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Farm to Tablet: On the Power of Small Things

Over the last few weeks, we have begun the process of wintering down. Scott has built a greenhouse where we can store the hay that the sheep will require over the coming months, when no new food will grow. I've cleared the garden beds and sown my cover crop—winter wheat—to suppress weeds and feed the soil. I've also cut the perennials back and blanketed them with a thick carpet of mulch. This weekend we'll wire the heating elements for the livestock so that we won't have to crack their water each morning, though I will still head out each day to fluff the sheep's feeder with hay and scatter corn for the chickens and pour pellets for the rabbits and heap their bowl with timothy.

The past two winters have felt barren, but this one will not. In February, each of our three ewes are expected to birth twins, and in March, amidst the clumsy new lambs, we also hope to welcome our first two litters of rabbit kits. In late April, our first asparagus harvest arrives. I will have planted the crowns three years before, in an act of what I now recognize as faith.

Eating for three

So much is coming to fruition now, having purchased these three acres two and a half years ago. And yet, despite this functional farm we've built (tiny, yes, but functional), I recall no grand actions. Instead I recall only a series of small projects that we chipped slowly away at, between writing sessions and coding sprints, homeschool projects and holiday gatherings. The fence, the coop, the barn, the compost system, the water line. It shouldn't surprise me what all the time was coming to be—this small pasture supporting so many animals; these rich beds sprouting so much food.

It's something I've been trying to do more lately—to pause and appreciate the past that has built this present, to consider how even the smallest details carry so much behind them. My son's trust that I will care for the things he tells me—my reward for my past seven years of faithful listening. The roast chicken on the table—the product of a tiny, feathered creature that the children kept daily fed. The butternuts on the windowsill—the fruit of having scraped the pest eggs off the undersides of the vine's leaves and tipped infecting beetles out of its flowers and watered its roots when the sky didn't send enough rain.

Cat at the butternuts

When I was a teenager I happened upon a calendar that comes now to my mind. Each day contained a phrase that described, very simply, something to be happy about—the sight of laundry hanging on a clothesline, the morning's first sip of coffee, the smell of freshly-cut grass, that moment in early spring when the daffodils come into bloom. Some may have been a bit of a stretch—restocking the bathroom with toilet paper, for example, or receiving the first Christmas catalog in the mail. And taken together, I'm sure the calendar would have struck someone else as sentimental slop. But here's the thing: it worked. That is to say, it made me happy. And because happiness was a rare and fleeting feeling then, I recognized it immediately—its slight but unmistakable lift, its warm yellow glow.

As cheerful as hay climbers

Funny that, all these years later, I still find myself a beginner student of the small. Note the morning grass, I remind myself, crisping under your boots on the way out to the pasture; hear the syllables popping in the chickens' warm chests; smell the sweet summer hay on the still winter air as the flakes shake down to the feeder; bend with the ewes as they nudge your legs, watch their cloven hooves step forward and back as dainty as stilettos. Remember  Epictetus's dictum that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. Bring the lack you are always lugging along behind, let it lessen. For here is endless wealth if only you can teach yourself to see it, to wait as each detail cracks around its edges and lets the light through.

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Writer · 14641 Waterloo Munith Rd · Grass Lake, MI 49240-9495 · USA

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