early spring jobs

Easter Sunday, 2012:

In the spring you go from having a list of jobs you can’t get to because the ground is frozen to having a list of jobs you can’t get to because it’s just plain too long.  You hardly know where to begin.  Lists like this:

  • plow the potato patch
  • put the sickle bar back together
  • start fifteen different kinds of seed in the greenhouse
  • prick out all the seeds that have already sprouted
  • weed the young lettuce
  • check the cow last thing before bed for signs of labor
  • mend the garden fence to keep the danged marauding chickens out
  • set the young onions
  • plant peas
  • buy seed
  • buy straw
  • cut seed potatoes
  • plant them
  • check the bees for signs of swarming
  • try to keep the frost off the peach trees

And the list goes on and on.  There are as well all the ordinary maintenance things that never come off the list, like picking rocks in the pasture, cleaning brush from the clearing, clipping weeds, and, always, dealing with the milk.  Cheese, butter, sour cream, yogurt, cheese again, and again.

Don’t take this job if you like being sedentary.

The house has been cold lately, and Mom adjures the small people to wear jackets when they go out.  By about ten in the morning, however, it is probably warmer outside than in, because we cannot bring ourselves to start a fire and use more firewood.  Last spring was wet, cold, and late; this year, to demonstrate the range of possibility, it is dry, warm, and early.  This does not bode well.  All the fruit trees are blooming, or past bloom, but the high barometric pressure and clear nights mean frequent frosts, and we wonder if we will harvest any tree fruit at all this year.  Time to start some extra pumpkins for next winter’s pies, and pray for a good strawberry harvest.  Blueberries we do not have; they do not like our side of the hill, and we can only look with envy at our neighbors’ two large bushes, where the birds reap a generous harvest four years out of five.

The gold comet hen hatched one chick out of eight eggs the little girls set under her.  The poor showing was not her fault, but the result of having only one rooster in a flock of forty or so hens.  The single baby ravished the girls’ hearts immediately; they have named it Pascal, in honor of the feast of the resurrection, and installed it in a brooder in the basement with their three Easter ducklings.  The broody hen has been turned out for a week’s exercise before we give her another clutch of eggs, if she wants it; the three new roosters may mean a better hatching rate.  Also in the maternity category is Baby Belle, the four-year old replacement cow, who is “bagging up” (that’s how we farmers say that her udder is getting larger) and bulging out.  She is checked frequently during the day, and last thing at night, to see if labor is beginning.  Neighbor Mike lost a foal on Friday to bad positioning and a long labor, and only saved the mare by some smart home midwifery.  These things remind us to be vigilant.

In the garden we are setting out onions.  There are a lot of onion seedlings, and it will take us several days to get them all in.  This is because with the weather so clear and dry, we can only set seedlings in the late evening, when they will get twelve hours or so of cool shade to begin growing root hairs before the sun strikes them the next day.  We plant three rows to the thirty inch bed, ten inches between rows, four inches between plants, and we water the furrows before and after planting.  The new beds of spring greens, beets, carrots, and peas are getting water virtually every day as well, to give them the best possible chance to sprout through a crust of earth that is already ominously dry.

Our traditional Easter treasure hunt took us up the west hill to the very top.  In the woods the influence of the sun is less felt, and spring does not appear so advanced as in the garden or the meadow.  Squaw corn heaves up brown leaves and mould under oak and maple trees; spring beauties spangle the path like the flowers on sprigged calico.  In the high clearing there are places where you cannot walk without treading on violets, deep purple, lavender, and dog’s tooth yellow.  Dandelions burn like hot coals wherever the sun reaches; there are so many you cease to see them.  The bees, on the other hand, don’t miss a one; they are valuable early nectar.  Near the top of the hill a crowd of bluets nearly stops our progress; violets are one thing, but we never step on a bluet.

The west hill clearing needs to be clipped.  Last year’s dead weed skeletons should be knocked down to give the grass underneath it more sun.  The woods are still contesting our preemption of this part of the hill, and the moss and may apples are as plenteous as the grass.  Where the sun reaches the earth multiflora rose, that bane of graziers, spontaneously generates,  and we enter into our yearly debate about goats.  One camp holds that these animals were created by God for the eradication of multiflora rose; the other camp includes apple trees in that list.  It has been several years since the pro-goat camp has won a battle, but they have not yet conceded the war.

Bluets lie in pools in the clearing like bits of dribbled sky, and we rest there for a while.  In a world where there are bluets, the existence of the Divine is a foregone conclusion.

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