ravens in the corn
It was all in vain. The ride home was like driving in an Edward Hicks painting. Gibson curled up in the front seat, exhausted from his lesson. He was sleeping like a babe of Eden. The ram lamb bleated here and there, but generally resigned to his lot as cargo and laid down. (I would find out later he was "calmly" filling the dog crate with liquid feces, but that's another story for another day). With my back to the crate, my dog at my side, I was in a blissful state. My new-to-me truck was chugging through the Green Mountains like a champ and I was almost home. Just a few hours prior to crossing the Washington County line my business-partner-in-training had moved from the round pen to the high field and was starting to show real progress. I had come out of lambing and was now focused on summer projects. I had a rabbitry to start, a cart pony to train and outfit, turkeys to raise, and now I was driving home with next season's sire. He was a beautiful boy. I carried him in my arms to the truck myself from Denise's farm—a young Blackface ram. He's the breed I chose amongst all others to feed and clothe me. I named him Atlas, because a new ram is a sheep farm's whole world while he thrives. New blood, new lambs, new hope and all of it tangled next to my chest as I loaded him into the truck. Two hearts separated by wool, skin, cloth, and blood.
Picking up the spring lamb that would, in turn, become the fall ram was a new thing for this particular farm. New, but instantly ritualistic. It was one of those things you do as a new farmer and immediately understand you're taking part in the first of endless annual occurrences just like it. You are nostalgic in the present moment, (which I think, might be the closest to enlightenment this girl will ever get). My first Shearing Day was like this too. As was my first apple cider pressing, lambing season, and that first spring hatchery order years ago in Idaho. They are holidays, you see.
Holy is the proper word, too.
I am not a religious person, though I respect and appreciate what religion is. It's a way to live, and something to live up to. It's a year marked with observances and festivals that—if celebrated earnestly—make us understand the world better and our place in it. As a child my holidays were full of magic and great import. As I grew older I lost that. Holidays became Hallmark and faded back into numbers on calendar. Soon after, religion and I parted ways. We still meet up for coffee on occasion, but it’s a platonic conversation. No commitments from either side.
But farming is changing this. My life is entirely about commitment now, and I find myself praying more than ever before in my life, mostly out of sheer gratitude for my land and the air in my lungs. My prayers aren't to anyone in particular, but they are constant and honest. I have a lot of Evangelical friends and sometimes I sit down with the Bible. Other times it's the words of teachers and writers wise enough to crack the farm house's foundation. I make more time to meditate now, and read through the sutras that make my head sing with good things. The Heart Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra, which has a line I want engraved someday on my tombstone if I ever get a say in such things.
Thus shall you think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
So the farm is bringing out a more spiritual side, and it's varied and happy. This life of soil and lanolin is my choice and my dream and it makes its own holidays. My year is now marked in new ways now. It is marked with days novel to me, but timeless to the human animal: Planting, Breeding, Shearing, Canning, Lambing, Harvest, Honey Extraction... the list goes on and on. Most of these holidays are casual observances. You don’t need to dress up, but you do need to be mindful. There’s a good reason shepherding holidays fall in the order they do, and each one is just a part of the annual cycle that is ewe and ram, fleece and lamb. Care of the flock breaks up my year now the way old school and church holidays did, and I find myself as wound up and restless before Shearing Day as I was as a child waiting for Santa. The next day brings something magical, something traditional, something tangibly wonderful and a part of me and endless people before me. What a thing. What a thing to relearn again. At nearly 30-years-old I feel like an authentic string of traditions as old as fire and song are wafting back to me again. I need to learn all the particulars, but I have a lifetime to do it in, and if I'm lucky that's a few more years of cider and wool, eggs and piglets. What more dare I ask for?
And you know what's truly beautiful about these agricultural holidays? They belong to everyone. Regardless of your creed, race, age, gender, location, wealth, or sexual orientation, hell species: we are all united in the Great Religion of Food. We all need it to survive and if it wasn’t for grocery stores, we would all be ordained instead of lapsed practitioners. Which is exactly what we are because just a few generations back your family probably grew (or personally knew the farmer) who raised the food you ate. We once knew how to eat in season, how to cook dinner, how to string up a bean vine, shell peas, and dress a Thanksgiving turkey. Our children were not scared of dead pigs, but clapped their hands under the hanging hogs. Because they liked bacon, and because they weren't shielded from the whole story as if it was a favor. I want to go home to that mind that sees the world as a hundred pieces of one life, complicated and forever, like the growing season.
All this time I thought I was becoming a farmer, but the farm is becoming me. It turns out I'm a seminarian here. A little monk on a little piece of land learning how to not mess it up, over and over. It makes me glad.
P.S. If you read this post thinking I am replacing religion with agriculture, then you have it all wrong. Farming isn't a path that drives me away from faith. It is a way to cultivate it all over again, and maybe someday find it amongst the ravens in the corn. Maybe not. Like said, there's not commitment here. Just a lot of observation.
But we can still meet for coffee.