The mid-morning office is a sun office and the heart of the workday on a small farm. It is the sweat-of-the-brow, hands-in-the-dirt, muscle-to-the-posthole-digger time of day, the time to get it done and not waste time. Putting my hands in the dirt, I plant, weed, and thin. Dirt, the alpha and the omega, where we all begin and where we all end.
I clean out the barn and pile the manure and bedding. By tomorrow, it will be smoking, a steam of decay already beginning new life. The farm in action is a plumed phoenix, flaming through life and death and life. Risen from the ashes, the bird becomes dinner, becomes compost and manure, becomes vegetables. Becomes a trinity of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Becomes us.
Yesterday, two friends joined me in cutting several logs into lumber. The morning was spent in pleasant labor, strenuous but never exhausting. Labor that if done in solitary might have been a chore was lightened by their company. Sawdust lay thick on the ground when our work was done, already becoming something new and different, yet still the same.
The challenge of today is to decide in the tomorrow how to best use this tree, this kith of the woodland — this matter, present at the beginning, that chanced to become the tree in a fencerow, and became stacked lumber in my shed. My responsibility is to make something if not beautiful, certainly functional. William Morris had it right, though we have drifted far enough into the fog bank that his words are now muted across the water: “Have nothing that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It’s a directive bold enough to color my sins of misuse scarlet.
We are part and will be part of the plumage of the phoenix that fires and dies and is reborn. Holding that image in the eye, I will follow Morris’ instruction with the lumber. But for now, I start with my hoe, making my rows clean and productive, leaving the plants in fertile soil to track the sun across the sky.
The day will come when this matter too becomes compost, and begins again in dirt and life; when trees, in feeding, embrace the sun that brought me to their dark feet.
Finished, I hang up my hoe.
This is another in an eight-part series entitled a Farm Breviary. A breviary is a printed liturgy of prayers. Although not a particularly religious man, I am drawn to the idea of a meditative life. So I purloined the breviary idea to put some order on a series of observant posts. For me, I do like the idea of stopping work for periods of reflection; a beneficial idea regardless of one’s religious or philosophical inclinations.