By Heather Retberg
New years, old years, fresh years, stale years, letting go, looking forward, remembering, reflecting and faltering, finding our steps. Time is passing. We’re noting it once again as one day, December 31st, becomes another, January 1st. Carolyn wants to know why we ask children on their birthdays if they ‘feel any different now that they’re ‘x’ years old’. Of course we don’t, she tells me, speaking for all children everywhere shaking their heads at strange adult questions. Do we feel any differently when one-year ends and another begins, when that is how we mark the passage of time? Are we different? Oh, we can feel differently, when we ‘make’ time to observe it all going by. Can we let time go, and all the experiences that time held? Can we take up another year, embrace it as different than yesterday, new and changed somehow? How is that ours to do?
Farm time runs a little differently, I think, maybe more like kid-birthday time. Why would we feel differently? Why would we be different? Farm time is steady by nature, urgent by nature, and, this year, more than any other I remember, the constancy of farm work informs our observance of time passing more than any other fleeting factor. There has been little time these past few weeks to look back or look forward.
Quill’s Endians, at this moment in time, have been quite fully engaged with the present. Every present moment. Thoughts of the future are ones that we see like clouds far overhead and way off in the distance, not dark clouds, but floating by out of reach, unknown. They simply can’t be considered. Constancy demands our attention right here and right now. The waters are frozen and need re-filling. The barn needs shoveling–keep the cows and calves clean. Grain to hens, water from well to hens, hay to bulls and heifers, run the hose out to the dairy cows, up to the paddock, too. Throw hay down for the cows, throw hay for the goats, milk cows, milk goats, bottle, rinse, wash. Make a meal–call it breakfast. Set the milk on to heat–cheese to make, yogurt to make, cheese to make again. Hang the cheese, cut the curd, incubate the yogurt, stir, stir, stir, cool down. Haul wood, split wood, stack wood. Look at each other, make eye contact, remember to talk, need logistics plan, need a hug. Make another meal–call it supper. Rest. Repeat.
Looking back seems a similarly distant, far off endeavor. It should appear clearer, I think, in view. We have lived it, felt it, done it, wrote about it, interacted with the past–it all…happened. Just now, however, it looks equally cloudy and far off. There were sad, sad losses on the farm this year. Our fields and barns hold long, wracking sobs and quiet tears of acquiescence to what must be. There were tender, sweet births. Our joy lies under the trees, our laughter in the orchards. Our reverent awe at it all is suspended in the air. It was surely a year full of beginnings and endings just as constant in their cycles of growing and waning as winter farm work.
What comes clearest into view, however, is only the present just now, and the nearest coming future. Another legislative session begins this Wednesday–this, too, has become a constant in our lives. New representatives seek to reconstruct better small-farm policies and are reaching out from across the state. We are reaching out with a different approach to ensure state recognition of food sovereignty, safeguarding communities’ leadership toward protected legal space for our food exchanges. Here, too, the year past holds gains and losses that appear in hindsight somewhat blurred together. But, I wonder, have the scars healed from last session’s fierce, long battle to ensure a constitutional right to food freedom and food self-sufficiency? Our mettle is tested. Have we forged strong enough joints for what lies ahead? I am increasingly certain that it can’t be known, but that it must be done, and that faith is the only guide forward, resting on assurance that we will harvest if only we do not give up, if we do not weary. Farming holds strong lessons for advocacy.
This beginning of another year holds more questions than clarity. That is the constant of this moment in time for the farm, and likely beyond us, too. 2016 was here a year of reclaiming at Quill’s End. We began again, we resolved to continue, and we did, and we have. We reached a little harder to accomplish balance, ecologically and economically. Time will tell if these efforts will bear the fruit we hope for. Time will pass and time will tell. Only time, one day, one moment, passing from present to present, constancy our companion, faith our guide. Do we feel any differently in 2017 than in 2016? (Carolyn’s voice rings clearly in my ears.) Of course not. Onward. Only, onward.
Heather and Phil Retberg together with their three children run Quill’s End Farm, a 105-acre property in Penobscot that they bought in 2004. They use rotational grazing on their fifteen open acres and are renovating thirty more acres from woods to pasture to increase grazing for their pigs, grass-fed cattle, lambs, laying hens, and goats. Heather is Master of Halcyon Grange #345 and writes a newsletter for their farm’s buying clubs for farmers in her area and has generously given us permission to share some of her columns with Grangers throughout the state.
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