Thursday, January 28, 2010


Post-collective agricultural fields in Sepsiszentgy├Ârgy, Transylvania


Last Friday, rain sprinkled the day in fits and starts. A Bald Eagle sat in the top of a Douglas Fir and a Harrier sat on the wall outside the kitchen window. The Hazelnut catkins are in bloom and the large swathes of warm gold orchards crouch against evergreen and lichen dappled hillsides.

We ate chicken posole for lunch and saved China's cornmeal cake for after the hard work of digging roots. We'll stand in the kitchen, eat cake and drink tea.

The section of row where the gobo grows is dense from a higher percentage of clay. The clay holds water unlike a sandier soil. We dig deep trenches on either side of the gobo row, leaving a wall of roots between. The dense soil is hard to dig. As the gobo gives way, I note a markedly different harvest from those over the previous two months. The plant is coming out of dormancy. The snap of the roots is livelier and the cold soil, redolent of minerals, exhales. The hard freezes of December have ended and the slime from last years foliage gives way to new leaves. Small worms move through the fine root hairs and soil on the vegetable. They feed on the flow of micro-nutrients released by the gobo as it comes out of winter dormancy and into spring.

Natural History prevails at Ayers Creek. While working, we chatter about the Tundra Swans, the hunters across the lake, and the various discoveries each of us make in the fields. A few months ago, Anthony found a Giant Pacific Salamander in the chicory row. A full grown six inch long brown Dicamptodon enstatus in a vole tunnel. We watch the change in the atmosphere, soil, and plants. Organic food production is at the mercy of natural systems largely beyond human control. Mastery comes from years of observation and experience with a multitude of variables including human emotions. Like most things, the more time invested the greater the return and the more resounding the rhythm of production. The land heaves worms and casing, bushels of beans, and gasses. It delivers root vegetables up and draws the long toed cornstalks deep. One year echos another years glorious success, which in turn, absorbs the disappointment of an anemic production in another field.

In Pig Earth, John Berger writes about the peasantry. Now, in the 21st century, this class seems easily replaced by the farmer. He writes,
"Peasants live with change hourly, daily, yearly, from generation to generation. There is scarcely a constant given to their work lives except the constant necessity of work. Around this work and its seasons they themselves create rituals, routines and habits in order to wrest some meaning and continuity from a cycle of remorseless change: a cycle which is in part natural and in part the result of the ceaseless turning of the millstone of the economy within which they live.

And so, memories of cornfields explode upon my tongue as I eat a bowl of warm cornmeal mush sweetened with milk and honey this cold January morning.