We Will Do This Slowly
…or we will not do this at all.
Doc is taking me around his farm on a baby tractor. It’s Braeburn Farm, but it’s easy to miss because for some reason the sign at the turn-off has been replaced with one for Mike’s Bluegrass Music. As far as I’ve heard, no one knows who Mike is, or what is his music sounds like. I look at my cows as my employees, Doc shouts as we blaze through the buttercups, his beagle running alongside. Ultimately, they will provide me a product. In the meantime, they’ll provide me with a service – tending to my land. As far as I can tell, the cows are doing a fine job, standing in the green and yellow, snatching and slurping grass. Orchard grass is their favorite and why do we never think of animals as having favorites? I have a favorite of the eggs I just got from the coop: the speckled light-blue one, even though the mother pecked me when I plucked it from underneath her.
When I asked Doc why he moved to North Carolina from Montana, he told me it was either move and take over the family farm, or go to med school. He’s an optometrist now in the next town over, and I get the feeling he’s a doctor so that he can be a farmer and afford to keep up this land. It’s strange just how much money matters out in all this orchard grass. There are more than circles of lives out here, and around these animals, when Doc talks about interdependent systems and symbiotic relationships, I feel comfortably small and insignificant.
Doc stops the tractor at one of smaller gardens so I can pick some bok choy. My feet sink into the copper-colored earth as I lift up the root of the biggest head in the row, pocketknife ready. What opens slowly grows most; I am ready to participate in a fundamental aspect of my existence. Today, I am focused on this basic responsibility and doing it right. Today, I know where dinner is coming from.
Last night, I slept in a small cabin behind the farmhouse. It used to be on the other side of the property, but Doc moved it log by log to where it stands now. It’s not used much, but Doc and his son built it by hand, and he’s told me it’s all mine whenever I want to stay. I spent an hour exploring, sitting in the dusty rocking chair, running my fingers along the shiny oak kitchen table. I found a spider as big as my hand in the loft upstairs, clinging to the faded wood wall like it had been there for years. There’s a hammock in the back and a swing out front and for one night, I had everything I needed.
Perusing the bookshelf in the bedroom before bed, I remembered sitting on a very high boulder somewhere in western North Carolina years ago. The skin of the rock had looked like serrated pages of a closed book and it was covered in hardened green moss with small ants crawling everywhere. I slowly sliced and ate a tomato, tasting the sun on its skin. Pools of water filled the boulder’s small crevices and I lay on my stomach, my arm hanging above thousands of feet of simple green, simply everything. The rocks, I had realized, had been there for thousands of years. Humans cannot speed up their changes and there is something so elegant and obvious in how they will only move by shifting over time.
After picking more vegetables for dinner and checking on the fields with Doc, I help him with his most recent picnic table. He makes them on a regular basis, telling me he likes the process of shaping wood into something enjoyable, something that provides. I met Doc through a mutual older friend, and I’ve visited Braeburn a few times over the past couple months. When I told him I was looking for work on an organic farm someplace I had never been, Doc said he could teach me a thing or two on his farm before I set off. I usually call two farms a night, my pitch ready. I used to just email – I wrote a really nice farm email template that included words like “passionate” and “fruitful” – but I found a couple of farms whose websites said that the farm owners only check email once a month. It’s nice to know that’s still possible these days, and that’s what I’m looking for, but it makes it harder to get there.
I know not to use the word “farm” when I’m calling out west, because everything west of the Mississippi is called a ranch. Doc keeps correcting me. I know that the best way to wash arugula is in a washing machine, barefoot, and not too carefully. There are many things about biodynamic farms and permaculture I still need to learn about. A farmer in Nebraska I called the other night, Bob, told me that if I were to work with his vegetables he didn’t want to teach me anything but that I should know he quit smoking pot last month. I told him thank you for telling me and that I am looking to be taught some things. Betsy in Utah let the phone ring thirteen times before picking up. I was out back with the chickens, she said with a kind of slow drawl I had never heard before, and I try never to rush away from them. I smiled so widely at that patience, at her drawl and her chickens. Thirteen rings.
We eat dinner at the picnic table in front of the cabin. It’s the first one Doc ever made; there are more knots than he would like. The table’s covered with simple dishes: steamed kale and bok choy, a colorful salad, beans and tempeh. I make a tempeh sloppy joe with all the fixings, spilling some when I bump elbows with Doc’s wife. It sits unnoticed in one of the table’s knots until the end of the night, when we can’t see the wheat in the fields anymore and two of our friends are already asleep in the hammock. Walking to the edge of the field with a glass of Carménère, I think about the crimson of autumn before the leaves fall and how transitions are sometimes more beautiful than what comes before and after. The wind tonight is strong, tornado-strong, and it hurts my eyelids. But the air, the air is ripe with honeysuckle. Have you ever needed to go back somewhere for the air? This is what I’m after.
Later, alone in the cabin and getting ready for bed, I wonder who else has stayed here, how many of the books on the shelves have been read cover to cover, if the light coming through the windows tomorrow morning will be the same kind as earlier today. I am realizing that there are so many mechanical processes, and there is always doing things faster. But out here on the farm, there are excruciatingly slow meals with a beagle named Finnigan at your side. There are rows and rows of essential plants wiggling their way to life, and there are conversations enjoyed over drinks with shots of apple and twists of honey. And the last act of the day may very well be undressing, like I’m doing now, the undressing of the day or the day undressing me. I let down my hair, lift off my necklace. Thumb and forefinger remove one earring, then the other, head tilted to offer the studs and make the motion fluid. Shoes, shoes, bend down, helping the heel slip off. Two arms cross to lift the shirt, my rib cage wiggling slightly to ease the coming off. I am not sure what is helping what, but it is one thing at a time, it is a too-rare ritual that is the exact opposite of doing everything at once.