City to Country Girl

The first two things I saw when I arrived home, eyes red from exhaustion and coughing from a miserable cold, were Koko’s sweet, chocolate-colored eyes peering into my face as I leaned down to scratch her belly, and then as I looked up, the full array of glittering stars, splattered across the night sky. I realized then, as warmth flooded my chest, that a significant part of my heart had been waiting with increasing impatience and nostalgia to see this all throughout winter quarter at Northwestern.

Of course, at college my mind was always occupied with a million thoughts and experiences, and I loved every minute of it. Every meeting seemed fateful and every thought seemed life changing – sometimes I wished college life would go on forever. But the Evanston air never was quite as fresh as I wished it to be, and the food was always too bland. Some nights, even after a day filled with joy and laughter, I would lie awake and think of home – reliving moments from summer harvests when all of us, punchy from the sun, would laugh and laugh at the hilarity of each other, and at life.
At the same time, though, I was being gradually molded into a city girl – navigating the Chicago neighborhoods by bus and train with my deep red, long coat, pink silk scarf from Florence and knee-high boots. No one ever pegged me as a farm girl at first glance, to be sure.

Thus, the realizations that I had missed home terribly, and that I was still such a farm girl at heart made a significant impact. The air at home was fresher than I remembered, and the well water (“glacier water”, as we call it, that bubbles and fizzes for a few minutes, fresh from the faucet) I drank with relish, savoring the taste. I went to sleep that night feeling ambiguous. In my mind, I was still in the hallway between city and country.

But after spending an entire day lolling lazily around the house, napping, reading, trying in vain to solve a “super hard” Sudoku, basking in the bright sunlight on the deck, and guiltily watching too many episodes of Japanese and Korean melodramas, on Wednesday I pulled on my all-white farm uniform once more and joined Daddy, Mommy and Asa in digging a six-inch wide trench around two rectangular plots that will be where one of our soon to be relocated hoophouse will stand. We are moving three of our hoophouses from up near to the house to our new field located a short drive away from our house. Daddy wants to allow our other fields – the Bottomland and the upper fields – more time to rest and rejuvenate, so for the first time in Henry’s Farm history, he has decided to farm on this new plot of land.

I admit that I have yet to develop a liking for this land – the location makes it so that I will not be able to take a short walk down to the field to work during the summer, as I have always done. I will now have to either catch a ride with Daddy in the morning, or somehow get ahold of a bike. Although the soil looks fertile – the plot, which we are renting from The Land Connection, has been farmed by an organic farmer and was in clover last year – the field is right next to a county road, and cars always seem to be whizzing by at top speed. Unlike the Bottomland, which is our little haven of a field that is hidden away from the rest of civilization by a ring of grand, beautiful trees, this plot is out in the open and thus has no gentle presence of shading trees. Because of this, the whip-like wind is a constant presence. To make matters worse, Koko will und oubtedly be a lonely dog this summer, since she is not allowed to come to this field. We fear that the nearby road will be dangerous for our car-chaser puppy and that the neighbor’s dogs and horses will not react well to Koko. Still, Daddy is insistent on using this field this year, so we shall see if time will create lasting bonds between me and this plot of earth.

Shoveling dirt for a few hours gave me a few blisters and a back-ache, but as the warm wind blasted my face on the back of the truck while Asa drove our way back to the house, I could not help but smile. My summer life was coming back to me and with that, I was gradually beginning to remember the simple joys of farm work. I could not wait to see how that windy, barren plot would be transformed into a field with vegetables of every variety, color, taste, and texture by the middle of the summer.

That night, I realized my cough was gone. The fresh, warm spring air had seemingly blown away my cold.

The following day, Asa, Daddy, Val, our two new apprentices – Janaki and Sydney– and I spent a couple hours during the afternoon digging out burdock. The sun was surprisingly harsh for a spring afternoon and my throat soon became parched. For me, it already felt like summer – I sure was sweating like it was. We dug a trench about three to four feet in depth in between each of the three rows, so that the middle burdock row had both sides dug around it, but the two outside rows only had one. It takes three cuts with the spade to get down that deep, so we end up with a series of three steps that take us down into the earth. I dug out the steps with a long spade, throwing out dirt as I did to a huge mound beside the burdock bed, while Sydney shoveled out the remaining loose dirt with a crumb-scoop shovel. At the bottom of the pit, Val was digging around each long burdock root so that she could extract it carefully without snapping it.

After the farm helpers left for their hour-long break, my job switched to shoveling loose dirt and I found myself clenching my teeth in effort to stay motivated. Each succeeding load of dirt on my shovel weighed down heavily on my weak arm muscles and I found myself throwing the soil too close to the hole, so that it would just sprinkle down into the ditch once again. Thankfully, Asa noticed my drop in spirit and offered to switch jobs with me. Thus, until Daddy proclaimed it was time for our lunch break, I happily rubbed off the dirt that was hugging the harvested burdock and put them into a wooden box to take up to the wash area.

Following lunch and a nap, Asa and I went down to the Bottomland to join the farm helpers in harvesting scallions that had survived the warm winter. We dug, knifed off the long, tangled roots, cleaned and bunched until the sun began to fade into the horizon – all the while discussing Hawaii’s complicated history, laughing about Koko’s experience of barking at a rock for nearly a half hour earlier that day because it was too heavy for her to retrieve, and debating what bookstores were “the best” in Evanston.

While finishing up cleaning the last of the scallions for the day, Daddy explained that tomorrow –Friday – will be a harvest day starting at seven. He warned that depending on the weather, we might end up planting, which will mean a short rest period. Then on Saturday, Val will be driving up with some chives, leek, burdock and other produce to sell at the Market.

Later, while filling my mouth with the sugary taste of beets and chowing down on Mommy’s homemade pizza that seemed to melt in my mouth, I thought of how many people could say that they ate such delicious food on a regular basis. My friends at Northwestern certainly could not…

I looked down at my already beaten-down hands. My fingernails were black, dirt stains were beginning to form, and my blister count was now up to four. I was morphing into a farm girl once more – but I did not regret it one bit.

2 Comments

  1. simply beautiful. through and through. you weave seamlessly from one world to the next, and your roots are always planted deeply in the place you loved first, know best. and how blessed we all are for your capacity to thrive under either sky, city sky or country sky. you make us see both in ways would never see otherwise. and therein lies the beauty and the power of the writer….

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