Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent-time

There is a beautiful German folksong we sing every Advent called “Maria walks amid the thorn”. It has the sound of a clockwork chime when you sing it in harmony. We learned it from Maria Von Trapp (of Sound of Music fame,) who included it in her book “Around the year with the Trapp Family…keeping the feasts and seasons of the Christian year”.

            “Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie Eleison
Which seven years no leaf has born,
She walks amid the wood of thorn,
Jesus and Maria”

It is a song about the blossoming of the extraordinary amidst the ordinary, common, and even ugly. It is the perfect welcome to Winter, when the landscape is barren and desolate…and the ground is cold and hard.  The best surprises are usually preceded by a gentle expectation of fittingness that something delightful is at hand. It is a strange thing to try and convey….because it would seem that this expectation would diminish the surprise…but it doesn’t, it cushions it…or readies the heart for it, like a mother with a set of swaddling blankets and a bassinet readies a home for a baby. Sometimes I wonder if this readiness brings the delight on…like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is always present amidst the ordinary, and it is characterized by a willingness to believe that something beautiful can come from ordinary life. I have fallen in love three times this way. Once, when I was told I would be picked up from the airport by a young man named Luke, once while singing “Red is the Rose” at a choral concert, and lastly, when a friend suggested we play a game of doubles with his tennis playing roommate. In each case I knew the end result would be falling in love, and so it was. The first resulted in tears and poetry surprising me wherever I looked, the second in two years of correspondence and soul-friendship, and the third in a marriage proposal (which I happily accepted.)

            “What neath her heart does Mary bear?

            Kyrie Eleison

            A little child does Mary bear

Beneath her heart he nestles there

Jesus and Maria”

It was the same way when we spotted the little bird’s nest on our way down to our favorite sledding hill. It was nestled in the branches of a patch of thorny underbrush. It seemed to crown the thorny canes, and was position in such a way as to have the peculiar effect of a lamp-post beside our path, welcoming us to the dip and dell which funneled us to the very best sledding on the farm. Even at a distance I knew the nest would be special…that soft “about to fall in love” fog stole over me…and over Bothilde who asked “Can we just take it down to look and then put it right back?” I eagerly assented and as we drew near we could see fluffy feathers interwoven in the outside of the nest….it was a cup of a thing, fitting perfectly in the palm of my hand…and most wonderfully of all it was filled to the brim with little red-brown nuts. The intention of it was overwhelming in the tundra-like barren surroundings. Here we were, wind whipped on a lower hillside, with not a sound of birds to be heard, and yet we had stumbled upon a little bird’s larder…and been surprised by the intent industry of a little creature made of feathers and brittle bones, with a heart beating fast beneath its stalwart breast, bearing in its beak carefully foraged fodder…it was as if she had left a note for us to read: “I will be back! Keep it safe for me the while!” We replaced it a-top it’s thorny perch. The ugliness of the branches, the nastiness of the thorns and the completely surprising beauty of a nest filled with dried berries and nuts was heartening…it made us believe that all good things came from briar patches or similar seeming desolation and ordinary ugliness.

            “And as the two are passing near,

Kyrie Eleision,

Lo! Roses on the thorns appear!

Lo, roses on the thorns appear!

Jesus and Maria”

Anyone with a spouse will understand this paradox. There are few sweeter things in this world than a heartfelt apology from a spouse that loves you deeply and has hurt you deeply. I think it’s because there is something of your wedding night in a true apology: there is gentle humility that perseveres because of a vow however freshly made or old. One minute you are fuming at the sink, with your arms up to the elbows in sudsy water, using your anger as a scrubbing pad to remove all stubborn stains, and the next you are softened and changed, dissolved in the warmth of contrition, realization, and forgiveness. It seems to be part and parcel of the roses of life that they bloom amid thorns. Even the sledding hill itself, which was murder in summer to climb when seeking a wandering dairy cow or straying pregnant goat becomes the stuff of ballads with a fresh powdery blanket of snow over it. The terrain you grumbled and grunted over not a month ago now incites fresh squeals and giggles from adults and children alike, as we fold ourselves up in little plastic sleds, grab out courage with two mittened hands and plunge down the hillside.

Given a chance, I think most everything in this funny world of ours can inspire and enthrall. You certainly don’t have to live on a farm to see this. The way light can spill in through a window all over a wood floor is enough to rouse gratitude in the human heart…and it is that gratitude that makes the atheist nervous. Because there must be someone to thank!

Before we came upon the nest, we had passed the sheep returning from their daily sojourns, grazing through the snow on the Northern slope. They paused at the remnants of the piles of hay Shane had tossed out to them this morning on the future CSA veggie field that lays just Northeast of the barn. (This is part of our Winter manure spreading…and is much easier on our backs this way, letting the droppings lay where they may in a carefully choreographed fertilizer ballet). I was tugging the girls in the big black sled and we stopped to look at the sheep, just as they stopped to look at us. Each one was different. I was transfixed by the unique face of each sheep, and what had been before “ye old herd of white blobs” was suddenly transformed into 26 funny little characters. There was freckled face “Conchita” the short squat one from Mexico, and “Madame Pierrot” the elegant one with black lipstick and a Elizabeth the Second collar of ruffled wool. “Angelica” had a soft white face fringed with pink ears, pink nose and mouth.

Yesterday we were over a neighbor’s house to see about his restored Canadian Cutter, and pulling it with the Fjords this Christmas season. The cutter was beautifully rosemalled with roses and pansies and sprays of baby’s breath. The human heart always stop short and breaths more deeply when abruptly confronted with such beautifully detailed work. Work which signifies time standing still for the artist while painting it…the kind of standing still that requires love and defies counting. Over cocoa and peffernuse he confided that he finds nowadays that he has “a lot of money and little time”. He has exchanged one for the other for 34 years of his life, and now suspects the deal too raw to continue…it was something of the same observation I stumbled upon house later when we stood in front of the flock of sheep and it suddenly struck me that the pause is what gave me the moment of recognition and nod to the wonderful individuality of the flock.
Had I not halted the march of boots through snow, I would not have known them enough to love them that afternoon. For a farmer, it is his knowledge of the farm that keeps him hanging on to it: the knowledge of where the grass grows thickest (and thinnest) and which blossoms gave the honey that flavor this year, and where the black raspberries grow, and where the asparagus hides, wild in the Springtime. Other kinds of knowledge, like how to turn a hayloft into children’s laughter, or make a hobbit hole out of a hillside, or find adventure down a woodland path not tried…those kinds of knowledge too, tie the knower to the known. Knowledge is the wool that Love is spun out of.
 If time is the measure of motion, Love is the measure of Life.



In the Advent hymn, we mutter “Lord have mercy” as we peer into the gentle mystery of the incarnation. The rose has thorns…but the rose gives the why to the thorns. Perhaps the reason why there was no room at the inn, in the ancestral town of Joseph, filled no doubt to the brim with relatives of his who could have offered at least a floor to sleep on, was because the coming of Jesus Christ into the world seemed very much to those without “eyes to see” the birth of a bastard child. But belief born of a waiting and expectant heart, eager to see in the ordinary something extraordinary and beautiful, sees the “fatherless” child fathered by a Father more Father than any, and from whom Fatherhood receives its name. The Prince of the Universe turned the world on its head when he was born in a barn, with ox and ass as courtiers. He greeted us with a baby’s coo as the “Son of He who delights unexpectedly!” Forever after giving royal dignity to poverty, and making ballrooms out of barnyards.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lambs are going to the Butcher!

The Lamb harvest is upon us!
We took lambs to Straka Meats, in Plain WI this morning.
They should be ready for pick-up early next week. Stay tuned.

Minnesota lamb will be delivered on Monday, 21st. We will keep you posted on pick-up date.

If you are still interested in purchasing a half or whole of our Grass-Fed lamb, we still have a few available. Call: (608) 466-0905

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Of Fall and Fungi


 
Cabbages are so patient. They sit placidly, watching you grab up the sensational summer veggies, the tomatoes and the summer squash…they are silent as you devour the last of the cantaloupe and the watermelon, juice dribbling down your chin.






Occasionally they are called upon to partake in an impromptu stir-fry…but resilient as they are to the elements and to the insects, they are often the last garden vegetable to be celebrated in the kitchen. When their time finally arrives, and they are plucked from their watching places beneath umbrellas of Winterbor Kale, the farm is a quieter place. The broilers have been harvested, thanks to one day of non-stop clucking and plucking. The horses have put the gardens to bed. The last tuber has been unearthed, and it’s cousins have already graced the soup pot for potato-leek soup suppers with hot biscuits and butter. It is the plump and humble cabbage we find ourselves most admiring before the wood stove fires of Fall and Winter…as we comfort ourselves with sausages and homemade sauerkraut. It takes 6 weeks for cabbage to ferment and become proper kraut…well worth the wait. Condiment becomes King then…when we find our farm-raised pork a good excuse to eat copious amounts of kraut.


Our wee dairy herd of goats are becoming cabbage –shaped themselves, as their bellies bulge with babies, thanks to the late, not-so-great, obnoxious French Alpine goat we were given last Fall. He had been found as an orphan in the woods, and like so many other literary orphans, was possessed of singular character and brash boldness.
 
I am continually amazed at genetics, on the farm, as I watch his daughter, Mandy Mae, sprint and spring about, the spitting image of her pops. Mandy Mae is 8 weeks old and she can leap up onto our round bales as if they are mere stepping stones… sprint the whole row of them, leaping over the little chasms between them and scampering downs their sides to skid to a halt at the gate. Her mother was a Nubian and being a cross-bred creature, her ears flop straight out like side pony-tails whenever she is careening about on one of her sprees. Her spunk has already served her well, as we had to put her mother down before Mandy Mae was properly weaned. Shooting a dairy goat in the head is like putting down your own dog. It’s the toughest of all farm culls to bring about. But it is your affection for the doe that pulls you through it. We found our Lupe with a broken leg on evening, as they were coming up from their bottom pastures. Her leg dangled from the hock, and you could bend it sideways. It was stomach lurching to see. Because the goats and cows graze at different lengths, and often different plants, we graze them together during the summer…I suspect that somehow, Honey may have injured her, as she plodded on oblivious to all except the routine of barn and comfort at day’s end. It is bittersweet to see her image on the cover of this month’s issue of the Voice of the River Valley.

During the summer the continuous work of planting, weeding, and harvesting in the heat tends to desensitize us to the miracle that is soil…and the unseen biological forces at work beneath our fingertips. Fall’s arrival, and the fruiting of many kinds of fungi as we take our leaf collecting walks along the Southern fence line of the farm, and down into our “hidden valley” reminds us of how very much we depend upon these organisms which we cannot see and do not begin to understand working within our dirt. I have read of a fungus that was discovered in Washington and covered 1,500 acres, connected by an underground web of hyphae, and and observed above ground by many mushrooming fruits.
But numbers of mushrooms found in European forests are down, and their weights are decreasing. Some speculation is that this is due to pesticides and to air pollution. The average Joe of us, pulling on our shoes in the morning, and getting on with our coffee and bagels and commute to work may not feel prodded to pay attention to mushrooms, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. If the idea of terroir appeals to our sensibilities, as it does to many now, trending as it is, we should very much pay attention to our fungi, as they are responsible for the different regional varieties of cheeses and sourdoughs and wines that we enjoy. The “Cheese Nun” from Regina Laudis Abbey, has pointed this out, finding during her research of regional mycelliums in France, that we are in danger of losing many different bacterias that used to thrive in family cheese caves on farms in the countrysides of France…but are not seen as much anymore because state laws have made it more financially difficult to pursue the licensing required to sell the cheese legally-cheese many of these farm wives have been making for generations. I admit my own dalliance with mushrooms has not been the stuff of inspiration in the past. One particularly uncomfortable memory brings me back to my parents’ kitchen table during a weeknight dinner. My Dad and Mom were enjoying one of my Mom’s latest attempts at something more gourmet than tuna-fish hot dish, Sloppy Joes and French fries, or Chili. She had stuffed Portabella Mushrooms with some mixture of spicy sausage and sweet peppers… Never having ventured beyond the button mushrooms one usually finds in blue Styrofoam pints at the grocery store…and having hidden a great many of even those mild fungi under the (oh happy design!) corner eves of our table, I was much dismayed at Dad’s mandate that we may not leave the table until the shrooms had disappeared from our plates.
My siblings valiantly swallowed theirs down with little difficulty, and in solidarity had suggested many helpful hints at accomplishing the task: “Don’t bite down, just take a small piece and swallow it like a pill.!” Or my favorite: “If you plug your nose as you eat it, its not half bad!” After a feeble attempt at asserting myself as a teenager too old to be cajoled into the “clean plate club”, and an equally unsuccessful recourse to my medical state, a weak stomach which reacted adversely to mushrooms, I popped the round and squishy fungus into my mouth and held it there in resolute defiance for a good half hour much to the chagrin of my parents. To this day I do believe my Father would have held firm, had it not been for the rescuing wings of nausea that swept over me, and tossed back not only the undigested mushroom upon my plate, but also the remnants of the rest of my dinner as well. Needless to say it was a dish that my dear Mother chose, mercifully, not to repeat…nor had she any need. For it left an impression of edible mushrooms upon all of us that is still quite vivid to this very day. And that was a good 15 years ago.

My other early impression of mushrooms furnished me with something of a folklorian superstition about them, and occurred during an outing while attending college in Santa Paula, CA. My then boyfriend, now husband, and I had been invited to the tennis club in Ojai, and eager to shed the furrowed brow and mental overloading an afternoon of Euclidean Geometry has wrought in us, we suited up and jumped in the car, to navigate the switchbacks along the narrow road to Ojai. On the courts, we met Bill, “legal council to the stars” who peppered his conversation with so very much name dropping I found it very hard to stifle fits of giggling, so farcical was our discourse. 
 He spoke so casually of Brad and Jen (this was back when Brad and Jen were still Brad and Jen) and most enthusiastically of all of a Native American medicine man, who he had gone to see, and who had given him this very special mushroom, which gave him visions and flushed his whole being of emotional toxins which he had been laboring under for years. Soon we found ourselves in his backyard, gazing at the works of art that he had painted while under the kaleidoscopian influence of the magical mushroom. “Different shrooms do different things” he said to us, with a knowing, nodding glance. Just as I found myself wondering how on earth we had gotten there he offered us two pieces of apple pie, and we were off…pausing only once on our journey back to campus, to dump our desserts into a trash bin…lest they contain some kind of hallucinogenic shroom.
When we began farming my acquaintance with mushrooms was not much furthered, and certainly not positive…as the observation of them in the garden or in the flower pots indicated too much moisture. Lately the field mushrooms, puff-balls, and psalliota have brought our “homeschooling” into full swing again. The girls have been snatching up the golden and fiery leaves that the oaks and aspens and maples are now shedding,as well as the last of the queen anne’s lace, and are pressing them between parchment paper in our heavy coffee table collection of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Invariably, during these rambling we find mushrooms…and not being versed enough to distinguish the edible ones from the poisonous, and thus put them to use in the kitchen and Winter store cupboard, we are taking advantage of them for the purpose of study . We make spore prints of them on paper to determine whether they have simple or forked gills, and slice them in half to make diagrams of the structure of their gills. We illustrate their veils, and volvas, and caps. We note where we found them...and last of all we sniff them. To be sure, we are beginners, uncertain as to whether our olfactories are up for discerning the difference between the “radish” smell of the amanitas from the “almond-like” scent of the psalliota. The reward of my own perusal of the better part of the fungi section of the local library has been the discovery of a particularly poisonous amanita mushroom called “amanita virosa” also known as “Destroying Angel”.

Imagine our goose-pimpled delight, when after walking some distance along a woodland trail at the county park near our farm, and discovering various mushrooms of all shapes and sizes, I regaled them with the details about this extremely poisonous mushroom, one nibble of which will kill an adult. “It is called the Destroying Angel because it is all white,” I told them “White gills, white cap, white stalk…there are other all white mushrooms, but this one is particularly beautiful.” As I spoke I pictured the illustrations of the amanita virosa that I had seen in multiple Mushroom and Toadstool guides. I could see the cup shaped volva at the base, frayed ring above it. The illustrations had shown the fruit in various stages of growth, the young mushroom with a egg-shaped cap, and eventually maturing into a bell shape before flattening out. I could not have scripted the drama better had I been the author of this particular family nature walk, for not ten minutes after I had told them of this mushroom, Una discovered a patch of three or 4 of them right on our path, had plucked the largest to bring to me, and we gazed at one of the most deadly mushrooms known to man. Its flesh was cool and clammy…and it was quite beautiful. Our revelry was broken by Grandma’s practical voice calling out “okay everybody go to the lake and wash your hands!”

Spending these bits of time paying attention to these fungi has been eye opening. When you realize that the mushroom is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, that it is the well nourished fruiting body of an underground network of cells that form a web scientists call mycelium…you cannot look at that innocent hayfield or unassuming woodland path the same way again. In tough times, when I find the work of the farm and family life overwhelming, invariably I find myself spread out in a field, with back or belly pressed to the earth…an uncharacteristic pose for someone usually found at the kitchen sink, or stove, or on the milk crate grasping goat teats…but if you are quite, and close your eyes in such a position you are conscious of the little buzz and hum of insects as they go about their work, and of blades of grass parting around the ants and beetles…such a strength of being and activity rises up from the earth, it is tangible, though I blush to say so, fearing to be branded an earth-hugging hippie. It is impossible not to to be drawn into thought of the underground inner workings of the soil…of the spreading hyphae, the earthworm, the microscopic creatures who with their tiny limbless bodies hold up the entire bulwark of our civilization.

Our world is changing. An unprecedented number of people now dwell in urban areas, rather than the countryside. There are many advantages to city living, chief among them close proximity to Art in all of its forms. But there are many disadvantages to the city as well…and ironically, one of the biggest is the raising of our modern families amidst art-appreciation which is fundamentally uncomfortable with dirt. It is the great temptation of educated families to surround their children with aesthetic beauty which is itself divorced from the means of artistic creation: nature herself. We live in a society in which people are reminded of lipstick when the bold rouge of a beet is cut upon the kitchen counter, when it should be the other way around. Imagine the fairy tale of Snow White re-written for our modern sensibilities: “Hair as black as asphalt, skin as white as marshmallows, and lips as red as cherry ices.
Fungi reminds us to renew our attention to dirt. But paradoxically it also reminds us not to underestimate that which we cannot see. And that far from being simply an intellectual exercise, it is an acknowledgement that we in fact depend most upon that which is least visible and least intelligible to us. It’s a clarion call in our Industrial age: “Be comfortable-no, be delighted- with MYSTERY!”
 

 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Whole and Half Lambs available!

We are taking orders for our grass-fed lamb!
We use herbal worming regimens and rotational grazing. No antibiotics. This is the real deal, folks!

Whole: $250*   Half:$130*
Payment due when you reserve your order. Please send your name and contact info as well as any special cutting instructions (a crown roast instead of chops, for instance, or more ground than in roasts..)  to:
Shane and Chiara Dowell
Little Flower Farm
S 6586 Cty Rd. G
Hillpoint, WI 53937

When we receive your order you will receive a note back in the mail with your butcher's contact info.
*You will be responsible for the butcher's fees upon pickup this Fall. ($75 for a whole, $40 for a half).

BUTCHER INFO:
Lamb will be sent to the butcher this Fall...October or December depending on availability.

MN Lamb fans: We will be using Grundhoffer's in Hugo.
WI: Straka Meats in Plain

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Christmas in July

We had a birthday party this morning, as we welcomed a new arrival on the farm.
The girls have christened her "Amanda" in honor of our cousin from Montana. More posts to follow....

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dog Days of Summer


Goat Cheese Shares available now!

Sign up for 4 weeks of our glorious and world-famous (truly!)
CHEVRE!
"Lilly in Repose"
 
$20/4 weeks membership in our wee dairy herd. Each week you receive a fresh goat's cheese, made from the milk of Little Flower Farm's prized and pampered goats! Plus a monthly newsletter to keep you apprised of the life and times of our dairy herd.
For on-farm pickup and
weekly deliveries to Plain and Spring Green.

sign up: (608) 466 0905
or email: littleflowerfarmcsa@gmail.com

Robert Frost and Community Supported Agriculture


Marriage has tamed me.

There was a time when I would have preferred ee. Cummings and the artful and admittedly cheeky havoc he wreaks with punctuation in his poetry to mending walls, roads less travelled, and “nothing gold can stay.”. Now I find there are few things as delightful as Robert Frosts poems read in bed, over each other’s shoulders with pauses and points to stanzas and lines that strike true to the heart…marveling over a poet speaking our own voice, watching, as the letters and words tumble after each other, each piecing out what we’ve also noticed, and would say had we the songbird’s (or the poet’s) art.

Robert Frost. Who learned to read at 14. And published his first poem the year after.

 Moving to your fourth farm in four years can test your faith in the enterprise. As you stumble over the piles of old mini-fridges, 2 X4s, milk crates, chicken waterers, and plain old plops of sh*@t in your barn, trying to find a place for it, everything in its place, trying to fit the pieces of a 100 year old barn, 20 acres of wilderness in a valley, with a stream, and 20 acres of hilltop hayfields, along with a little house with a loft, 6 goats, three horses, 2 cows, a calf, a heifer, a plump pig, 8 cats, 60 sheep, 15 hens, 2 guineas, a little loyal aged fat chested dog, and one duck (with his fuzzy baby down) twaddling in the kiddie pool by the front door, trying to fit all these pieces together into the jigsaw puzzle that is family friendly farming, its welcome company to run into a poet who owned 5 farms at one time…who began his young adult life with an inherited farm from his Grandfather, and who left it only to move to England and farm there beneath a thatched cottage roof…and who after returning to the U.S., upon finding himself famous on account of his first two collections of poems, promptly bought a farm, realizing here was his chance to make it farming, if he could make his living from his poems….No one ever doubts that you can do some real, fine, solid living on a farm. But the prevailing opinion is also paradoxically that you cannot make your living on one. Robert Frost seemed ever pulled to farming…and clearly it fueled the fire that made him sing, and decorated him 4 times with the Pulitzer prize for poetry.

We human beings often prop up our dreams with anything handy: excuses, money, labor, love, talk…A farm dream is highly visible to everyone around you. The neighborhood can watch you build your aspirations, in the hay field, as you putter around and around the perimeter of the field slowly pulling an old fashioned hay loader...or as you hitch up the horses for yet another water-tank run down to fill the sheep’s stock tank.  Soon we face the great paradox: we must be mad to continue. We’d be mad not to.

Farmers face this paradox nearly every day. It is this paradox that makes a man with a round baler shake his head and call you a fool for using a turn of the century horse-drawn implement, and yet admire you all the same….there are times, chasing down this highly visible dream seems very much like a pet addiction that is simply leaching strength, stamina, and funds away with each passing milking, mucking, and moving of sheep to new paddocks…Seen as some mad act of collective cultural irresponsibility it becomes attractive to think of pulling out the plug- selling up, quitting.

Here’s what nags me though. Farming is not addiction. Nor is it fair to call it a dream, like to any other dream, a dream of starting a pastry shop, or a bed and breakfast, or of going to Disneyland, or taking a Mediterranean cruise, or one day swimming with the dolphins…Farming is the going about of getting one’s life. It’s the most immediate way of satisfying the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. It is the laborious production of these things in a way that betters you…you can have these things with less effort…but you must be prepared to accept less knowledge as well. Less of a proximity to those things which daily keep you in existence…to be so close as to hold your hand daily over the humming earth as it brings forth fleece, and meat, and milk, is to tax yourself to the limit, midwife as you are to all the birth pangs of primary value, that the soil brings forth. As a farmer You vibrate with the reverberations…sometimes you are shaken to a rattling…the future of small farming depends upon all of us, city dwelling and country dwelling alike, to respond to that innate curiosity which seeks to see where and how and when and why the things we need to keep on living come, grow. And in so doing we find more than a curiosity satisfied but an answer to the call of that first responsibility shouldered in that first garden called Eden at our Dawn. Such a cooperative effort absorbs the “rattling shock” spoken of above…it is Community Supported Agriculture.
The Tuft of Flowers
by Robert Frost
I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.
 The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.
 I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.
 But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,-alone.
 "As all must be," I said within my heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."
 But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,
 Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.
 And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.
 And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.
 I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry,
 But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook.
 A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
 I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.
 The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
Leaving them to flourish, not for us,
 
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
 The butterfuly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
 That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
 And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

 
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
 And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
 "Men work together," I told him from the heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."




 

The Fabric of the World

(what follows is a post I forgot to publish in June....)
The wooing of a new landscape is wrought in work and waiting.


 Or perhaps it goes the other way round. The new place woos you…at first, a hilltop farm in the gusty gales of a new Spring had us, shoulders haunched against the weather, wondering what this new farm would take from us, other than the greenhouse plastic, ripped off, by winds from the northeast, or the cover over the woodpile, blown up against the fenceline…little different from first suspicions of strangers, soon neighbors, now friends…heart balled up into a tight little fist of protectionism and little anxieties as you scramble to assemble a nest around yourselves and your children, fencing around your flocks, and to find the moving box marked: underwear.
Little by little the ravages of a new move, and a change of season give way to the buds on trees, the landscape revealing itself in the different hues of green…the daffodils and the tulips, soon the lilacs, and the robins round and hopping. You follow the contours of the land around you with the curious roving eye of puppy love…and soon you begin to know her, the hills and dales, valleys, peaks, and tree lines. The meandering brooks that vein their way through all the fields and by the time June has come the customs and courtesies of this new place have sprouted in your heart…Our neighbors tread softly. Literally. You may turn around and there they are, quite suddenly, appearing almost as if out of the ground, ready to ralley you with a joshing word or a steadying hand as you drag fence panels into place,  put new stalls in the barn, or struggle with bringing in your first cutting of hay.

A few months ago I was so tired I thought I may never find the brain or will power to write another word. That inspiration would never again mean more to me than the sudden jolt that gets you out of bed, dressed, and scrambling eggs with a whisk. I am beginning to see again, that it is by pouring yourself even further into the bottomless bowl that is life deliberately lived, with all its hazards physically, and emotionally, that something like your farm, or your work, or your family, begins to overflow again with more than that which sustains you, but also the stuff which lifts you…and sings inside of you again.

In perhaps, undue trepidation over the prospect of too many grain eating animals on the farm, I ordered a few new additions last week…two turkey poults and two Rouen ducklings. The soft little trapezoidal body of a duckling, with its bitty wings flapping at its sides, and it webbed feet padding about, its bill tweaking at your hair, even its  incessant “cheeeep cheep cheeping” …these are among the sweetest things in life. Right up there with baby toes, wild daisies, and chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven on a rainy day. Two of the kittens, however, immune to these musings of poesy, and tuned rather, to the instinctive thrill of the pounce, catch, and kill, dashed our attempts at raising a few new fowl, when they managed to squeeze into the enclosure and devour all but one duckling. It’s a lesson that has almost become clique: when you decide to do a thing, do it all the way. Don’t dabble. Don’t dodge. Jump in all the way. Had I ordered more, our loss would have been more insignificant by the time we caught the kittens…and our duckling would have more company. As it is, he perches on shoulders, and lets out an alarm as soon as any one of us “foster mothers” walks by his box…

Yesterday we had the last of the wild asparagus. The rest we’ve allowed to go to seed, hoping for even more in the Springs to come…we gathered enough the last two months for omelets, scrambles, and stir-fries to our heart’s content. Now we’re on to rhubarb pies, made with crusts from our own rendered lard and butter…and bouquets of wild phlox growing along the wind breaks at the north end of the hay field.  The sheep have all been pastured in the bottom 20 acres of the farm…they are fat and happy, nearly invisible in the waist high grass that has grown up down there, thanks to the ample rains we’ve been having. The farmers all around took advantage of the the last 4 sunny days to get their first cuttings of alfalfa and grass hay in…I now know what haying weather feels like. You can feel the dryness in the air…the not so dewy damp nights, the solid promise of a break in the green growing weather of the early season…We cut ours too soon, in hopes of avoiding too much stemmy-ness in the hay, and getting more nutrition out of it…but the rains that came and brought our potato plants to knee-high also leached our windrows…and the crop we got in was not as green as it could have been. Shane has become disenchanted with bales, and would prefer to put up all our hay loose, now that we know our bale elevator can handle loose hay just as well, if not better, than the square bales. It seems silly to say it, but I would have it that the hay would prefer it too…it seems it can cure and breathe better that way, rather than crimped and compressed into a tight bale bound with twine.

Something, whether the moving to our 4th farm, or this out-of-the-way place itself, or the owning of our place for the first time, something has pummeled me into the humbled realities of sowing, tamping, planting, weeding, cooking, cleaning, fencing, milking, grooming, harnassing…without the ability to muse and wonder on it as much anymore…I find myself less confidant in the “broad assertions” or “soap-boxing” that so sprung to my mind and lips, and computer keys before…as if I’ve been broken to the work, as a horse would be, less my own, yet more useful, toward the ultimate end. I can only apologize to you readers of this blog…for surely it makes it less of a literary read…but perhaps more of a personal one.

In the book of Sirach (or Ecclesiastes in some bibles), chapter 38…the work of the farmer is juxtaposed with the gaining of wisdom. Many hereabouts would smirk ruefully, knowingly at such  an exercise in contrasting…our neighbor laughingly suggests he should get a support group together to help farmers with their addictions to…farming. “How can he become wise who handles the plow, and who glories in the shaft of a goad, who drives oxen and is occupied with their work, and whose talk is about bulls? He sets his heart on plowing furrows, and he is careful about fodder for the heifers. So too is every craftsman and master workman who labors by night as well as by day….”

I cannot deny that many times my husband and I look at each other with a look which speaks without words and exasperated “WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?” But the book of Sirach stays us with  verse 34 of Chapter 38:

“But they keep stable the fabric of the world,and their prayer is in the practice of their trade.”

Sirach 32, 3 says: “Do not interrupt the music.” Perhaps the best advice I’ve ever heard. Isn’t every horrid action a kind of staying of music…a clattering interruption of harmony…There are other portions of Sirach where all kinds of weather are praised as coming from the hand of God himself…a truth that has been made all the more familiar to us lately, by reading, oddly enough, Greek Mythology. The children’s Homer has us used to the idea of the elements as wielded by capricious gods…to aid or hinder their favorite mortals. Spring on a farm that is struggling with sowing, and ground preparation, and with getting that first cutting of hay into the barn, can find a farmer shaking his fist at the heavens…wrestingling in his heart with his God…wondering secretly if he be friend or foe…fearing what the weather might take from him…but Sirach would have us know that all weather comes from the hand of God…and what drowns the peas may germinate the beans. What soaks the mown hay may keep the potato beetles at bay…and the thunderstorm dashing your plans in the afternoon may well mean the nap you’ve been begging for…or the moment to cuddle up in blankets and read of
Achilles and Hector, and the great walls of Troy, pregnable by a trick, and battles beneath by men of opposing sides and equal dignity and worth…”Do not interrupt the music” is the divine command. We are charged to “delight our souls” and “comfort our hearts” in the symphony of wind and rain and hail and sun, in wet and dry, cold and hot. Our browned and calloused hands gripping the fibers of the fabric of the world and bridging the gap…wisdom or no.

Gift Pony


Sometimes absolutely wonderful things can happen to you on the most ordinary of days, by the most ordinary means. You might fall in love with your taxi driver, or find an old postcard wedged within the pages of a book, tickling you with the memory of a very funny college moment…or someone may call your telephone one morning, and you may hear the voice of a friend telling you that he wants to give you a pony.
Ponies are the kind of thing that are best as surprises, best given, rather than bought. Somehow I’ve always coupled the idea of a pony with the idea of unexpected delight…just as I’ve always thought of bon fires in tandem with heart-to-heart conversations…

When you and your four year old and your seven year old are given a pony, you suddenly experience the kind of joy that removes you from time…a pony ride is like Narnia. You go there, and time outside of your experience seems to sort of stop. The first time you plop a 4 year old onto the back of a tubby little pony, and you watch her clutch his mane, and you take the lead rope and with a kiss or a cluck, or a “walk up” you meander along the driveway, down the garden paths, and around the lawn, you will look back and behold a sight that caused the word rapture ever to be invented. You will see an enraptured, beaming, face so bright and seraphic that you will turn away, lest it burn your retinas, or steal away your very breath.

Today our gift pony leaped in front of the sickle bar mower as Shane and our two fjords began to mow the hay field’s second cutting. He sliced his front two legs so badly that they were nearly severed off just above the hoof. When Shane numbly put him down, the question of burial became a tough one, as we had just returned from a trip to MN to retrieve the last of our fencing, and left our shovel there…It was decided that we would have to arrange a funeral pyre. We had turned the fjords out in the front paddock, near the driveway, and the bon-fire was lit just feet away. From the house, looking down at the fire, which devoured the remains of our little brown pony, the grazing figure of marta, lit all ghost-like by the flames seemed as a shadow spirit of the little equine.

Campfires, Bon-Fires, woodstove fires, fires in the fireplace…they all seem to pull thoughts from men…standing before this one the thoughts become so loud as to leap into spoken words and wonderings…like: “Why is farming such a punishing enterprise? How is it that you make one mistake, one oversight, and nine times out of ten you pay for it, through the teeth, often for  months or years to come. One gate unlatched. One animal un-penned. Two animals penned together too early, one crop cut one day too late, one crop cut too early, all resulting in huge loss. Death. Injury. Loss of money. Loss of respect. Loss of crop.
I have no answer for this, except to say, that it seems that every wonderful worth-while thing to do in life seems fraught with some kind of constant risk or danger…falling in love, climbing a mountain, giving birth, walking a tightrope, believing in God. Somehow in each of these pursuits, accepted vulnerability ends in triumph and glory...or maybe just the butterflies -in- the- stomach thrill of being alive.