It’s Winter Break and I’m in Greenhouse number two, cleaning out last year’s tomato plants, prepping the soil, and planting the greens I will be eating in May. Outside, it’s raining—not a Winter Mist, like we usually have—but a real rain with wind and dramatic clouds. Inside, I’m down to a tee shirt and wooly hat, flannel shirt and sweatshirt in a pile by the door. I’m alone, working peacefully. Occasionally, a gust of wind ripples the plastic and it rains inside.
When I run out of compost, I sigh…the compost pile is on the other side of the barns. I wrangle the deep wheelbarrow between the last glorious ruby chard, so beautiful that no one can cut it down—although it has contributed to several dinners—and the sawhorses holding seedlings. Push it out the door and across the plank which keeps it out of the mud. Past the mazy toolshed/farmstand/crop storage building, the old hoophouse turned comfrey patch, and housing for apprentices to the pile of decomposing leaves. It has stopped raining for the moment. I shovel compost into the barrow, pause, look up. Huge grey clouds race across the sky, wind whips through my hair and tee shirt, the air smells of earth, and ocean, and forest all at once, and Mary’s Peak looms over all.
It’s been a good summer for help at Sunbow. There has been a couple from Australia living there for several weeks and they like to get going early in the morning. When Mark and I arrive, the greenhouse work has already been done and we are heading out to one of the big back fields to weed and mulch. Harry is out at the back leaf pile with the tractor. We gather five gallon buckets, shovels, water bottles, hats, and head out past the quiet rustle of the wheat field, green gold in the July light. Five of us move down the rows, pulling the weeds, freeing the plants. They stretch towards the sun. Once the weeds are gone, we move in with buckets of leaves, piling mulch around their roots. We talk quietly to the plants, encouraging growth, and to each other—about the task at hand and the meaning of life and growing things. The sun slowly climbs in the sky. Time passes.
When the sun is overhead, we stop. The entire field is weeded and mulched. On the right, rows of leeks raise lavender globes high, producing seed for the next year. Further on, the wheat is ripening. Harry nods, pleased with the morning’s work.
“Imagine,” I say, “if we always had this many people—what it would look like.”
“We did, once,” he replies. “When we did all of the markets…there were ten or more people working every day.” I see, in his mind, all of the fields clean and producing food for the valley, and nod.
We have just been out to Summer Lake and we spent one night at a campground around a warm spring. “This is sacred ground” a sign by the entrance read. I looked around —piles of old farm trash, no potable water, slimy warm spring—who were they kidding? Just putting up a sign does not make your land “sacred.”
Two days later, I bike out to Sunbow. Warm June morning…I rattle in on the dirt drive between the eight foot high pampas grass clumps. On one side, the purple house buried in roses, on the other, the front field, filled with yacon, beans, corn, tomatoes, and, of course, weeds. There are weeds everywhere. In the corner, an old geodesic dome is slowly returning to the earth. Out back, wheat and garbanzo beans are growing. I hear a few chickens conversing in the pen as I park my bike by the high leaf piles and hunt for Harry.
“We’re weeding the tomatoes today,” he announces cheerfully. Okay. We walk out to the front field, push aside the pigweed, and find the plants. There they are, growing lustily in old leaves. I drop to my knees to weed. Sun on my back. Earth under my hands. Scent of tomato in the air.