Wednesday, February 12, 2020

There has always been a blue heron here. There could be many, but I can't tell one from another.
I only ever see one at a time.

The heron seems to spend most of his time tucked into the depths of swampy areas around the farm. The way to see him is to walk along the edge of murk -- alone because he only flies in the presence of a single witness -- do this early in the morning or at dusk because he rarely flies mid day. You hear him before you see him, the sound of air displaced by his six foot wingspan as he scripts a path through the drowned out poplar trees in the beaver swamp. When you catch sight, it will confuse you; startle you as if you are seeing something you should not. A bird entirely too big. Impossibly elegant.

The way to see the heron, of course, is to never be looking for him.

In my early twenties I picked up a book of essays called How To Be Alone by one of my favorite writers (and birdwatcher) Jonathan Franzen. He takes a lot of heat for - being an asshole? - but I still like the way he writes - especially about the suburbs, modernity and our relationship to nature. At the time I bought this book because I thought it would give me insight as to why I always want to be alone.

A few years ago I dug this book out and brought it camping on an island off the coast of Maine in order to start breaking up with a boyfriend. The conversation was impossible, I did not know how to enter it. I thought I left this book intentionally in the cabin - imagining another poorly matched couple trying to sort themselves under the romantic guise of a rocky coast September getaway. And yet - when I swivel on my stool here in my office on the farm, a tiny room at the top of my house with a view of the farmyard and the place where I keep my personal books - there it is. Lurking on the shelf, an irritating creep of a book that never seems to go away.

Isolation is a leitmotif in these essays. I recall being enlightened by an excerpt about couples who fail to socialize together (a death knell for relationships). There are some correspondences with Don Delillo in which they bemoan the fact that no one reads anymore. The essays are full of delicious Franzen-ish whining about our wasted, watered down culture. I used to relish this sort of thinking but now I see it as a thin guise for the authors self imposed alienation.

It's easier to isolate than it is to connect. It's safer.

My personal struggle this winter has been how to keep my relationship from being consumed by my relationship to the farm; a dark sabotage pattern which I have watched repeat. I have to continually remind myself that I love James more than that pattern, I love who I get to be with him separately from my work here. It's confusing and I still feel like I lead a double life...

I was at a conference last week with 30 flower farmers from the North East. Everyone expressed their difficulty with 'work life balance' which made me think -- maybe the trouble is believing in balance.
Farming can be isolating; it is easy to fall into the trappings of 'no one understands what it's like' sort of thinking. But we urgently need more small scale farms and land-based businesses. And more importantly we need to connect those businesses together and also connect them to urban centers. Farming doesn't need to look the same way that it has for the last few generations. It can drop the leitmotifs of hardship and isolation, it can reorient creatively around different family structures and different economic models.

Farming is not everything! Relationships are; our connections to people, animals and place (land). All of the 'successful' farms that inspire me hold their power and wealth though relationships. Their brilliance emanates through community and communication. Growing the best flowers or tomatoes seems secondary.

I am gearing up for our 9th season here at the farm at Worlds End. A lot has changed and continues to change...Eric (though here right now helping prepare us for lambing) is farming in North Carolina at Bluebird Meadows and creating a life for himself more permanently in Durham. Zoe is off now in the world on an extended sabbatical and we don't know if or when she'll be back. It's impossible to express how deeply she has imprinted the character of this place and I just miss her terribly. Catherine, who has spent the last 5 months finishing her book here is helping us articulate the future of Worlds End and  brewing a new format her for her pedagogy work. James, my favorite bee-keeping DJ is planning the second annual SUPERNATURE disco (July 25, 2020) and helping to set up a more extensive pollinator program here with additional hives and a wildflower field remediation plan. Our farmer Meg is having a baby! and turning her focus more towards developing her farm down the road. My parents - so integral to Saipua and this farm - have just sold their house (after living there for 48 years!) and are moving upstate. We're building a soap factory here on the farm... I'm working on a cafe project in Brooklyn that will help integrate our work here with so many of our followers from the city...I'm working again with Deborah Needleman to develop her craft school programming this year with a Broom-making class May 18-22, a second coming of Basketmaker AnneMarie O'Sullivan in June and October and a natural dye collaboration and workshop with Sasha Duerr.

And of course flowers, still, and likely always. The floral residency program kicks off its second year in June -- thanks to those of you who've signed up.

Writing that all down makes me feel full, inspired and grateful. I've been silent lately. I tend to enjoy isolation, especially in winter. I like to be dramatic and moody by myself but it's not conducive to the work I want to do here, and to the other half of myself that regenerates and energizes through connection and sharing this place. So onward. The trope of the lonely heron aside. She likely has a siege of herons deep in that murk that I'm simply choosing not to see.

*Note; if you'd like to join us at the farm in 2020 there are lots of ways;

- There are 5 spots left in the floral residency program here.
- We're hiring! Check out the job listings here.
- We'll be having a work week in May that you'll be able to sign up for soon...
- We're shifting the Coyote Cafe lunch program to be a dinner series with four dates across the season.
- This season we'll be having 'open hours' for visitors to come see the farm, grab a map in the big barn and take a self-guided tour. Visitors can hang out in our pond side reading room and peruse a selection rotating thematic reading material and help themselves to the 'coyote cafe' snack bar. 
- We're (most likely) going to have a LAMB CAM up and running for the month of April where you can log in to watch the lambing barn 24 hours a day

Lastly, group of herons is called a siege, and a group of finches is a charm. A group of hawks is called a cast, a group of pheasants is called a Nye, and a grouping of snipe is called a wisp. A group of swallows is called a flight.


Mindy Tsonas Choi said...

Beautiful. All of this. And I wonder who names these animal groupings? They're so whimsical.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your writing so much. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Being an only child predestined me to solitude. That is where I’m most comfortable. I too have an agrarian background and derive meaning from the cyclic nature of growing plants and animals. Your blog is insightful and while I know the time and effort involved can be consuming let me register that as an audience on one I enjoy your comments. Ann