Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Grace of Heavy Snow

There are, of course, occasional "special assessments" charged against this lifestyle.  Not that that can't happen anywhere I suppose, but elsewhere they generally fall into the category of "emergency repair or replacement." 
A leaky roof.
A cold hot water heater.
A spent furnace.
A ruptured pipe.
Here they are the presumptive, albeit unpredictable labors of remote and relatively self-contained living.  Like snow removal.  Two years ago, as but one household among a couple of dozen in our townhome association my only winter exertion was complaining when the hired road and sidewalk crew didn't arrive as early as I wanted them to.  That, and an occasional hike up the entrance road when my car couldn't find the traction to best the icy incline and had to be parked down below.  Now five miles out of town on county roads, the last third unpaved, I am that crew -- with no one to complain about but myself. 

But we prepared.  A large hydraulic snowblower attachment replaces the lawn tractor's mowing deck in the winter, and we have gradually accumulated appropriate shovels and pushers, along with the thermal outerwear to encase us while using them.  And I'll admit that at 5:30 a.m. I had other things on my mind than snow removal -- especially since I had just accomplished it all pretty thoroughly yesterday.  As it turned out, however, yesterday's 7-inch snow was only the beginning, never mind the alluring pause that seduced me into thinking the storm had passed.  The early hour notwithstanding, Lori needed to get to work, and though I had no influence on county plows that would be needed on the longer stretches of road, the driveway was in my job description.  And the front porch and sidewalk -- 3 separate times now by this point in the day.  

Strangely, however, I don't mind the effort.  There is something almost meditative about the throbbing engine, maneuvering the tractor through the accumulated layers, aiming the plume of snow in harmless directions and mechanically painting a clearing through which the cars can pass.  The hand tools leave a clear record of accomplished good.  More importantly, after more than a year of drought I look at the snow as a gift to celebrate rather than a hassle to curse.  Though the experts in such matters caution that it will be almost impossible to fully recover moisture levels by summer, I figure every little bit helps.  In the same way that hog farmers sniff the stench and report that it "smells like money," I look at these 12-14 inches of snow and observe that "it looks like irrigation." 

The sky is brightening, and nothing seems to be falling.  The storm seems to have passed, though I've left the shovels on the front porch just in case I've been deceived again.  It's true that my muscles are hoping they won't be needed for awhile, but I feel a certain melancholy about the calm.  It's nice to be "dug out," and the road crews deserve a chance to catch up and then take a break.  But there has been something profoundly gratifying about this price I get to pay for the deep privilege of living here. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Blessing Prayer of Evening

As of today it has officially begun.  Fully a week earlier than last year I began to sow the seeds of summer.  Yes, the move is partly impatience.  The packets of seeds, ordered and delivered weeks ago, were indeed burning a hole in my closet where I had secreted them away out of Tir's canine reach.  I was anxious to get started.  But there is more to the progress than that.  Backing up from my anticipated garden opening in early-to-mid May, several of the seeds prefer that much time in the greenhouse.  Additionally, I intend to be smarter about staging the transplanting over a period of weeks to spread any hypothetical harvest.  All that, and those that are truly on the early side will have enough time to germinate and show themselves with adequate time remaining for replanting those that prove to be only shooting blanks.

There was, of course, more to it than simply dirt.  First there had to be electricity reconceived after a year's disassembly.  There are warming lights to power beneath the trays, and growing lights suspended above.  The former need to always be on, while the latter need a timer's intervention.  The heater went back in at least for these early weeks, and it needs it own electrical consideration.  Engineering is not my forte, but tonight's gala premier inspection evidenced a successful installation until it all blows a fuse.

After heating the barn, setting up work tables and organizing the packets by timing I tore open the first bag of compost and scooped full the trays.  Finally, with a deep breath and a steady hand, I nestled the tiny portents of life into their temporary home and shuttled the filled cells next door and onto the greenhouse shelves.

I wouldn't presume to know the silent broodings of a woman when she first confirms that she's pregnant, but I suspect there are both giddy anticipations and wordless fears -- of all that flourish and all that could endanger beyond the opaque curtain of that which is to be for this that is still barely more than a seed.  And I wouldn't presume to equate those stirrings of natal life with composted tomato seeds.  But, still, as I checked the lights and misted the surfaces and cast an evening's final glance along the shelves, it was a prayer that spontaneously rose as the door latched behind me.

An invocation of sorts.

A blessing prayer for nourishment, safety and, yes, growth.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Fence's Centering Grace

By this time of winter the fencing around the garden is looking pretty tired.  I made the decision to leave it in place after putting the trenches to bed for the season, figuring "what the heck." That may have been a mistake.  After a winter's worth of north winds and drifting snow it is looking pretty weary with its leaning stakes and slackened mesh.  Springtime, in other words, will involve more than just planting.  Straightening and tensioning will require their due.

Still, I am glad I left it in place.  Absent that visual circumference, the garden would have disappeared into the snow-covered prairie; merging with the expanses of tall grass laid down by the burdens of the cold.  I like glancing out the window and tracing with my eyes that demarcation anchoring our lives in this place and beckoning us forward toward the coming season's next lessons in the classroom of growing food.  Set apart out there is the reason we came.  I recall the packets of seeds already arrived and waiting their turn in this great and wondrous horticultural dance.  I note the apprehension lingering just below my consciousness, whether last year's asparagus plants and berry bushes survived the heat and the drought to emerge stronger into this season's offering, whether the fruit trees, barely adolescent, will produce a crop, and whether my soil preparations last fall will make a difference.

The days are growing longer -- the sun flexing its muscles toward spring and warming up for the marathon of summer.  Seeding time is nearing as attention shortly turns to the greenhouse and its fragile incubation.  The compost has long since been ordered and delivered, and the seed trays are restless to be filled.  A new cultivating tool is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.  The layout is designed online and awaiting its actualization.  Already my psyche wanders about italicized, leaning forward toward the tilling and the tending.  But the days are not here just yet.  Last night fell six inches of snow with more predicted in the coming days.  A crystalline white blanket "shushes" the acres into quietness, reminding them -- and me -- that winter has not finished with us yet.

But over the whiteness the sagging fence line whispers, in tones I perhaps only imagine that I hear, that it won't be all that long before squash is on the vine, beans are on the bush, and roots, deeply reaching, are drinking in all the goodness they can find.

So let it snow.  The fence will keep me centered.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Looking, and Being Willing to See

It is owing to our limitations that a thing appears to us as single and separate when in truth it is not a separate thing at all. -- Rudolf Steiner
It's hard to say at this point if the inexorable reductionism of scientific inquiry has warped us this way, or the cultural mythology of "rugged individualism" that is the water we swim in.  Regardless, here we drift along in the current of this delusion of autonomy.

Seeing ourselves as separate.

Seeing all things as disconnected.

And pretending that it is somehow noble and good.

But it is delusion.  Just because a baby holds his hand across his eyes to obscure the field of vision doesn't mean his mother isn't present only inches away.  And just because I can't -- or won't -- see the connections weaving all of creation into interdependence doesn't mean those very real connections aren't at work. 

Steiner, writing and studying in Germany in the early 1920's and often called the "Father of Bio-Dynamics", advocated a system of farming that is spiritual-ethical-ecological.  Preparing, planting and tending honor and seek to maintain a "diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself," incorporating preparations "made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm and to enhance the nutrition, quality and flavor of the food being raised" (Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association). These seemingly quirky preparations, coupled with the fact that bio-dynamic practices follow the phases of the moon, helps explain why the method is often dismissed as so much "voodoo."  But no one accuses the ocean of witchcraft because currents and waves are influenced by the moon.  Why should plant fluids moving up and down the stem be exempt? 

 Or the beneficial fungal and bacterial activity feeding roots in healthy soils?

Or the pollinating assistance of bees?

Or the leaf's capacity to convert sunlight to energy?

Or the human body's ability to convert a pea or a tomato or a carrot or a beat into nourishment?

And that's just in the garden and the gut.  Who can imagine the connections that are pulsing through a healthy community, whether we can see them or not? 

And who can fathom the desolation when such interconnections are severed by our self-righteous offerings laid at the altar of individualism?  I may not yet be up to the discipline of practicing this method of farming, but there is hope that I might deepen my capacity to practice this method of living.

Might we eventually learn that uniqueness and connectedness are not enemies, but essential and reinforcing blessings within the phenomena of grace -- and the resilience of such a web is a gift rather than a burden?

Perhaps this day I might lower my hand long enough to see one more expression of the connectedness that was gloriously present all along.