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By Heather Retberg (quillsendfarmgmailcom) , Quills End Farm
The crocuses emerged from their straw bed into a strong, cold wind.? We noticed them out and blooming on a morning much like the morning when Dandy’s calf was born but a few weeks ago–such bright sun, and such a raw and bracing wind.? The crocuses stood tall in the wind waiting to unfurl their petals until a day when the sun was warmer and brighter than the wind.? Daffodils are up, too, bright green spears emerging from the dark, chilly soil.? What bright cheer from a dark space.?Likewise, the North Star, Orion, the Pleiades, the Major and Minor Bears, and the Dippers, big and little,? shine all the brighter for the dark of the night with no moonlight.? Our new calf is a bright and spritely thing; she is sticking much closer to her mother Dandy and her big steer brother Nifty now that she’s got a few weeks of living under her belt.
Just like all of Dandy’s calves, she keeps her distance from us–not one to cuddle and allow for much petting. (But she’s sooo soft!) Ben reports he has to find her in a warm sunbeam for her to allow any close proximity. What is it with all the distance? Why do we want to touch all the more what is off-limits: our faces, each other, fuzzy warm calves?
Even in normal times, I can’t help but draw metaphors from the blossoms, the animals, and the night sky. There is nothing normal about these times. And creation couldn’t be speaking more loudly now in early, early spring to draw near, to tune in, to tend in the best way possible. Friends, that’s just what we’re doing. Many of you have asked how we are and how things are going on the farm. I don’t mean to be opaque, but the crocuses are emerging, Dandy’s calf is growing and entertaining, the stars are so, so bright in the night sky. The world very much has the feel of collapsing around us, but there are four cows who need to be milked each morning and night, two goats with milk in the morning, hens to tend and eggs to pick. Phil took the winter pigs to butcher last week, just making it out of the woods with truck and trailer while the ground was still frozen hard enough for such a brazen task mid-March. He and Ben finagled just the right window of time to get things in place and then get them out of place. Over the next month, two new heifers–Juni and Pippin–will calve and two seasoned milkers–Cricket and Winnie–will, too. We will have so much cream and milk and more for cheeses and yogurts. It is a busy time on the farm and in the natural world even while the organized world beyond the farmyard unravels one societal thread at a time. Carolyn and I are planning the garden and she is mulching to beat the weeds.
We can’t know what comes next. But we see the stars brighter for the dark, dark night; we see the purple and yellow crocuses more vividly for all the brown-gray around them; our eyes are drawn to the little calf for the stolid brother and mother who don’t bounce and frolic so much anymore. I don’t mean things are just as they should be. I only mean when so much is not as it seems it should be, when all the foundation underneath is showing fault lines, it is just then that all the color and brightness and bounce, all the order that still does exist shows up in technicolor against the chaos. I am remembering the story of Peter walking on the water toward Jesus in the boat. There was a raging storm, there were waves welling up around him, yet he did not sink so long as he kept his eyes locked and forward.
Covid-19 is a beastly wave. We are all learning more each day about how to understand it, why soap is effective, why food is not a vector, why we all need to be “protectors, not vectors,” how few hospital beds are available, how the spread of the virus is changing in Maine, county by county, person by person each day. Our attention and our growth in learning is essential for the well-being of the whole of us, not just ourselves. But we must, I think, still take cues from the rest of nature as well. God put them there for a reason. We can’t indulge only in staring at that dark wave that may overtake us. We must keep our eyes locked and forward. Our feet are still on solid ground, there are flowers blooming, there are stars shining, and there are cows to husband and midwife.
Our attention must be forward in the midst of this storm.
Heather and Phil Retberg together with their three children run Quill’s End Farm, a 105-acre property in Penobscot that they bought in 2004. They use rotational grazing on their fifteen open acres and are renovating thirty more acres from woods to pasture to increase grazing for their pigs, grass-fed cattle, lambs, laying hens, and goats. Heather is Master of Halcyon Grange #345 and writes a newsletter for their farm’s buying club of farmers in her area and has generously given us permission to share some of her columns with Grangers. Visit the Quill’s End Farm Facebook Page for more information.