I rise, arching the small of my back as I slowly draw my shoulder blades together and extend the fingers of each hand, like soil-blackened starfishes.
It's a well-practiced ritual of a grower, this dance of transition from stooped toiler with eyes focused groundwise into an unfolding where face, spine and awareness open skyward, much like the blooms of our ceaseless attentions.
Often—too often—we forget to take that integral break in lieu of working a little longer, a little harder. Water, a snack, a wiggle, they can all be pushed minutes further down my imagined schedule until lunchtime is 3:00 pm and a thirsty headache has been my planting companion for the past hundred feet of sown corn.
The farmer's calendar fills to the brim just as the Indian paintbrushes began to fill the roadsides, and just when it's most important to stop and marvel at the flowers (and pause for a rest) it's also time to make the most of the daylight.
There are days however, moments, when the light is right and the bird's calls are just too sweet to not notice, and I pause.
During these moments, the word 'sweet' always comes to mind. Michael Pollan writes of the origins of this now constantly-used word in his book, The Botany of Desire. I loved this plunge into the histories of people's relationships to certain plants (apples, tulips, cannabis, potato) and how each curious dynamic elucidates a need or quirk of our human nature. He writes of a time before artificial sweeteners, corn syrups and using the adjective 'sweet' as a hum-drum way to say something about someone without saying anything.
Once upon a time, sweetness was near heavenly. To find something that tasted sweet (like an apple) was a special occasion, one to be cherished and held close in one's memory. To call it sweet was closer to divining what made it a little magic rather than a bland name for the packaged thousands lining an entire aisle at the supermarket.
It was yesterday, near 5:00 in the evening, and after hours of tending a fire of prunings from the old orchard, I hurriedly attempted to sow 400 ft of lettuce and mesclun on our last empty crop bed in the Spring field. Sitting back on my haunches, I shuffled down the bed scattering thick layers of tiny seeds along four rows atop the bed. The weather was cool, with a pregnant stillness the sky had borne all day.
Dark rainclouds skirted our farm's horizon all day, allowing us glimpses of showers miles away to the West and an overall quiet that somehow made the greens of lettuce, rapini and arugula even greener. The gossipy squawks of overhead geese and testy goading of mockingbirds echoed through the field.
I looked around, appreciating how the farm is at a perfect moment. It's the very cusp of when these fields full of abundance look their best before tipping into the happy mania of Spring, where growth of weeds and prolific tasks overwhelm us and we're in a months-long tug of war for “who's in control.”
And that 's just it. We're never in control.
I talk about it incessantly, it seems, but it's never something for us to lament. Sometimes we do, of course. (Often we do. I seem to remember somebody calling the wind a motherless wretch, but who can be sure?) But we always know-- although that knowledge might get tucked away in a back fold of the brain hidden by a few hundred stacks of books and baseball gloves and a chipped teacup or five--we know that's exactly the point.
We're here by the grace of nature, not because we know how to tame her. The fact that I refer to those powerful forces unseen as “her” is only to help me grasp the wonder of corn silks pollinated by the breeze, and help me cope when hopes pinned on something as changeable as that wind simply blow away.
And so it was at 5:00pm yesterday that I stood between the lettuces and stretched.
I looked beyond our fences at a seashell sky, fading from lavender and canteloupe. To the other direction, beyond our ponds, an impossible blue dotted strewn with soft clouds. Our rows of vegetables, that a year ago barely existed and two years ago were only excitement and a few scratches on drawing paper, are real and beautiful. Each one we placed into the ground with our own hands, not in order to hew order out of dirt, water and chemistry, but as an act of faith as we work alongside and as a part of nature.
Spring is here. We juggle the ambitions of our young tomatoes with tending delicate lettuces and guiding sugarsnap vines to their trellis. Our work is hard. We need to remember to take breaks. New babies of all species are born every instant. The sky above our farm is endless.
Life is sweet.