Dear Folks,It’s a typical March day, which means not cold but not warm either, not completely cloudy but only fleetingly sunny, no longer muddy but not quite solid underfoot. March around here is a month that tries one’s patience. We are desperately ready for spring. Signs of spring are dangled before us. But we can’t yet strip off layers of clothes, we can’t go outside without boots, we can’t let the woodfires go out, we can’t let the sheep loose to frolic on green grass, we can’t plant anything outdoors. The landscape is still brown. It still freezes every night. Winter hasn’t quite let go of us.
Ah, excuse me. That last paragraph was an exercise in seeing the glass half-empty. A typical March mood. Cabin fever. Stir-craziness. The whininess that comes at the end of a long winter, though the past winter was short and mild compared to most around here. Call it Seasonal Affect Disorder — I haven’t had enough sun, and March, when the jet stream shoots one storm after another right through New England, isn’t a month to make up for lost sun, even though the days are getting spectacularly longer.
So now I will tell you all the ways that the glass of spring is half full.
Another set of twin lambs was born yesterday. These are the first of the spring flush, the arrivals we planned, as opposed to those accidental twins that came a month ago. The accidentals, the two white junior Wallys, have grown enormously. They bask in the sun at the door of the barn, cuddled together, muddy-kneed, just beginning to nibble hay and chew a cud.
The newborns in the maternity ward are pitch black, without even the white spot on the nose that seems to be characteristic of our flock. They are the first we’ve seen of Satchmo’s kids, and, like him, they are strong and long-legged. The mother is Tulip, the flightiest of the ewes, but also the most elegant, beautifully built, with an intelligent (for sheep) long-nosed face. She had a boy and a girl, and they’re off to a good start. If the sun gets around to shining today (whine, whine), I’ll let them out of the barn to join the others.
This will be an exciting week, because all the other fat packages walking around out there are due to open. Last night Chrissie and Scot and I set up the schedule for the lamb watch. They take the late-night shift, I take the early-morning shift. (At lambing time you appreciate the fact that God makes Morning People and Night People.) My friend Jan from New Zealand is arriving tomorrow to celebrate Harvard’s spring break; being a Kiwi she will pitch right into the lambing. She has a way of pitching into whatever we’re up to on the farm. Last time she was here, she literally pitched into a pile of manure we were moving from the barn to the pasture.
Crocuses are in bloom in front of the house. Robins and redwing blackbirds arrived this week. (My farm journal says that they came on April 6 last year, so we’re well ahead of schedule.) Baby peppers and celeries and kohlrabis and lettuces and tomatoes are sprouting in my bedroom. The soil outside has softened enough that we can dig parsnips — the garden candy that is so appreciated because it comes at a time when we haven’t had anything fresh from the garden for months. This week we have eaten fried parsnips with onions and cheese, mashed parsnips, parsnip cole slaw, and parsnip muffins. Yum!
The pond is still covered with mushy ice, but the fast-running brook is clear. The minute the snow was off the ground, the geese and ducks made their way down to it. You should have seen them that first day in the brook, after a winter when their only unfrozen water was the bucketful we brought out to them every day. You would never wonder again whether animals have feelings — those birds were in utter ecstasy. They plopped into the water, they splashed, they dipped, they rolled, they fluffed, they drank, they mated, they cried their delight to the heavens.
Fortunately, because the brook is a haunt of raccoons and foxes, they come back up the hill to the barn at night. They have nests up here, but no one has settled down on them yet. The duck eggs are the size of chicken eggs, but a bit rounder, and the shells have a translucent shine. The goose eggs are big enough to fill your whole hand. They are elongated, rough-textured ovals, bright white, and so strong they seem to be made of concrete.
Have you ever wondered how it is that a goose or duck lays an egg a day over many days, but they all hatch out at the same time? It’s a great cleverness of nature. While she’s laying, the bird stays off the nest, except once a day when she returns to deposit an egg, turn all the others, dampen them with her wet underfeathers, and build up the nest with a little more hay and down. All this activity keeps the eggs viable, but they’re too cold to start developing. Only when she has enough for a clutch does she finally set full time, warm them up and set them all going.
We are eager to do things outside, and we have drawn up our daunting list of spring chores. (The list is always overwhelming, but we always get everything done.) Chrissie has computerized it, complete with spaces for the initials of whoever takes on responsibility and for checking off completion — very satisfying. But only a few things can be done yet. We are potting away at pruning fruit trees and grape vines. Scot has gone on an orgy of brush-cutting, pushing back the jungle surrounding the back orchard, which will give us space for more fruit trees and more grazing for the sheep. Great brush piles are rising, which will mean, when they have dried enough and the wind is right, the fun of lighting bonfires.
We’ve taken in the tiller and the lawnmower for annual checkups, to prepare them for heavy action. We’ve ordered baby chicks and new apples and grapes. We’re negotiating with a neighbor to plow under and reseed our main pastures, which need restoration. (He has the equipment to do it; we don’t.) We’re reading electric fence catalogs, so we can buy some to keep the sheep on our neighbor Ruth’s fields until ours regrow — in exchange we’ll restore her fields too. I’m watering seedlings in my bedroom. We’re trimming and raking and sprucing up the place. We’ve gotten the upstairs bedroom painted and ready for guests or for whomever will be our new housemates. But the full craziness, when all the spring chores need doing at once, is still ahead.
It’s a nice time, actually, like the slow unfolding morning moments between just waking up and getting flat out into the swing of day. It’s a deliberate time, not a rush, a time to savor every small step toward spring, because the steps haven’t yet turned into a stampede.
My gosh! I’ve just talked myself into appreciating March! I didn’t think it was possible!
It has been wonderful to be home for a whole, solid, uninterrupted month. I’m back into writing my textbook again, so much so that I’m consumed with it, not wanting really to do anything else. (I hope this mood lasts until it’s done this time!) I just finished the part about soil — one of my very favorite subjects. Because I’m thinking all day about soil chemistry, soil biology, soil formation, I’ve asked Chrissie to take soil tests all over the farm, from the gardens and orchards and fields and Ruth’s fields too. Chrissie is taking a ten-week training offered by the state of New Hampshire that will turn her into an official Master Gardener. One of the good parts of it is that she is getting to know all the state ag services, and the experts in fruit trees and pastures and such. And soil tests. Pretty soon I’ll just turn over the farm to her.
I’ve also been working on raising money for Balaton, on a quarterly Balaton Bulletin, and on an article with John Sterman about the downturn of the long wave and the rise of fascism. It could be an important article; I’ve been wanting to write it for a long, long time; we have just barely started, but I hope we can get it done quickly. If it gets published, I’ll include it in this package as a bonus!
I just decided to play hooky from the computer for a minute because the sun flashed out. I grabbed my pruners and ran out to cut something. The first thing I ran into that needed cutting was the basket willow in the front garden. So I pollarded it, and then I had this nice batch of slim willow wands. So I sat down in the sun and made a little basket for Chrissie. Not on my to-do list for today, but what the heck. Basil was at my side as always, napping in the sun. Two of the cats, Poppy and Simon, came to chase the ends of the willows as I whisked them back and forth. A robin sang from the top of a big locust tree.
March is really a terrific month!
Fritjof Capra asked, after the sustainability definition I gave last month, what I meant by “the physical capital plant” — a good question, because the word “capital” is so confusing. It means two things. First it means money that is invested in building some productive enterprise, as in “I can’t build that factory until I raise some capital.” The other meaning is not the money that pays for building, but the factory itself. To keep them straight, I call one “money capital” and the other “physical capital.”
Physical capital consists of all human-made productive facilities — electric generating plants and oil refineries and car assembly plants and textile factories and computer factories and tractors and irrigation systems and hospital buildings and school buildings and restaurants. Physical capital (not money capital) takes up space and consumes fuel and raw materials and turns out garbage and pollution. Therefore physical capital has to be limited on a finite plant. Money capital doesn’t, except insofar as it’s linked in value to physical capital. In fact money is fictitious, it’s only an invention of our minds, it is our symbol for physical capital and physical goods and services. Without physical capital, physical goods, and services, money and stock markets and “returns on investment” would have no meaning.
One of the worst confusions of our culture and our language is that we are always confusing money for the real things that money stands for. Real things draw resources from the planet and return waste to the planet and are limited. Money is limited only because it stands for real things.
End of lecture. Thanks for asking. Sorry I didn’t make myself clear the first time.
Have a lovely spring, enjoy every day of it, and don’t wish it to come faster than it comes!