Today was the first hard frost of the season and my first Tuesday not at the farm.
It’s hard to believe that an entire season flew by so fast… it seems like just a moment ago I was kneeling in the mud, planting the first brassicas of the season, and in a flash there I was: cleaning out the fields, tucking in garlic and cover crops, and wishing them well. In the middle I carried a lot of tomatoes and picked more beans than I care to recall. I sowed seeds, and sometimes they grew. I weeded in June and then ran past the weeds in July, pretending I couldn’t see them. I moved slowly and awkwardly, made clumsy by new tasks in spring, wrestled with sprinklers and heavy totes all summer, and my hands froze during the fall’s early morning harvests. I learned how to move row cover and drip tape by myself, how to work my way down the transplant line with efficiency, to always carry a knife, and how to walk the fields first thing each day so I knew what needed to be done.
I grew alongside all of the crops that I seeded and transplanted this year. My arms thickened with muscle once again, and my work pants loosened as I shed the remains of last year’s cubicle weight. My back was defined by carrying produce and stooping to tend living things, rather than the anemic curve of sitting at a computer desk. You know it when you hug a farmer: that back is strong and rooted as a post. There’s no mistaking it.
I think that it’s safe to say this season changed me a lot. Or perhaps, it didn’t change me at all–it’s hard to say. But it solidified something deep inside that I had an inkling was there, but was too afraid to admit. Does that ever happen to you? There’s this little voice inside of you trying to speak the truth, but you ignore it–you push it down every time it pipes up, play deaf, because you don’t quite know what to do with what you know it would come out and say. I have trouble admitting to myself when I know exactly what I want in life. I have a friend who lives right in the middle of that (scary) certainty, and I admire her deeply for it. For me, certainty is rare, and when it arrives it comes with a force that knocks me back a step. It throws me for a loop every time.
I knew it for a fact when I drove away from the farm on my last day. I kept the tears in until I was out of the driveway, but then they came. And it was a special kind of cry–a few tears, but mostly a chest so tight it was fit to burst, so tight there wasn’t room for breath. Tears, yes, but not of pain, or joy, or even relief. I’ve only felt it once before, and that was the day that I realized I was in love with E. You know when it’s a big deal. You know when it’s certainty.
I am a farmer. I am a farmer. I was made to be a farmer.
I’ve been carrying this around inside of me like a mantra for the past few days (months, really; years, if you count all the times I’ve shoved it down inside). Repeating it to myself. Rolling it around inside and seeing how it feels. Whispering it to myself, writing it in my journal over and over again.
Some friends and loved ones who are reading this will likely be mildly amused: how many times have you reminded me how often I said, “I kind of want to be a farmer,” or “I really wish I could find a farm job”? Well, I heard you. But I also didn’t. I have a lot of trouble getting past myself, and just admitting it. “Beth, obviously you want to farm. Probably you should embrace it and get on with it.” It doesn’t really matter how much you or I say it, it seems to be something that I have to experience in a deeply visceral way. I have to try other things, wiggle around uncomfortably, pretend I could do this or that instead, and then learn the exhaustion of not doing what you really want to be doing. And then have a small moment of bravery. And then fall in love. And then experience this kind of bone-shattering clarity. Can’t hide from it anymore: it’s out there in the open. Undeniable and fully formed and utterly absorbing.
I read an article recently about the “sixth sense;” that part of ourselves that taps us on the shoulder, and always tells the truth. In Jewish mysticism, it is called the Certainty Principle. (You can read the article here, if you’re interested.) While it sounds new-agey (old-agey?) and mumbo-jumboey, I think there is undeniable truth in it. I’ve experienced it and know that when it arrives, it’s undeniable. Sometimes there’s certainty, and from that moment on you are living in a new reality.
So, I want to be a farmer. And can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
It’s scary, knowing what you want. And also knowing that if you can’t find a way to do it, you’ll be always a little sad inside. I think that’s really where the root of my fear is: knowing that I’m facing this challenge and that my happiness hangs in the balance. (This sounds so melodramatic typing it out, but I’m going with it.) It doesn’t help that I’ve found a calling that makes it incredibly difficult to make a decent living, have health insurance, save for retirement, not be a broken-down cripple at 50, and on and on. That I will have to work hard, with my body, mind, and heart, every day of my life, to make it happen. It’s scary. But at the same time, I’m willing.
I love the work. I love using my body every day, to create something that will nourish myself and others. I love that walking over the land will be my form of “pounding the pavement.” And I know that I can figure it out. I just need time to try, to gather experience, to fail and try again. To learn the parts of it that I don’t know at all (bookkeeping, record keeping, crop planning, marketing, taxes, starting & running a business, dealing with dissatisfied customers, actually making money farming, healing sick animals, dealing with crop failures, etc etc). And time to get better at the parts I’m familiar with. More practice.
Keep me accountable won’t you? And let me know I’m doing a good job now and then? Thanks in advance. I know I’ll need it. (And if ever I can return the favor, you know you can call.)