Week 23, 2024|Kristin Kimball|June 10th, 2024

The first anniversary of my sister’s death is approaching and I still find it hard to be quiet enough to write anything, even my low stakes weekly note to you, my friends. But she’d be so mad at me for avoiding it and especially for using her as my excuse. Kelly was the biggest champion of the farm and its story. She’d probably say the discomfort is irrelevant, that art (and I include farming there) isn’t even a product of us individuals but just translucent places in the gleaming whole. The job, she’d say, is to tune into that light, and allow it to pass through us. I’m wary of promising a note every week again, but I can promise I’ll sit down and try. The hardest part is to start, and now I’ve done it. Bear with me while I oil my rusty parts.

As spring unfolded I kept a list of things I saw on the farm that reminded me of her, little gleaming bits of the universe that shone especially brightly.

  1. A shallow spring pool in the no-man’s-land east of Fireman’s Field. From horseback Miranda and I could see the pool was thick with pollywogs. The bottom of the pool and the clay ground all around it were pocked with regular depressions, each an inch in diameter. The word pollywog comes from pol, for head (poll, the soft place behind a horse’s ears, polled, the term for cattle without horns, to poll, a verb for counting heads) and wog, old English for wag. Each large headed little creature had staked its own circle of space and waggled a wallow in the bottom with its tail, leaving a regular pattern that looked like a gigantic lotus seed pod. If we had not seen them in the act the pattern would have been a true mystery. Why they’d done it is mysterious still. Our human consciousness can slip so easily from the present to the future – we foresaw they were all doomed, their nursery pool disappearing rapidly in the hot sun, soon to be enfolded back into the infinite un-alive  – to the recent past – bad call on your site selection this year, mama frog – and then to the boggling future of geologic time, imagining those little patterns in the clay baked hard and silted over, sinking under the weight of millenia, rising up again as fossils to be wondered at by some sentient creature passing through this place in a few billion years.

  2. Out by myself for chores on a clear bright Saturday morning, moving a fenceline in grass as green as it will be until next spring. Rich spring grass makes many things: good milk, strong bone, new muscle, and copious soft manure. In the previous day’s cow pasture, the manure had splatted into piles the size of actual pies, and they were swarming with three species of dung beetles. These are the good guys, the bugs that disturb the life cycle of the biting flies, move nutrients around, and increase the carrying capacity of the land. The presence of so many dung beetles is a victory in the long game of stewardship. They thrive in a biologically complex system that uses no pesticides. But what made me smile and stay to watch was that they seemed so delighted by their work, skittering along the surface, sipping nectar of poo, tunneling deep through the center of the pile. Watching the littlest species pop up from the tunnels they’d made, sprint across the surface, and dive into the next tunnel with miniaturized gusto, I saw the joy of the contra dance when everyone knows the moves, or the organized chaos of children’s games.

  3. After dinner on a school night, lying in the field with the cattle and three quarters of my family, listening to the bobolinks’ acid-jazz melody above us and the basso lowing of the cows calling their calves all around us. Our beef herd could be described as motley these days: some British Whites, a really lovely Murry Grey cross with a fat calf to match, some Herefords, and a bunch of black baldies, all of them thick matrons with the tongue-forward energy that bovine mothers exude. I will lick lick lick my rough love into your hide, they said with their tongues when the calves arrived at their sides. The calves stood it like a ten year old boy stands having his hair parted and combed down with water before school. They seemed aware that it was a form of love, but an uncomfortably intense and specifically maternal form of love. I remember being on the receiving end of that sort of love in childhood, and on the giving end in motherhood. Lying there with our heads just under the line of the fence and our feet in the pasture, the world’s conflicts were very far away and the immediate surroundings crystalized into the absolute perfection of a late spring evening. The cows formed an arrow that pressed closer towards us. Cows’ defining characteristic, I’d argue, is curiosity. We were anomalies in their pasture, and they were obliged to explore us. Closer, and closer, until a wet nose bumped each of our knees and a rough tongue raked our thighs.

  4. Coffee with a friend yesterday, who asked me if I was finding joy amidst work and these strong feelings. These scenes I’ve just told you about came bubbling up. Yes, I said. The little gleams of beauty in daily life are all there. I think we should all attend and grab them, and hold them for when we need them – when you are gravely sick yourself or when you have to bear disappointment or for the times every single one of us will have if we are lucky enough to live long enough, when something precious passes from this plane and our company. These little bits of light are eternal, and important. These little things that make up daily life are not so little.

News, now? So much to tell you. The weather has been perfect for farming this spring, with patches of dry sunny weather that held long enough to get all of our first cutting of hay (thank you Jon Christian, and your talented hay-making family). Soon as the hay was in this soaking rain came, to water the pastures, the vegetables, and best of all the strawberries, which are turning red and sweet right now. We have a first taste of them this week, with the bounty to come. The asparagus is still producing. We’re in the midst of the spring lettuce boom and are eating lots of it here, my favorite butterhead and crispy romaine heads, plus the tender colorful mix called salvanova. The crossbred calves and the piglets are about to move to pasture. The lambs are growing very fast, the ewes working hard, their milk production at its peak.

I’ve been making big plans for the farm store as visitors and summer residents arrive. We’ll be offering more items for sale there soon, to complement our meats, eggs, milk and vegetables. And I’m planning some events to bring people onto the farm on the weekends. This morning, I’m bringing Abby Belle the pony up to the store, so visitors can pet her. I think, I hope, we’re going to offer bread at the store, starting next week, but stay tuned for confirmation and details. We love sharing the farm via the store, but our farm works best when it does what we created it to do:  supply our neighbors with a year round diet of nutrient dense whole food, in season and fresh from the dirt. Please help us spread the word that we are welcoming new members, and help us fill the roster for the rest of the year. Anyone who is interested may text me at 518-645-4658 to set up a tour with me and see how the membership works. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this shiny 24th week of 2024. Find us by text at 518-645-4658, by email at essexfarm@gmail.com, or here on the farm almost any day this summer.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball