I recently came across a blog that has inspired me and blessed me in ways I can’t even describe. Jon and I stayed up late last night as I read excerpts to him, and we talked about the future, and the things we pray for – the “desires of our hearts,” if you will. I’ll share more on that in the future, but for now I wanted to share a few sections of this blog that have inspired us both. These are experts from three articles (here, here, and here) that articulate so much of what I’ve come to love about what we call “farming,” and want to experience more of, in life….
Let me tell you how much I love doing firewood: A whole mutherfreakin’ lot, and I love every aspect of it, from felling the trees, to skidding them out of the woods, to bucking them up, to splitting and stacking and finally, to loading them, piece-by-piece, into the wood stove for their final immolation. And then, to stand before the stove as the cool iron warms and expands, each piece ticking into place and the first sweet waves of heat radiating outward…. ahh. You can actually smell the stove metal getting hot.
It is interesting to me to consider how the many aspects of our day-to-day existence that most Americans would consider at the very least inconvenient, if not downright insane, have become imbued with a particular reverence. They are part tradition, part ritual, and in some sense, I suppose, part sacrifice. About seven years ago, we ripped the gas range out of our kitchen and replaced it with a wood burning cookstove and I remember being a little anxious about it… surely, there would be times the inconvenience would seem burdensome (to be clear, the gas range is now on our porch and we do rely on it during the summer months).
It has been entirely the opposite: We love cooking on that stove, which is far more art than science. It’s like playing an instrument, or maybe dancing, and every May, when a wood fire in the kitchen becomes oppressive, it is only with reluctance that we shift our cooking to the porch. And every September, when we get the first cool morning, the first one of the season that begs for a little fire to crack the morning chill until the sun climbs high enough to cook the dew off the grass… well, I wake up downright excited.
A couple years ago, we began experimenting with shutting off our gas hot water heater. No biggie in the summer, as we have solar hot water collectors that produce more hot water than we can even use. But in winter, when the sun is a sad, feeble thing, barely able to even rise its sleepy head above the row of maples that line the eastern-most fringe of our land? Well, we’ve taken to keeping a couple big pots of hot water atop the cookstove; for dishes, we ladle from them. For baths, which we take once per month whether we need ‘em or not, we carry them up to the tub and upend their steaming contents, adding cold from the tap to get it just right and then… ahh. I know, I know, it sounds like a pain in the ass. But it doesn’t feel like one, and in fact I’ve come to truly enjoy the whole process: Filling the pots, setting them on the stove, waiting for them to heat up, carrying them bow leggedly up the stairs, dumping them into the tub. There’s a participatory nature to it that simply can’t be replicated by twisting a faucet tap.
What has happened to ritual in our culture? It seems to me as if there was once ritual built into all our lives, that the very nature of living demanded it. Maybe for some “ritual” is too strong a word; maybe it was merely habit or tradition, born of simple necessity: You cut the damn wood because if you didn’t, you froze. You heated the damn water on the stovetop because if you didn’t, your bath was cold. Maybe it is my lack of formal religious affiliation that compels me to elevate these simple tasks from mere chore to ritual.
So, ok, call it what you will. The fact remains that these things are no longer part of most American’s lives, and in this regard, each day becomes somewhat indistinguishable from the next. When I consider this, it reminds me how grateful I am to know the days and seasons as I do. To know that March means sugaring, and next year’s firewood. To know that September means the first fire and more greenhouse tomatoes than we can ever figure out what to do with. To know that June means first cut hay and August, second.
And to know, finally, that my participation in all of these things matters, that these things will not just happen to me, but that I must in some way call them forward, give them a little piece of myself – a little sweat, a tired back, the occasional drop of blood – in exchange for their gifts.
I think this is ultimately what I love so much about doing firewood. It feels like such a tangible, honest exchange. There is risk, and exertion, and sweat, and time. For that, I will have wood to make my coffee and heat my bath. For that, my family will survive another winter. For that, I get to spend dozens of hours in the woods and wielding a maul, never surer of my small place in this huge world.
Could there be a better deal?
I often think of chores as being something of practice for me, perhaps not unlike meditation or prayer is for some. And moving the cows is for me the core of this practice….
Of all the daily chores I perform on this ground, moving the cows is the most graceful, the most like a dance…
I like moving cows because I like cows, and therefore I like doing what I know is best for the cows. And I like moving cows because I like moving, and therefore I like walking back and forth across our pasture, the dew wet tips of grass grazing my shins, my feet sloshing in my boots…
I like moving cows because it forces me to pay attention: Good grazing practices demand a particular focus, because the pasture is always changing, in accordance with the season, the weather, the length of day, and unseen forces that I am unlikely to ever fully understand….
To move cows is to in some small way be held in the palm of nature. I can’t say why, but any time I have this opportunity, I am comforted…
I like moving cows because I like the way cows smell and I can smell them while I’m moving them… The smell of cow in the morning is like the first flames of a fire on a cold winter’s day, and I sometimes think that even if I didn’t covet butter and cream and milk and meat, I’d keep a cow around just so I could smell the thing…
I like moving cows because there has yet to be anything wrong in my life that can’t at least temporarily be fixed by moving cows. This means that either my life is so good that nothing has yet gone wrong enough that moving cows can’t make me feel better, or that moving cows is so powerful that it can overcome even those things which are terribly wrong.
Which is it? Honestly, I’m not sure it matters.
“…The focal point of where human potential goes wrong is that people are too busy living in the future or in the past on a regular basis. That’s what’s going on around. And it kind of deprives people of their vital energy. It actually creates duality, polarity in their mind which steals all their energy. And a very little amount of people are able to sustain that consciousness of presence here and now…. Life appears to be some dark, unsolvable mystery to most people. They’re like ‘well, how does it go? Where is it going?’”
“It’s going right through you, right now. It’s here.”
— It’s Going Through You, Ben Hewitt (a quote from Eugene Hutz)