Thursday, August 18, 2011

days of grace

My friend Paul used to run a dairy of considerable size here in the upper Hudson Valley. He sold the farm years ago, and has since scaled down to a single-family home in a genteel corner of Vermont. He may have retired from the life of Jersey cows and milking machines, but he still carries himself like a man who has land—moves through the day like at any moment a heifer could calf or a bale could be bucked.

His day job, like mine, is in a sanitized office. We work for the same company. Despite his proximity to toner cartridges and shiny professional title, he’ll never look at home in a conference room to me. No one does that knows more about tensile fencing than Excel databases. His circumstances have changed but the honesty’s the same.

Paul told me something one autumn afternoon that made me believe he never turned in his canvas for tweed. On a wet, depressing, post-foliage day in early November we were in a conference room waiting for a meeting to start. It was gray outside, the wind moving wet leaves around the precisely manicured lawn. He looked past the bleak weather on the other side of the windows and said with a nostalgic smile that these were the Days of Grace. I asked him what he meant by that?

He said the Days of Grace was what the farmers in our area called the time of year between fall’s fireworks and the first snowfall; a window of reverent preparation. The Days were filled with tasks like stacking cordwood and repairing tractors. Grain and hay were loaded in barns. The snow blower was oiled and ready to growl. Farmers who had sold their corn, composted over their vegetable fields, or had meat hanging in the walk-in had most of their work behind them. In a life that forces constant vigilance and resourcefulness, this was the time of year to finally relax. Weeds were long dead. Cash crops were sold. Wallets were fatter and mornings started a little later.

The Days of Grace were a holiday season, though you won’t find any cards at your local Hallmark store sporting greased cultivators whilst wishing you A Wicked Muzzloader Season. No, instead of twinkle lights and gift registries; the Days were a series of quiet thrills. Work completed, homestead prepared, hunkering-down may commence. The region takes on the calm veil of the shoulder season. And the initiated sigh. That secret sigh of their people.

This brick and soil holiday Paul spoke about suited me. It didn’t require belief in any particular verse, instead it demanded virtues I desperately wanted in my adult life: presence, belief, and devotion. Farming lit up and fueled a dim and hungry part of me. I was part of something again, a necessary tradition of growing food. Food is more than sustenance and recipes. It’s the one faith all humans belong too. When you wrap your life around the production instead of consumption, worlds open.

I wanted to be a part of these secret celebrations. I clamored for them. Hearing about them stirred painful cravings for the things I grew up with but no longer held onto: organized religion, the company of animals, and spending whole days outdoors instead of my relatively useless career spent in a swivel chair. If there was any doubt that I wanted to become a farmer, it melted away at that moment of conversation.

When November comes now, I sigh.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow and Amen. You speak to something that I truly feel. The work and strain of summer behind, the time to reflect and enjoy. Truly, fall is my favorite time of year!

August 18, 2011 at 9:27 PM  
Blogger beanyween said...

in the hottest summer I can remember in Georgia, thinking back to one of the coldest winters of 2011 (where I ran out of propane), the thought of those Days of Grace brings comfort and excitement!

August 18, 2011 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger onesilentwinter said...

beautiful thank you for sharing this conversation. there is so much to do before the first snow fall and freeze, although it is still summer i can not help but to think of the big list of preparing the farm for winter, my first winter here.

this reminded me of when everything is set, when the list will be short, when fire, books and soups will come more into play, the quieter days, at least i hope they will be.

August 18, 2011 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Beautiful--the subject matter inspires intense longing for that way of life, as always-- and your wordcraft does it justice. Beautifully stated, Jenna. Thank you for that brilliantly painted picture...

August 18, 2011 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger Dave Swank said...

Beautiful, this.

August 18, 2011 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Tiffany said...

It's already been said, but that was beautiful. I'm still stuck in the useless swivel chair, but spend my cubicle-contained days dreaming up ways to make something of my 30 California acres. Thanks for the regular inspiration.

August 19, 2011 at 1:14 AM  
Blogger Sassafras and Winterberry said...

You really are one helluva writer! That was pure poetry.

August 19, 2011 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

I love it when you write one of "these" posts. So inspiring and beautiful. And it makes me hate the swivel chair even more! Here's to fall!

August 19, 2011 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger daisy g said...

Sounds like a great title for a book. It almost makes me wanna live where it snows-almost!

August 19, 2011 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Chestnut Farm said...

Beautifully said, it's my favorite time of year and will now refer to it as the Days of the many past farmers in my life, thanks for sharing Jenna!

August 19, 2011 at 7:51 AM  
Blogger Diane Hannon Allman said...

Love this post!

August 19, 2011 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Intro to your next book? Why not? :)

August 19, 2011 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

I'd buy that card. Seriously, you should illustrate and print a line of "homestead holiday" greeting cards. First egg, hunting season, garden push week, lambing/kidding/ could work.

August 19, 2011 at 8:37 AM  
Blogger Pit Stop Farm said...

Amen. I also long for the day that this swivel chair is nothing but a distant dreadful memory, the day where I won't be surrounded by the truely depressing light gray walls of cubicles, where "water cooler" talk is actually meaningful and inspriring - not the usual office gossip, when having a hard day can be felt in your muscles and bones, when success can be measured by the height of the wood pile, the amount of frozen meat and canned vegetables. I want a commute that involves walking from my front porch to the barn, rather than witnessing the congested race between traffic lights fueled by some inexplicable need to arrive at ones destination 10 seconds prior to others. I want the smell of morning dew and outdoor animals to fill my senses, not this bizaar mix of toner, paper, and office furniture fumes. I want to feel connected to the earth beneath my feet, not so busy moving through life that I barely keep my feet planted long enough to make a foot print. This, I long for. I long so much that I ache.

Here's to the cool days of fall. I for one, am looking forward to the slower pace of life that comes with shorter days. Enjoy the warmth of the fire, the comfort of a soft couch, and the company of friends - both 2 and 4 leg varities.

August 19, 2011 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Flartus, I am workingon it!!!

August 19, 2011 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Just beautiful. Thanks Jenna, that was the perfect start to my weekend.

August 19, 2011 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Carol said...

Beautifully written, as usual. I too have had enough summer and I am looking forward to the shoulder season. Thank you again for sharing your writing magic!

August 19, 2011 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Big Sky Chicken Ranch and Victory Garden said...

(Big) SIGHHHHH.....Lovely. Thank you.....
Can't wait to get out of this damn swivel chair and stack some firewood!

August 19, 2011 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

"Homestead Holiday" greeting cards?
@Tara: you are brilliant.

and jenna - with your design sense, they would be AMAZING!!!!!

I love this idea!

August 19, 2011 at 3:04 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

Lovely piece Jenna. You rock!!

August 19, 2011 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger hart said...

It is a lovely post.--hart

August 19, 2011 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger Sewing Machine Girl said...

I know these days. You just made me cry.

August 19, 2011 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger mmgreenough said...

Beautiful, just beautiful. Thanks for sharing this!! I know exactly what you, and he, are talking about. Myself, I am looking forward to the "Days of Grace" more this year than ever before! We need some rest.

August 20, 2011 at 6:48 AM  
Blogger sash said...


August 20, 2011 at 7:53 AM  
Blogger The Provisioned Pantry said...

Love the beautiful image of Days of Grace! It would definitely make a great book title/chapter.
And @Tara, I was thinking the same thing about the cards! Jenna they would be a amazing both to send and to give as gifts.

August 20, 2011 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Donna Lovesthe Farm said...

Wow. I have tears in my eyes from this. I can feel the days of grace while reading.

August 20, 2011 at 11:48 PM  

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