For the Love of Farming
By Christina Carson
I loved farming, the way a drowning person loves a lifesaver. It is hard to the touch, impersonal, and not at all interested in how you came to need it, but it saves you. And so did farming. Who would have thought a kid from the east, parents upwardly mobile with 1950s urgency, first generation to go to college, the expected keeper of the dream with opportunity abounding on all fronts, would balk, and walk not only away, but leave and not look back. Worse yet, would actively seek out a life that to her family reeked of failure and poverty. Well, I’ll give them this; they had the poverty part right, but failure, never. For farming is one of those endeavors you could call life in a nutshell – it’s all there — everything you think that life should be — rewarding, meaningful, challenging, intimate, exhilarating, passionate and instructive. And further, when you do it in the far north of Alberta, it is wild, new and ancient at the same time, and so big that even my gigantic twenties-something ego cowed-down, ceased arguing, and obeyed.
Then there was the company you kept. Since we were stockmen, company meant animals. In my book, animals offered a privileged life in which a few lucky humans somehow got to be included. Imagine your main associations of each day being with those that don’t lie, cheat, judge, or envy you. I called it love just because I didn’t know any other word that half covered the depth and intimacy of such an experience. And it rubbed off on us humans that lived among them, raising us all up to something more honorable and yet open to the laughter that accompanies the realization of how truly inept we humans are. Given they are stuck with us, animals display forbearance that resembles a holy act in my book. We may amuse them, frustrate them and bother them needlessly, but they carry no grudges. Here’s the picture of that always comes to mind when I think of them putting up with me: Our great, white Komondor dog, protector of our flock, lying where I had insisted she stay against all her cosmic instincts, sighing so deeply that it blew the corded hair on her flews out straight, like rags tied on an air vent when the heater comes on. Yet the next moment she’d have defended me with her life. I don’t know about your life, but the human counterparts of my life rarely afforded me that level of acceptance.
And finally what about the great laws of nature, the Tao of life lived, well the farm was sage-like in its ability to model how life actually works. We have been taught two misleading ideas as we’ve moved away from the land: that life possesses a level of inevitability that frees you from responsibility, and the corollary to this notion being we aren’t responsible for our lives anyway; forces that affect us are outside our purview, beyond our influence. Farming is where I came to understand that as malarkey. You can’t live on the land and not recognize that you really don’t have a choice as to whether you take responsibility for your life or not, for there under the great blue sky, you are the one who is standing over the ewe who can’t get her lamb out. You are the one who decides or not to use chemicals on your priceless topsoil that could alter it irreparably. Yes, it hails on you, droughts or floods you out, or snows far too early, but you are the one that then must decide how to respond. And in that choice lives your true identity.
Enter once again our Komondor, Dali. She had a daunting responsibility on our farm. It was hers to protect the sheep from predators in a land that grew coyotes faster than grass. She was inadvertently poisoned and became seriously ill. But there was no way to keep her tied up so she could rest and recover. Her instincts to protect the flock were much too fierce. On top of everything else we had a coydog coming in on our flock— a coyote-dog cross more dangerous than either of its parents. She would go out each night and run him off and then literally crawl back to the yard and collapse. Each day, a bit of me died with her, it hurt so much to let her be her. The coydog figured out Dali’s need to go lie down at some point, she was so sick and weak, and one morning he came in behind her and killed a ewe. We found the still-warm ewe lying in the grass with tufts of wool scattered about her in her attempt to stand him off. Dali sensed our strong emotion and dragged herself up to see what was the matter. When she saw the carcass, she dropped her head in seeming resignation, but then she walked over to the first tuft of wool and picked it up. She continued adding to her heap until she had it all. Then she carried that bundle out of the field and dug a hole and buried it, her reasons to remain forever her own. How could anyone live amongst such steadfast creatures and not have some of if rub off. The poisoning shortened her life. But the farm made it possible for me to accept that integrity not length marked a life as well-lived.
Yes, I loved farming. It was the greatest life I could have ever known, and not a day goes by that I don’t whisper to the winds of time — thank you.
Find this blog here: MyBlog>About Life
If you are receiving this via email and wish to read it on my site instead, click here.
Take a minute and subscribe in the box above if you enjoy these blogs and would like not to miss one.