He graduated from college, went to medical school, and became a doctor. He's been a doctor for nearly 50 years. He's the kind of ready, steady, patient, and unemotional bloke you want in your corner. He can stare down the barrel of his intellect and put the rarest disease in his cross-hairs. Bang! You're dead, rare disease.
Not only is my father a deadly bacteria assassin, he's a world-class weeder. Believe it or not, he actually enjoys weeding. He claims its cathartic, and helps him clear his mind. He dons his enormous Plow & Hearth spf 50 sunhat, plops down in his azalea bed, and weeds until the area looks like it's been vacuumed. Its an amazing skill and quite entertaining to watch.
Like, Zen Weeding, Dude.
As my father's daughter, you would think that he might have passed some of these wonderful qualities down to me.
Nope. Not even close.
In this case, the apple not only fell from the tree, it rolled down the hill, crossed some traffic, rolled down to the docks, onto a ship and sailed to Shanghai. Sadly, I did not inherit his terrific traits. But what both my mother and my father did pass to me was an appreciation of plants and gardening, which I segued into a love of farming and agriculture. Some of my earliest memories are of helping them weed and tend our hilltop garden in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Their garden was a more ornamental one, with lots of varieties, colors and foliages. They dragged my sister and I to countless formal gardens and arboretums, pointing out rare species, and exclaiming over what looked to us like just another rose. They would carry the ideas gathered on these field trips home to our garden, and show us how to care for plants like camillia sasanqua, ligustrum japonicum, ilex (of all kinds), and dozens of different kinds of rhododendron- which my parents affectionately called “rhodies”. As a young child, spending time with your parents is about all the attraction that garden maintenance holds. To me, it was dirty, boring, and left me with splinters in my little fingertips.
Then, one day, my mother took us to pick grapes at a local U-Pick farm. At the tender age of 7, I was suddenly aware of the mind-blowing concept that you could not only grow humdrum and dull ornamental plants, you could grow FOOD!
My world has never been the same.
Farming and agriculture might seem similar to ornamental gardening, if viewed from a distance.
Like, from the Space Station. Or Mars.
Ornamental gardening does not in any way effect what you put on your table. You can't eat periwinkle, peonies, iris or hydrangea. What I grow in my fields goes onto my plate, into my freezer, is canned, dried, made into jam, or cellared. Each seed that I painstakingly drop into the ground has an ultimate destination. Each seedling I carefully install into beautifully prepared soil will make my winter that much healthier, and better tasting. The plants I grow from these seedlings may even be sold to provide wonderful mis-en-place to area Chefs -thankfully- dedicated to sustainable farmers.
My informal background in ornamental gardening in no way prepared me for the vital and soul-stabbing challenges of growing crops for food. As my husband and I have developed Winter'Rest Farm, we've had successes, and crashing failures. This is where my father's steely-eyed, rock-steady personality traits would come in handy. Regrettably, I was not bestowed with what anyone could call patience. Or consistence. Or any kind of reliable regularity of emotion. Every day on the farm is like some kind of bad acid trip for me (not that I would know anything about that 60s business). Some days everything is thriving- including the animals. Some days I show up, and there are dead chickens- but hey, the pigs are doing handsprings, and the sun-worshiping herbs are growing wildly in the rain. Then there are days on end when everything is dragging, the plants seem to be in little botanical comas, and the piglets have diarrhea. My emotions swing crazily every day; I'm UP! I'm DOWN! I'm UP! I'm DOWN!
ISN'T THERE ANYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE??
NO! (Comes the reply from the Universe)
Its just life.
Sigh. I don't know why I do this to myself. Farming should come with a warning: Caution- this occupation is intended for mental patients only.
Somehow, I can't help myself. I love it. Even as I'm digging the grave for yet another chick smothered by it's mate, I feel the firm hand of nature, reminding me that I'm not in charge- and never will be. The best I can do, is the best I can do.
Even for a mental patient, it's reassuring.