This week, the little notebook I carry around to jot out random bits of my mind is covered in dirt-smudged hand prints, evidence of the morning spent weeding Lamb’s Quarters (also a delicious green) from rows of shallots. The flow of homesteading life–the morning and afternoon routines, sitting for hours at a time on the tractor, weeding endless beds, taking stock of plant health and pests–lends to good thinking. Good noticing, really. I’ll be on one knee, gloveless, ripping weeds with impunity from the ground and on the breeze comes mint, earth, and grass and I’ll remember I never really belonged in an office, a sterile place where boredom reigns. Returning to the age old rhythms governed by land, sun, sky, and soil feels neither heroic (as some have warmly suggested) nor scary (as others have.) For me, it is comforting, the immersion in this place. Freeing. Healthy. Minimal connection to the abstractions of the industrial food system, more to local land, flora, and fauna. Simple pleasures are all around, like holding a warm egg pulled fresh from the nest, and laughing as Rufus the cow bucks and chases playfully as I pass him on the tractor.
One of the finer pleasures in this homesteading experience so far has been driving the old farm tractor. The diesel engine clatter, the lulling vibrations, the vantage point from above the pasture, the mowing in patterns–all lead to more good noticing.
A white-tailed rabbit darts away in the distance, the ranging phases of a day’s light, cloud, and shadow cook me in one moment and cool me the next. So much arises from corporal presence, my immersion in each moment. I mowed around 6 acres Tuesday, which was pretty much all day (save a short period of weeding in the morning) and I never got bored. It’s almost impossible to be bored when you’re in the middle of it all.
Yesterday, Z, H, and I took a wild edible walk in the foothills nearby, this being the day after we got a good soaking. The forest was the essence of dankness, a giant repository of moisture, plants busily claiming territory. Try though I did, I could not picture the high desert of New Mexico in my mind, so thoroughly had the water worked on me. H would stop when something caught his eye, name the plant, say, wild ginger, and offer us pieces of edible roots and leaves. At times, we would linger at one plant for ten or even fifteen minutes, exchanging questions or commenting on the flavor, taste, or texture of a plant. Gypsy trotted happily along, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, increasingly turning into a shaggy mop, a wet rat.
We were actually on a “ramp walk,” that is, looking for wild ramps, a type of wild leek that likes moist hillsides near streams. Though we never found the elusive ramp, H harvested a backpack full of stinging nettle, which made for the most delicious asparagus and stinging nettle green soup last night.
Some of the noticing is about cultural observation. As I began this blog post, H & M’s little dog Chi was yapping at something something outside, which melded into voices, which I thought at first were speaking Polish, or some other Slavic language. As the voices got closer, I started to hear words like “South Carolina” and “how they do it” and realized it was good old southern country talk. Which still didn’t help me understand what was being said. I poke fun, but really, the people here are almost universally friendly and talkative, whether from the land trust or the community at large. I don’t think a lot of people understand my accent very well, either, if the model is my stunted, three minute conversation with a convenience store clerk about using a farm check to buy diesel for the tractor. The place had a sign on the door saying “No Personal Checks.” But I had a farm check.
“You take farm checks?”
“You take checks from a business, you know, like a farm?”
“I don’t know what that is,” she said. (A check? A farm? A business? Which thing don’t you know, I thought.)
“Okay…can I use THIS check to pay for diesel on #3?
“Who wrote it? she asked.
“The farm, where I work.” I told her.
“Oh, I guess I’d have to call ’em.”
So she called, H didn’t answer, so, no go on the farm check. But you get the point.
If I threw a stone, it would likely hit a Baptist church, not that I condone tossing stones at churches, though technically speaking I may not be qualified to cast the first stone, biblically speaking…but anyway. Naturally, life is organized around faith in rural communities, and there’s something so basically good about it.
Anyway, our week was broken by a trip to Atlanta, which was a nice respite from everything constantly being new. Family and friends are the reason we’re here, as we’ve made clear, and it felt reaffirming to start seeing them. We had dinner Sunday night with H, M and two of their friends (in town from Atlanta) who also recently left New Mexico after several years. We sat over a delicious meal of fried trout with stinging nettle greens, farm bread, rhubarb cobbler, and red wine. Leaving New Mexico still comes with much sorrow to me, and talking with someone else with a direct connection to it was comforting. It sort of triangulates its reality to me: “hey, it’s really out there, and we can go back to it when we want, like these folks.” Sharing collective memories of Taos somehow erased some of the chasm of time and perceived distance from New Mexico, bringing it and the people I miss so dearly closer, if only for a short time. But grounded as we were, here in this place, sitting around with new friends talking of places past, I felt perhaps for the first time not in between two worlds, but squarely in this one.
The weekend finished with a surprise storm where the skies opened up and unleashed great vengeance upon us. Z and I stood clanging trashcan lids in the barn Sunday evening upon our return from Atlanta, the sky overcast though no evident rainclouds, hoping our efforts would be the clarion call to get the horses to move out of the pasture and into their holding area. Moon and Easy associate clanging lids with a tasty handful of grain, but they’re still a bit wary of us newcomers, and so we sometimes have to halter Moon and lead her back to the barn, which prompts Easy to follow. We agreed that a more hands on approach was going to be necessary, so I grabbed the lead and halter and headed out deep into the pasture to retrieve Moon while Suzanna finished putting grain into their feeders. I walked over to Moon, who was busy grazing, taking no mind of me. Storm clouds gathered on the far western horizon above the Black Mountains. I pondered how little I know about horses, and wondered if there’s a special “heads up!” command so I wouldn’t have to reach down and halter Moon while she grazed. Thunder rumbled in the valley. Fear of reaching down under a horse’s mouth and fumbling with the halter overcame me, and I stood there a bit impotently, hoping she’d just raise her head spontaneous-like. Rain began to pelt us, dark clouds now charging in rapidly from the West. I went for it, trying to scoop the halter under Moon’s head, but she avoided me, swinging her head in the opposite direction. This little dance went on for several minutes, the rain increasing to a medium pace, the horses content to tear at the grass. Lightning started to flash from ridge tops, thunder following in loud bursts. Suzanna caught wind of my stalemate with the horses and deep in this driving rain, she used her far more mellifluous voice to sweet talk Moon into letting us halter her. But then as I led her on, she’d stop and turn her head in protest, forcing me to tug back at her. After several rounds of tug-of-war, we got the horses headed in toward the barn, and by this time we were in an out and out thunderstorm with heavy wind, rain, and lightning. With some trouble, Suzanna stabled the horses and we stood inside the barn, our mild discomfort with the horses amplified by the stormy crescendo, listening to the rain pelt the tin roof.
Powerful forces, horses and storms.