review

I have been working on a farm now for just over three and a half years. Almost as much time as I spent in college. Which means I have spent the same amount of time studying biology, chemistry, the history of the jazz age, hundreds of poets, the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil and buddhism… as I have picking radishes, writing harvesting lists, learning about soil temperatures, and wheeling and dealing the finest quality vegetables around the city of Charleston, South Carolina.

My photos and my words have seemed to get fewer and fewer the more work I’ve been doing. An old farmer, might explain it as - “That’s what happens when you’re a farmer!” or “That’s because you’re doing actual hard work!” But over the past few days, just very recently, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not more so that I’m a little less inspired and a little less attentive. On Thursday I began to read a book about mushroom-growing and as I read the first few pages, a million little thoughts and questions fired in my head all at once.

I know there are things around me every day that are just as captivating and just as inspiring - but how do we remember to access them and take advantage of them instead of seeing what we see every day as scenery? How do we balance the moments of learning and inspiration and newness and a-ha! with the moments of hard work and daily grind and dedication and steadfastness at a trade? How do we as writers juggle the need for a day job or a tangible occupation or physical movement and actual work (moving mass over distance) with the need to spend an elongated piece of time staring at the color of a certain type of leaf, to ask the oddball questions that inspire our most intriguing writing topics, to record the things around us, to spend time meditating on what we are hearing from God and the world and what we need to say back?

I met Garrison Keillor once in college. He was giving a talk at Agnes Scott in Decatur and I waited to talk with him after. When he asked me what I was studying to be I told him I was studying to be a poet. He laughed and told my twenty-one-year-old face to “GO do SOMETHING first! Be a poet when you’re old!”

I suppose I listened to him. Accidentally, or not. But I don’t want to keep doing anything else first. I want to pay attention while I’m in it. I don’t want to look back and have to dig out of myself what color the field was on the day that Arturo planted peppers the year before last. Making up details and smells and temperatures. I want to write it down when it happens. I want to put the truck in park, pull out my camera and my notebook and snap a shot and then do what the camera can’t and let you know

it was misty

the rows were long, straight, lovely, new

soil just upturned, no weeds

striking the surface yet

still lurking beneath his feet, the dirt

was soft beneath the rhythm of his feet his tall

body tilting slightly with the angle of the newly dug rows

straw hat

red shirt, brighter and deeper in the overcast light,

one tray of wet peppers on each shoulder,

small little green things

ready to be carefully

cut around the edges

pulled from their plugs

pressed firm into the ground - but not

til he gets to the end of the row

so tall

and straight

and proud.

“Spring is Like a Perhaps Hand”

— E.e. Cummings

I’ve been cleaning out the pepper greenhouse the past two days. Pete asked me to save the seed too so that we can reuse it. You can’t just save the seeds from all the peppers. If they have just a hint of too much green, the seeds aren’t ready yet and won’t make a new plant. Which means I have to go through and pull out all the ripest peppers from the trash piles I swept up yesterday.
And then it occurred to me, just now, that saving pepper seeds is probably a lot like finding a good husband. The only seeds worth saving are in the peppers that are the sweetest and the most mature. It’s even okay if they’re a little rotten on the top.

And then one day it’s late in January and you’ve finally gone through both reach in coolers of frozen butter beans that you shelled back in July. You unplug the electrical chord and quietly open the lid to let it air out. You switch off the old hanging light that doesn’t brighten much of anything in the corner of the loading dock. You step back out into the 32-degree-palm-tree air. And you button up til April or asparagus.

“When you decide to be a farmer, no one tells you that the scariest part is gonna be peeing in an unlit outhouse in the dark at 5 in the morning and having a frog jump into your lap.”

Labor Day trip to Botany Bay Plantation on Edisto

Highlight of the day: 4 o’clock gator feeding at the Serpentarium

Will return to: the gorgeous natural beach lined with live oak skeletons decorated in giant sea shells

I never knew: Hunter Lee was so diligent about reading every piece of historical information as we toured the plantation

Now I want to know: what Egyptian wheat is and whether corn is considered a grain. I know I should know that but I don’t

Dying wish: To have a tree named after me

Anybody know: what a sea cloud is?

Wish I coulda met: Oqui, a Japanese botanist who planted olives, spices, fruit and other beautiful things on the plantation in the 1840’s

I hope: no one ever builds anything there ever. And I mean it.

Husbandry

  • Cait: Y'all ready for those pigs?
  • Pete: No. That's like askin' someone if they're ready to get married. You're never ready. The date jus catches up with you. That's why people just don't set a date