Ten Thousand Small Beauties

After a relatively mild December and January, here at the farm we now have a proper Michigan winter—deep drifts all around and the world frozen to an apparent standstill. But I promise you, underneath all that ice and snow spring is stirring.

One reliable harbinger: In less than a week I will be in the greenhouse sowing the season’s first seeds.

All the primary pieces of the puzzle for this spring are in place: the greenhouse propane tank topped off last fall, the totes of potting soil delivered early this winter and safely stowed in the barn, the seeds ordered the first week of December and all arrived by mid-January, the greenhouse clean and ready to go and well-stocked with pots and nursery flats and plant tags.

This will be my fifteenth season farming, my fifteenth time entering this long solar cycle that is the agricultural year. I remember my first season on the crew at Trillium Haven being impressed by the complexity of running a farm, by the sheer immensity of all the things to know. I remember being glad I was just the hired hand and not the farmer in charge of keeping the whole show upright and ambulatory. And here I am now, fourteen years later, responsible for exactly that.

After all that time, I find much of the job is second nature to me now. I know deep down what needs to happen when, what things look like when they’re going right, and what to watch for to keep things from going wrong. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising.

But what does surprise me is how I can still be surprised. How, out of the corner of my eye, I can catch a glimpse of glory that stops me in my tracks.

Like when the garlic first thrusts through its protective winter mulch of straw in early spring, thin green fingers of new life fulfilling the promise made late last fall when we pressed the seed cloves into the cooling soil. Or when the heat of late summer lays heavy on the evening, the drone of cicadas filling the air and the sunflowers and zinnias in full riot bobbing in the breeze. Or when stars on a moonless midwinter night spangle in the cast net of bare tree branches, all silent but for the crunch of snow under my boots as I walk. Or when any other of the ten thousand small beauties make themselves known to me in the circuit of my day.

What a world we have been given, and what a privilege we have to care for it.

Rising Toward Spring

Today’s sky is blue and cold as a block of ice, but bright and sunny—which is welcome this time of year. The birds seem to welcome it, too, all the finches and nuthatches and chickadees flitting back and forth in the sunshine from the feeder to the low branches of the nearby trees.

The light is gaining now for certain. From the solstice’s darkness, we have gained over an hour of daylight, adding minutes each day and accelerating all the while. Winter is far from over, to be sure, but the world is rising toward spring, even beneath the snow. Each day the farm’s slack coils tighten, getting ready to spring come May.

As we should expect. Today we stand at the late-winter cross-quarter day, the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox and an inflection point in the farming year.

Now is when I shake off my bear-like sleepiness and begin to feel the year’s ascent. When I take the dreams of midwinter and shape them into actual plans and drawings, numbers and maps, spreadsheets and lists. I make ready to welcome the new season, as one welcomes an old friend.

I cherish this deep rhythm of the farming year, how the season begins in dormancy, then kindles, grows, and yields abundance, then becomes exhausted, dies down, and returns to dormancy. I love how the nature and intensity of work changes along with those movements, and how it all is tuned to the music of the earth and synchronized to the cycle of the sun. It is all a great gift, which we begin to receive this day.