Last Friday afternoon, we–my parents, farm hands/apprentices and I–spent the afternoon jabbing white, red and yellow onion sets into the just-tilled soil. I say “jabbing” because that is the word my dad used to describe holding the onion set between your fingers and pounding it down into the fluffed dirt as far down as it will go. Some onions we planted close together (as close together as possible, my dad told us) so that they’d come up as green onions, and others we planted three or four inches apart, so they’d have the space to fill out into big bulbs.
We’d spent the morning bent over the garlic beds, pulling away excess mulch from the baby garlic sprouts that couldn’t push through the straw on their own. There were sections of some beds where the mulch was piled on so thick that I had to dig down through layers and layers before I spotted the weak, yellow-green seedling struggling to reach for sunlight. I thought back to the beginning of December, when Otosan (Daddy), Caitlyn and I rolled out big bales of hay and used pitchforks to lay down the mulch on top of the garlic beds, and began to get worried that I had been the one who’d laid down way too much mulch. It was entirely possible, since I tended to overcompensate when I was anxious about something–in this case, the garlic dying off from frost–and as I pulled away whole handfuls of mulch I cursed myself for suffocating the poor seedlings. Next time, I assured myself, I wouldn’t make the same mistake. I bent down lower to the ground so I could see the seedlings better and uncovered the garlic as quickly as I could, hoping all the while that once sunlight hit the weak seedlings, they’d grow as tall and strong as the others.
All that bending and crawling on hands and knees made my lower back ache and made the beginnings of bruises form on my knees. After a short lunch break, the planting began, and I was forced back into my curved position. But I hardly noticed the pain when I concentrated on the rhythm of planting–jab, jab, jab, jab and scoop, jab, jab, jab, jab. I’d helped plant onion sets since I was young, so my body knew just what to do and how to move, and before I knew it 4 beds of 3 rows of onions were planted.
There is a bittersweetness that surrounds me this spring, as I watch the field alight in green and the winter cold dissipates into warmth (again–there were some strange climate-changed induced 80 degree days in February!) . It is the first spring that I’ve ever been available to work on the farm, because I’ve always been busy with school, or away at college, during these months. Being able to see how Otosan coaxes the fields and greenhouses into holding so much young life fills me with a renewed sense of joy and hope. I’ve always burst onto the scene at the end of June, when school ended, and by that time the farm was nearing a frenzy of weeding and harvesting and I could barely catch my breath before throwing myself into the fire. But in the spring, things are slower, and we aren’t fighting against time quite yet. There are ample moments to breathe, to smile, to throw sticks to Koko and Jodi and laugh when Koko parades around with the stick, bushy tail high in the air, as if she’s a circus dog. There is time to stop and peer into the blazing red sunset at the end of the workday and revel in beauty. There is time to steep myself in love.
It is bittersweet because as full as I feel, I know I will have to part with the farm this June, when I move to New York to live with Austin. I won’t get to see the garlic seedlings grow into bulbs the size of my palm, or see the stiff-neck scapes wave in the breeze. I won’t get to taste the sticky sweet watermelon or pop cherry tomatoes into my mouth. I won’t see the leaves turn yellow in autumn or dig up the sweet potatoes in the late fall. As mentally and physically straining working on the farm is, I will miss the drama of it, the feeling that every single part of me is working within the cycles of our beating earth and I am wholly consumed by the whims of nature.
But the spring has given me the strength and power I need to go off and away from the place and people I love, to be with the person my heart has been yearning for all these long months apart. I feel, for the first time in a long time, an openness to whatever will come next. In New York I will dance, visit and work on organic farms, spend whole days at a poetry library, write, see old and dear friends, and fall asleep, always, in the arms of my love. And for that I am endlessly thankful.
I’d also like to take this moment to share some sweet things:
I did an interview with poet and writer Chloe Clark! When I read her poem, “Sidelong Catastrophe,” it was as if I was reading my own mind and I loved it. So it was a huge honor for me to interview her about poetry and the environment. Check out the interview here: Aozora Brockman interviews Chloe N. Clark
And! Our farm hand Mike Mustard has been making incredible videos about life and work on our farm (with aerial shots!) and this is the second video in the series, where we attempt to cover our greenhouse with a huge sheet of plastic. It’s an impressive video, so see for yourself: Hanging at Henry’s S1:E2
Thanks for reading everyone, and I wish you all a wonderful week!!
i feel the bittersweetness — the bitter hard + the sweet tenderness — pulsing through your words. and i know that pain is inherent in birthing, in parting….that farm, the soil and the seedlings, the sky and the muscle aches, it is in your DNA, and will always be no farther than your imagination, your rich and vivid imagination. life is opening this door now. and life flows in circles, and spirals, and seasons, and your harvest will shift, become a big-city harvest for a while. you are going with love, following the whisper of your heart. until you leave, i know you will be absorbing everything in double doses. stocking up for the big-city season to come…..and we will all be right here, always within reach, heart to heart, word by word……xoxox