there are many things i adore about operating a community supported farm. i appreciate the financial stability this model offers to our small family farm. i enjoy the diversity that this structure offers to our farming choices. i remain thankful for the chance to mentor apprentices who are intrigued by the day to day management of such a place. but definitely at the very top of the list is the people, the connections, the community. during our slow winter months, the community can feel small. we have no apprentices living on the farm, intermittent vegetable deliveries to private homes. farm guests are limited (although the truest joy on the farm might just be during the maple syrup season of late winter, just sayin’). in july, right now, at the peak of the season, our community swells. we have 4 on farm apprentices, weekly guests in the hollow, 75 CSA member families ,our regular market customers, the fellow vendors at the metro nashville farmers market, we are talking hundreds of people, hundreds of relationships, whew. i suppose it is a great thing i love people. for the past 12 weeks i have been pondering this idea, the busyness of my business i have mentally labelled it. in my mind i first composed this tale when at market a friend declared she was unexpectedly pregnant. we stole a few moments away from the market bustle to hug. i mentally jotted down another paragraph when i met not one but two newborn babies some saturdays ago on their first of many lifetime CSA pickups. once more i told the story to myself when the extended family came and went, and when i met and bid farewell to folks visiting our farm’s apprentices, and each week, when guest after guest comes to share our life for an hour, a day or a week. i thought, i have a lot of people in my life. today, somehow today, the story gets written because this week at market, the talk was heavy with cancer. a difficult pondering for me who will look back 20 years this month to my own mother’s passing from the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells that takes so many loved ones from us. cancer talk is hard on me and it is all around us, all of us. within hours this past saturday i shared a joyous return to market from friends 3 weeks out of a successful surgery with totally optimistic prognosis and other friends visiting us at market for likely the last time. in those teary moments i realized how much i hold in my heart these days. these long full summer days, my physical work is hard. countless hours spent in the fields and in the kitchen preserving the summer’s bounty. my social work is just as busy. i hold so many so close in these months, with thoughts for healing and recovery sharing space with hopes for the future of newborns and those first heading off to college. the life changes, the vacations, the births, the pregnancies, life and death swirl around me as i pick and can tomatoes and green beans. i am so glad this is part of my work, holding a whole community so dear. i hope that i not only nourish these people with our farm’s food, but also share with them weekly the appreciation i have for their commitment to our farm, our family and the model of agriculture that places a farm at the center of such a community. i am often asked how i do it all. my answer is i do it all with you all. no one can do it alone. i blanch and chill and bag and freeze pound after pound of edamame, i work to manage the bounty of the growing season and i think about my bounteous community. today, some are suffering, some rejoicing. it is all such a poignant and integral part of this rich life.
I remember being so excited to turn ten. Two digits.
As the years have wound on, I’ve begun to take notice of more than the cakes (though the cakes are still great fun, maybe even more fun since I can make them myself). Sometime in my twenties, I started making annual inventories around birthday times. What happened in the last year’s go-round? Where have I been? What’s changed?
Anyone who knows me much, or follows this blog closely, might have picked up on the fact that it’s been a helluva year in my life. Two of the four people who raised me as parents have died, as well as a few more friends near and far. I’ve carried responsibility around the process of one of those deaths, and it has been a far less than easy process. The experiences, altogether, have been a fairly big shake-up of my world view and life in general.
But I’m still pretty psyched to be where and who I am. Forty years is beginning to sound and feel like the middle of my life. I am feeling the heft of myself as a somewhat more substantial person. No longer so young, uncertain, inexperienced. Still able, willing, strong, and more stable than I ever was before, just seasoned now by a few more trips around the sun.
There’s enough of life’s road behind me to gain at least a little perspective about where I come from, and the road ahead, though it is still flexible, has more form now too. That youthful desire to understand and KNOW EVERYTHING has faded into a more gentle curiosity. What a relief to find that I still grow, learn, progress without those flames licking my heals. I may have lines around my eyes now, but I’m grateful to have left adolescence and early adulthood behind.
This past year, I began to witness more clearly in myself and those around me the workings of this mid-life transition. As the dreams of our younger years are realized, they become much less dreamy. Sometimes they dissolve altogether, leaving muddy puddles of regret, or weedy patches of disappointment. Sometimes they never precipitate at all, and whole new realities sprout around us without warning. The person we married ten years ago isn’t the same one we’re sharing a home with now. I recognize myself in that ten year old girl thirty years ago, but only from deep down inside. We all change. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it can be very good.
And, the longer we live, the more people around us pass away from living. Surviving those deaths changes the way we carry on, and helps us get a grip on the fact of mortality. Sometimes the air around me seems thicker with the presences of the people who have gone on, whose memories and presence linger in mine. That thickness of the atmosphere is cumulative, and more tangible when I visit my grandfather, and others in their upper years. Some carry it hard and heavy, and others with sweetness, but it looks like a natural part of the maturation process.
I guess that’s what I’m exploring here. Maturity. Some qualities of maturity, in my opinion include: an open-eyed acceptance of the way things are, an un-shirking attitude toward whatever work is at hand, and staying power for the variable courses of family and community life, for starters. I’m not claiming to be a perfectly mature person, or defining when maturity begins or should begin. Far from it. I really feel like I’ve just begun to lay eyes on the fact of its existence. But I can feel and see, from here, that maturity, in all its outward and inward characteristics, is no cause for fear or shame. It is strong, and beautiful, and necessary in its strength and beauty.
In the larger world of our wild mammalian kin, gray and white hair are indications of a creature who has reached an age not of frailty, but of full power and strength. Makes sense to me. I got a few white hairs while I was traveling the world in my twenties. But raising children gave me more, and the past year has really accelerated the silver streak. And those things that have contributed most to the whiteness of my head have also contributed to the wisdom of my heart. No complaints there.
I am still a little vain. Sometimes the lines on my face and white streaks in my hair bug me. When I brush my hair back, and Lulah exclaims “Oh Mama, I can see all the white that way!”, I used to brush at a different angle. But more and more, I can smile in return and say, “That’s just OK.”
I woke up excited. It was a beautiful day, with a rather exciting prospect of rain in the afternoon. The question was, could I make a batch of plum jam, mow the lawn, and bake a three layer chocolate cake before friends arrived?
The answer, of course, was no.
Today, for once, baking the chocolate cake came to the top of the list.
You only turn 40 once.
After a lovely lunch of fresh roasted corn, grilled sausage patties, and fresh tomatoes, the custard was nearly cool enough, so I assembled the cake.
Each of the three chocolate layers was topped with custard and fresh-picked blackberries. It was a moist, fresh, chocolately, mess. I’m pretty sure everyone had seconds. Well worth the morning’s labors, and a complete pleasure to share with friends and family.