Saturday, July 19, 2008

Windy Flats

Yesterday I found myself at 8am, crouching to yank weeds from the fertile brown earth at Windy Flats in the Skagit Valley in north central Washington State. I have the gardening gene, from my Mother’s side, for which, because of some fool notion, I only became grateful as I turned 45. Mom died last year at 85, and I smile now to think that I, at 64 ¾, love forcing out the weeds as she did, roots intact, with a satisfying thonk. Ahh! Next one!

I was at Windy Flats enjoying a friend’s recently purchased gentleman’s farm…..or hobby farm one might call it. The tired farmers in training were still sleeping after a long day in the sun the day before. I didn’t want to wake them, hence the trip out to their new corn field.

A few weeks earlier, my friends had planted 3500 seeds of corn specially selected to germinate and produce ears quickly, in 10 rows 200 feet long. They had had the ground plowed by a neighbor, but with no tractor of their own yet to speed the planting work, the dropping of each seed into its row and covering it with the rich loam was truly a labor of love. Now 8 inches high, the corn stalks needed the rows between them freed of a dozen kinds of weeds, or native plants, as my friend calls them. I weeded energetically in the cool morning air. Looking back I was astonished to see how little progress I had made. It was as though the rows lengthened in front of me and shortened behind me. Standing at the end of the patch, I recalled the lesson in foreshortening from my drawing classes. Far end narrow, near end 5 times as “wide”. And in the middle? Still confused! Fascinating!

There is often a marvelous wind at Windy Flats, hence the name. It is surrounded by 5000 foot high mountains, snow capped, stunning. Looking at the valley from a nearby mountain on a summer day, one neighbor described stillness over all, except for the waving branches of trees in the flats. The earth in which the trees and plants live is incredibly fertile, lying next to the river as it does which has been known to flood, bringing along with the worries of too much water the rich, loamy silt that produces banner crops with no extra fertilizer.

But worry was far from my mind as I enjoyed connecting again with Mother Earth. It has been one year since I moved to a condo from a house with a garden that I loved. I miss the guaranteed pleasure that comes from making a landscape beautiful, trying new plants, watching leaves sprout, plants flowering on queue. It is a remarkable pleasure I’ve only enjoyed in the second half of my life. In addition to rekindling the pleasure of gardening, the setting for the corn field astonished me in the way it brought back memories of my childhood visits from Seattle to my grandfather’s hop farm in Eastern Washington.

As in the 50’s in Yakima, I loved the sighing of the wind in the giant trees, like the wind across the corn field that could make me grab at my hat. As in those long ago days, I took the time to watch flocks of barn swallows swerving and diving, changing their minds of a piece, landing on the fence and then rising over and over against the blue sky. (The birds at my condo are rugged individualists, like me I guess.) I loved the still, dank smell of the empty barn, sturdy at its base but full of future projects for making it a working barn again. Two stories tall and twice the size of my condo unit, it’s dusky interior holds odd bits of lumber, a ladder, a loft that needs shoring up and dust motes floating in thin shafts of light.

Perched on the barn’s cement foundation, I looked beyond the corn field to watch the wind play the field grasses, like a visible manifestation of musical notes of harmony. The grasses sported six or more hues of tan and brown and rose and blue and amber, as restful to the mind and eye as sweet music is to the ear. At the far corner of the pasture, I saw the flashing of red from a 15 foot tall heritage rose bush straining to escape the background shrubs, covered with old fashioned deep pink and pinker roses.

These pleasures of the awareness of the natural world were all as they happened to me when I was at my grandfather’s farm. My friend of the corn field too, had a similar vision created when she, as a girl, visited her aunt and uncle’s dairy farm in Kansas. Oh we are lucky to have such memories! The pull of the land and the quiet is so strong, but it is more than that. It is unhurried talks on the front porch, the slow way of moving, but accomplishing so very much, the willingness, no the desire, and sometimes the courage or patience, to stop whatever you’re doing to talk to a passing neighbor. It’s the strong pull of the cool dim parlor and kitchen, when it’s so very hot in the field, and the sense to come inside for a rest in mid day.

It’s the steadiness of working with Nature instead of ignoring it or denying its existence. It’s using your body and mind to create beauty and order, and wanting to learn what farmers have learned for centuries. It’s a desire to acquire the practical confidence of our grandfather and uncle mastering the tools of farming, to learn to care for what feeds us and gives us health, to complete the circle of the land feeding the body feeding the land.

My friend’s vision does not stop with the corn field. She can imagine more crops and animals gracing the ten acres that she and her husband have already come to love. At 60, she is no fool, but very much the realist, and knows that challenges, sometimes great, will become part of their time at Windy Flats. But she can see them abandoning their city home and moving permanently to the country. She sees plants and trees making the place a real Paradise. She can see different buildings, driveways and connections to the local community. I love drifting with her visions, sparking my mind and heart. Here she is in her corn field. ---->

It is 8am now, and I am back in the city at my computer, writing these words, because I don’t want to forget this gift of finding peace in a corn field. I have more to say, but for now I am stopping at being grateful for time created by gracious friends who are following their dream and have asked me to come and enjoy it too.