It’s been a long time.
It’s grey and brisk as I write this. The muted browns and whites of the woods around the farm and the raw, open fields look like March – but it hasn’t felt much like March recently. It was upwards of 70 degrees in the greenhouse this week as I filled trays with leeks, scallions and onions. The first seeding of the season usually coincides with when I start getting sick of the snow. That ache for spring, and green, and long days working is usually building in my muscles about now.
What a strange non-winter it’s been. As a farmer, I’m especially attuned to the seasons. The deep cold, the dark days, the cover of snow – these things allow me to take a breath, to slow down, to turn my attention away from growing things for a little while. This year, the temperature hardly dropped below freezing for more than a few days at at a time, and the only real snow came at the beginning of March, and didn’t stick around for long. It felt like I was lost in time and space, unable to ground myself in the constancy of the turning of the seasons, the one thing that is always supposed to stay the same.
Of course, the seasons are no longer the steady natural calendar they used to be. I don’t know what the future will look like, but I’m pretty certain the weather is going to continue getting stranger and more extreme. Everything I read and observe about the world tells me that it is going to get harder to grow plants.
As a farmer, I’m learning to adapt. I’m paying attention to the weather in this particular place, trying to find patterns from year to year. I’m studying where and when the water drains in my fields, noting the length of the spring thaws, counting the number of warm nights we get in November and March. In other words, I’m doing everything a good farmer does anyway to take care of the land the best she can. But I’m working now with a different vision of what this land will look like in thirty years, and I’m thinking more about creating systems that will thrive through warm winters, heavy snows, big droughts, late springs. It’s a complicated challenge, and I’m not an expert. But this non-winter has left me with a sense of loss and urgency. Whether or not it was an odd fluke or a combination of typical variations in global weather patterns, it wasn’t normal, and it’s going to have consequences in the fields this season.
Still. It’s getting on toward the middle of March, and the fields have been fallow since November. The non-winter, the shortened period of rest, the changing climate – even future catastrophes and dire predictions – nothing changes how much I love this work. There is always a moment, walking into the greenhouse for the first time at the very edge of spring, when I fall in love all over again. It’s another sort of constancy, this certainty in my body, every spring, no matter how warm or difficult the winter has been, that this is where I want to be. It’s like the waning and growing of the light. The winter will always be the season of darkness, and the summer will always be full of light.
The greenhouse is about to burst open with thousands of tiny green seedlings – onions, leeks, shallots, kale, broccoli. Working in a tee-shirt, the sunlight pale and warm on my bare arms, the sound of tiny black seeds rushing out of their packets, the smell of potting soil, the familiar rhythm of the work – I felt full and blessed and deeply grateful for the beginning of another season, no matter the challenges it brings. This, I’m beginning to understand, is the only constancy I can really count on, this internal certainty of vocation.