Sunday, April 12, 2009

Trial By Fire and Ice

When I arrived at Caretaker Farm one week ago, I was hailed by swirling currents of snow flurries as I walked the frozen path to my new home (an unheated, unpowered cabin in the woods). I hugged a hot water bottle like my life depended on it that first night and did my best to think springy thoughts.

The power of positive thinking, however, was not apparently strong enough to dismiss Old Man Winter, who still had a few tricks up his frigid sleeves. Monday and Tuesday vacillated between a snowy drizzle and general overcastness, which prevented us from doing anything plant-related outside of greenhouse seeding. In the meantime, we worked to prepare the farm for spring: cleaning the barn and greenhouse, clearing brush, splitting logs for next winter's wood supply, slogging our way along the fence line and cutting back the thorny multiflora rose branches as we went.

Now to a New Englander, the past week's weather was nothing out of the ordinary. Half-frozen mud is ubiquitous this time of year, and no one expects to wear white summer dresses for Easter. Unfortunately, it is a proven fact that we Georgians lump all temperatures below forty as "unfit for human habitation," while simultaneously believing that all we really need at such times is a warm winter coat. As a cultural outreach gesture, I think that there ought to be a schematic drawing somewhere near the Mason-Dixon line that demonstrates the proper way to dress for winter. It has taken me years to overcome this heritage and comprehend "layering," a complex maneuver that requires more than a simple a t-shirt and a decent coat for winter attire. Since arriving at Caretaker, I have embraced layering to a comic degree, to the point that I am virtually unrecognizable under long underwear, a t-shirt, fleece, winter coats, and rain gear. And since then, I have not been cold.

This may also have been a function of Wednesday's chief occupation, burning the brush piles we had created in the cow pasture and down by the apprentice cabins. Once the wood finally caught and my hair began to frizz slightly from the heat of the flames, I felt a bit like the title character of "The Cremation of Sam McGee". I think I even removed some layers.

While the weather has certainly given me pause (particularly at 5:50 AM, when my alarm goes off and I come up for a breath of cold morning air from beneath a mountain of blankets and sleeping bags), my first week of farming has been splendid, exhausting, utterly satisfying. Caretaker's apprenticeship program is intensely communal: we rotate cooking duties 5 days per week and share the bottom floor of the farmhouse with Farmer Don and his family (the top is theirs and private, just as the cabins are ours). Caretaker is strictly a CSA farm, and the 250 shareholder families participate throughout the season in celebrations, harvesting, and occasional odd jobs around the farm. My excitement for this year is more nuanced that was my bright-eyed enthusiasm last year, when I began at Serenbe. I have a better sense of what I don't know, and a clearer idea of how to augment my knowledge. I'm not so scared of the greenhouse, nor totally clueless when it comes to compost and tractors. (though I imagine that Caretaker's manual transmissions will prove trickier than our deluxe little John Deere at Serenbe was).

Monday night, as I was washing the dishes, Katie and Margaret called me outside to witness the most stunningly complete rainbow I have ever seen. It and its fainter secondary rainbow spanned the farm in brilliant colors against the dusky sky. Were I a more adventurous sort, I would probably have felt compelled to scale the mountain beyond the farm and dig beneath the single fir tree that seemed to mark one end. But I've got more important things to do than chase after leprechaun gold--Spring is peeking quietly out of the fields, and we've got a long, full season ahead of us.

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

Work has had me sidetracked for so long, that I haven't been as able to keep up with your blog as usual. However, glad to be back, and reading, and excited to hear more updates from New England. (If you ever need tips on cold weather layering techniques, let me know. I'm a master, from Chicago.)