As a child, I was often struck by my Grandpa’s ability to look back on a year or season from the distant past with striking memory and intimate familiarity; eyes twinkling as he time-traveled. “1971 was the year we had that big flood, ya know…” “We had that deep freeze in 1993; Grandma and I…” From there, he’d often apply this lived memory to the present — predicting how many days or weeks it would take the ground to thaw, or the fields to dry in the spring. At this early juncture in my farming life, I’m beginning to understand that Grandpa’s knowledge and memory stemmed from a vital and essential embodiment of the seasons — from decades living hand-in-hand with the brutal and beautiful forces of nature; married to the sun, wind and rain for better or worse.
Having observed many seasons from behind office, classroom or truck windows, I’m beginning to appreciate the difference between season observed and season lived, as our farming workflow and structure ebbs and flows with the sun. Both cerebral and physical in nature, this seasonal embodiment first entered my conscious recognition last fall. It was an onion harvesting day, and I slugged up and down the beds, willing my body to move faster, to no effect. It was evident we were all experiencing the same phenomenon as we spent the season trying – and failing – to wrap up our fall projects. This physical realization surprised me. What had happed to the days of mid-spring when we’d planted bed after bed of these onions at a stretch; when Dan McDougle and I broadforked fiendishly, side-by-side, for afternoons on end? What had become of my ceaseless strength, energy and motivation? The energy naturally given in spring was taken in fall, and the rushing tide slowed to a steady drip.
Come winter, the last of the droplets froze and we cozied up: ambling around in flannels, slippers and pajamas; eating heavy stews and sipping hot teas. We trekked to a remote Door County cabin to partake in some of the only activities available to us in the winter: planning and reflection. From there, satisfied with the rough outline of the active seasons to come, we retreated to our respective couches, books and blankets to complete the season of rejuvenation; hunkering down through pitch-black evenings and nose-nipping wind chills.
Endless though the winter appeared, spring is once again upon us, and the awakening is taking hold. Refreshed and rejuvenated, our young farming team has taken up the seasonal greenhouse and early field routine with a flow and understanding inaccessible to us in our first season together. We are worlds, it seems, ahead of ourselves last year; in no small part due to the weather. I now know, intimately, that 2018 was the year of the big April snow storm. We lost a hoophouse to that one. This season, however, is one of reconstruction, and Asher and I sat on the bed of the Gator on Monday evening, taking in our progress thus far. Two nearly constructed hoophouses stood side-by-side, impressively lining the road ditch: an unmistakable visual to the passerby that “these guys mean business.” On top of the hill, three fields rested covered in tarps for pre-planting occultation.
As we sat, a voice in my head urged me to keep moving. At the pace we were working, we could have had another two tarps down before twilight. It was overcome, however, by a voice of greater wisdom and memory; reminding me that the days of sunup to sundown work will come soon enough. And when they do we will be ready, so long as we trust the seasons and work accordingly.