Snow cone with choice of homemade syrup: strawberry, rhubarb, or mint.
As soon as school let out for the summer this year, we hit the road. We spent the last two weeks of June on a family road trip (thanks again, goat sitters!), listening to Johnny Cash, eating crazy food, and sleeping in cabins and guest rooms across the country. We had an amazing time–visiting Gettysburg, Mammoth Cave, Graceland, and Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas, before making it to a family reunion in Kansas City. On the way back, we threw in a stop at Niagara Falls. It was fantastic to get away–it was the longest we’d ever been away from the farm, and a taste for the kids of our life during The Year of the Goat–but in terms of timing, being away for two weeks of Maine’s short summer isn’t exactly ideal.
New tractor for the turkey polts
Being away in June means that a lot of our summer farm projects are just now getting under way. The garden, miraculously, is mostly planted, with the exception of some bush beans and a few roots like turnips and beets that may just not make it in this year. But the list of summer goals is long: new tractors for the chickens and turkeys, better care for the fruit trees, reorganized perennial beds that do justice to the fresh paint and tight new chimney we’ve just put on the house. After ten years on the farm, the barn and the cellar are in desperate need of a thorough clean-out. And there’s the normal harvesting, canning and freezing that keep us eating our summer bounty through the fall. And clearing the brush that’s creeping out from the woods. And splitting all the wood we cut up last fall. And the list goes on. As with anything, the way to tackle is bit by bit, with time out for fun (snow cones!). This weekend was our summer restart.
Early Summer garden bounty
Russell Libby portrait by Robert Shetterly
This week we mourn the passing of one of the greatest Mainers we have known personally, Maine Organic Farmer and Gardner Association’s former executive director Russell Libby. We didn’t know Russell well, certainly not as well as many, but we knew him, and he was a hero to us, as he was to many. Russell did more for organic sustainable agriculture, and agriculture in general, in Maine than anyone I know. One of the reasons we decided to take up farming in Maine (in addition to the fact that I grew up here) was the support system and resources that existed in Maine for new farmers and young farmers, and much of that is thanks to Russell’s work and advocacy. He will be greatly missed.
This afternoon I’ve been reading from Russell’s book of poems Balance: A Late Pastoral. I had planned to attend the memorial for Russell in Unity today. But last night one of the goats went into heat, and had to be taken to Saco this morning to be bred. And with yesterday’s terrible news from nearby Connecticut, I wanted to stay home and close to Charlotte, Bea and Sadie. Staying home to take care of farm and family, I think Russell would have been fine with that.
Two poems in particular jumped out to me just now:
Sometimes I think I’m the only person embarrassed
by the shrinking of the fields, saplings becoming trees,
sugar maples I hope to tap one day
creeping into the pasture nearest the barn.
Yet if we’re supposed to think seven generations forward,
shouldn’t we also go back at least a few?
I found George Washington Gordon’s walking stick
in the haymow of the old barn,
a short piece of apple wood deliberately shaped to the job
over several growing seasons.
If a man about five foot six could clear this land,
lay stone walls,
haul and hew timbers,
raise the big barn,
milk cows by hand twice a day,
plow with oxen,
work taxes out by building roads,
and keep doing it for fifty years,
it seems the very least I should do
is keep the stone walls in clear view.
And on the following page:
My shelf is bulging with seed catalogs
and all I can see ahead is