FEATURE — My sister-in-law and her family uprooted from a suburb of Madison, Wisc., six years ago to start a small farm in Idaho.
They bought a piece of land on the banks of the Bear River, acquired a few goats and chickens, and found used farm equipment that still had some life in it. They were all set.
Except they didn’t really know how to farm. Not at first, anyway.
Their plan was to grow organic alfalfa. They asked around the valley about how to do it. But none of the other farmers knew; maybe their grandparents or their grandparents’ parents could have said but all anyone used now was Roundup.
Some things are lost over time with new conveniences.
Undeterred, the organic hopefuls went ahead and tilled the land. They planted the crop. They watered the crop. And they waited. Until something started to grow.
Their first year, ninety-five percent of their alfalfa crop was weeds.
Still undeterred, they did it all again the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. Tilling, planting, watering and, most importantly, weeding.
Many of the old timers in the valley dismissed their efforts in those early years – and who could blame them with weeds for crop – saying it would be a whole lot easier if they just did it like everybody else.
My sister-in-law sat laughing in my family room just two weeks ago as she recalled how every time she would drive by the field on her way to somewhere else, she would surreptitiously jump out of the car to pull weeds.
The funnier thing was her husband’s response, “Oh, you did that too, huh?”
This year was finally different. This year, their alfalfa crop was 95%t alfalfa. And they hardly had to weed at all.
They were triumphant as they shared both of those facts. I would be too.
As I sat listening to their story, I couldn’t help but think of that classic children’s story The Carrot Seed.
In the book, a little boy plants a carrot seed. His mother says, “I’m afraid it won’t come up.” His father says, “I’m afraid it won’t come up.” His big brother says, “It won’t come up.”
Big brothers can be like that, you know. Totally dream squashing. I should know. I’m raising three brothers.
Although, in their defense, big brothers can also be encouraging, inspiring wonders. I should know that too. I’m raising three brothers.
Back to that carrot seed. Every day, the boy waters and weeds and nurtures the mound of dirt everyone tells him will yield nothing. He waits and waters. Waters and weeds. Nothing comes up.
Until one day, a carrot comes up. Just as the boy knew it would.
Talk about an example of patience. And perseverance. This boy and my sister-in-law are cut from the same cloth.
And then there’s me. These days, even my watch sees my deficit; every day it’s instructing me with increased frequency to “breathe deeply.”
Perhaps it’s the coming of the Christmas holidays and the desire to celebrate with all the people I love like in years past. And I can’t. Perhaps it’s knowing how badly my boys want to learn in person. And they can’t. Perhaps it’s feeling like everyone should be doing all of this (insert waving arms around at the whole world) a little better. And we aren’t.
So, what to do?
Author and naturalist Helen Macdonald might have the answer in reindeer moss, a lichen that grows in the arctic and feeds reindeer, moose and caribou, and that she calls “patience made manifest.”
According to Macdonald, reindeer moss “can survive just about anything the world throws at it. Keep reindeer moss in the dark, dry it into a crisp, it won’t die. It goes dormant and waits for things to improve.”
Got it. Go dormant and wait for things to improve. Maybe I have the patience for that.
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