Of Farms and Fables combines the efforts of professional and non-professional artists by engaging artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and acting. The result will be an original performance in October of 2011 which will engage performers and audience in dialogue about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Trauma of Summer (Cory)

Reading Lew Dietz's Night Train at Wiscassett Station (subtitled, self-explanatorily, "An Unforgettable Portrait of Maine and Its People"), I come across a section on the seasons. Under "Summer":
For those who call Maine home, summer has become a season of alloyed pleasure, a time of waiting for its end ... As abrupt as a slamming door, Labor Day brings to a close this season of mixed blessings ... By the time of October's hunter's moon, the trauma of summer has been healed, health and sanity restored.
I can't imagine Jordan's or Broadturn without summer. Heat and horseflies, fickle summer rain, plants perked up in the still-cool mornings only to be wilting and sweating by July noon. High school and college students on summer vacation working the fields (let's not forget, as someone brought up in a recent story circle, that the frenzy of summer farm activity is the reason why American summer vacation is the four-month monster that it is). Summer defines the vegetable farm for me, and it is strange to think of it as an anomaly, a "trauma." Does Dietz's assessment of Mainer sentiment towards summer apply to Maine farmers?

Broadturn this week was a frenzy of growth and color. On Tuesday, from the orange shock of carrots...

...to the deep purple pleasure of these little onions...

...it was the most diverse and colorful CSA harvest day I'd seen to date.

We picked lemon cucumbers (they look like little golden apples) and more traditional cukes, three varieties of squash (zucchini, summer, and patty pan), cabbage, lettuce, basil, parsley, and kale. And flowers. Buckets and buckets of flowers.

And we dug for new potatoes -- I found a heart-shaped one.

There are all sorts of new faces on the farm since I was last there: the little turkeys and chicks that peck at Flora's worm fingers through their wire cage until she squeals with delight, the solemn gray geese weeding the strawberry field and escaping past the electrified fence for 5am goose joyrides; sunflowers now grown tall as athletes, tomato plants jungling up the hoop houses until they're practically clamoring out the door...It's like the farm is in a fever and this bounty is its delirious dreaming.

There's no question that it is thrilling and rewarding to see the farm exploding with the fruit of all we've helped to plant and nurture the past two months. But as the pace accelerates to what I've got to label breakneck, I can see how unsustainable that pace is, how impossible it would be to live a summer of this sort year-round. Carrot-induced excitement and pride is mixed with sweaty exhaustion on everyone's faces. The frequency with which we forego "tensies" on harvest days is sobering. This isn't ordinary; this is crunch time.

Looking over the coming month's calendar with the interns, Stacy reminds them they won't be working Saturdays anymore in August. And I am reminded of Trae's assertion that July is always crazy time at Jordan's. And I am privy to farmer daydreams of farmer shortcuts, born of quiet longing after slightly more leisurely days ("If I had a superpower, I'd be...Carboneto," says John. "Like Magneto, from X-Men, only I would be able to attract whatever weed or plant or like, carbon-based object I wanted to at the time"). And I think about what summer really is: the Earth in heat. The Earth in all her fertility and fecundity, a mammoth lover demanding satisfaction, building to her colorful July climax, her explosion of flavors and treasures that can't be postponed or denied.

We need summer to get through the winter. We need summer to produce fruits and vegetables to store up for times when fruits and vegetables won't grow. (I find myself feeling more and more aware of the meaning and purpose of food preparation. "We pickle things to make them taste good," a friend said to me last week. "No, we pickle things to preserve them," I retorted, taken aback by how strongly I felt.)

But summer is...overwhelming. A race to make the absolute most of the Earth's sweaty embrace before she retreats, satisfied, to a chillier season. Stacy and John speak wistfully of winter and I can sense, though I haven't lived it on a farm, the reasons for relief at summer's passing. Summer is something you prepare for and recover from, but, like an orgasm or a fever dream, while it's happening you have to just survive it.