A reflection from Denise
Poised on the edge of ugliness,
a flower whose petals
are turning brown.
I never liked
to keep them—a word of farewell
discreetly whispered, and out they go,
the discolored water after them,
the vase to be scrubbed.
A few flowers
dry into straw-crisp comeliness
without fetor. But
beauty is balanced upon
the poignance of brevity.
. . .
“Nothing gold can stay,” Johnny recites from a Robert Frost poem in the novel The Outsiders. I thought of it this week when a customer lamented the fleetingness of peaches and nectarines and another customer worried the lettuce mix would soon be gone. (“I’m addicted,” he said. “I have to have it.”) A few years ago, when I felt all hope was lost in a world gone mad (not that everything’s sorted and righted itself as I write), activist and journalist Rebecca Solnit reminded me that it’s hopeful to remember that “everything changes,” both the good and the bad. The garden with its flowers and vegetables is a perfect example of this impermanence, “beauty balanced upon/the poignance of brevity.”
My grandson and I recited a list of fruits we’ve enjoyed this summer: strawberries, then raspberries, blueberries and now, oh glory, even when they grow on invasive vines, blackberries. “Watermelon!” he cried and then his face fell. “All done now.” We ate prune plums from his backyard tree, enjoyed peaches and nectarines that dripped down our faces and chins. And just like that, they were done.
We sat quiet for a moment, lamenting our losses. The sun was waning; rain is forecasted for Friday. Then his eyes lit up. “Apples?” he suggested hopefully. And after a moment, he fairly shouted, “And pears!”
Each of these beautiful gifts of the west coast comes and goes in its place in the cycle of the garden year. Even the long-anticipated tomatoes, most of us agree, sighing. “I’m not ready for squash,” I said to a customer, who had piled her basket high with every variety. “I’ve been waiting for them,” they said eagerly, anticipating squash curry for dinner. Here’s a wonder. We live in a part of the world with four distinct seasons. The garden produces according to the soil tended to and the seeds planted by Paul and Angela and their team, fails and thrives depending on the rain and the sun that attend the growing, and then dies back to give way to compost, feeding the land even as it lies fallow. The seasons remind us to savour each bite, take in each colour and texture, smell each scent, in the here and now. And then winter comes to give the land and the farmers a much-needed rest before beginning all over again in the spring. It’s splendid, isn’t it? Beauty balanced upon brevity.
. . .
Flowers of straw,
everlasting, are winter makeshifts
pleasant to see, but not to touch.
Their voice is a faint crackling under the hand.
By spring the settled
dust is dull
and someone brings in
posies of fragrance from the meadows,
violets, the forgotten, now-to-be-known-freshly
dew is on them,
what could one ever
desire but to sink with closed eyes
into their cold, sweet, brief,
Poem excerpts are from Denise Levertov’s “A Woman Pacing Her Room, Rereading a Letter, Returning Again and
Again to Her Mirror”
Farm reflections from Denise
I was tucking a bunch of mint into a customer’s burgeoning bag of veggies when I heard someone call, “Hi Denise!” I looked up and smiled when I recognized a friend I’d not seen since last spring, flanked by her son and daughter (who, I noted, were each a head taller than the last time I’d seen them). In the middle, B was holding a baby, rosy and smiling in tie-dyed tights and shirt. “Did you visit the goats?” I asked her children, who nodded. The baby gurgled. “Beautiful! All of you!” I said and waved, so happy to see her lovely family. The next customer hoisted his basket to my table and my friend waved goodbye, her children ahead of her, swinging bags of veggies.
Last year, I marvelled, that baby was barely a bump when B came to the market.
Helping things grow is a miraculous but vulnerable process that I think about a lot at this time of year.“Have a taste before you harvest,” says Paul. “Some of this has gotten away from us and is bitter.” Bolting is what happens when the plant’s been growing merrily along, producing
tender, sweet leaves, and then suddenly an unusually warm sunny day tells it that it’s time to produce seeds and mature more quickly. The result? A bed of beautiful lettuce that tastes bitter. You can control when you start the growing, but you can’t control the weather.
We’re (im)patiently waiting for the basil and dahlias to catch up to the season after record-breaking centimeters of rain kept the plants from thriving this spring. I cut a slit in the protective cover under the zucchini plants so the water will drain from the pools gathering under quick-growing zucchini, threatening rot if left untended.
“R wonders if we could get away with three days a week of harvesting but then we run the risk of having overgrown zucchini,” says Paul, scratching his head. We can almost watch these little phallic phenoms grow while we stand and deliberate. I sometimes feel as though the farmer is a conductor of an orchestra that is a little out of control: the lettuce heads are clipping along but the basil is a beat behind for this market day. We try to catch the radish before the vole does, but picking some flowers too early leaves them drooping and sad in A’s bouquets. Timing is everything. So is luck.
And then there are the weeds. Last Wednesday, M, B and I meticulously picked each small hint of weed from the frail but hopeful rows of dill and cilantro just coming up. This morning I looked out and gasped: the patch is overgrown with weeds. Another dilemma: how to put in new seedlings, tend to the old, weed out the unwanted, and prune the thriving. And after all that, P and A, like generous Henny Pennys, strive to invite and grow a market of customers that knows the value of organically-grown vegetables. That knows how important these growing things are to sustain healthy bodies as well as the farmers’ livelihood. Whew!
All this runs through my mind as I harvest and breathe in the heady-inducing dill on an early morning in July.
Yay! The baby goats arrived safe and sound last weekend. So pleased to introduce you to Luca (pictured above) and Lola:) It's fun to watch Lizzie (their mom) who was born here 2 years ago step into her role as mama. She is attentive, careful and providing wonderful nutrition to her young kids. Feels like spring indeed.
I was reminded once again this past week of the power of seeds as I read, “The Seed Keeper,” by Diane Wilson. The way seeds tell stories of what and who came before us. The way seeds lie and wait and then awaken when the time is right.
It’s seeding time for us. Time to wake up our seeds. To believe that there is life and that plants will grow and a harvest will come.
Do you have any stories about seeds? Do you remember someone in your family that saved seeds?
The Seeds Speak
"We are hungry, but the sleep is upon us.
We are thirsty, but the Mother has instructed us not to wake too early.
We are restless, chafing against this thin membrane,
pushing back against the dark that bids us to lie still,
suspended in a near-death that is not dying.
We hold time in this space, we hold a thread to infinity that reaches to the stars....."
It is no surprise that death and new life are often intermingled.
On December 31, in the waning hours of 2021 our friend Sage came and helped us put our goat matriarch down (euthanize). I have been present at times of death before. I remember sitting vigil with my brother and at his time of passing called out, “I think he died.” At that point his breathes were so far a part and his passing so gradual that the moment of death was very soft. I’ve been witness to the time of death when we have butchered cows. Sometimes it has been a smooth passing and sometimes it has been hard. For Penny it quick. Karin and I held her, reassuring her of our presence and of calm, I began to hum softly (probably more to soothe myself) and then with the final needle her breath stopped immediately. One moment her lungs were inflating and then next there was absolute stillness. It was very final.
Penny came to our farm with her daughter Amy in April of 2019. She was gentle, her eyes conveyed wisdom. She was calm and attentive. Since then she’s birthed 7 more beautiful kids who’ve gone on to other farms at this point. But Penny struggled to maintain health and enough fat on her to make it through the winter. She had a bad bacterial infection in the end.
I am grateful for the ease with which we were able to journey with her in her final journey, and for the accompaniment of Sage and Karin. Thank you to all those that have come to Kingfisher Farm visited her through the years. She was well-loved.
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