Seedbeds & The Rooted Mend
by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch
A more productive, certainly more engaging view, is that we have the intelligence to grasp what is happening, the composure not to be intimidated by its complexity, and the courage to take steps that may bear no fruit in our lifetimes. – Barry Lopez
Cup your open hands together palms up and dip them in water to retrieve a bit to drink. Some of the water washes over your hands, some slips through your fingers and some stays pooled in your palms.
The cupped hands? As I imagine in this moment, they are about you, your work, and the place you choose to farm. The action of dipping hands to collect water, I think of that as farming. The water is both your work and the natural world you work in and with. Two hands show clear evidence of work; they could be reflective of your chosen scale of endeavor, you might be a small farmer, a teamster, or carpenter, or mechanic, or…? And that identification as a human-scale worker? That is supremely important to biological life, the planet and to humanity. Each of us the size we are, each of us the infinitesimally small piece of the wider biological universe, water slipping through our fingers; that’s you and I feeling the molecular pass over and through us, that’s the magic equation of life everlasting. If you don’t feel it, give it some time, it will find you.
I recognize that ‘thought’ seldom holds us all in common, but ‘labors’ do.
All that dribble about old guys sticking together is… dribble. That nonsense about the commonality of the youthful is… shortsighted. That business about women always understanding one another… whoa, steer clear of that one.
Now, the commonality of parallel working worlds – where you are growing stuff and so am I – now there is more than something to that.
I step outside to do chores and am hit by a 40 mile an hour wind, have to grab hold of my hat. On the horizon the black pile-up of approaching clouds tell me a storm is brewing, but my instincts tell me that the silver and blue streaks in those clouds mean the storm will likely come in stuttering spurts, so I go back inside to return to my writing. I trust that if I’m watchful, there will be enough of a break in the wind to allow me to go back to the chores soon. And sure enough, I look outside and the trees are no longer moving. So I go outside and before I can shut the door the wind comes up again, full force. Back and forth a couple of times until I tell my instincts to shut up and I push through the wind and do the best that I can with feeding the outside livestock. Almost the very second that I am finished the wind stops completely and the air goes that cold steel calm that says storm court is about to be in session. Best hurry. I need to take inventory. Since the wolves have found us, every day I force myself to put my eyes on every single head of our livestock. It’s a new wrinkle in our life and work on this place that I must iron out. So, storm in the offing, I head out to do the counting.
Portions of the road into our place are packed dirt. Once a year the county road grader goes through and, depending on the weather, creates a deceptively smooth dust bed. This early April was such a time. We laugh recalling how often it is that immediately following the road work we get rain. Such was the case this April and it formed a thin rutted crust on road and shoulder. That county road borders our crop land on two sides, and a dirt service road continues all the way around.
This morning, yet again concerned about predator sign and having a couple of cows soon to calve, I went out first thing to put eyes on everybody and count the herd. Cows, calves and bulls the number should have been 33, which included a second calf heifer and her newborn from the night before. I came up two short. Counted again three times, still two short. So I went on the private and public road which luckily follows the perimeter fence. Then, in the near distance I saw ‘sign.’ Sneaking up, I looked at the dirt along our fence; it was tore up in a furious pattern and there were red cow hairs and silver-gray short canine hairs stuck in the barb wire points. Ahead there was a pattern across the road. I took pictures and read the signs.
And those indicators painted a clear story of what had happened. The fresh marks in the moist dust; two little front legs with cloven hooves stretched forward in a rigid V. And four distinct, very large, dog tracks, deeper at the heels, two side by side and two splayed out and away, pointed towards the calve’s V pattern: these tracks were of the front and back legs of a large canine. It was clear as day that what I took to be a wolf had grabbed a small calf of ours and drug it from under the fence through the roadside berm heading across the road towards thousands of acres of forest service ground. But the trail stopped. At that point there was a wild pattern of disturbance in the dirt.
Turning round I looked along the old, many-times patched, barb wire fence and just west could see the tell tale signs of an explosive force busting through two wires and bending a steel post. The tracks were of a cow. Following the arrow marks of cloven tracks and then the mashup of wolf and cloven tracks, plus the burrowing wrench of the soft dirt, I could see, in my brain, backwards an hour or less to when the calf bawled as it was snatched and mama busted through the fence. Then, rapt with the ‘seen’ motion narrative played out in the dirt, I saw that young mother cow, no thought for herself – and every thought for herself, bury its head into the body of the stumbling wolf and push, PUSH hard in a waving trail along the low fence wire and through the grader’s loose piles of large gravel. And then across the road where it hit the fringes of sage brush and the trail disappeared.
With a sinking feeling, I swung round looking everywhere. Not much hope, but my job was clear. I needed to go back to the house and get my rifle and supplies for a trek…
But wait. I just read through what I have written and I need to stop myself right there. Telling stories on ourselves, this is not the job of editor. Unless of course, allowing you to see, no matter how exotic – common – or unbelievable – the sordid details and minutia of our working moments allows, a piece of true commonality? After all, aren’t we shareholders in the vast entity that is the farming community? Don’t we need to hear such things from each other?
Maybe we need to hear such things from each other but, No. NO, we are not share-holders. We are husbands, wives, partners, parents, care givers. Shareholders by modern definition come to the games with a whole lot to say but without liability. Their investment is the relative insignificance of money. They come to demand their ‘share’ and the opportunity to influence that which they hold a share in. They do it for profit. It’s about the money, honey. Period.
You? You aren’t a shareholder. You are unselfish. Rarely are you doing these things for profit, for the return on investment. Often you are doing these things because you know you have to. And that pair of cupped hands? I can’t look down on mine without thinking of this canyon ranch of ours, this protected hollow, this place with edges, this farm – after 35 years – shaped by our choices, our work and our identity. Why here? Because, as my friend Bill Reynolds reminds, we granted ourselves permission to follow our best instincts, to ride this life we have – right here. I cannot look down on my cupped hands without ‘seeing’ a poignant painting I did twenty plus years ago of our daughter Scout and her cupped hands.
Nope, we aren’t shareholders in today’s sense of the word. We aren’t absentee voters demanding that the efforts and properties held partially in our name MUST, at all expense, bring us a profit. (Think about that deadly circle – ‘must at any expense bring a profit.’) I believe, for thinking, feeling human beings – deep down inside them that the shareholder’s prerequisite, profit or else, does not exist. Because thinking, caring humans, in possession of their end of the string back to humanity’s collective memory, know that any profit must be fully and truly expensed. That there is NO profit for ANY entity IF the trail to the numbers causes destruction, depletion, chaos, sterility, poisonings, and disease. The economists might say ‘back up, we have to at least agree to reasonable limits in our equations!’ Therein lies the lie of abstraction for the sake of artificial balance. “Suspense accounts for the sake of balance.” The lie has brought us to this instant when we as a society realize that two steps back many of us went off the cliff and…
Near the end of a long life, if we are fortunate to feel ours has been rich and rewarding, do we measure our time here in money? No, we measure in experiences, in skills, in tools, in positive contributions to others, in the fabric of the world we helped to build around us, in the loves we have known, in the friendships we’ve cherished.
I recently volunteered to speak for an hour to our local high school greenhouse class, the students of which had expressed interest in farming. The teacher had approached our office looking for working people to offer perspectives to the class. Over the last ten years, for health reasons, both physical and emotional, I had withdrawn from travel and public speaking. Lots of things go into that equation: wanting more time at home farming, feeling alienated from a wider world that seemed at war with itself, questioning whether or not my aged self had anything new to contribute, exhaustion with the sound of my own voice. But something significant changed for me over these last few months. Knowing that, outside of this publication, I had lost pace with the world at large while enjoying the insular life of my family, farm, studio and fountain pen, it struck me that I had forgotten that farming in its strongest and longest sense is a relay race.
When I was a high schooler, sixty years ago, one of the few sporting events I enjoyed participating in was relay racing. I ran in the second position, both taking and handing off the baton from and to the other racers. An avid student of geometry, one who pushed to apply its math organically to any and everything, I understood how important it was to gauge and match the stride and pace of the approaching runner – to run along side for the shortest bit and to be prepared for a fluid handoff and the subsequent ‘kick’ into the next gear. For me, it went further, it was understanding the ‘shape’ of the run and finding my leg or side of it. On our team the lead-off runner was competitive and wanted to put extra ‘juice’ into his last lurches towards that handoff. He was all over the place struggling and stumbling, it made it hard to gauge his pace as I looked over my shoulder and loped forward. He and I talked about this and came up with the notion that if he maintained his pace, no surge, it would be easier for me to match it and, with a resulting clean handoff, we might be able to avoid losing valuable fractions of a second, or worse, dropping the baton. The coach and I didn’t like each other much; that was okay. I never forgot the experience.
(Ever notice how at the end of a marathon foot race, the commonalities are straightforward. Everyone is holding their sides and breathing hard. Everyone is breathless. Just like in good farming, everyone is breathless.)
Now, sixty years later, I am feeling re-attuned to the relay aspect of farming IF the legacy that is being, and has been, built is to survive. Time to talk to students, time to share the packet of secrets.
So I talked to them in a ramble, not trusting notes, of how I believed they needn’t accept the conventional wisdom that it was time to decide what they wanted to do with their lives, what ONE thing they would specialize in. Instead this time in their lives was an opportunity to learn what endeavors they were most attracted to, to imagine themselves in those workings, and then perhaps sooner or later to understand what discipline those endeavors might belong to. But these weren’t the words I used. As I said, I rambled and told bits of stories of my own life, of my formative years which were up to my eyeballs in dreams of farming, in delicious painting lessons, in the brain ‘train’ of wild geometrical imaginings, in the chase of old-fashioned adventurous living. And, as I talked I watched those young, shielded eyeballs, out in the class, to take readings of what registered for them.
I told them I had learned early on that I could do almost anything I wanted to do and how that translated to my insisting, against counsel, that I would do many things understanding it would be up to me how to gather and protect those ‘disciplines’ under an appropriate and energizing umbrella. It came to me, without signpost or ‘job’ that the umbrella for me would be the type of farming I was attracted to. I had talents, primarily in the arts, and I had a brain that worked like a bigcity freeway interchange in the hands of a fourth dimension engineer. But these two things needed ‘discipline’ both as structure and as flight pattern. And the discipline, and the disciplines, needed a defining home, or in my case, a farm. Early on one big breakthrough for me was the epiphany that I was perfectly equipped to be the one to impose that discipline on myself, not because I was smarter but because I was difficult; I refused as a young, poor Hispanic to allow anyone else to decide for me. But I didn’t talk this way to the students. Instead, through stories, I led some of them to these conclusions as options.
I told them, no I tried to show them, that the small s big F – small Farming – the one where the farmer is the measure – contains every single element of life, most every attainable pedestal of adventure, and the best chance at everlasting health. Then the classroom clock ran out and I was left feeling… hopeful. They had, in mostly silent ways, engaged with me and, regardless what might come of that short encounter, they looked alive. I gave myself good marks and am pleased I took the time, though I know my part was a brief window. That’s fine, as my job is not to spend lots of time talking to students.
My job, our job, you and me and this community of farmers we belong to, our job is to hold sway, to acknowledge with our unshakable commitments that a working life in and with nature, nurturing, building, increasing, and feeding – that life is the long string answer.
Most every day the good farmer silences the demand for profit under the fertile thick blankets of the farm’s true increases. And that requires of us that we be aware and diligent. It means we have to trust our instincts, otherwise time speeds up and leaves us behind. When we trust our instincts, notice how time slows down and occasionally parks itself? When we trust our instincts; yes. it can feel like jumping blind from one moving train to another, because it is. And with each jump we find ourselves further ahead of the original train’s path, further ahead of the passage of time, into a future we want to believe we influenced. It requires recklessness which, when we think about it, is a natural fertilizer for human behavior as seedbed. And yes behaviors can grow and, properly rooted, come to fruition.
Kristi gave me a small modern incubator and we decided to hatch some of Ed and Dena’s fertile eggs. Fifty plus years of farming and this would be a first for us. We did a little reading (this day and age it is almost prerequisite that you do not read every ‘how to’ on anything – it will blind you quicker that beauty in a light breeze). The instructions said we needed to monitor both humidity and temperature for the approximately 21 days required. The machine came with suggestions about the humidity but we know, living in the high desert, that your microclimate can affect oven temperatures for baking, yeast for rising, aversions to politics and humidity for incubation sure as shooting. It was a bitter cold spring so we kept the incubator in our house where we could monitor, roll the eggs, and count the days. Some might find it offensive, even reckless, to hatch chicks in the house. It comes to us naturally. Our endeavors are small-scale by choice. Because of this it is possible to be close to such process and its changes.
In 1970 I managed a broiler operation for NuLaid with 66,000 chicks in three enormous mechanized barns. The horror of those days very nearly drove me to leave farming altogether, those days broke me. I needed mending if farming was to take solid root for me. So I went back to a rented five acre cherry orchard farm with 50 hens, half a dozen milk goats, and a glorious, verdant, inherited organic garden. I found there my rooted mend and it sealed for me my choice to keep things on a small and manageable scale.
Today I walk bent over with the aid of a cane. When I raise my head I have a stabbing pain in my lower back, right side. So I try to look through my eyebrows at where I am going while always checking the floor or ground, front and sides, for anything I might trip over or step on, otherwise such actions cause inhaled-breath pain. It ain’t old age, it’s something pesky that might strike most anybody. My back is out. I’ve been here before, which is why I’m not worried, just angry and, with the help of a most capable chiropractor, determined to get through it. The thing that caused this? Not sure. May have been while I was bottle feeding the orphan calf ‘Angel.’ Had to bend over and twist slightly while absorbing her ramming the nipple. When I straightened up my sciatic nerve said ‘oh no.’ Never a good thing, timing now is even wronger because it’s spring and I have so much to do; fencing, tillage, planting, irrigation, construction, equipment repairs.
I love it. I love ‘feeling’ it’s time to return to certain workings. The welcome urgencies. Farming gives us the best life.
We’ve been here on this place 34 years, previously on our coast farm 10 years, before that at the valley farm 5 years, before that managing 3 different operations over 3 years time. Though all of those places are in Oregon, each operation and locale had its climate, rhythms and knotted string of continuity. And I felt different in each place. First to confess that I chose each of them, in three different micro climates, and then experienced how I felt in those places. In retrospect I felt kinship with each natural environ but the biological communities only worked for me here on the remote edge of the high desert. Here I feel as though I have been allowed to be part of the definitions. Here, I just may be adding to the pool of useful collective memories.
As farmers, place defines us; our corner of the world, that parcel of land we’ve had entrusted to us. But that’s not all. There’s lots more, including the all important scale of our chosen endeavors, what we actually interact with, see, feel, touch; even good and bad surprises with complicated urgencies, it all defines us. That includes what constitutes our community. The people, those near far and further, who surround us, touch us and share our definitions.
Beautiful late spring day, I am repairing machinery and Kristi, doing yard-work, discovers, hanging in the low limbs of our tall Christmas Spruce, a swarm of honey bees. They were looking for a new home. Something had been insufficient or wrong about their previous digs. They were in search of a place to mend and tend themselves.
Kristi does some research and suggests I should move our empty hive, with new frames, directly under the swarm and see, with comb honey and syrup, if we can entice them to take residence. An hour and half later, no changes, day fading, a storm approaches; opting not to use the smoker, I put on my bee bonnet and gloves and go with pruners and quietly, cautiously, clip the limb, careful to hold its weight. Then I lower it to the open hive and gently shake loose many of the bees, finally combing the remainder with my fingers. Most of them in the hive, I close it up, and say a little prayer that queen and court are satisfied. All of it came together as results of instinct and beekeeping experience. Earned comforts informed the process. It would not be something safe for a complete novice. Once done I thought ‘man oh man but the little adventure was satisfying,’ whether it turned out well or not.
And it turned out just fine. Bees, busy, happy and rooted to that new spot overlooking our small orchard. One moment, one day, one hive, the scale perfect. And a chance to be instrumental in providing a home, a place for those lovely insects to take root.
Speaking of roots: On one of those days, checking the cattle herd on the range pasture, I came upon a twelve foot wide rootball from a few years past. In a high wind, a midsized Juniper tree had blown over popping roots and dirt up vertically, out of the ground. In the beginning it had been a true root ball caked with soil and gravel. I had cut the trunk of the tree away that second year, for firewood, leaving the stump and roots standing. Now coming to it after it had been exposed to wind and rain for three years, I could see the entire tangle of the washed roots standing up like Medusa’s fan. Juniper trees do well in this country partially because they can take root in shallow stony soils, spreading out laterally to form a wide base. Many in the rangeland scientific community see Junipers as an invasive species, a problematic weed. I don’t. I see them as another piece of our time’s biological reality for this place. I also see them as crude mirrors. Metaphorically speaking, I think it is what we do here as well. Our roots go wide to hold us up but only if we commit to the place, to our place, to our placement.
Another contradiction? To take such root here requires that we be shortsighted.
To take root here is to find and see the elements, wind, sun, trees, wildlife and our own meddlesome footprints as belonging. You do that in part by keeping sight of what is near at hand, by being ‘short-sighted.’ If you are looking off to imagined holiday locations, to deep seedy city environs, to video fantasies, to cosmetics in pursuit, to worrisome accounting, you will NOT see yourself rooted, you will NOT see the other elements near you as rooted.
All of farming, all the time, is about making seedbeds. And they aren’t always just plots of finely tilled soil. The seedbeds come in many shapes and sizes. For example, as we gather experience, skills, tools and working vocabularies we create seedbeds of possibility. But the recklessness of the instinctual, that engagement it has with impetuousness, is often so close to the heuristic that its swing and grasp are well beyond the permission our instincts offer.
“So?” – we say in the abrasive cloth of sarcasm – “back up! Maybe always following your instincts ain’t such a good and safe idea.”
That’s ok. Actually it can be liberating to be confused. Take a breath. Reach down and rejoin the immediate, safe work at hand. Return to the familiar procedures – Reject the familiar? Another gift of farming’s demand that we pay attention to detail – and it comes, if we let it – are the natural, correcting contradictions of life as in: ‘never do this, always do this, be ready to be shaped by what you just did, avoid being shaped by what just happened.’
‘Never watch the farrowing sow too close – always watch the farrowing sow closely.’
‘The hay will not dry if you worry it to dry. Good hay is seldom made without worry.’
“One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse.” – Barry Lopez
Accept that, with knowledge, determination, and skill, you can still have crops that fail. And you can bungle through every step of the way, arrogant and foolish, and still have herds that do exceedingly well. As farmer you are everything and nothing. You can never know completely, when you pick a site to plant a tree, whether or not it will flourish there. But, given enough forgiving experience, you can know that this tree will give four dimensions to the new shape it creates of its environs. It might push the sky higher and shape an expanse that grabs your sight. It may well tell you that over here to the south is a comforting aspect to the lay of the land that you never noticed before that tree pointed it out. Somewhere in there, in all of that, is a mixture of the stains of good intentions spooned together with laziness and superior effort plus… happenstance.
Making our place busy unto itself while ripe with fertile instincts and useful contradictions. Making of ourselves janitor/conductor/wizard/nurse/parent and gardener – in other words a farmer busy unto his or herself. And, know that you don’t have to enjoy the work, but doing so adds tremendous value, adds juice, adds thunder. Glorious, confusing stuff, and all of it part and parcel of building seedbeds.
There’s a sense, after this proverbial long and difficult spring, that at the ground level of small farming, down here where working people are readjusting their priorities daily, we are breaking through a log jam of conventional mindset, of corporate ethos; we are breaking through to the light of wide open frontiers for wacky inventors, plant-rearing genius, animal breeding savants, shade tree mechanical wizards and the holders of wonderful indigenous knowledge. We are ignoring the smokey dragons of profit and greed. I read where some folks at the U.N. believe that there are at least 2 billion small farmers across the planet. For the sake of argument can we say that each one is at least feeding two? Now, if shade tree wizards add aspect and productivity to how each of those small farmers might work can we imagine that they are capable of feeding at least four? Forgetting any worry about how the corporations will profit, multiply 2 billion small farmers by 4 billion people fed…
Trusting how things feel; don’t be resigned, use acceptance sparingly.
For so darned long a significant chunk of general academia and specific agricultural science has been mired in a stifling quagmire of self-preservation, which is to say they have been heavily invested in restrictive ways of thinking which translates to a lack of creativity, resulting in piles of often dead-end research and development. For seventy-five years, board members and career motivated bureaucracies have depended upon colleges to play the games their way. And socalled higher education has served for agriculture as an ONLY standard for what is legitimate inquiry, appropriate research and progressive accomplishment. But that grip has gone flaccid, limp, oily.
Today small farmers tucked in a billion corners of this huge and magnificent planet are discovering they don’t always need to play the game. Instead, in great numbers, they are beginning to give themselves permission to return to an intimacy with the biology of their unique place, its climates, its diversity, its own health portrait; all of that central to what it means to be indigenous. And they are becoming archeologists of the evidence of past farming success for their immediate corners.
I hear them breathing and believing that it is ok to doubt the ‘authority’ of applied agri-industrial science. I hear them digging for information about what used to grow right here, and how those farmers now long gone once made it so. And I feel they are learning that the answers to those questions come wrapped in stories that are far from universal. They are stories of certain places, certain times, and unique individuals. They are specific small stories of infinite fertility and capacity. They are not applicable everywhere nor in every time, which should have told us all along that they are precious and vulnerable.
So much talk about scale, and specificity, and relevance. Is there an opening to this discussion? Did we miss it? What’s a small farm? How many acres? What does it grow? How does it make any money? These are journalist’s questions. Or, they are the rhetorical barbs of dead-eyed economists. (And yes, they can even be the legitimate worried asides of your magnificent spouse.) Of that short list, I feel the teeth of the mechanic’s stock dog pulling at both my pant leg and my grey cells when the word ‘journalist’ pops up. We do this publication, but certainly we aren’t journalists. Or are we?
I have a stick, it was once the good handle of a heavy-duty hoe. The hoe blade broke off at the weld and what remained on the end was the metal hook that once supported that blade. Our relationship, this stick and I, has evolved. Now, I am most comfortable about the ranch with this stick close at hand. I call it my “Go to me – Come from me Stick.” It is five feet long and I use it to pull things to me, or push them away.
It’s my new age farmer’s staff. I imagine, should I meet an oaf on a log across the stream that my Go to me – Come from me Stick will even my odds at being able to cross. I see this precious stick of mine as akin to Don Quixote’s lance. Tucked under my armpit and pointed towards evil, I race with it to right wrongs. Sometimes when I am certain I am alone, I write invisible messages to nature in the sky with my stick. It is so preposterously long that I can’t be mistaken for a fraudulent twig-holding orchestra conductor. Such evidence as all this would be found actionable should some decide to ‘sue’ for me to sit now quietly in the corner. Privately, I also ‘see’ that stick as the tool that helps me to understand my editing responsibilities. Sometimes I misplace my Go to me – Come from me Stick and have to trust others to make choices about what to push away and what to pull in. Sometimes they even borrow my stick. It doesn’t always work for them. But it does always remember the little hummed melodies I bring to the work when I use the stick. I know because the stick gets longer when I hum. I want others to know the secret of that stick, and all other sticks like it; planting sticks, drum sticks, popsicle sticks, even sticks in the mud. However, I have found no one who would dare, if they knew it, hum the melody from Mendelssohn’s E minor Quartet opus 44 No. 2 while imploring the stick to save the day. Yes, Boswell, the stick is the ticket.
So when I think of journalism, after I wipe my eyes from the sadness of today’s journalistic vacuum, I think of my stick and it comes to me that ‘Yes,’ this publication, in all its various content and mixtures, silly, serious, scientific, romantic and egregious, is definitely a work of journalism but only in the best sense of ‘community journalism.’ It is aimed at and stems from our prejudice in favor of small human-scale farming.
Not speaking of internal definitions of persuasion or affiliation or prejudice. Speaking instead of the outside edge of each of us, that coat or skin or radium that is betwixt us and others, us and our work, us and the day’s handoffs, us and the day’s light bruisings.
Most often what is meant when we speak of our work and our community is immediate and close at hand. There are occasions, perhaps without us knowing, when our realms extend out beyond to touch others far removed.
One of our chosen endeavors is this small publication which, for almost half a century stretching around the world, provides a soft drumming of information, shared adventure, and kinship. This publication, I believe, is a modest if near-perfect example of community journalism practicing reticence and veiled circumspection in its sincere effort to be inclusive while advocating, supporting, celebrating and gathering small farmers.
Old people fall into patterns, they will often tell young people ‘you’ ll know, when it comes time, you’ll know.’ That don’t work anymore. It ‘don’t’ work because there is no longer a guarantee that ‘a time will come.’ This is not me being fatalistic. It is an observation that ‘times are changing’ in wild, wide and crazy ways. Human endeavor is shedding past trappings. The worlds of ‘augmented and virtual reality’ have presented the human condition with surprise demands. And those unforeseen fickle demands could inalterably change our notions of value and thereby threaten the sacred outlines of a work’s legacy.
Remember now when you were eight months old and your father held you in the dark and comforted himself with confessed whispered secrets, plans he tossed on your arrival and your needs? It was impossible to cry your child cry as he cried. You watched and learned. The darkened small room assured that any regrets would wash.
Before computers in every home, men and women informed on themselves, this resulted in art and artistry – in music, writings, images etc. When social networking arrived this morphed and men and women informed on each other angrily, artistry fell off, false pastry abounded – now, disease entrenched and, with greatest difficulty, a few folk struggle to save that which informs. Though of less general interest, now is the time to relearn. Men and women must inform on themselves once again.
It is just possible that the somewhat inevitable accomplishments of mastery, accomplishment, of ultimate skill, of fluidity and fertility will no longer exist quite simply because there will be very few enlisted ones or volunteers to appreciate it all. But that is all in the unwritten future. Today we hold to our beloved farming, which means, in large part, holding to our families and friends – plant, animal, and human – holding to the secrets we whisper to ourselves…
End of the wolf story?
Fearing we may have lost cow and calf to wolves I drove along the road towards the house and was surprised to see that second calf heifer standing beneath a big Juniper tree, off a ways on the government ground. Walking that direction, I saw the prone form of her new calf. I was thrilled when it jumped up to attention at my approach. The heifer ‘lowed’ to me and to her calf. I left them there and went to the house to get Kristi and my rifle. We would have to herd the pair across the forest rangeland and back into the pasture and I suspected the wolf or wolves might be watching and waiting.
When we got back, and before we got into position, as if reassured by our presence, the mother and baby walked calmly back the eighth of a mile to the pasture gate. The calf was unharmed, no marks. The cow had striations along one back haunch and leg where the wolf had attempted to bring her down. She walked without difficulty. No blood present. We saw no wolves.
Today that heifer and her calf are doing famously. The mother is a pure hero in my eyes. And the wolf, alive I am sure to return another day, has a strained moment of humility to add to its dossier.
Recently I learned from a local hunter that one of the wolves regularly crossing our lands is heavy with pups. (yikes?) He also informed me that the resident herd of elk seem to have moved a long ways off as have the coyote populations. (temporary?) And that has brought us imbalance as well as relief because now we have a troublesome swarm of ground squirrels, and perhaps a chance at a full season of hay. And there are welcome, surprising snatches of beauty. In the pond by our house we now have resident a Great Blue Heron, a family of Canadian geese, and two families of wild Mallards. This morning we watch with glee as one mother duck leads her seven healthy ducklings on a grazing waddle across the rain moistened grass adjacent to our front yard. Threats, promise, balance and observation. I am very glad to be able to hold the memories of all this even if only for a short while.
Life and death need to be in the presence of God and Nature. Truthes are in nature, plants, animals, microbes, acids, water, fat birds, shaded cows, helplessness, wind, climate, blood and dreams – all of it nature. There is foreboding for what’s to come. Much of the country hot. Clear heads are needed, paths must be planned. Humanity seems in full self-destruct mode.
‘Help,’ he said.
‘Why bother?’ she said.
‘Because our memories are at stake.’
If we lose our collective memories we lose everything. Our ‘genetic’ memory lends us both caution and comfort from which life’s bounce allows we contribute to the expansion of all memory. My new word for genetic memory is ‘protoscopic,’ as in the combined essentials of beginnings. Not those beginnings back there, I mean the ones we have yet to encounter, up ahead.
Turning the incubating eggs and watching the humidity, walking bent as you watch for sign in the road dirt, timing your moves to gently coax thousands of bees to a new home, counting the herd, planting the seeds, repairing the fences, watering the plants, watching for the prices to go up, watching for them to go down, feeding the orphaned calves, so much to do… It leaves you breathless, exhausted.
Farming, as with love, should leave you breathless. Sitting tired on the edge of the feed sled to measure the close of day. When the dusk-calm starts its slide to darkness; after the day’s wind, lightning and torrential rains, our pond frogs hold the last light of day hostage by the textured force of their odd syncopated pan-scrapping calls – shaming insects to silence, enticing the heron. Our dogs bark their ‘I know you’re out there’ warnings to sneaky predators, Everything is bathed in that cool falling temperature’s splendid silence. It absorbs the frog and last bird calls and the separation of the layers, silence here – rhythm there, say neither nor. It’s all comfort, and fright and patterns framed by air and the push of roots up through the mend. All the failed religions of the world had opportunity to guide us to these ways but they traded them for the tithe. It is for the old farmers and young gods to beseech; give us this confusion, glory and softening powder that we may never loosen grip of this love of life and our stolen treasured rides, that we never come to completely understand, that we never lose grip of these seedbeds and that rooted mend. LRM
“To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.” – Barry Lopez