Images from the farm on Ontario, just these past few days. Lucy at the beginning, Jean at the end (93). In between, well, I got a bit obsessed with the clash of the industrial and the natural, which is modern agriculture. So I have three images of a Norway spruce windbreak, clouds spiraling up beyond them and a jet contrail. Then a series of images of tractor ruts in a rye field. I fell in love with the annual manure pile, never has a manure pile seemed so, well, epic. And finally we’re mounding the fields in preparation for planting. This is done with a machine, of course, that creates lovely symmetrical rectangular slices in the soil. The images are all variations. I like that, the repetition of the image with some slight variation.
The last time on the farm (Christmas) I had to dig out the risers to the septic tank to release the guard grid that had been improperly installed so that I could get at the plastic filter and clean it. This time a new experience: The tenant house has been without water since early March, frozen pipes we thought. I got the pipes to the garden hydrant turned on last week and then with the help and guidance of a neighbour ran a hose from the garden hydrant to the tenant house and attached it to the outside tap on the house wall, turned on the outside tap and ran water from the garden hydrant into the tenant house. I didn’t invent this, did not believe it would work, but it did. Low pressure but it works. Next we have to dig up the pipe to the house, which is clearly not frozen but blocked irretrievably.
I also spent a lot of time lying in the mud and ice on my stomach jamming a log up the irrigation pond overflow culvert, which has been partly blocked for a couple of years. This is a pilgrimage I make every trip to the farm. I have my own special log and I walk back to the pond, looking for arrowheads along a knoll where Early Woodland natives used to camp, and lie down with my face almost in the pond and run the log into the culvert. It is a zen thing to do and never works (also has a certain sub-erotic overtone, which I don’t really want to get into). Then Lucy goes for a swim, whimpering for me to throw a stick. This year there was still ice along the margins of the pond, but she still went in. We share this tendency to self-destructive obsession.
I love your trips to the farm. On 10 acres, our land hardly qualifies as a farm, yet we do farm. In our own fashion. Potatoes and carrots, peas and lettuce. Tomatoes and onions and garlic. But we lack cows and chickens and at the moment are without a dog. Since we rely on our farmer friends for moo juice, I was particularly impressed by your family’s pile of s –t. Having lived in such a variety of places in my life I can honestly say waking up in the country – despite some of its drawbacks – gives me the best shot of ‘alive’ that I have ever experienced. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s something I can’t really explain. But the feeling is particularly pronounced at this time of year when the world comes alive once again – just when you thought it wouldn’t make it.
Nancy, The manure pile is shipped in. Not home grown. 🙂 I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression. We used to have horses (cows were gone when I was about ten) and they produced a good supply. But we haven’t had livestock for ages.
Lovely imagery and photos, afraid the “literary” gift is seeping in despite the title! 🙂
By coincidence, read an excerpt yesterday in which Rebecca West asserted art (literature) must spring directly from life or it is airless. Thought of that here.
Finally, I follow the doings of Floss, the sheep dog, the tups, and the lambing on the Twitter feed of the Herdwick Shephers (@herdyshepherd1). A lovely writer, and descendant of generations of shepherds in rural Britain. He writes beautifully of the seasons, and takes the opportunity his platform gives him to discuss local farming, food sourcing and other issues. This piece reminded me of him as well.
Maureen Murphy, Washington DC
(Descended from long line of County Cork rural folk…..)
Maureen, Thank you for your gracious comment and the associations you brought to the piece. For some reason, I was associating my beloved manure pile with Ireland, so we converged. I don’t know of you’ve done this, but if you go to the category links in the top of the left hand column and click on Out & Back Blog, you get only the personal items I have posted (for fun or otherwise). And if you scroll back you’ll see a good number of images from the farm and environs in different seasons (including some video of the big trucks bringing the manure in a few years ago, also Jean reciting a Walter Scott poem).
This is a beautiful piece. Coming from the cacophonous granite-laid anxiety of the city, I can’t help but envy the beauty and transcendence of that epic pile of manure, and the physicality of the log in the overflow culvert, and the incredible spaciousness of that sky.
Laura, Thank you. So lovely to hear from you. And it’s true, the farm is a postage stamp of beauty, though I didn’t display the photos of coyote kills left over from the winter. 🙂
thinking of you! Lucy is sweet, Jean too. I know all about those zen things that never work!
Thanks, Nance. Both of them getting on, that’s the trouble. Zen things that don’t work, story of my life. I am happy to see it resonates with you, too. 🙂
I love the echo of patterns here. There’s something lovely and calming about the images, some zen things that are working:-)
Thank you, Kim. Lovely to hear from you.
Nice photos and description of the farm, Doug.
Domenic! Great to hear from you. There’s a whole subtext. I was on the farm and in Toronto for my brother’s cancer surgery. The photos are from after the surgery when the darkness was lifting.
p.s. Send something for the magazine. 🙂
Such a nice read, Doug. I’ve always admired people who fall in love with manure piles – my grandmother was one. And those are wonderful photos – some look like they could have been shot by Wright Morris.
Thank you, Julie. On another post I have some video of the manure being trucked in with snow still on the ground. It always looks a bit alien, plunked down on the white or green. Thanks for the generous words re my photos. I make no pretence. I am just happily looking at things and finding an odd angle or bit of symmetry or a pattern that gives me a little kick. It’s a pleasant way of interacting with the land.
I always love your farm stories, Doug, and find great artistry in the sky-earth patterns and piles of poop you’ve shared with us. I like how you greet the pond by lying in its mud; that shows respect. The pictures of your mother are stunning, too.
Thanks, Sharon. Curiously, I was thinking of how you would react to some of these when I was taking the pictures. 🙂 I have always had an extremely physical relationship with that land. Working as a primer in tobacco harvest, I could lie flat on my back in the dirt at the end of a row and go to sleep for a minute or two, so comfortable and I was that tired most of the time.
I think it’s that southwestern Ontario land-and-psyche connection, Doug; very likely we are distantly related! My ancestors on both sides came here as Loyalists fleeing the US. One side settled Hamilton and the other Prince Edward County. Lying on the earth clears the head and restores the body and speaks volumes to how we belong to a place…It’s great that you’ve not lost that connection.
Sharon, My Loyalists came from New Jersey, first to the Forty Mile Creek near Grimsby, then Norfolk County. They traveled in packs – Glovers, Pettits, Greens, Moores – much like the Puritans hiving off. Before New Jersey they may have been in Massachusetts. Where were your people from?
I had to consult my mother about this one. On her side the Bowermans moved here from upper state New York about 1793, having settled in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1634. See? We’re definitely distantly related. 🙂 On my father’s side things are intriguingly wild: our Land ancestor purportedly escaped from jail during the Revolutionary War and was the first white man to settle in Hamilton. I’ve just learned about an old homestead thereabouts that I’ll have to hunt down… (I’ve found the Bowerman gravestones and homes in Picton.) English was originally Inglis–we’re Scots, mostly. Chillingly Presbyterian.
Cousins, I guess. 🙂 Must be. Those 17th century colonies were small.
What I said in the previous comment had to do with my father’s side. On my mother’s side, we’re Scots, too. McCalls and McInnis (or MacInnes, the family seems to spell it different ways in the annals). The McCalls came down from a Scottish soldier who served in a Highland regiment with Wolfe at Quebec. He was demobilized and settled in the American colonies but went to New Brunswick after the Revolution, thence to the Long Point Settlement on Lake Erie. The McInnis was a fatherless ward of Sir Walter Scott who then came into some family money in the form of a plantation in Cariacou. He was, the story goes, the youngest planter to be indemnified by the British government for giving up his slaves. He brought his capital to Canada and settled in Vittoria near Lake Erie.
My father’s people were Congregationalists, and my mother’s may have started out as Presbyterian but quickly became Anglican and Tory and thought they had been saved because of it.