I’ve been a full time farmer for forty-two days and I’m ready to quit. Six long-anticipated, thrilling, exhausting, bewildering, discouraging, exhilarating, mind and soul stimulating weeks. It’s not like the magazines; I rarely inhabit the white rocking chair on my beautiful porch. Instead I spend hours hauling heavy buckets of water to parched blueberry bushes, jaundiced raspberry canes, bug munched fruit trees and paltry pomegranate plants. Squash bugs are destroying my zucchini, beetles are busy chomping the fruit trees and the teasing cumulous clouds refuse to share a single of drop rain. Our favorite baby goose died and the pound puppy I optimistically adopted in order to help us herd the kamikaze chickens continuously pees on the floor. I wonder if she has brain damage or if I am just jinxed when it comes to picking puppies. The old dog relishes every chance to create chaos by chasing the barn cat and grasshoppers are taking over the pasture. I stand in wonder at the insect population of South Carolina and have no idea what I am doing. Even more challenging is the extensive variety of viral, bacterial and fungal diseases. We just didn’t have this stuff in the arctic thanks to the insane cold. The thug killer dog next door keeps digging under the fence and terrorizing our layers while hungry hawks continually circle up above, keeping me uptight about the three dozen baby chicks and goslings. There is always a threat of death and I find it wearing.
My first waking moment is usually flooded with anxious questions; did a dog, snake, skunk or raccoon sneak into the chicken coop? Am I going to lose all the tomatoes? Is it going to rain anytime soon? Is my homemade insecticide working? Are the bees fighting off the beetles, mites and moths? Is this how I should be spending my time? Throughout the day I wrestle with hundreds of questions and decisions- raising bees, chickens, geese, fruit trees, cover crops, and a wide spectrum of unfamiliar vegetables is all new to me and everyone gives opposing advice. I fall asleep reading natural farming articles and jump out of bed anxious to keep everything alive and growing. I’m often lonely, frustrated and perplexed.
This tension reminds me of being a first time mom, exhausted and overwhelmed with the responsibility of a helpless human being. I craved those magazine moments where beautiful mothers serenely sat in rocking chairs with clean, sleeping babies in spotless, decorated nurseries. It never happened. And here I’ve been lied to again! Or more accurately, I have created impossible expectation in my mind as I carried this dream, as I did when I carried babies. A peck of peaches costs many hours of sweaty labor and often several seasons of expensive lessons. And even then, there are no guarantees that my investment will produce. I’m not going to waltz in on the scene, a newbie, and inspire the world with my agricultural talent. Besides, I can’t dance, nevertheless waltz. And apparently I can’t grow simple squash plants, fix my irrigation line or herd psycho chickens either. Right now it feels like I’m not successful at anything but fretting. But I am learning. And as I look back on all the stretching, challenging times in life I see how learning was the most fruitful part. I’ve been able to take the seeds from those lessons and plant a “garden” that has nourished my family and many other hungry sojourners with bites of truth and wisdom of experience.
I am learning that farming, like motherhood, demands constant attention, heaps of humility and comfortable shoes. You’ll probably never see those in a photo shoot. And for farmers and mothers alike, rocking chairs are for precious, stolen moments.