Sunday, September 20, 2015

Still a Farm

When we pulled into town Friday night and saw the lights of the Navajo County Fair, I was so excited, and I immediately was thinking of the photos I'd take so I could share all about how we'd come up to the farm for our county fair/ birthday week tradition, complete with kids getting ride wristbands from Grandma and Grandpa, the legendary Jose's Green Chile fries, Open Class Exhibits (more on that soon) and lots of run ins with friends and family.

Only, when I thought about saying we were up at the farm, all the excitement deflated in a whoosh when I had the stray, unwelcome thought, "Should I really call it a farm anymore when there is no life left there?"  No chickens. No ducks. No farm dogs or barn kittens. No turkeys. No pigs. No Gertie the Goat banging on the door or munching fall leaves.

The thought made me a little forlorn and brought a mix of emotions I decided not to try to sort through right then and there. I pushed this sad little question aside and determined to reclaim my joy for being at our other home, and quickly regained my excitement about the fair, where I knew in just minutes I'd see my sister and my Sweet Ell.

The fair delivered, as it always, always does, and after a late night of canasta with Mom, Dad and Mike (during which Mom and I WIPED THE FLOOR with Dad and Mike...), Mike and I came out to our place and stayed the night in his Mom's camper behind our house. (Have I told you we're pre-remodel in the house itself, so it's full of redwood planks, piles of stone tile, and new windows stacked everywhere? Not a bed in sight.)


I woke up early this morning and while Mike slumbered, Sadie and I went outside to start watering the trees and rose bushes that we're trying to keep growing by watering every couple weeks when we come to the property. (Low-tech auto watering systems are high on the project list, but not yet conquered.) Thank heavens it was a particularly rainy summer up here, which helped keep things alive when our absences stretched weeks apart.

As I looked at our weed covered property while I was moving the water, I thought again about that mood dampening thought I'd had about whether this is really a farm anymore. By my production farmer and rancher friends' measures, no way. Adam's dad, John, is now married to a wonderful girl who is the daughter of a true-blue Minnesota farmer with many, many acres of verdant farms. John enjoys my writing about our farm antics, but one day laughed as he told me, "What you call farming, we call gardening."  And he said that when we still lived here and we still had chickens! AND ducks!!

I laughed along, though, because I knew he was right. By many standards, this isn't a true blue farm. Still, this is our tiny farm, and I've been happy to call it that all these years. The thing is, though, if there aren't any critters or gardens growing here right now, what about it? Is it a farm or not?

As I continued to think about it, I moved the water from the globe willows to the apple tree, then Sadie and I strolled down the lane to the chicken coop so I could check whether we had plenty of straw and old poo to throw on the garden bed since it's preparing to slumber for the fall and winter.

And I looked down to watch my step and saw this.

Look closely.

Do you see them?  Those are somebody's prints in our lane.

A sure sign that something living has been wandering the place since the last rain.

Then I looked closer, and saw these. A smaller critter than the first -- a racoon? a porcupine?

Then there are these.

These tire tracks are from the farmers who drive back and forth on our lane to their well, which is right behind our property. They park behind our barn to tend the alfalfa fields off the back and side of our land, too. We bought this little 3-acre slice of their land, which they hay around us. (Around here, "hay" is a verb as well as a noun.)   Those farmers moving on and around are property -- they are life.

Next to the tire tracks are Sadie prints.

Hey there, Sadie.

A few seconds before she sat for me, I saw her over at the corner of the summer kitchen, alertly investigating the spot where once there was a monster bee hive, dripping with honey, and where occasionally, traveling bees pop in to hang out for awhile.

Bees qualify as life. Heck, bees ARE life, in so many ways -- their value to our living systems can't begin to be overstated.

I stopped in my tracks about this time; just pulled up still, held my breath, and listened.

I heard the grasshoppers rustling the grasses and chirping; the birds perched on the power lines and outbuildings singing my favorite morning songs; the lizard scampering across the tin panel by the shed, and the pigeons cooing atop the weathered grey barn.

I thought about the very act I was engaged in -- I was pulling water from our deep, cold well to water peach trees, almond trees, an apple tree, globe willows and mulberries. The towering poplars are drinking from the puddles surrounding the rose bushes.  And that well? When Mike went down the stairs into the well house, which doubles as a cool, damp cellar, he encountered a very startled tan and white rat. The fat fella had brought in fresh alfalfa from the field and made a nest on one of the shelves that used to be heavy with canned goods preserved, no doubt, by the woman whose husband farmed this land long before we bought this place.

I don't have to water the grapes winding along the fence line or the overgrown asparagus patch, because the water from the hay farmers keep these remnants from the previous owners growing wild. The lilac bush is nurtured on the fence line, too, and the runoff from summer rains have kept the honeysuckle bush under Adam's window green and strong.

I turn from the honeysuckle and see this. A "mano y metate" -- ancient grinding stones, used hundreds and thousands of years ago by Native Americans to grind corn and grain to sustain life. The side of the small stone you see is smooth and flat, from the years and years it was gripped by Native women making food for their families, firmly pressing hard kernels into the flecked, hard surface of the stone basin below. These prehistoric tools were here when we bought this place -- I don't know if the previous owners found them on this land or while out herding their cattle on the surrounding high desert prairie.

As I looked around me again, I came to a realization. This place may be temporarily missing goats and chickens, turkeys and ducks, pigs and barn kittens; and we may no longer live here full time. But we return often to nurture the life that is still here, with dreams of returning for good some day, when we'll delight in our grandchildren and great grandchildren who will tumble out of the just-opened doors of their parent's SUVs, racing to find their favorite kitty, or check the chickens' nests for eggs, or grab a handful of straw to offer to nervous goat kids. They'll toss a distracted, "Hi, Grandma!" over their shoulders as they disappear around the side of the house. We'll find them later, hidden under their grape arbor forts, munching an apple they stole from the tree as they ran past, and picking up where they left off with their interior design projects of the last trip.

Their last trip to Grandma and Grandpa Walker's farm.

Because this IS still a farm.

There is still life here.

I am still here.

And forever will be.

Overflowing with love from the farm,

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