My Grandma was a lover of poetry and when she died, she left me her collection. Books with names like “The Best Loved Poems of the American People” and “The 100 Greatest Poems” were mixed with Tennyson and Byron. She signed each of them, in the front cover, with her full name, in a beautiful flowing cursive that to this day makes me stop and sigh and breathe deeply from that well of memories. I loved her and she loved these books. I’ve read every poem in them, memorized a fair number of them, but never dared to make a mark, as if I were borrowing them for the weekend and she wanted them back tomorrow, in the same shape as when they left. What I wouldn’t give if that were the case. My favorite of the books, is a small red one, about the size of a Moleskine notebook. In the front, the editor prefaces the collection with a beautifully short assessment of modernity’s balancing act between efficiency and beauty.
“This is the age of science, of steel — of speed and the cement road. The age of of hard faces and hard highways. Science and steel demand the medium of prose. Speed requires only the look — the gesture. What need then, for poetry?
There are souls, in these noise-tired times, that turn aside into unfrequented lanes, where the deep woods have harbored the fragrances of many a blossoming season. Here the light, filtering through perfect forms, arranges itself in lovely patterns for those who perceive beauty.” -Roy J. Cook, Editor.
It’s been 10 months since the idea to return to the farm became something more than just a daydream during a boring class. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been long hours, a grueling pace, and more setbacks than I care to remember. There have been days, many more than I’d like to admit, where I’ve wanted nothing more than to quit and close this farming chapter of my life. Those days weren’t the worse. The worst is losing a calf. We lost one a few days after New Year’s. Her mother had died and she struggled on for a few more weeks. Eventually she got pneumonia and slipped away in my arms as I tried to feed her a bottle. We dug her hole by hand, there was nothing noble about it, the ground was too hard for the tractor. I had a sore back and she was gone.
In some respects I think it was the desire to avoid the “age of science” as the editor of that little red book puts it, that led me back to the farm. Farming is art far more than science, in the same way that life finds its meaning and its purpose in beauty and grace and love, far more than in reason and logic. Farming demands we slow down and wait. It rewards patience and commitment, prayer and hope. These lessons in the natural rhythm of things are expounded in the clearest ways possible and because they are ancient truths, they resonate deeply within us. There is something beautiful and deeply satisfying when we can see the culmination of the work of our hands at the end of the day, when our labors are rewarded with tangible reminders of our sacrifices.
It isn’t for everyone, and there’s no shame in that. It takes a poet’s soul, a tinkerer’s mind, and someone comfortable with calloused hands with dirt and who-knows-what-else under the fingernails, to give it an honest go. We read and watch movies to feel something, to be moved by life or death or some shade of these; yet out here, the rhythms of life and the broad spectrum of human emotion are played out everyday in the barnyard microcosm.
I returned to the farm for many reasons. Yet at the core of every reason, from escaping corporate America to driving a pickup truck all day (my childhood dream, no lie) at the root of them is to live and to feel. Its about understanding that for there to be life there must be death. Its my desire to feel that that little calf’s short life was worth something, and it’s that feeling of clarity and peace you feel after reading a particularly good poem, especially one from a little red book with your grandma’s name in the front. I returned to the the farm because I needed to slow down enough to see and appreciate “the light, filtering through perfect forms, arrange[ing] itself in lovely patterns” and I wanted and still desperately want, to believe that dust to dust isn’t the full arc of mans’ existence.
March 10th, 2014