Simple Pleasures

“One of the intangible legacies the Shakers left to the world is their demonstrations that it is possible for man to create the environment and the way of life he wants, if he wants it enough.  Man can choose. 

The shakers were practical idealists.  They did not dream vaguely of conditions they would like to see realized; they went to work to make these conditions an actuality.  They wasted no time in raging against competitive society, or in complaining bitterly that they had no power to change it; instead they built a domain of their own, where they could arrange their lives to their liking.”

–Marguerite Fellows Melcher from “The Shaker Venture”

On the agricultural calendar, this is perhaps the season that I love most.   It may seem somewhat counter intuitive when the ground is no longer willing to give, the vital greens are being bled to lifeless browns and if you’re a farmer in New England, you’re looking down the barrel of four months of snow.  But in the small scale gardening Dina and I do, I always look forward to the time when I can finally reclaim our yard from the long-struggling pumpkin vines or bag up the brittle carcasses of our tomatoes.  Pulling a cool dirt blanket over a year’s worth of success and failure feels like shaking up an etch-a-sketch and disappearing that terrible looking stick man you spent all summer trying to draw.

On Maggie’s Farm, it is looking like this year’s harvest was a pretty resounding success.  For each $625 CSA membership, early estimates show that our customers got about $800 worth of produce.  But we’re also atoning for some shortcomings.  Beets were a bust.  Grass vastly outpaced cultivating in the parsnips.  And so we mow it down, we turn it under and we will try to do better next year.  It is Yom Kippur in our dirt temple.

This week marks the final harvesting push.  Our fall crops – broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, turnips and parsnips – are still in the ground and love the cold nights we’re having.  In fact, carrots and parsnips come into their element at this time a year and get sweeter with each frost.  When the temperature dips below freezing, they flood themselves with sugars – a natural kind of antifreeze – to prevent their cell walls from bursting. So elegant.

In the one-acre garden where we grow much of the food for our farmhouse, we moved our rosemary inside (anything below 16 degrees will kill it), rebalanced our acidic New England soil with lime, forked in compost to give back some of the nutrients we harvested over the summer and blanketed bare beds thickly with sugar maple leaves while we wait for spring.

This week, I also fell in love with the simple satisfaction of cleaning garlic.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there is something mysteriously satisfying about our well-coordinated team carefully working to remove the bulbs’ dirt-crusted outer paper layers, trim the dried roots and inspect each beautiful compact head for quality – all while laughing our heads off along the way.   Maybe what I’m feeling is that all of us here in our own ways are working toward Shaker-ish visions of our own.  Mine is a work in process, but I think what was happening around our garlic table celebrated many of the essentials: strong community, simple pleasures, purposeful work and reverence for the natural order of things.  And we were amply rewarded for an afternoon’s work with 270 pounds of hardneck garlic for market and a quiet mind.

But, if the Zen of garlic cleaning was this week’s high, saying goodbye to my wife, Dina, for yet another week was my low.  It was our first weekend together on the farm, our first chance to try on this these farmer costumes together to see how they fit. It was a 36-hour whirlwind – figuring out how to move cows to new pasture, yoga class in the horse barn, milking Patience, cooking pumpkin and blueberry pancakes, collecting eggs, and trying to find a moment to ourselves under the warm autumn sun.  I have spent the last six years of my life not wanting to even see a movie without Dina by my side.  So the constant excitement and newness of this year has also come with the challenge of having to share it from the distant end of a crappy phone line.  Saying our goodbyes is an unfamiliar routine for us and it is something we’re still not very good at.

In addition to that, my body has also started to show some signs of abuse.  My burns, bruises and sore shins are probably par for the course, but it seems my growing sleep deficit may need some attention.   On Tuesday, I feel asleep at nine, and awoke the next morning to a disturbing story. A bit after I went to bed, a reminder alarm on my phone went off, waking everyone around but me. My classmate, Andrew, was worried so he knocked at my door. When I didn’t answer, he let himself in, found my lamp, crawled under my bed and turned off my still ringing alarm. I never budged.

It looks like it is going to be another beautiful (albeit unseasonable) week here in Athol, with garlic planting and forestry work ahead.   And it’s well past midnight. Sigh. So if you’ll pardon me, I think I should get to work on that sleep deficit…

More pictures from Week Two can be found here.

11 comments

  • October 23, 2012 at 7:56 am // Reply

    Everything you write, every photo is absolutely breathtaking. I’m so happy for you Erik–for so many reasons. I love you guys!!!!

    • October 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm // Reply

      Smile and a big wink Mandy. Thanks!

  • October 23, 2012 at 8:15 am // Reply

    this is so fabulous erik.
    wishyou and DIna much success
    try to get some sleep!

    • October 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm // Reply

      See you guys at Thanksgiving! I’ll bring home the turkey!

  • October 23, 2012 at 11:41 am // Reply

    Great job, Erik! I know how tired you must be and this is where the rubber meets the road and you go beyond what you think is the end of your rope . Hang in there and just send us a picture now and then but by all means go to bed at 8pm and let you mind and muscles process how fast you are growing. Dina can come an live with us anytime she wants to help pass the time between your visits together. We are awed and proud as punch over all you are doing on the farm! Tons of love and chicken soup hugs! Lynne

    • October 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm // Reply

      Despite what you may think, you WILL let us cook for you one day. I can’t think of any other way to show our appreciation for your amazing support. Thanks Lynne.

  • October 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm // Reply

    Thank you so much for these updates, E. I really hope they continue. I don’t want to miss out on a second of your journey there. I have been thinking about you and D so much recently, trying to live vicariously and assuming that this time is both incredibly blessed and also terribly difficult. Will continue to send thoughts of peace (and rest!) your way from the West.

    • October 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm // Reply

      I got 7 1/2 hours of sleep last night which is an improvement. Keep it coming!

  • October 25, 2012 at 6:33 pm // Reply

    For anyone sitting still in life, unhappy, stuck, or yearning for a life beyond the one he is living, your introductory quote is terrifying, Erik.

    “Man [can] create the environment and the way of life he wants, if he wants it enough. Man can choose.”

    This truth does not offer any rationales or extenuating circumstances to hide behind, but pretty much DEMANDS that each of us be brave or shut up already with our whining.

    Clearly, both you and Dina are taking up the challenge, being brave, and creating the way of life you want. I admire that immensely. . . . . and, as Liz says, “I don’t want to miss a second of your journey there.” (keep posting)

  • November 3, 2012 at 7:38 am // Reply

    nice Erik
    when do you PLANT those late fall parsnips, brocoli and carots?

    • November 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm // Reply

      Tricky question Jonathan, since everything we’re harvesting was planted by the previous group. But a good rule of thumb for the root vegetables is to get them in the ground 10-12 weeks before the first frost (which for us is supposed to be around the beginning of October). I think the same should be true for broccoli. Will we be seeing you with a basket of goodies at the Cambridge Farmer’s Market next year?

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