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Farm Notes – With time at hand

It was sometime in late October when we caught up on regular farm work and, finally, had time to attack those low-urgency projects that never seem to rise up from the basement of the to-do list.

Handyman Simon built three sheep mineral boxes and two single-bale feeders that we use for rams and donkeys. Instead of moving mineral boxes and feeders from field to field every time we moved livestock we now have enough for all fields. Simon also installed translucent plexiglass on the pig barns. I had bought the sheets, used, over a year ago and never found time to get them installed. Now the barns are draft-free yet have a lovely natural light that is both pleasant to work in and, I can only imagine, a joy for the pigs.

James and Rob, farmhands that we share with another farm, have had time for work other than what is necessary to keep the things going. James is building a bunker to keep wood shavings dry. Rob moved the tool shelves in one of the barns and did a lot of valuable throwing out in the process.

Rocks have been picked off fields, brush piles burned, fences mended, metal trucked to the scrap yard, boards de-nailed and stacked, flashlights re-powered.

None of these projects are critical in and of themselves but they are a measure of our farm’s progress.

I like to think it was a form of farm progress the other evening when I reached high onto the bookshelf and fetched my worn copy of David Grayson’s, The Countryman’s Year. Poetic, notional and celebratory about all things rural, The Countryman’s Year is to farm writing what Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater is to The Hockey News, or what the movie Field of Dreams is to a documentary about baseball salaries.

Many older readers of this magazine will already be acquainted with Grayson; his story, in Tweetform: pen name for Ray Stannard Baker, who when not writing extensive, serious biographies of US President Woodrow Wilson, crafted a number of thought-provoking books on joys of living in the country.

How he wrote so positively and so well for so long still flummoxes me.

My copy of The Countryman’s Year was warm from being filed high to the ceiling where heat from our woodstove rises. I flipped it open to read this passage:

“Lifting off thought after thought I know well where my joy is: in things still and scenes quiet, in days like these in May in our own valley, in my bees, in my orchard, in the thrushes and catbirds I hear singing, in the flash of a bluebird’s wing. These I love: these quiet my soul.”

How wonderfully different from reading about barley prices, or the latest in group sow housing techniques! Those things are the equivalent to what keeps the farm running day to day, but the likes of Grayson remind us of other farm work too—the need to celebrate the seasons, births, deaths, the smell of soil.

And this: “One takes out of life only what one puts into it in imagination.”

There is for me twofold pleasure in reading this—the thought expressed, definitely worthy of reflection as I go around and around fields with the tractor next spring, and the equally warming thought that someone had the courage to speak so forthrightly.

Is it Grayson-esque to ponder why we default in thinking and conversations to problem solving—be it with a truck engine, marriage, or poor farrowing rates—and not celebrate life more often? For now, with the daily pressures of the farm off us, the warmth of the wood stove on our feet, the answer is yes, yes, yes. Thanks to the likes of Grayson, we’ll think warm thoughts, happily, as deeply as we can, with the long knowledge that busyness will soon enough overtake us.