The Peasant’s Recompense

Essex Farm Note

Week 9, 2016

Sometimes, at the end of a hard day, this farm still moves me to tears, and I mean that in a good way. We had setbacks of all flavors this week, and strange weather, and a lame horse. John Berger writes that the farmer is always poised between nostalgia for an idealized past that never existed and hope for an easier future that never comes. Farming’s hard, no news there. The best cure for feeling bad about it, for me, is walking the farm, searching for recompense. I have never gone looking for it and been left wanting. The walk is a question, and the answer is always firm, but often nothing of note. Just the sight of the big horses in the barn, britchen marks still on their haunches, and ready to work again, to collect the sap that’s moving up through the trees in the sugarbush. Or the brown cows with quiet eyes and full, clean udders waiting at the gate, their milk itself a balm. Or the hard rain I’m walking through, the pleasure of which I would have missed before farming taught me not to fear the discomfort of the weather. That last one is a neat metaphor for farming’s big lesson: beauty is what lies at the heart of difficulty. Dig, and it’s there. Sometimes, it’s dig dig dig dig, and only then, there. Refuse to dig, though, and you’ll pass it up entirely. This is true in anyone’s life but in farming, for us hard learners, the lesson is rendered literally, and given in daily doses.

I pulled a deer tick off of Mary on Tuesday, which is ridiculous, but true. The high yesterday was 50, the low tonight will be close to zero. We got 4.5” of rain in the last 7 days, much of it coming on Wednesday in a steady ceaseless downpour. The cultivated fields soaked in what they could and then they let it run off into the streams and ditchbeds, purging the winter’s collection of trash and sticks. At the end of the storm, everything was bloated, soft. Pine Field was as unwalkable as the surface of a vast, well-frosted cake, boots sinking through the frosting then slipping on the cake. This morning, it was all hard again, like a magic trick.

It’s sugaring weather, for sure. Last Friday, Taylor, Scott, Alex, and Ben hitched Jake and Abby to drill holes and hang buckets on 398 trees. The next day, Abby was lame in her back right foot. I hope it’s just a back-to-work tweak, and that she’ll be out of it soon. Cub took her spot next to Jake in the hitch. They collected the first run on Sunday, 500 gallons of not-very-sweet sap. Taylor boiled all day and into the evening, the first long fire of the year that doesn’t yield much, but sweetens the pan. When you think of how much work it takes to make syrup – not just the collecting and the boiling but rank after rank of firewood that must be cut and split – it only makes sense in the context of what sugar was to our ancestors – a precious, precious treat, rare, as it should be, for our own good! Think of what it took to brave a hive of angry bees for a few handfuls of honey. At least the work of sugaring is more pleasant than those stings. I hope you enjoy the first taste of syrup this week, members; we’ll have half pints jarred and ready for sale in the farm store too.  And that is the news from Essex Farm for this sugar-on-snow 9th week of 2016.                                                                      -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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