“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
January can be a woeful reflective time, maybe because of storms, because of the changing of a year from one to the next, or because it is dark still for a long while and one gets to ruminating some in the dark. It’s also a time here when we feel the urge to plan our farm year, to assess what needs changing, to go forward learning from the years past. It is increasingly a time for us when we wonder sometimes aloud and sometimes to each other if we should keep on doing this. In January’s first cold, unpredictable weeks, there are complications caused by the cold. Moving all the critters into the barn causes complications, too. In closer quarters, sometimes injuries happen, or ailments from the boredom of one animal or another. Rarely do the chores that ‘should’ be routine, go that way. Something is always up, a cow that needs extra tending, a calf that is getting too much unwanted attention from others, a goat that is weakened by the cold. We adjust to single digits, then are disoriented when the pond floods in 50+ degree weather before it plunges back. Winter is hard. It is more expensive time and sales decrease. We just can’t see from here how it will go forward, sustainably. The extremes are simply hard to weather and disorienting, and we’re not sure if we should keep encouraging each other forward, or just figure out something else.
But maybe Mr. Kierkegaard is right, maybe life can better be understood by looking backwards, even while we must keep living forwards. Well, it was during the first days of January in 2005, the year Carolyn was born, that the farmhouse at Quill’s End was moved from its old foundation next to the highway to its new foundation near the woods. Before the house moved, the former guest artist’s studio and former gift shop ‘Goods in the Woods’ from Haystack, was cut in two, moved over the Deer Isle bridge and put in place at the farm. That was quite a feat. It had to be loaded, then unloaded, then loaded again onto the trailer before it was stable enough for the trip. The two pieces got ‘parked’ in the opposite position of how they needed to be eventually. That problem got figured out, sorted into the right position, righted, roofed, and has been a practical home for chickens in the winter for years, was a shop for a while, and now houses the goats and chickens. It worked out alright. Now, the farmhouse moving was a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. The house mover’s truck had a bumper sticker that said, ‘Save a tree. Move a house’. I was seven months pregnant, we had 3 days with the house mover, the hard frozen driveway thawed the second day making the house transit more precarious, there were so many, many moving pieces with a two-year-old, a six-year-old, and a 150+-year-old house to transport. That was none too easy either. It was fascinating and exciting, though. There were fires burning throughout the process as parts of the demolition and slash from the new site were burned. It was all a little beyond the imagination. Once the house was in place on the new foundation, the fires lessened, we ate marshmallows with our cold and tired boys before heading home. Looking backwards does help to keep living forwards. We did it then and, probably, thirteen years later, can make it work now, too.
When winter presses hard on our small farm and our determination wears a little thin, the larger doings of the world can weigh heavy, too. As Martin Luther King Jr. is commemorated, and looking backwards points us to a history that feels very current, very near, his words are also ones to take to heart, to action to living forwards: “Take the first step in faith, you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Take one step at a time, in faith, when you can’t see the whole crystal staircase, understanding backwards and living forwards.
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. Visit the Quill’s End Farm Facebook Page for more information.
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