Fire and Farm Dreams
I’ve been having some pretty unpleasant farm dreams this spring. In the first, prepping for a planting of some sort, I found we were out of compost – a situation that was somehow my own fault – and deeply dreaded the admission of this reality to my colleagues. The angst of my dream reaction was a bit out of touch, but the scenario itself was quite close to our reality. The second involved angry correspondence from CSA members about the relative lateness of our start date (June 30); again, a pretty realistic scenario. The third involved troubled, fitful sleep as a brash wind blew in our bedroom window, and my semi-conscious mind imagined plots of carrots wracked by the winds. While carrots are an unlikely culprit, the real whipping wind has done us few favors this spring, and the carrots were probably supplanted from my day of weeding.
Thursday morning, back in the physical world, I made a round through our fields, applying a fermented plant juice concoction to some of our plots. Usually optimistic regarding the experimental trials with natural farming sprays, it all seemed terribly futile, and all I saw were issues. Quack grass invading a field of cukes and kohlrabi; squash beetles decimating the weaker of our latest winter squash planting, and yellowing cucumbers stressed from winds and harsh sun. Weeds, weeds, weeds; with a number of big plantings yet to go. Beautiful though the morning was, my mind remained in a dark fugue.
I was wrapping up my round by the hoophouses, wherein Danny was trellising and pruning tomatoes. I heard Ed yell from the barn area, and glanced up. In the workshop, our pull cart, full of cardboard, was immersed in flames. Ed scuttled frantically about. “Danny, let’s go!!” I shouted, as I broke into a run. “The workshop is on fire!!”
It was. Ed pulled the rolling-flamed cart from the flammable workshop; Danny and I ran buckets, and doused the flames taking over the tabletop space near the door. The first round took care of most of the active flames, and the second squelched the last of the smoldering coals. We gathered in the smoky workshop in disbelief. Outside, charred bits of cardboard blew hauntingly in the morning breeze.
The culprit, it seemed, had been a bag of local grass seeds that Asher had saved. Light, fluffy, and highly flammable, we think a glass lemon juice bottle had been sitting in front of the seeds, and magnified the powerfully direct morning sun, heating the seeds to a point of combustion. Under the table, a couple buckets of cover crop seeds had melted into a nasty plastic stew, and we’d lost bags of radish and carrot seeds. I agreed to clean up the mess, while the rest of the crew prepped for a large melon planting.
What an omen. Darkly, I scraped the nasty remains of what had been a ceramic bowl of couscous salad into a wheelbarrow. The bottom of the bowl had melted fully to the table. My fabric bag of belongings and snacks, including a wonderful rich Bundt cake from Fanni, had charred. The gravel ground was a mess of seeds and plastic. Where I’d been anxious before, I was now completely haunted – my mentality blackened along with my belongings. I completed the cleanup, and joined my colleagues in the field.
There, things started to change as we worked and talked. As we raked mulch from the plot, I noticed some areas of wonderful fungal life between straw and soil in the moist, rich environment we’d fostered a year prior when we’d lain the mulch. Surely if these microbes and mycellia were here working, all couldn’t be totally lost. The soil looked good. We pulled and removed a huge patch of quack grass that had been problematic since the beginnings of the plot, getting it out and feeding it to the grateful pigs. It was a gratifying task. Harrowing the heavy compost shallowly into the soil, I couldn’t help but feel a great deal of optimism for the environment and life of these melons. By lunch, the melons were watered in, and a second plot was prepped for cucumbers.
All throughout the day, our conversations returned disbelievingly to the fire. Was it actually an unlucky event, or an extremely fortunate one? What if Ed had been down by us? How many minutes before the situation would have been out of our control? Three? Five? Certainly no more than ten. By late afternoon, we’d finished weeding one plot and made good progress on a second. Slowly, people peeled off from the work day, until it was just Polly and I, engaging in pleasant conversation while we pulled grasses and lambs quarter from the mizuna and mustard greens.
At the end, I took one last, shoeless walk around the plots. Unable to resist, it turned into a childish, bouncing jog, as I joyfully mended the creaks from the day’s work. The melons and cucumbers looked happy. Our chard is going to crush it this year. Three full plots of carrots look fully germinated and relatively weed-free. Greens will be ready for harvest in a week. The final surprise, at the top of the hill, was the newly germinated potatoes, popping healthily and freshly through the soil. I looked down at the barn – fully intact. I looked down at the fields of vegetables in varying states of health and sickness. Nothing had changed, yet somehow so had everything. So much of everything; right at our fingertips, and yet so far out of our control.