Last night I started reading a borrowed advance copy of the Greenhorns Farmers Almanac, and I had to make myself stop before last night turned into this morning.
A young mother prepares for the farmers market before her small children wake in the morning. A young wife cans tomatoes while her husband harvests them, and she feels uncomfortable and exultant at her tendency to wind up in the kitchen. A father pulls an early, slender carrot out of the ground, cleans it on wet grass and gives it to his son to eat.
They are tired and stubborn and determined. And they have put into words between them the feeling of an early morning mucking out the sheep pen and slipping out for a deep breath of chamomile — the certainty I feel in my grandparents’ farmyard — in a way I’ve never read before.
The certainty is that this place is part of me. It brings with it the fear, so large that it’s hard to see, that this place is tough to keep.
So I want to share the farm. I want to give you the late evening light on the fields, the feel of the horse under you drifting down the hill along the stone wall, the low calling of cows at feeding time, the feel of the plastic guard around the wire handle of a bucket full of water.
I want to give you a summer afternoon when my family is there, with a cousin for a bonus, and we have a wagon of square hay bales to get into the barn. Smell the cut timothy and alfalfa as you walk over the hill and up the dirt driveway. The farm dogs loll over to greet you.
Join us in the big barn.
We have almost all the new clapboard siding on by now. Scramble up the tiers of stacked hay as high as the first timber beams. My dad in the hay wagon flings the bales over the side.
Jim, the farm manager, slings up a bale in each hand and tosses them casually one story up to the top of the stack. A hay bale weighs about 35 pounds; when I pick one up two-handed to swing it a few feet over, I tend to swing myself along with it.
After two hours I am sweating and plastered with hayseed, sore from the bailing twine gripped through gloves, and glowing. We have emptied the first wagon. Jim hitches the empty wagon behind the bailer and heads out for the next load.
I have worked on the farm two summers. But I have never had to be out 14 hours a day for three or four months to get in the hay. I’m more likely to work that kind of day in the summers now, getting in the page layouts. I was talking with a college friend who was managing a CSA in Pioneer Valley, and we realized we have the same seasonal rhythm of work.
A couple of weeks ago, I ran into a friend of hers. He told me he had passed Kristen’s house one evening in February and seen her washing spinach leaves under a cold outdoor tap to take them to the farmers market in Northampton.
He called out a greeting and asked how her day was going.
She grinned and called back, “This is great!”