Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Wish List

Snow is a game changer. Essentials come sharply into focus, even as it blurries and softens  the landscape, like the long imagined oft waited for first kiss from a  crush, or the nail in the coffin completed hail Mary pass in the last seconds of the 4th quarter. It tests the design of the pastures and paddocks. The plan of your fencing. It reveals the weak spots and brings to boast the bright spots of the farm. It transforms the trek to the barn into an artic expedition. You wipe your chilled and chiseled jaw with the back of your mittened hand and pretend that you have to draw on all your physical strength to make it to the barn and back…you burst in upon the cow and goats, with a breath of flurries and a small flood of snowdrift and settle yourself on the overturned milk crate for the evening’s milking…you begin to daydream about the blizzards you read about as a girl, in Laura Ingalls’s Wilder’s books and in Sarah Plain and Tall…and you grin as you admit that your knee-high wade through the powder and up the hill did not require tying a rope from the house the barn, as it did in those stories…but was still admirably glorious none the less…Soon you are uncertain as to where your allegiance lies: to the woodstove fire in your living room, with the pot of hot cocoa on the stove, or to the barn, all asnug in snow drifts on the outside and nests of hay on the inside where the animals have nosed little caves in their piles of stemmy alfalfa. With a sizeable river of snow between them it is a sincere toss-up.

The truck you borrowed from the neighbor won’t start. It is stalled down the hill, by the house, stacked 5 ft. tall with hay bales. Even if it could be started, it could not navigate the drifts between it and the barn. Snow reveals a lot of isms in life. One ism being you really don’t need to go anywhere in winter at all. Another being: there’s more in your kitchen cupboards and freezer than you think. Yet another: Automobiles are great as far as plowed roads go. Our royal dumping of 2 feet made us quite instantly grateful for Maj and Marta. It occurred to us that without them a sizeable storm like the one we had Sunday night could easily strand us, just as it has stranded the truck. We hitch up the Fjords and begin a morning of hayrides up and down the driveway, shuttling our bales to and fro for storage in the barn.
The snow is much needed moisture, and has come just after we newly seeded the hay field…it is a welcome gift, even if it does turn a 10 minute chore into a 3 hour one. It is a farmer’s relief, covering over all the unfinished tasks, and giving instead the limitless dream filled possibility of a white canvas, a fresh sheet of paper unfolded before the windowpane, and long evenings to plan the filling of it. The husbandman’s satisfaction, in seeing his earth bride roll over, and pull up her quilt of white over her shoulders after a season’s worth of sowing, and birth, and growing, and death.

But then there is that weighty quiet that comes with a good snowfall. That heavy silence which pushes you back upon yourself and presses with expectation.  It’s the Eliza Doolittle question that a snowed in day brings with it: the “But what is to become of me” question she asks Henry Higgins after his grand experiment has been tried and is over…the whole farm and fields and flocks and herds ask it…”But what is to become of me?”

The waning daylight hours make us sleep at 8 and awake before the sun, greeting the dark dawn with the Eliza Doolittle question and with a tet e tet with the Sun. “There was a time, old fellow, when I cursed your insesent cheerfulness…you were up before me, grinning down upon the work I was to be about, and refusing to go to bed at a decent hour, you kept me at it far into evening…but where are you now? See here, I’m waiting for you to show your tardy face so I may be about my chores, and my hens may be about their laying…but you stay so long abed and when you do show your mug, it is a pale one!”

Eager to show their support for our family, and for our fledging farm here in the St. Croix Valley, a few esteemed souls of the village here have asked us to write a Christmas Wish List for the farm and post it here, on the blog site…

There was a time, recently, in fact, where I would have listed up a veritable laundry list of farm needs and desires, and thrown my full weight (sizeable, these days) into a shameless public plea for said items, well aware that we have friends flung far and wide whose graciousness and support would be likely to compel them to come to our aid…

But oddly enough, the closer we get to Christmas the less inclined I am to meditate on our needs and wants. It is hard to stomach the asking when the country of the Christ child lies is so much turmoil and strife. I am finding the more my mind circles around what we need, the less I prepare to meet the needs of others, including those closest to me…becoming embroiled in that strange paradox, that the more secure you are, the more cut off from hope and faith and love…and the less secure, the more you cling to those fragmentary scraps of the immaterial, yes, but the all-important certainly, those virtues from which other goods grow…

Our struggle here, right now, is the same one that is happening in the Holy Land. It is a fight for ownership of dirt. A desire to encircle a piece of land with one’s own chalk or piece of twine, or a contract, and call it “ours”. Not simply for the wealth that such ownership may provide, but for the freedoms it harbors, and the shelter it offers for the family with small children for whom so much of the world is an Inn with no room.

We are now working out the details of our CSA Farm Shares. In order to preserve our farm’s integrity, our family’s sanity, and our CSA’s sustainability we are preparing to offer our farm shares to a more limited group of people. People who are willing to come out to the farm to pick up their shares, who understand the importance of small, local farms, and who are willing to invest in one because they understand it is an investment in the essential fabric of their community…and not a luxurious indulgence in a fad. Friendship, not consumership, is sought. This has long been the CSA movement’s challenge, to rally towards a modern day grasp of what the small family farms of the early 1900s had: true community. Corn Husking Bees, Threshing parties, Barn dances, and strawberry pie. Letters home, Letters to your sweetheart, and a neighbor’s helping hand.  Now some may accuse me of Pollyannaism. Of being overly Nostalgic before my time. Of being a Luddite. What has gone before is not better for being in the past no more than “progress” is better for plowing into the future…we must judge things based on what they are in the here and now, for their intrinsic natures, and their natural ends…and something in me begs to be excused from the adult world which finds its wisdom in insurance policies, lawyer’s fees, gasoline, and posturing. I think the CSA’s best hope is that at rock bottom people suspect that eating can and ought to be a little bit more simply come by than it is now, with the obligatory trip to the Super Market Middleman store, and that culture can and ought to mean more than skinny jeans, and I phones. What is missing is the good work to fill our days with, to take pride and delight in, and for the sake of which we bow our head in humble nod of thanks to the neighbor with his much needed and timely offer of help…

So perhaps after all I will print our Christmas Wish List…and it reads something like an Irish Limerick:

May we ever and always have good work to do,
Good Land to do it on,
And good Friends to help.
(With Cider both sweet and hard to crown it all…)