Beautiful Stillness

What an odd January, weather-wise, this has been. All the snow from the big Christmas blizzard has long since melted away, even the big piles pushed up by the plow. Until this week, no snow had fallen to replace it, only drizzly rain showers. And so warm—above 32 degrees, more often than not—and the ground not even frozen, just soggy and muddy like late March. Worrying, from the long-term perspective of global climate change. But in the day-to-day, I have to confess I am enjoying this mild winter.

For one, I can get outside and tackle little projects around the farm, like cutting firewood. I had been curating a number of piles of long boles and large limbs generated by various tree fellings over the years, from when the utility company cleared a swath beneath the power lines that run through our woods a while back, to when a strong microburst of a storm knocked down a few trees last summer. There has not been an urgent need to cut these up into logs—we don’t heat the house with wood—and so other projects take priority. But as a rule I dislike accumulating piles of anything. Piles beget more piles, it seems, and that can quickly junk up a farm. It feels good to make progress on clearing these.

Another dividend of this mild weather is my daily walks around the farm. One of my pandemic projects was clearing a path around the perimeter of our property, which now makes a good twenty-five-minute amble. I get to keep an eye on the vegetable plots, the fallow field we call the wayback, the old north fencerow, the woods, and the walnut grove. I can check in on the new plantings from last fall: the rhubarb plot, pollinator border, orchard trees, and native shrubs. Plus the crisp air blows the dust out of my head after being cooped up indoors at my desk planning for the coming growing season.

Once in a while I spook a deer in the woods, sending it crashing through the underbrush. Sometimes I spot a red-tailed hawk kiting through the cold air. Other times I hear the resident crows cawing back and forth in conversation.

This is indeed our fallow season. Not much happening on the surface, but, beneath, things are now drawing strength to themselves, readying to burst forth come spring.

In a Christmas card to us this year, one of our crew wrote that she wished for us an off-season filled with “beautiful stillness.”

It is still. The vegetable plots sleep under their cover crop of winter rye. The greenhouse sits clean and empty and ready for use come March. The tools hang in their places in the barn, clean and sharp and waiting for spring. Even our good and gentle farm cat spends the balance of his days indoors curled up in one of the seven comfy spots he has claimed for himself.

The stillness is beautiful. Sometimes dreary, admittedly, and a lack of snow and abundance of overcast skies can make it all the more so. But for those with eyes to see, there are beautiful things to behold: whorled ice crusting puddles on cold mornings, dark bare branches netted against the gray sky, bright cardinals perched among dark spruce boughs.

And the beautiful stillness is precious. During the growing season the farm is a hive of activity, with me and the crew attending to all the ten thousand things needful for keeping a diversified organic vegetable operation aright and moving forward, not to mention addressing all the ways those things inevitably go sideways. So the off-season, this fallow time of beautiful stillness, is welcome. Not just for the rest it brings, but also for the perspective it provides. It gives me the space to get a little altitude on the farm. To both be grateful for what it is now and imagine what it could be in the future. The farmer, too, needs time to draw strength for spring.