I was sad one day and went for a walk; I sat in a field. A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.
It often does not take more than that to help at times— to just be close to creatures who are so full of knowing so full of love that they don’t chat, they just gaze with their marvelous understanding. ~St. John of the Cross, Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, trans. Daniel Ladinsky, p. 323
It would be good to have an understanding that helps people feel better just by being near.
Knowing that you can be comforting simply by being who you are in that moment.
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch, Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark, Shoots dangled and drooped, Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates, Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes. And what a congress of stinks! Roots ripe as old bait, Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich, Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks. Nothing would give up life: Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath. ~Theodore Roethke “Root Cellar”
I tug on the handle of the heavy root cellar cover to lift it to one side in order to descend the steps to the underground room that serves as a year round natural refrigerator on our farm. At the bottom of the stairs, I open the thick sealed door to permit a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the inner darkness–there is always a moment of wondering what I might find on the other side in such a mysterious place. A rush of cool earthen air blows back at me as if displaced by the light that has rushed in. Until I snap on the lights, it is as secret as a womb harboring its precious cargo. This place smells of dirt and moisture–the lifeblood of the fruits and roots that tarry here until it is finally their turn to be brought up into the light. Potatoes, onions, apples, pears, nuts all resting and waiting, as if suspended in time.
It has been awhile since my last visit. As the lights blink on, I blink too in unbelief. There had been a startling transformation, as time no longer stands still as it had through the winter. Long white arms, almost waving with enthusiasm, were reaching out from the potato bin in a desperate searching plunge through the blackness. In this dark place, their blind eyes must sense a better place and have set out on a mission to get there. The naked shoots are so entangled one with the other, it feels voyeuristic, as if I were witnessing something private and personal.
I gather them up, apologetic for causing them a moment’s doubt about their destiny. A trench must be dug, so they are placed gently at the base with shoots pointed toward the sky, and the dirt swept over them in a burial that is more commencement than coda.
And so the eyes have it, having reached for a light not seen but sensed.
“Girls are like slugs—they probably serve some purpose, but it’s hard to imagine what.” ― Bill Watterson, in Calvin and Hobbes
Slugs appear out of the ground after a drizzle like seeds that plump and germinate miraculously overnight. The slug crop burgeons, and with it, oozy trails of glistening slug slime.
We live on a hill, which means I need to walk downhill to the barn for chores. On one particular day, the path can include a slug (or three) under each foot. That produces a certain memorable squish factor.
I’ve learned to don my rubber boots and just squash and slide. There will undoubtedly be more slugs to replace the flattened lost, like watching freeze-dried shrinky dinks spontaneously rehydrate.
The trip to the barn for chores becomes a hazardous journey, slipping and sliding on hordes of slugs that have surfaced everywhere like pimples on a teenager’s back. They crawl out from under every leaf and every stray piece of wood to bask in the morning dew, replenishing the moisture lost over weeks of hot sun. Somehow I always suspected there was a secret world of organisms out there, oozing and creeping in the dark of the night, but preferred not to think about them if I didn’t have to. But they would confront me regularly to remind me of their existence and my own.
At dawn, the cat food bowl sometimes contained clues that parties were being thrown at midnight by the back porch, with glistening slime trails in and out of the bowl and in concentric circles all around. When I would grab a handful of green beans in the garden, some of them would be slippery with slug slime and neat little chunks would be missing. The tidiest stealth invasion was a tomato that looked invitingly red and plump from one side, but when picked, was completely cored, hanging in a dangling half shell from the vine with mucus strands still dripping. There was some serious eating going on right under our noses.
Actually the chewing is under the slug noses, all four noses to be precise. With that much sensory input, no wonder a slug knows about the transparent apple peelings lying on the bottom of my tall compost bucket outside the back door. I think they traveled for miles to find this particular stash, climbing up the bucket sides and slithering down into glorious apple orgy. The party lasted until morning when I discovered them still congregating and clinging, gorged and immobile in their satiety on the sides and bottom of the bucket. I had unwittingly provided the means of their intoxication, having now become an accessory to minors in possession.
In my more tolerant older middle years, I now appreciate slugs for what they are. No longer do I run for the salt shaker as I did in my younger, more ruthless days. Instead I find it strangely reassuring that a land locked amorphous invertebrate can survive weeks of summer heat, weeks of no rain and still thrive to replenish its kind. If something so homely and seemingly inconsequential to the world can make it in spite of conditions that conspire to dry it to dust, then maybe I have a chance as well. I too may not be presentable at times, and sometimes leave behind evidence of where I’ve been and the havoc I’ve created. But then someone puts out a sweet meal for me to feast on, allowing me a celebration of life, and spares me when what I deserve is the salt shaker.
It is solace indeed: if the slugs are loved, than so am I.
Hay making is late this year because of unpredictable weather for the past six weeks – there just hasn’t been a string of sunny days without rain yet this summer and the last thing that cut hay needs is to be rained on (mold, mildew, leeched out nutrients, doesn’t taste or smell good to humans or animals).
So the string of sunny days has arrived based on the forecast so the hay bales started coming into the barn. We often have a neighborhood crew to help since our children are grown and gone but today it was four intrepid young boys in their pre-teens and early teens who helped Dan get several dozen bales in the barn.
Unfortunately as the hay wagon with boys riding atop the bales went under the big chestnut tree in our barn driveway, the hay brushed against a branch holding a cannonball size hornet nest. That nest released angry bees which felt like cannonballs to the one boy who ended up with five stings. He bravely continued on with his hay duties though, even when I suggested he might consider taking the role of cheerleader instead.
Bringing in the hay is a ritual we all look forward to. It takes a team of friends to do it, you get happily dusty and dirty, and you are well fed afterward.
And the horses are fed well all through the winter.
How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall, Till I can see so wide, River and trees and cattle and all Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green, Down on the roof so brown— Up in the air I go flying again, Up in the air and down! ~Robert Louis Stevenson “The Swing”
This pipe swing set, made by my father 66 years ago after my birth, has moved four times. It now sits on the knoll above our barnyard, and the feeling of soaring into the air is enhanced by the slope dropping off beneath our feet. These swings have seen many swingers over the years, and my time in these seats were full of contemplation and conversation.
One of the swingers doesn’t want to come in out of the weather, day or night, rain or shine, winter or summer.
I grew up hanging clothes outside to dry on a clothesline on all but the rainiest stormiest days. It was a routine summer chore for our family of five–there was almost always a load or two a day to wash and hang outside, then to gather in and fold into piles before the air and clothes grew moist with evening dew. I would bury my little girl face in the pile of stiff towels and crispy sheets to breathe in the summer breezes–still apparent when pulled from the linen closet days later.
On our farm here, we have a clothesline that we use as often as possible to make use of that solar and wind power drying system.
I’ve discovered modern bath towels are not meant for clothesline drying–they are too plush, requiring the fluffing of a dryer to stay soft and pliant. On the clothesline they dry like sandpaper, abrasive and harsh. I heard a few complaints about that from my tender-skinned children. I decided it is good for us all to wake up to a good buffing every morning, smoothing out our rough edges, readying us for the day.
We live in a part of the county up on an open hill with lots of windy spells, but those breezes carry interesting smells from the surrounding territory that the drying laundry absorbs like a sponge. On the good days, it may be smells of blooming clover from the fields or the scent of apple and pear blossoms during a few spring weeks. On other differently-fragranced days, local manure spreading or wood stove burning results in an earthy odor that serves as a reminder of where we live. It isn’t all sunshine and perfume all the time–it can be smoke and poop as well.
The act of hanging up and gathering in the laundry remains an act of faith for me. It is trusting, even on the cloudy or chilly days, that gravity and wind and time will render all dry and fresh. And thanks to those line-dried bed sheets and those sandpaper bath towels, I’ll surely end up buffed and smoothed, my rough edges made plain.
One of the joys of living on a farm is walking out the back door to harvest what is needed for a meal right out of the ground, or the orchard, or the berry patch, or from within the hen house.
“Eat local” is nothing compared to “Eat from the Backyard”.
So over the years on the farm, we’ve owned chickens -starting with the chicks under a hot lamp, watching the growing pullets start laying little miniature eggs which, over several months of hen development, become full size oval jumbo AA eggs, found warm in a cozy nest under a hen’s breast. There is distinct satisfaction of a “eureka!” moment anytime a new egg is gathered. It is even more gratifying when the egg is broken in the pan and two yolks pour out instead of one, a symbol of that hen’s special effort that day.
When our hens were free range, the finding of the nest and gathering of the eggs was definitely a greater challenge than simply opening a chicken coop door. It required investment of time and ingenuity to think like a hen trying to hide her brood. I would remind myself that a hen’s brain is smaller than a walnut and mine is, well…. bigger, so this should not have been such a difficult task.
So I keep my ear tuned to the cackle of a hen as she is about to lay, the musical hum she makes when she is happily brooding on the nest, and the feel of her plump fluffiness as I reach underneath her to wrap my hand around that smooth perfect surface.
I break one of those fresh eggs, into the pan, and it is a double yolker. A hen has made a special effort, just for me.
There are at least ten gnomes who live in our garden at last count. I think there are more but they are very shy and stay hiding.
Our bravest gnome, David, swings on the swing set that I grew up using when I was a kid and he prefers to be outside swinging in all weather, day and night. He smiles all the time, but especially since he just got a new set of clothes.
I like that our farm is a gnome refuge where they feel safe and wanted. If you ever meet a gnome who is homeless, let them know where to go to feel welcomed.
Why do you think birds would be riding the horses our farm? Have they forgotten how to fly? Do their wings and feet get tired so they need to hitch a ride instead?
These are called cowbirds. Not like cowboys and cowgirls but usually they ride the backs of cows, searching for bugs and flies to eat. But since there aren’t any cows on our farm (yet) they ride the horses instead. And the horses like them to eat the flies on their back because flies are itchy and tend to “bug” the horses!
So our horses like giving rides to cowbirds, even if they aren’t called horsebirds!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone along for the ride as you go about your day?