Nursery times

While the weather wobbles back and forth, winter delivering its final salvos, it is decidedly spring on the farm: future food plots are plowed, perennials begin to peek out, baby chicks fledge into birds, fruit trees’ buds bulge. The great awakening on a vegetable farm, though, occurs in the greenhouse. It’s nursery time. Each week, the population further swells. Our youngest, Campbell, had an epiphany last week: “I know why it’s called a greenhouse—it’s a house full of green things!”

We tend tenderly to each baby’s needs, knowing that a healthy start is essential to their successful maturation. The time will come when they will be released into the unruly world, mostly on their own, when they must lean on the strong foundation we’re now building and overcome the tribulations life provides aplenty. Some consider this the most tedious and tiresome part of the process. But for me, spending hour after hour standing still, moving only my fingers, this is a time for meditating on the miraculous nature of new life. I love this slow and often unsung work.

This year, beyond plants and farm animals, I find myself reflecting on the nursery years that are coming to a close. Since November 25, 2010, this farm has been a nursery for first Clark and then Campbell too. From fragile, dependent babies, our children have grown into strong, bright, semi-autonomous boys. And now a watershed moment awaits us. Campbell has two months left in his last year of preschool. He, like Clark, has had a wonderful preschool experience, three days a week for three hours, with our friend, neighbor, and fantastic teacher Bonnie Cecil. Come August, he will join his brother doing all day every day at the elementary school.

Both Clark and Campbell have thrived with this farm as their nursery. The freedom of open spaces, the simplicity of outside play, the confidence of being good helpers, the education of nature, the modeling of how to be good humans by the wonderful people who work here, the joy, camaraderie, challenges and triumphs that mark our days. Your support of this CSA has not only produced tons of produce but has also supported the safe and healthy start of two beautiful boys. While they will still belong and learn and grow here, their world widens away from this place and their peers become ever-greater influences. They’re venturing into the unruly world.

Of course at times it has been crazy to juggle parenting and farming, but I will cherish these last eight years for the rest of my years. I knew before that farming did my own soul good, and now I have learned that it is also a boon to babies and young children, and I have re-learned in some ways how to see the world as a child, full of wonder, awed by newness and surprise. Work and play are indistinguishable, means matter more than ends, time is unbroken from eternity, any fraction of the world, like a hologram, contains all. Though at times the barrage of questions can be wilting, each question has the potential to turn the world on its head, to illuminate an unexplored facet, to bow before mystery and infinite complexity. I love life more than I used to.

As I prepare myself to drop off Campbell at The Big School, I recall vividly the weeping that accompanied my first days dropping off Clark, watching him inch away, his small, unsuspecting frame swallowed by a foreign edifice . It was on the one hand a stabbing grief, mourning for a time that will not come again for me. But all the sadness we experience is somehow commingled with delight and leads us deeper into our truer selves. I come back to George Sheehan’s words:

“For me such moments come more easily now. Goodness and truth and beauty suddenly possess me. I am surprised by joy, filled with delight, and there is nothing to do but exult in tears. And I think of Housman, who said he was careful not to think of a poem while shaving, lest he cut himself. And I must be careful while in company not to think on my dear dead friends who wrote so truly and so beautifully of what moved them to tears, lest I be thought senile and childish sitting there weeping. …

“Crying starts when we see things as they really are. When we realize with William Blake that everything that lives is holy. When everything is seen to be infinite and we are part of the infinity. Tears come when we are filled with joy of that vision. When we finally and irrevocably say yes to life. When we reach past reason and logic and know that the test of what we do and how we do it is delight.”

Had these boys not charged me with delight, there would be no well of tears to draw from. Had we not ever found something so immeasurably indispensable, there would be nothing to lose. Still, after these eight years resounding with shrieks and peals, hysterical laughter and devastated weeping, I’m a bit scared of the deafening daily silence to come, when from 8-4 I work and eat alone, no child to tease, comfort or cajole. I am a contemplative loner by constitution, and I do believe I will eventually embrace the time to myself. But boy is it going to be an adjustment.

These newsletters could be much more informative. I hardly write anymore of the day-to-day frustrations and accomplishments—the maddening mice eating seeds out of our greenhouse trays, the iron bar that smashed my foot, the immaculate fencerow, the new varieties to be trialed. Perhaps I should be explaining about the farm bill, about corporate organics, GMOs, rural decline, etc. Instead here I am again writing about crying and the passage of time. And a better farmer, I know, would be concentrating more on pH, cultivars, efficiencies and infrastructure projects. But there I am, planted at a greenhouse bench, spending this nursery time mulling over our crop of humans and how much I love them.

The times are always changing, but this time hasn’t passed yet, and I hear a sweet voice calling out my name, “Dad,” which was not my name eight years ago. “I’m coming.”

Food is awfully important, but there is nothing we’ve nursed along on this farm nearly as precious as Clark and Campbell. Thanks for your help in giving them a great start at this place on earth.


Just after I finished writing this, I happened upon this piercing note, written I remember not when:

“Dear Dad, I enjoy working with you! It does not matter if I have to go somewhere because I will always have time! Love, Clark”

With tears of joy,

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