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.
"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,
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;
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."