Home and Shop Companion 0121
Home and Shop Companion 0121

Rural Ramblings – Spring 1981
Ralph C. Miller

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Eccl:3-1

Ecclesiastes translates to ‘the Preacher’ (or variously – ‘the Preaching’). That much of the sermon along with the bit about a time to plant and a time to pluck up or reap always seems to me to be speaking directly to farmers. I know that many other occupations depend to some extent on the swing of seasons and the tyranny of the time, but with the farmer it is more than that. He lives or dies at the mercy of seasonal changes, at the will of weather and the inexorable march of clock and calendar.

Seasons too often dictate what he grows, what he eats (if indeed he will eat), and the limits and style of his life. Fortunately man is a somewhat adaptable creature and though he may rail at a foreshortened summer, a prolonged and bitter winter, he recognizes the inevitability and learns to live with it – sometimes.

I guess I will have to admit here that a personal aspect enters in this preoccupation with seasons. We left Oregon in mid-November and drove down here to North Florida thinking to spend 3 or 4 months in the sun. I know, I know, you have heard me inveigh in this column against those cash crop merchants who plant, harvest and run for the sun.

My alibi is that unlike those mentioned, I no longer make the pretense of being a farmer except at heart. I don’t have any livestock who have a claim on me there and, beside that, health reasons dictated that both my life partner and I should get out of the cold and wet for this winter.

So much for good intentions – it is true that there has been little rain here. They’d be having a real drought except that the water table runs only about 6 inches to 3 feet over a good part of the state. {Even in a drought you can hit water digging post holes.) So we got out of the wet but into the coldest December and this part of January that folks can remember.

As I write it is 10 in the morning and though the sun is shining brightly it is 31 degrees F. with a wind chill factor of about 20 degrees. Ah, the sunny south! And so I guess much of what this has to do with is that man moves at the will of the season which is not always merciful. Often cruel… and yet..!

The long swing, the ordered rhythm of life particularly on the farm owes so much of that order to those same seasons and thereby becomes a security and a comfort. The winters may be cold and sharp but they also carry the promise of Spring. In areas where they know little of seasonal changes they can’t know the joy that bursts with Spring. Inherent in what ‘the Preacher’ says about a time to be born and a time to die is the corollary ‘a time to die and a time of rebirth.’ Spring with its hope and promise is just that… a rebirth of the land. Spring to plant, Summer to grow. Autumn to harvest and in Winter we wait, cast up accounts and plan for the new cycle.

Enough with the philosophy – what can we report? Leaving Oregon we began to experience a difference in time and place the very next day. Down through the long valleys of California Summer had lingered warm and sunny.

Home and Shop Companion 0121

The Sacramento Valley is large and agricultural but south of the Capitol the interstate swings up along the foothills of the Coast Range and you have the mightiest valley of them all laid out before you for inspection. The great San Joaquin Valley.

The land is unbelievably fertile and with the network of irrigation channels crisscrossing the valley floor it is a veritable cornucopia. Vineyards, grain fields, row crops – there are vast feedlots for cattle and endless cotton fields that might bring envious pangs to the breast of a delta farmer. They grow much and they grow it well and if the scope of it all leaves me a bit dissatisfied it must be a fault in me. I admire their industry as I admire the industry of ants as well. Of course, I have no desire to live in an anthill either. Consistently inconsistent – that’s me.

We swung out toward the coast from the Kettleman Hills and followed the coast to spend the night in Solvang, the ‘Sunfield’ of the original Danish Colony. Like so much of Southern California, it is becoming a haven for the wealthy. The desire to have a piece of land on which to grow something transcends class and caste except that with the rich it is usually horses, riding horses. High above us there the newly elected President-to-be communed with nature and his private dreams on his mountain top ranch.

We drove on down the great state, pausing here and there to renew old ties and relationships. I have lived and moved all over that area for more than 40 years and the present always suffers compared to my recollections of the past. Finally we headed east out of San Diego and immediatly ran into mountains and then the desert. There was little farm land until the Imperial Valley but at least for the next thousand miles we were spared the burden of too many people.

Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas – the thing that stays with me most is all the snow they had just had so far south and so early. Remembering the drought in that area last summer I couldn’t feel too sorry for them, although they may have well preferred rain.

Parts of East Texas and Louisiana were green and almost parklike. We passed right close to where the earth opened and swallowed a whole lake, islands and all, although we didn’t even know it. Next day we read of it falling into an old salt mine. Will we ever learn not to destroy the only liveable planet we have?

Home and Shop Companion 0121

Now we’re down here on the farm(?) in Starke. Yes, it is a farm even if the only things growing here right now are a crop of Oregon Winter Rye and a half dozen goats. If you remember, I wrote of my nephew clearing his acres here and a hope that I would someday see fat cattle belly deep in the ‘meadow.’

Well, we are in the market for cattle – been out several times looking for good bred heifers, but we’re a little choosy and not in too great a hurry. Meantime, the goats are more than belly deep and we’re building more fence, planting more grass and planning another barn.

At least 20 acres of the original 32½ will be in pasture this year. If you think that isn’t a lot I would have to say that that’s a relative judgment. We crossed many sections where a thousand acres would be small potatoes, but there 20 acres wouldn’t sustain a jackrabbit. Having seen this land before it was cleared I consider it a definite triumph and a real accomplishment.

Two things may need some slight clarification. The farm does belong to our niece and her husband, but if I use the proprietary we it only indicates my fondness and a real interest in the farm and how it develops. Mac is kind enough to ask my opinion on a variety of subjects and I gladly lend what help I can both physically and in an advisory capacity. So we are fencing, planting and buying cattle.

The other point is mainly for those who know me well and know that I am something less than enthusiastic about goats. I know that my goat-raising friends will hate me for it and call it prejudice but as far as this rambler is concerned goats are vastly over-rated for anything except possibly clearing cactus and thorn bushes.

Well, the goats are here and so I tend them when necessary – and it is necessary. You see, the week after we arrived there were three kids born. The first doe had one baby, two days later the second had two – one healthy, one almost dead and abandoned by the mother. A realist and having been down that road before I was all for easing the little fellow on his way… However -!

My niece had other ideas and against all odds did save the baby goat. I thought that if I explained carefully that once abandoned the mother will never accept it again she might hesitate. But she can never bear letting something die, so – now I frequently wet nurse a baby goat which follows people and dogs indiscriminately but never wants anything to do with goats. A year or so down the line when the cute, frisky, little fellow becomes a big buck with large, cruel horns there may come a day of reckoning. ‘A time for every purpose under heaven.’

‘The Preacher’ was talking of that in reference to the season – “A time to be born and a time to die.” Not just my niece, who deals out of love and a tender heart, but all of us have been washed with this idea that nothing ought to die. It’s a noble sentiment, but not necessarily desirable. Everything dies in its time and should; it’s what makes this a liveable planet.

Renewal – the other side of the coin – life AND death. Life is only half the process and even if we revere it we have to respect death. Humans, animals, plants, even planets all must go sometime and if we don’t look forward to it we shouldn’t fear it.

We have sometimes been asked by what right of judgment we countenance the taking of lives of animals for food. Some go further – no eggs, no milk, no fish. If you carry that far enough do any of WE animals have the right to eat living plants? These are all matters of personal judgment. I try not to be wasteful of any food, plant or animal, to respect life, but not over everything else and as such I have no quarrel with my appetite for meat, eggs or milk as well as hominy grits and blackeyed peas. (That’s the way we talk in Florida.) I don’t feel obliged to justify it as long as I don’t abuse it or indulge in needless cruelty. Time and the seasons are older than man – so is the pecking order of animals.

‘The Preacher’ didn’t mention place, although many (including my wife) couple that in the popular version ‘there is a time and place for everything.’ As well as time and seasons – place, where you are on the globe, dictates weather, growing seasons, suitability of strains and many other factors. Black-eyed peas, crowder peas and butter beans; they eat them here because they always have because they grow here. They don’t grow in my part of Oregon, neither do sweet potatoes. I know because I’ve tried them all. We can’t grow cotton there, either, or pecans. Walnuts, yes and more filberts than any other place, but not pecans.

They grow a lot of them here around Starke. This was a fairly good year, I learned from Mr. Wainright at the Farmer’s Market. But not a great year – and of course, costs are up. They didn’t used to fertilize much or use insecticides – now it takes more of both every year, he says. I make no comment.

Mr. Wainright raises some pecans, some produce and some cattle (I approve of that: diversification). It’s going to be tougher on beef cattlemen about here this year, he says. That drought I mentioned… without rain that Oregon Ryegrass seed just lays there without sprouting although water is only 3 feet down. No winter pasture and soon we’ll be able to find those cattle we want to buy, he says. We thank him and wait to see.

Season, time and place. Just 75 miles south of here outside of Ocala, they were putting up hay on December 9th, as we drove downstate. That area is full of limestone so the hay will feed mostly race horses on the many stud farms around there – good for the bone. Oranges grow from there south, but not here. A different season – a different time and place.

As the crow flies it is 35 miles north to Georgia, maybe 45 miles to the Atlantic and 75 to the Gulf at Cedar Key. These things influence the weather here and what grows well but they’re just part of the swing of time and the season. And as the earth turns the weather moderates, the sun warms and we feel the ancient verities – rain will come and Spring… “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the heaven.”


Home and Shop Companion 0121

Home and Shop Companion 0121