by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” – Ecclesiastes
As I scribble these notes a day or two before the summer solstice I can’t help but reflect on the changing of the seasons. Down through the ages if there were one topic of conversation common to all peoples in all places it would be the weather and its close cousin the passage of seasons. How often, as the longest day approaches do we hear folks cry with trepidation, “just a few more days and it’s all down hill, all the way to the shortest day of the year” It is almost as if people are dragged through the year kicking and screaming. “I’m not ready for the dark days of winter!” And in hot climates I imagine people dreading the inevitable heat.
Now I like to talk about the weather and changing seasons as much as anyone. I don’t, however find myself bemoaning the end of summer or dreading the days following the solstice when each succeeding day will be shorter than the last. I must say though, that my comfort level with each season in turn is something I came to only after I started farming and ceased living a cooped up indoor life. I know this seems counter-intuitive, that being out year round in all kinds of weather could make one less desperate for warmth and sunshine and more at peace with whatever Mother Nature offers up. I may be unique in this regard and I really don’t have a good explanation for it. I only know that when I was teaching school I used to suffer terribly from spring fever. I think that being inside causes one to miss out on the minute harbingers of change: the first birdsong in February, the shift of light in mid-August, the first morning of summer when the spring chill has gone for good. Each clue is a window into the future and a light on the present. Staying inside too much reduces the seasons to their blunt, most basic nature and somehow makes us less at ease with their passing.
I find great comfort when autumn comes with its requisite chill. When the days become noticeably shorter I am ready. Ready for that ineffable and almost instinctual urge to stack wood, gather seed, put by, plant rye, don a sweater. Your body knows, the deer know, the trees know, the bear knows. It’s time to prepare for the dark days ahead.
Then winter: short northern days mean cozy evenings by the fire; potatoes, carrots and collard greens bedeck the winter table. Long evenings provide time to slow down, breathe and put some space back into life.
Ah… spring! Once the first tantalizing green spears of new growth poke through the dormant earth in late February I am ready to slough off winter and ease into spring with planting and plowing. I gather steam along with the season’s advance and when summer arrives in all its splendor I too feel invigorated with energy to fill up its long days. And so it goes, our little blue planet, spinning around the sun, creating a lovely panoply of seasonal change, year-to-year, eon-to-eon.
I suppose if you grew up in San Diego or Hawaii or some other southerly clime without such large shifts in temperature and day length as we Northerners experience, you may not feel such visceral connection to seasonal change. I have a strong hunch, however, that though they be less extreme, even tropical lands offer seasonal rhythms and repeated patterns to anyone who will but pay attention.
I pity the poor urban dweller with no more motivation to change his behavior than to change the thickness of his coat as the seasons come and go. The local Whole Foods Market will have fresh goodness the whole year round. No need for planting schedules and harvest windows. The office worker in his tower will work from 9:00 to 5:00 regardless of the day length. His never changing job will carry on with the same sameness as the day before and the one before that. His commute may be inconvenienced by the odd snowstorm, but not to worry, the city snowplows will shortly have the whole thing cleared up.
We are blessed who are active participants in the life of soil and weather, crops and critters, living a life grounded in seasonal change. This talk of human connection to land and season is not just the rambling romantic musing of an agrarian ideologue. It is rather the result of participating in the deeply vital vocation that is farming and knowing its fruits first hand.
Donald Teamed Up
Last issue I told of my adventures training our young stallion Donald. He has continued to demonstrate a willing way and sharp intelligence and has progressed nicely. Alas, twelve-year old Clark, my go-to gelding for many years, has developed ringbone in his front left pastern joint rendering him too stove up for work.
So, compelled by necessity, I ended up having to pair Donald up with Star, the Suffolk mare he had just bred, sooner than anticipated. What excitement (!) the first time you hook a stallion with a mare. I don’t recommend it for beginners. However, there is no reason it can’t be done. There are a few necessary preliminaries and training aids that will help make this endeavor a success.
As I mentioned last issue, I want the stud to be comfortably and confidently going single before I attempt to drive him double. He should understand “whoa”, “back” and some version of “git-up.” He should be able to pull a forecart with a moderate load. He should be able to take the forecart down a hill and comfortably hold the vehicle back. In short he should be well started. While training we want to avoid asking a horse to do more than one new thing at a time. And asking him to work with a level head along side an animal he has just bred is a tall order indeed. You want to have your ducks in a row before you try it.