Saturday, February 2, 2008

From the Archives

In 1986 I wrote an essay on homesteading for the 20th anniversary of Pacific Northwest Magazine. PNW is no longer published, and I no longer live on the farm, but I still feel the connection to the cycles of the land that I tried to articulate then.

...What I like about my routine is the unmasked complexity of ordinary life. I like it that the weather is not just an annoyance or pleasure but a real shaper of events. I like leaning on the counter at the feedstore talking about winter rye, even though I buy it by the pound instead of the ton. My days have more drudgery, but they also have more resonance. I sniff the breeze for rain. I check the center of the compost pile, where the alchemy of decomposition can give off enough heat to cook an egg. I look for morels when the alders start to bud.

In a world full of events that seem random at best, and more often so terrifying in their logic that I can hardly bear to face them, I am entranced by the benign intricacies of barn and garden. The cow's surplus milk goes to the chickens. We rotate the chickens between pens each year, and plant corn in the pen that's empty. The cornstalks and overripe ears go to the cow, so she can make more milk for the chickens. Now that we have a young daughter, her mealtime mess is also the poultry's gain, and she likes both the chicken and the egg. Operating along with these homely household cycles are enough more mysterious ones for a lifetime of wonder: hawk and mouse, mushroom and rotten log, caterpillar and cabbage...

The young daughter of the essay now has a young daughter of her own. I hope Hailey, too, will grow up knowing where her milk and chicken and corn on the cob come from.

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