A New Story

photo by Katie Spring

I’ve been thinking about stories lately, about the larger story of our society that plays out over and over again, and about the undercurrents of alternative stories that whisper through the static.

At a Hanukkah celebration a few weeks ago, our host stood to give his yearly toast, and he said, “I’m having a hard time celebrating the myth of Hanukkah this year.”  He went on to tell the story of Hannah and her seven sons, all slayed in front of her as they refused to denounce their faith to the invading army.  Eventually the Jews won, and the story told was one of martyrdom and the birth of Hanukkah, and so we celebrate the victim overcoming the enemy.

And this is where the tiredness came into Harlan’s voice.  He spoke of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino.  He spoke of the whole of written history with all its beheadings and wars and conquering of one group over another.

“It’s always the same story of victim and martyr.  It’s not getting us anywhere.  We need a new story, and I don’t know what it is.”

I was quiet as a discussion ensued.  His emotion swirled around inside of me as I herd his plea and understood the depth of yearning for change, for peace, for a future that will hold our children safely after we have gone.  In the weeks since, that one statement has gone through me over and over as I try to answer it: we need a new story.

As his words resound in my head, others come in to answer.  I think of my friends who run Earthwise Farm and Forest, and how Carl said, “Our lives are not a rehearsal.  We advocate for the life we want by living it.”

I look at their lives and see another story: one of resilience, of interdependence with their land and community, of activism balanced with the steady building of a home and family and farm.  I look at their lives and see how true their words are, how they are living the story they want to bring forth into the world.

I think of Harlan and the weariness in his voice as he said I don’t know what it is.

While I may not have the complete answer, either, I do know that while the world is bigger than any individual, change is not.  Sometimes we all feel small, and that is okay.  Sometimes we all feel defeated and frustrated, but still it is important to witness.  It is important to feel.  The only true defeat is in thinking we are too small to matter.  You are not too small to matter.

Every beginning, every story, starts out as a seed.  Some of us are the seed sowers.  Some of us are pollinators.  Some of us are the wind and birds that scatter the seeds wildly across the land.  Some of us are seed savers that carefully and tenderly carry the story into the next generation.

You do not have to play every part.  Only your part.  You do not have to be recognized with a Nobel Prize or a plaque or anything at all.  Just discover your heart.  Discover what makes you feel light and do more of that.  Share it.  Most of the time you will have no idea how many lives you are touching by simply living in a way that brings you more alive.

This is what brings me alive: touching soil, planting a field of vegetables, growing flowers, feeding others, writing.  In my personal story, I’m a seed sower, but in the larger story of the world I think of myself more as a pollinator, helping a new story bear fruit and flower.

Think of pollinators: insects, bees, butterflies, birds.  They are so small.  And we need them.

Don’t wait until you have more money or a better car or more time.  Create the life you want by living it.

That’s the only way a new story will take root.

 

 

Millennial Farmer: Perennial Dreams

I began writing a bi-weekly column called “Millennial Farmer” for the Burlington Free Press in January.  Here’s last Sunday’s article, about perennials and the roots of community:

For years I dreamed of perennials: raspberries and blueberries, an orchard of pears, plums and apples, slightly wild and sprawling flower gardens with curved pathways and benches to stop and sit and breathe it all in. It seems surreal now, as I witness spring unfurling for a third year on our land, that the rosebush is greening at the base of the stems, that the dicentra are flowering into their bleeding hearts, that the peonies are actually stretching up out of the soil.

Read the rest at Burlington Free Press online

Unfurling into May

May green

And suddenly it’s green.  It happens all at once, and every year I forget the immediacy of unfurling leaves and popping green until that moment when I look up and see the sunlight catch the color anew.

The farm is unfurling into May, too.  10,000 onions, 700 feet of salad greens, 600 feet of spinach, 400 feet of tomato plants and snap peas, plus kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, carrots, beets.  We are in with our whole hearts and bodies now.

This little boy of mine is in it, too, learning to slack line with his Papa, learning to walk in the pathways instead of on the garden beds, and learning to be gentle with transplants.  When he tried grabbing the tomatoes, I said, “Be gentle with the plants.  Give them love,” to which he responded by bending down, softly brushing the leaves and saying “looaahhh”

Now even the grass gets loves from Waylon.

pointing out birds

The birds, too, command his attention.  Crows, ravens, carrier hawks, red-winged blackbirds, robins, even a heron landed in a tree to scout our pond the other day, and Waylon announced it all, saying “toot toot toot” to show us the birds.

And now he is pointing out the window, saying “side, side” and so it’s time to close the computer screen and go out with him into the day.

Into Farming Season

Happy May Day!

After daily poetry postings for April, I’m turning now to my farming season schedule, and will be posting once a week.  Look for a new post every Friday (with occasional extras scattered through the week).

You can keep up with farm-happenings at goodheartfarmstead.com

under the reman
Waylon in the remay-tent, harvesting spinach
P1050894
Azure Star Kohlrabi seedlings
P1050897
Tomatoes, ready for transplanting

The Gathering Light

{In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a poem each weekday through the rest of April, and I invite you to join me!  Leave a link to your poem of the day in the comments section below.}

Sheep no longer wake us at night

with the possibility of birth or death

This spring it is birdsong that trills the alarm,

pronouncing dawn and sun and the possibility

of thaw, of swelling rivers and tunneling worms.

Tools have taken over the sheep barn

where lambs once fell into the world

sticky and red, fumbling on knobby knees to the udder.

I can almost smell them, lanolin thick fleece flecked with hay,

though it’s a been a year, and tractor fuel faintly wafts through the air

Not all life is born in spring, but we don’t say this

We push away the memory of a night we slept too long,

when labor stalled and horn buds caught at the opening–

no one tells us that birth is full of suffering, but shepherds

learn from a ewe’s wailing song of loss.

New life heals lost life; that ewe gave birth the following spring

to a healthy set of twins, but I hung up my shepherd’s cane, and

call myself a gardener now,

enamored still with birth: the softening seed shell,

the unfurling sprout, the push through soil and stretch toward sun.

Struggle hasn’t left, but look how spring emboldens us into birth:

green buds explode across hillsides, water swells in valleys,

the gathering light holds us

through the suffering of transformation

as we are born into a new season.

Deva with Acorn, our first lamb
Deva with Acorn, our first lamb

Where I’ve Been

pepper seedlingsEvery year the transition to the farming season slows down my blogging.  Outside, the earth is trying to thaw even as snow sloshes down every few days.  Each time I walk to the greenhouse I hear water running in streams beneath the snow, and I linger to hear the flow gurgling under my feet, promising thaw despite the low-pressure cold fronts that persist.

Sun is coming our way, though, and inside the greenhouse we are seeding, watering, up-potting.  Waylon has his own spot in the greenhouse, cuddled with the dogs on the camping pad that Edge has been sleeping on these past few weeks so he can stoke the wood stove fire through the night.  Of course, Waylon toddles all around the gravel floor, making games of putting rocks into yogurt cups and pouring water from one bucket to another as we seed.

The greenhouse is a place of growth for all of us, seeds, toddler, mama and papa: family.

What’s to come

cilantro seedlings

share basket

I shouldn’t do this, but after reading John’s post, I couldn’t help myself–I had to take out the spring and summer photos and remember the heat and taste of what feels to still be a distant season.

We made it through last night’s cold, and the car engine managed to turn over this morning, despite it being -23.  If I sit close to the wood stove and stare into the photos enough, I can almost imagine that we’re tumbling amid all that food right now.  Soon.  Soon.

For now, I’m thankful for the heat of the stove, for bacon from our friends at Humble Rain Farm, and for the photos that remind me of what’s to come.

The Seeds We Sow

IMG_2085

I wish that living in a yurt on a Vermont hillside farm could make me immune to the annoyances of broken computers, and the odd frustration that comes when said computer is at the shop getting fixed and I am here with an old iPad that works well enough for emails, but not much more.  We finally got a loaner computer, and so I’m back to the blog after a few weeks of sporadic posts.

Truthfully, though, I’ve felt quiet.  Perhaps it’s not just the computer issues that have kept my posts minimal and short.  It goes like that sometimes, a wave of production followed by a quiet recession back into the deep, like the tide that swells and retreats.

The farm is covered with snow, the garden under perhaps 4 feet of it, and tonight the cold seeps in from under the clear night sky.  It’s a night to pack the fire box and keep the dials on the wood stove turned open a bit more than usual.

We’ve been in the throws of spring planning: greenhouse repairs, seeding charts, cash-flow charts, marketing, perennial design, and lists of infrastructure improvements.  It feels both exciting and daunting, and we oscillate between dreamy imaginings of all the good changes to come and business crunching, detached from emotion.

The work of a farmer begins long before the greenhouse is fired up and soil is spread out in trays.  The seeds we are sowing now are sketches on paper, numbers and images and words.  Though it seems like the summer is still far away, this work is important.  Before we can manifest something into being, we must first know what it is we want to create.

In all the planning and prep work, in all the manifestations we are setting out into the world, I took out this poem again, just to remind myself that sometimes, it is okay to be demanding as we manifest our dreams:

Throw away all your begging bowls at

God’s door,

for I have heard the Beloved prefers

sweet, threatening shouts, something

on the order of, “Hey, Beloved, my soul

is a raging volcano of love for you!

You better start kissing me–or else!”

~Hafiz

Farmer Wordplay

P1030180

The words we use as farmers and eaters has a real impact on how we view our food.  This summer I started thinking more about the words harvest and slaughter when it comes to chickens, and my musings turned into an article in the latest edition of Vermont’s Local Banquet.  Read an excerpt below:

With both hands, I reach into the crate of chickens.

“I’m sorry!” I say to the chicken as it flaps in my less-than-confident grasp. The butcher just showed me how to properly handle a bird: two hands on their legs, chest down, and pick up. They won’t flap this way. I put the bird’s chest on the ground until it calms and pashand it to the butcher.

“No need to apologize to them for that,” he says, easily putting the bird upside-down into the cone and, with a sharp knife, cutting its head off in a blink.

“I hate picking up chickens,” I tell him. “I like eating and raising them, but I’m not good at this part.”

“Eating is the easy part.”

To read the full article, visit Vermont’s Local Banquet

Little Gems in November, or, Lettuce is Beautiful

November Lettuce

Spretnak, Rhazes, Mirlo.  Lettuce in November!

We started these late in the season, and yesterday was likely our last lettuce head harvest.  These little gems and mini-butterheads have been holding under row cover for a few weeks, and though there are still more in the garden, I doubt they will size up even to their mini-maturity.

If this is the last harvest, I marvel at them even more–lettuce is so beautiful.  I love the ruffled texture of the butterheads, the deep green cones of Spretnak, a little-gem romaine, and the rich velvety red of Rhazes, another little-gem (“little gem” really is the actual term for these mini romaines.  It suits them well).

If I didn’t want to eat a salad, or cut them in half to grill with balsamic oil, I’d sit and stare at the lettuce like a painting.  Is that crazy?  Shouldn’t food be beautiful, shouldn’t we take the time to notice when it is?  Maybe it’s only my perception, but I believe food tastes better when we take the time to notice its textures, colors, and dimensions.  There is so much to take in before we ever take a bite.

{I highly recommend these varieties; if you want to grow them in your garden, you can find them at High Mowing Organic Seeds: Spretnak, Rhazes, Mirlo}