Editorial, The Rural Life, The New York Times, March 21, 2013
Last week I got an e-mail from one of the two young farmers living at my small farm in upstate New York while I’m teaching in Southern California for the semester. She mentioned “green spears” shooting out of the ground. The thought threw me into a vernal prolepsis, a mental flash-forward to spring, for which there must be a German word or a Chinese poem.
I imagined the barn with the woodchucks beneath it stirring. I can picture the horses shedding winter, and their hair drifting across the snow.
There’s plenty of spring in Southern California. Spring comes every time it rains, and it seems truly protean — herbs, trees, shrubs and flowers jostling one another, a mob of blossom, a fog bank of pollen. But I find myself missing the intensity of expectation that spring brings to the farm, the sense that the weather is rushing to meet deadline, a linear thrust toward the heart of May. The cues come in sequence. One day it’s the hellebores, then snowdrops, and then unruly forsythia.
None of the real farmers in my family have been very good travelers. They went to war — World War II, Vietnam — and when they got home, they didn’t do much leaving again. Once, I met an old farmer who told me he hadn’t missed a milking, morning or evening, in 40 years. It was more than just a sense of duty. It was a worry that things won’t go right — the corn won’t grow, the calves won’t fatten — unless you’re watching.
In a small way, I know how that feels. Of course, the goldfinches will brighten without me. And the wild mint is already expanding its empire, I’m sure. The barn-loft door stands open, ready for the swallows. I’ll be along soon enough, just behind them.