HOME AGAIN by Hardscrabble Farmer – The Burning Platform
We spent the better part of the day cleaning up the sacrifice, one load after another of manure piled into windrows for composting in the warming air of May. The smell is powerful, but filled with promise, like the scent of bread rising, cider fermenting, meat roasting. What they produce isn’t waste, it’s essential to the life of the farm and once the bacteria and oxygen get to it the temperatures rise and with each lift of the bucket columns of steam escape the mounds of dark brown carbon filled with fragments of straw, hay stalks, wood chips, and shavings.
By late afternoon I have begun to repave the area with fresh bank-run sand carved out of the face of the eskar down by the stream and all the while the cows have been keeping an eye on me, jaws working on the green grass of new pasture. Only one calf has joined us so far this season though the rest of the cows are swollen to the point of exhaustion and they groom themselves and each other in anticipation of their own calving. The new heifer calf, the only Hereford born on this farm with an all brown face, has taken an attachment to me and follows me as I make each pass on the tractor. Her mother, the second generation born on the farm, has always been affectionate towards me and I wonder if there isn’t a little bit of genetic pass through in their domestication.
Towards the end of the day the mother and her calf trod up the long hill from the stream and the calf lay down in the corner and fell asleep while her mother returned to the herd for a last graze. I check each time I bring another load back and eventually I stop looking, lost in other thoughts. At nightfall I turn off the tractor and watch as the tired cows wander back into the hay barn, empty now but for the shavings on the floor and the chains and implements hung on the walls. As I make my way back to the house I can hear the mother bawling to her calf, calling her to milk, a solid trumpet of mooing that repeats itself four times, insistent and as old as time.
The temperatures so far have been well below normal this spring; the fiddle head ferns have been blackened by frost twice, the lilacs have yet to burst with their perfumed allure and the other morning when I pulled a tarp off a project from the evening before a sheet of ice flew off and shattered on the paved apron in front of the garage barn. In the morning there is a plume of blue vapor rising from the trout pond and they say we may get snow for Mother’s Day. It is hard to get too excited about the summer when we have yet to put away our winter gear in the mudroom but each day brings us just a little bit closer and the light lasts longer a few minutes every evening, so there’s that. Still with spring there is always the anticipation of something coming, of light and warmth and other things as well, even if we can’t articulate what that may be.
Our oldest son came home last week with a friend he met in Ohio, a senior at the University in Bowling Green and next week two more will join us for the summer. How he was able to talk them into serving internships on the farm I will never know, but we are grateful for it and he has decided to be their foreman for the twelve weeks they will be staying with us. I get the labor of four 20 year-old men and they get the experience of working on a diversified organic family farm in New England, satisfying their graduation requirement as well as their curiosity about the rocky world of the old east. Only one has any real experience having grown up on a large crop farm in the Midwest but the others come with their enthusiasm and we will do our level best to make this a year worth remembering.