May 12: With S-2 at home the lumber work moves even more quickly. The log jack they made of a car axle pulls easily behind the lawn tractor, except when something shifts. Then the weight of the log lifts the whole back end of the tractor off the ground, wheels spinning, and someone has to readjust the chain. This happens usually when the log has been chained down on a sloping piece of ground – this describes most of our land – and then is dragged onto the level road. Good for a laugh. The men hauled many logs today – when questioned as to number, they said, “a bunch”. Tomorrow if the weather permits they will probably dig post holes.
Warm weather is really here when we change the bed sheets from flannel to percale. This was done today. When the screens are put in the windows, and the storm doors changed to screen panels, summer has officially arrived. Already the small children are going through multiple changes of clothing during a day, the creeks being irresistible places to play. Until this evening, when a downpour unloaded an inch and a half of rain in about twenty minutes. Then the small, musical sounds of Jeddo’s run and North creek became roar, and the brown water raced by faster than you could chase a bucket if you had dropped it in. It was so high in Jeddo’s run that the two culverts couldn’t carry it, and it poured over the road in three wide streams and piled high foam on the rocks in the stream bed below.
We stood at an upstairs window watching great trees bending far over in the wind and hoping if they carried away they wouldn’t land on the house. Then someone thought of the basement. This is not usually wet, but when the rainfall is so rapid that it can neither soak in nor keep to established paths, it runs up under the front porch and pours down the west wall of the basement, where two large cracks admit it in fountains onto the concrete floor. The drains have a way of getting plugged with the wood chips and straw that are brought inside. Sure enough, the water was already several inches deep. The Cornish Rock crosses were in the red wading pool, an island of light and warmth just about to float away in the flood. Aware of the danger of electrocution, but having to do something just the same, we waded in and found, by feel, the plugged drains, pulled out handfuls of rubbish, and stood over them, clearing them every few seconds, while the water poured out with loud sucking noises.
The seedlings from the greenhouse were set out yesterday to harden off, with hoops and rowcovers to protect them for the first day or two. Lightning flashed continuously as we pulled the wire hoops, gathered the covers in armfuls, and shoved them out of the way in the greenhouse. Battered by the heavy rain and strong gusts of wind, the seedlings were bent over like exhaused people. We lugged the waterlogged boxes back into the greenhouse. Scouter, our variously talented and challenged Dekker Rat Terrier, slunk through the door and disappeared behind some shelves. She is mortally afraid of loud noises, and this thunder was like rapid explosions. Very well. She can open the door herself – it is a screen one that pushes out – so we left her there. Later the door was propped ajar, showing that she had regained her courage and come out.
Mozzarella is quicker to make in the summer, as is butter, and this, although other tasks kept us from them until mid-evening, filled the hours before bedtime. By seven-thirty, we are ready to say we are finished with the day’s work and settle down on porch or sofa, or take an aimless walk, but farmers have to do what needs to be done when it needs doing, or risk the ruin of whatever is the task at hand. The milk and cream had been set out that morning, and should really have been processed hours before, but one thing after another, not to mention a reluctance to begin jobs of extended duration, had been obstacles to starting. Cream that is too warm churns to fluffy, oily-textured butter. Chilling it can make it firm, but it will still be oily when spread on warm toast or biscuits. Not that this is necessarily bad – it tastes good, and it is good – but the Tao of butter is firm and even textured.
Farming requires a long series of compromises, when the Platonic ideal we are trying to realize must give way to mundane reality. The cow gets into a patch of ramps, and her milk tastes off; warm cream churns to oily butter, making the toast greasy. Lettuce that was perfect before it rained will now have brown veins in the outer leaves where it is waterlogged, and slugs will be curled in the leaf axials where they have crawled to keep from being drowned. Each of these little compromises in which the real trumps the ideal can be accepted, usually with only a small pang, and the real enjoyed for whatever it is; but sometimes a rapid series of necessary compromises can breed in us an attitude of defeat, almost of despair. It is understandable, perhaps inevitable, that it should be so.
Farming is not a job which can be engrossed on a legal pad, nor reduced to a series of inputs and outputs, activity following neatly on activity. In it we see, not the order and control of mechanical operations, but the ordered chaos of living things whose synchronous activities are the result less of flow-charts, carefully drawn-up lists, and meticulous planning, than of some undefinable union of mind and intuition. Issues arise as though popping up out of traps, priorities give way to super-priorities, periods of lull are galvanized by sudden frenetic activity. Only in hindsight do we sometimes see the pattern that orders our labors, either in its fulfillment, or its rupture.
Consequently, there come times, sometimes only moments, when something dies, or rots, or is eaten by bugs, when we feel a sudden surge of complete incompetence, and a conviction that we are playing a game for which we have no training, no talent, and everybody knows it but us. ( –we.) Common sense dictates that we should throw in the towel, now, before we have wasted any more time, and give up the ridiculous pretence that we are farmers. People like us, we are certain, have no business to keep livestock, or to waste good money on seeds that will never come up, or if they do will only be choked by weeds, gnawed by insects, or melt to goo under some disgusting mold or fungus. No one so totally ill-equipped should be allowed to try building things for himself, fixing things that are broken, growing food, or any other thing so completely outside of the work he was really raised and trained to do. We are completely overwhelmed by the certainty that we must return to the city, get a job at the Seven-Eleven, enroll the children in public school and soccer, and try not to be too miserable for what remains of our sordid lives.
Even when someone has grown up on a hobby farm, keeping a garden and a pony, and maybe a small flock of chickens, there is a wide, unbridgeable-looking gap between playing at farming with some of our disposable income, and investing time and energy and money and thought into an operation which, if it fails, negatively effects our budgets and our bank accounts. When we dare to step over the space that yawns between, we are made vulnerable, and lonely. It helps to know that this insecurity comes to all of us transplants to farm life. It is one of the growing pains unavoidable if we really want to go somewhere, if we intend to stick the thing out and prove, by doing it, that the right to raise our own food was not abolished when Henry Ford invented the production line.