photo by Nate Gibson
Our favorite beach on Vancouver Island, visited over a dozen times over the last 29 years, has a rocky section of what I call “singing stones.” The waves crash repeatedly over them, and then as the water pulls back to the ocean, a burbling song arises as the stones are turned over and over, rolling against each other as if in a natural rock tumbler. Eons of tides have smoothed them to a perfectly round or oval finish with few defects. Depending on where I walk on this beach, the stones can be several inches across, or can be reduced to tiny pebbles. They tend to keep company with those the same size.
The smoother the surface, the more easily the stones roll as the wave turns them over and the louder they “sing” as they clink against each other when the wave pulls back. In fact, I hear them “cry out.”
Over the years, I’ve brought home a few as tangible memories of my time on this beach. For now my smooth stones lie immobile, no longer singing, no longer rolling, no longer tossed one against the other thousands of times daily. I’ve stopped their inexorable transformation to seek comfort in their steadfast permanence. I have dreams of a small rock garden, maybe a little waterfall, possibly a fish or two. I have a plan for each stone I carry and cherish.
So too I cry out when I’m rolled over and over by life’s wave action, my rough edges worn down over the years. Each day smooths me a little bit more, rounds my corners to a gloss, until such time I’m picked up and pocketed, perhaps on to a new adventure.
Then I will sing a new song.
Every once in awhile this is the view from our kitchen window on bright mornings on the farm. However, Mount Baker has been absent and elusive for the past week, shrouded in a sheath of heavy gray clouds. As we try to explain to a visitor from Michigan, “the mountain is RIGHT THERE” pointing vaguely to a horizon of foothills and cloud banks. “Sure, ” she says, unconvinced. “If you say so…”
On the mornings that the mountain shows her face, it is a terrific start to the day. There is a reassuring sense of steadfast permanence in a mountain’s standing proud and true over the valleys at her feet.
Unless you are looking at a volcano which likes to puff tendrils of steam on cold crisp mornings (as Mount Baker sometimes does).
Unless you lived thirty years ago at the feet of Mount St. Helens (only a couple hundred miles to the south).
As much as I long for the mountain to return from her vacation during these cloudy dreary days on her west side, I enjoy thinking about the sun on her east side, where the skies are usually clear and blue, and where the warmth causes her snowy coat to start to drip and melt into the rivers.
Today, on one of her snowy shoulders, hundreds of Ski to Sea Race teams are forming at this hour for the start of their day long race that will bring them on skis, runners, bikes, canoes and kayaks down to Bellingham Bay.
The mountain is still up there all right. There are just some days when we have to prove it by physically touching her face.
Steam plume from Mt. St. Helens
Spring on our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold. The orchard blossoms yield to fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass. By this time in May, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM. So many hours of light to work with!
I yearn for a dark rainy day to hide inside with a book. Instead the lawnmower calls my name, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be weeded. It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this. It’s just that nothing we do is enough. Blackberry brambles have taken over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles spread on the fields in April are growing exponentially again and the foals have grown large and strong without having good halter lessons when they were much smaller and easier to control. The weather has been so iffy that no string of days has been available for hay cutting so the fields are yielding to the point of the tallest grass collapsing under its own weight when soaked with rain. Farmers call this “lodged” hay, flattened by the weather, and more difficult to harvest.
Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.
We have spent many years dreaming about the farm as we hoped it would be. We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful. Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe. We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming as well as a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year. Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents. We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup. The deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything. We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses. Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured. And our house would always stay clean.
Dream on. Farms are often back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes. I know ours is. Yet here we be and here we stay.
It’s home. We’ve raised three wonderful children here. We’ve bred and grown good livestock and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields. We breathe clean air and daily hear dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven. Eagles land in the trees in our front yard. It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm. I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality. Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older. Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff…
We have been blessed with one another, with the sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between. This is the stuff that dreams are made of.