Friday, October 28, 2011

Hallows Eve

30 years ago a couple of harrows were left leaning against the old Elm that grows on the little knoll where the quonset barn stands. They were set there by the man who as a boy grew up on this farm, who hauled potatoes down stairs to store in the cellar, who wouldn't stay inside to learn the organ as his Mother wished because he was out with his Father planting the towering stands of Swedish Black Forest and Red pine that flank the farmland to the Northwest and the South. They were set there half as if to be near at hand for another go around the field some Spring and half as a symbolic ornament of a rich and storied past. Over the years the Elm grew straighter, taller...but where the harrow leaned into it's flanks it widened and engulfed the iron as if it had opened a wide swallowing mouth and began to devour it whole...but finding the metal tough and perhaps too lightly salted, sits with it half eaten with a kind of grimace.

I had been looking for a harrow...and when I spied this one through the overgrowth I made towards it with the glee of a long at sea sailor making for hidden treasure. I rebuked the tree for its inconsiderate gluttony when I found the implement wedged fast. Halted as I was in my desire for field cultivation by my respect for the life of the Old Elm, I put away thoughts of ax and saw and stood marveling at the way life has of swallowing whole the past...

We have begun gathering up old horse-drawn field equipment: walking plows, cultivators, a potato plow...unearthing old ruins of past agriculture from back yards and overgrown pastures...our aim is to turn Little Flower Farm into a Draft-Powered Farm...our good faith effort for a smaller ecological footprint, and fossil-fuel-less farming. As I stood there chagrinned at the tree-gobbled harrow it occurred to me that the image I was beholding might have less to do with a chewing of the past...than with a preserving of it. Here this implement was: held fast. I was looking at an image of King Arthur's sword in the stone if ever there was one! A farm that has been labored over, cultivated, sworn at...a farm like that stays a farm, if even dormant...waiting for a new flock to bring back neglected pasturelands, and new blood to wed itself to the increasing of the fertility of the soil. I am amazed at what woody weeds and overgrown pasture becomes beneath the browsing noses of 9 sheep. The hill that sweeps up to the cozy old farmhouse has shed its fuzzy growth of invasive buckthorn and bends and rolls gracefully as the goats meander over it in contented and adventurous grazing. And all this is happening now! Now when all the rims of woods are a riot with color and when the photographer grows frenzied and frantic to capture on film what he experiences as he stands on the high hill of the sheep pasture and looks down on the field....impossible to achieve. Next Spring that field will grow green with new grass and clover. A quilt of CSA veggies will be painstakingly and meticulously worked at every April day onward....but for now the plain contours of the land and the final hurrah of all the leaves of all the trees drive far from the heart desire for green things....only reveling in the dying of the year.

Halloween's time honored (and child-worshiped) custom of trick or treating harkens back to an Old English tradition of begging "soul cakes" at neighbors' doors...chanting and promising prayers for the departed of the family in return for the sweets...
"soul, soul, an apple or two,
if you haven't got an apple, a pear will do,
one for Peter, two for Paul
and three for the Man who made us all"

As all the trees drop their leaves...and all the fields are being put to bed for their well earned is hard not to remember all the dead...and the past lives of all the animals and plants and people that held their sway and had their day on this farm...

I went begging for a harrow of an old Elm today. I found myself promising to remember the dead...long after the last cow here was milked, the last post pounded, the last ground tilled...that harrow was set to rest, put to wait in the waiting arms of tree-bark....until the time when someone would bend near, up on the knoll, just past the old rusting Oliver tractor, and whisper a promise to trade life for life:

soul, soul, a harrow or two,
if you haven't got a harrow, a seed will do,

one for the farmer who went before, two for the farmer now,

and three for the families who in Summer will eat the fruit of the old drawn plow.


  1. A lovely story for Hallow's eve, or any day. Glad you're back online. Love the chicken coop--those ladies have really moved up in the world. (Does the tractor work??) xoxo, mim

  2. We love that coop too...and it has such splendid views overlooking the pasture and lower field! Will have to find out about that tractor....doubtful though....

  3. Chiara, this is some beautiful, elegant, soulful writing. I came to your site after relating to your comments on Gene Logsdon's latest "Yeoman" post (I'm the one with the school farm in Southern California.) I share your feeling of deep connection to those who came before, and those who will come after, and the miracle of a planted seed.

    Hope you get your draft horses!
    Barbara Ayers

  4. Cheers to Mrs. Farmer!! Your love of life and the land always puts a glow into my day--THANKS! Love to all, Aunt Shannon

  5. Hi Barbara!
    Thanks for stopping in...I started this blog as a way to post farm news for our CSA members...but I love how it allows a medium for ruminating on what we are doing in the field and on the farm! Still inspired by your schoolfarm post on Gene's Blog....

  6. Aunt Shannon....
    Is it by coincidence that our two biggest fans are...related to eachother??? :)


  7. Thanks a lot for sharing this informative article with us, I am glad to read this article, I want to share it to my friends' I am sure they will also get the enjoyment from this post.
    Farm Invest