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Archive for December, 2012

An Undiscovered Joy

It is December and I am hoping, as I have for the past several years, for a white Christmas. When I was small it was winter by now and it had been for weeks. I wore snow pants and my Turtle Fur neck warmer to school, my nose and chin soaked and frozen from breathing into a wall of fleece. We bought ski passes at the Snow Bowl because it was worth it. Christmas was always white. The roads were bad on the way to church and we went sledding in the yard, my hastily-tied boots filling with clumps of snow that numbed my shins.

I think about skiing with my little niece, Ella. She will have skis barely longer than her bindings, and rear-entry boots with one buckle. She will want to take a break to drink hot chocolate and we’ll have to stuff hand-warmers in her mittens. I wonder if she will have enough snow days, if there will be storms that dump enough that she can jump off the roof into tall banks of powder.

On Monday night I put lights in the windows and listened to cheesy Christmas music on the radio. It poured rain and I kept peeking at the thermometer, trying to will the red needle to drop below forty-two. “Let’s get our tree!” I keep saying to Jacob. We could go into our woods, but I’m pretty sure we cut the only scrawny Balsam out there last year. I want to walk across the street, where families arrive by the vanload on the weekends to pick out trees. I am surprised that it is already December, that it is the 13th and Christmas is in less than two weeks. It doesn’t feel like it yet; maybe it’s the rain.

We renewed our lease and are staying on the farm for at least another year. The High Mowing catalogue came out and we are talking about seeds, about finding more CSA members, and about tilling up more space. I wonder about the weather. Our crops could have been twice as prolific had it rained. We don’t have an irrigation system, which many growers depend on regardless of rainfall. We watered by hand when we could, but our well is shallow and we often didn’t have enough water for the house and barn. Maybe we don’t need a bigger garden, I keep thinking. We just need some water in the soil. Next year could be just as dry, or drier. We could have more rain than we know what to do with. Maybe we’ll have a white fourth of July.

Next year’s weather is an unknown, but it always has been. We may not have as much water as we want, but we’ll have water, and our vegetables will grow. We will eat well. Our animals will be healthy and we’ll have eggs and meat. I worry, though, about what’s to come in five, ten and thirty years. I think it’s likely that the local food culture, at least in Vermont, is diverse and agile enough to adapt, albeit clumsily, perhaps, to rapid changes in weather patterns. I’m not so sure about what Christmas in Vermont will feel like; if our next generation will be able to teach their children to ski; if each new season will be as arresting; if sap will run from maple trees each spring; if the geese will come and go and the robins will pick at fat worms; if we’ll swim in cold, clear rivers and fall asleep at night to the sound of peepers singing through our screens.

The farm has been teaching me all along that things change. The garden is constantly evolving, from snow-covered to bare earth to an unruly pattern of greens. Two weeks ago we had four pigs who scratched and ate and snorted. Now they are frozen, in neatly packaged pieces, and the cows have taken their place in the barn. The pile of firewood expands and contracts. The washing machine leaks and then it doesn’t, there’s water in the well and then there isn’t. The gray-bearded dog put on a scraggly winter coat and the cat in the barn is all of a sudden husky. The pasture is green and then it is brown, the pond is still and then it is frozen. Underneath it all is the comforting realization that this is the way things work, that this is the normal current of life. We may not have a white Christmas this year, and the roads may be frustratingly clear on the way to church. Maybe the holidays won’t feel exactly as they have in the past, and perhaps there is an undiscovered, comforting joy in the embrace of change.

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