The Weight of Snow

I wrote this after a big snow before Christmas.

We got almost of foot of snow yesterday. The kids and Bones were both delighted as the snow brings fun and time off from school and work. I’m not a fan. Freezing temps alone make caring for the critters harder. Their water needs refreshing throughout the day either by breaking the ice on the surface or hauling water in buckets from the house. Most of the critters also hate the snow. They hide in their huts, shivering and crying for more hay and bedding. Since the ground is covered, they can’t graze or root around for acorns, so I fork hay into their pens and bring them extra grain to stay warm. A light dusting of snow isn’t a big deal, but trudging through almost a foot of snow carrying five gallon buckets full of water is no small feat.

 
Last night, as it began to get dark and the snow turned over to sleet, I became worried about the high tunnel plastic giving way under the weight of snow. We ran a small propane heater in the tunnel hoping the little bit of heat would encourage some shedding of snow from the tunnel’s peak. It was moderately successful at shedding from the lowest parts of the tunnel, but the peak was heavy with snow. Just minutes earlier I watched as our wash station roof (admittedly poorly constructed) collapsed under the weight of wet snow. I didn’t want to see our $10,000 tunnel follow suit. So, with a long pole covered in some cushioning at the very end, I set about knocking the snow off the tunnel. Standing inside I could reach all the way to the 15 ft peak with the pole and shake the plastic enough to get the snow moving. Big swaths of snow cascaded off the tunnel creating huge piles on either side. Inside, the warmth of the heater had created a layer of condensation on the plastic which rained down on me with every thrust of my pole. It took over an hour to shake down the bulk of the snow weight. Soaking wet from the condensation rain and my arms shaking with exhaustion, I finally had to concede that I couldn’t get all the snow off. Perhaps I had lessened the weight enough to prevent collapse. We left the heater running, hoping to keep the sleet from forming a sheet of ice on the tunnel overnight. The next morning, the tunnel was still standing and most of the remaining snow had slid off in the night, its way paved by the clearing I had done.

 
Every weekend Bones asks me if I have anything on my list to get done on the farm over the weekend. I always respond that there is always something on my list. I can’t imagine that my farm to do list will ever be complete. Completion isn’t even really the goal. Each season brings a new set of chores, a new project, a new harvest. Every season has more work than I can accomplish. In many ways, farming is an exercise in becoming comfortable with the incompleteness of the world. I keep a to do list, because it keeps me focused, not because I have any hope of crossing off every item. Today, my list contains an array of building projects and fencing repairs that I put off till winter. But there’s a foot of snow on the ground. They’ll have to wait while I spend more time with tending the animals, knock the snow off the high tunnel, and bake some cookies with my kids. I could feel anxious about all the things I can’t do today, but that does me no good and the job still can’t be done. The truth is, it will never all be done.

 
Meanwhile, clergy friends of mine just went down to the border to provide support and advocacy for the migrant caravan. I have watched their actions online. Leaving home, spouses, children, jobs, they put themselves in danger to stand up for the most marginalized among us. I watch their actions with a mix of admiration, grief and guilt. Should I go too? Should I be putting myself on the line like that, using my voice and my body to stand up for another? But who would take care of my animals? Who would feed and water them in this storm? Who would keep my high tunnel from collapsing? Who would tend my kids?

 
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I think about the enormity of the world’s problems. I want to be engaged in making the world a better place. That’s why I farm. That’s why I am in ministry. That’s why I am involved in my community. I can’t do it all though. You can’t do it all. I take comfort and encouragement in this passage from the Talmud.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – From The Talmud, 303.

 

I am responsible for the things in my sphere of influence. Raising my kids to be thoughtful, faithful, engaged citizens of this world. Tending the critters and land in my care in a way that honors the them, conserves energy, regenerates the landscape, and provides healthy food for my community. Sharing what I know about how to grow food, how to feed people, how to care for our earth through a more gentle and respectful form of agriculture. Feeding people in my community both in body and in spirit. Being an engaged member of this small town, rural community where I live, supporting the business and individuals here, participating in the civic life to help improve conditions for my neighbors, supporting the school system, being a voice for those on the margins of this community. These are the weights I can bear, the weights I can work to relieve. Focusing on this does not relieve me of caring about the world, of being informed and engaged, of providing financial support to organizations of individuals working in other areas. It is however, the work I can do, the work I am called to do. My producing food allows another to focus on the work of advocacy. Sometimes I look at my fellow clergy folks who put their bodies on the front line at the border, in protests, on the streets, on the steps of our nation’s capital and I feel a twinge of guilt that I am not there. The truth is, I put my body on the line every day. I put it on the line of producing good, clean food. I put it on the line of feeding my community. I put it on the line of standing up for those on the margins of this community. I put it on the line of providing support and comfort and hope to those around me. We need each other and all the ways each of us puts ourselves on the front lines each day.

Carrot Seeds

The parable of the mustard seed drives me a bit batty. It’s not the smallest seed. Basil is considerably smaller and lavender seeds are impossibly tiny. Also, it does not grow into a big bush. Perhaps the mustard of Jesus’ day was just bigger than the mustard I know, who knows. I mean, I get the point of the parable, but if I had to choose a seed it would be a carrot seed. It is just as small as a mustard seed, but where as you can just toss a mustard seed wherever, forget about it and still get decent results, carrot seeds need tending and care. They can take as much as three weeks to germinate and they need daily watering till they do. Meanwhile the fast growing weeds can quickly choke out the delicate carrot seedlings. But the end result is so worth it, sweet and nutritious, especially fall carrots that make it through a freeze.
That’s more what faith is to me. A seed that needs daily care and nurturing to realize the fullness of its life-giving potential, made sweeter after weathering the harshness of life.
I had to waste a considerable amount of carrot seed before I got a decent bed of carrots. Last summer I planted carrots three times before finally reaching success. The first bed I planted about a week before going away for a few days. I came back to a severely, dry cracked bed and no matter how much I watered, the seeds never germinated. The next planting I tried to correct by watering a little everyday, but a month later, still no seedlings in sight. I resigned myself to one more planting. This time I found a length of soaker hose and ran it every day for an hour. Success! Though perhaps a month too late. The carrots were delicious but just didn’t get big enough before winter stunted their growth. However, I finally had a recipe for success. Subsequent carrot sowings have been more successful, though I still lose some to weeds.
I am a person of faith today because of all the people in my life who have watered and tended the carrot seeds of my faith over the course of my life. I don’t have some dramatic story of losing my faith and coming back to it, or finding faith after years of searching, or any trauma or major life event that forged my faith in the fire so to speak. Instead it has been the slow, steady watering by many faithful souls along the way. Is that a story worth reading about? I hope so, because I think it is true for many folks. Ordinary lives, lived faithfully.

Folks often suggest that I write a book about my adventures in farming. Perhaps I will one day. For now though, I have lots of stories to share, reflections on food and farming and how I find faith in the midst. I’m not a great photographer and I doubt you’ll find any earth shattering new insights here, but I hope you’ll find some carrot seeds for your own faith.