ground all contribute to a newfound inability to be satisfied with gushing about the raptures of hearty soups and bulky sweaters. Something about being confronted with the bright light of March and the comparative darkness upon entering the once so cozy little house makes a home suddenly a cave…and we are certainly coming out of our cave. Hibernation is a thing of distant memory now.
We’ve fired up the greenhouse. Silver Maple Sap is boiling away on the stove, sending sugary scented steam throughout the house and out the open windows. The germination room is bursting with near 50 flats, and going strong. Dixie gave birth last Monday to 3 strong healthy little bucklings, and we are in full swing again with the milking and cheese-making.
Recently on NPR a guest and caller were commiserating about a growing American peril which they called “anti-intellectualism”. With startled zeal they pointed to “Creationism” and other such “religious fables” as threats to the remaining reminants of collective reason in this country. As I strained out the morning milk I mused on their chicken -little –sky- is- falling mentality toward religion, and the drawing of a false dichotomy between reason and faith. In Spring the blending of and building on of the two are apparent: it is the season when Nature flirtatiously winks at the mystery of both faith and reason in her subtle ways…Farmer Shane remarked yesterday that each new season seems like the first one you’ve ever experienced. Bent over the earth in the thousand ways a farmer finds himself- transplanting, weeding, harvesting, birthing, felling a tree, pounding a post, this close proximity lends itself to being “reborn” 4 times a year with the changing of the seasons.
I’ve always been transfixed by the Catholic liturgical ritual of Ash Wednesday. A cross of ashes is rubbed on the forehead of everyone present, man, woman, child, and teeny tiny baby…"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” a beautiful reminder of the universality of our close ties with the earth. Remember you are dust…all that we have and that we are comes first from the soil, and this liturgical rite which seeks to spark internal renewal corresponds with the slow awakening of a slumbering mother nature…who rubs eyes so to speak with the March wind, scrubs her face with the Spring rains, and lays herself out seductively ready to receive the seeds of a thousand overwintering plants, and the cultivation of farmers across her broad body…There are certainly a million practical realities as to why the sap runs, and this or that newborn kid thrives or dies, when to till the earth again, and how the migratory birds return. There are a million facts in Spring to feast on with the mind…but equally so, there are as many inborn inspirations and spiritual realities that we are reminded of when we stretch ourselves in the mid-day sun and listen for birdsong in the woods. A new vigor that meets the ground’s readiness with eager work. In Spring we scrub the windows; and the soul.
There is an old road that runs through the woods on the North side of the farm. It has been swallowed up by brush and by neglected seedlings that have sprung up into trees, and old giants that have toppled in its path. This road runs adjacent to an old path to the lake. Looking East, and to the South a bit, over the plain of our CSA veggie and hay fields you can trace with the mind’s eye, the path the Chippewa took from their summer camp down by the St. Croix, up past our farm to their winter quarters by the lake. I have been told they would stop at the farms to ask for salt. Now with the thaw of the river, I imagine them following the trail left in the contours of the land by the rivulets of melted snow-water…There is something about knowing a place’s history that makes it more hallowed. The mindfulness that it has not belonged long to just us…that it is the work of generations, and will continue to be so. It is this generational obligation of responsible stewardship that I am reminded of when the ashes are smudged on my own forehead. Remember you are dust. Remember, O Son of Adam, that all this is given into your hands to cultivate. And this rememberance propels me to become a diligent student of organic agriculture and work to implement new research and old wisdom in an agricultural marriage of faith and reason.
One of the simplest ways we achieve the best of old-world farming and new world research is to harness animal power on the farm. The different species compliment each other in many ways. It has been said that you can keep one cow on an acre of good grass. But you can keep one cow and five goats just as well on that acre, and even add sheep into the bargain on account of the different ways the animals graze. You will also confuse their respective parasites this way. One of my favorite accounts of harnessing the genius of natural design comes from Almanzo Wilder, yep, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband, and an article he wrote during the turn of the century entitled “My Apple Orchard” in the Missouri Ruralist, from his Rocky Ridge Farm inMansfield, MO.
“As I never allowed hunting on the farm, the quail were thick in the orchard and used to wallow and dust themselves like chickens in the fine dirt close to the trees. I wish this fact to be particularly noted in connection with the other fact that I had no borers in my trees for years.
A near neighbor set out 2,000 trees about the same time and lost seven eights of them because of borers. He used every possible means to rid his trees of them except the simple one of letting the quail and other birds live in his orchard. Instead he allowed his boys to kill every bird they saw.
My apples were sound and smooth, not wormy, which I also credit to the birds for catching insects of all kinds, as I never sprayed the trees.”
These days we spend a lot of time marveling at these inter-workings of nature. We see it every day on the grand scale as we watch the trees and skies, and every day in miniature in the barnyard and pastures. And we marvel. We marvel with the delight of a kindled mind and the inspiration of a stirred soul. Welcome, Spring.