Saturday, April 12, 2003

Down On The Farm

Horse, student, and Farm director Richard Odman

It's finally Spring in more than just name. The indigo crocuses bloom in dense patches by the front door to the tennis courts, a mild breeze brushes the greengauze curtains over now-open windows. It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a sunny latesleeping day, one of those days where you carry a coat but end up in shirtsleeves. Wisps of clouds float gently across a mostlyblue sky.

After a somewhat blurry lunch of sloppy joes in the mostly-empty dining hall next to students grumpy from a three hour ACT exam, Darcie and I headed down the campus hill to the NMH farm, ostensibly to pick up the gallon of new syrup we earned making supper for sap-collecting students over March break. The dog strained at her retractable leash and Willow chewed her sweatshirt in the stroller as we followed the smell of dissipating sugarhouse smoke, burnt sugar and greenwood and spring-in-the-air, until the black plume became visible over the new red barn.

Once upon a time, over a hundred years ago, the NMH farm was a vital part of school life. Students got up early to milk the cows and feed the pigs and chickens, trudging up to the dining hall afterwards for bacon and eggs and fresh creamy milk before class. In the fall, raspberry collecting, the orchard harvest and cidering; in the spring, the sap and the hot boiling tables. Horses drew winter sleighs across the frozen river between the girls school and the boys school for dances and hot cocoa socials. The students ran the place part-time and spent the rest of their day in the classroom; it's hard to say which was the better learning, or whether the question even makes sense.

Although the pigs are long gone, since the old barn burned down and the new barn raised a few years ago, the program has been brought to new life under the expert oversight of the bearded Rev. Richard Odman and his handy assistant director Alex. More and more students come of their own volition to add their hands and backs to those assigned for workjob service to the labor force; I came down myself two Octobers ago to crank the cider press to keep my mind off cigarettes then-recently quit. Fields of lavender and hot peppers, for drying and for vinegar and soaps, attract the tony alumni market; bees bought new last year will both pollenate the growing fields and make nectar for new products yet to come.

Today the farm was bustling with new life -- two half-sized calves still hiding behind a full grown Jersey, five horses where last year there were three, and a chicken-wired pen of brand new chickens, a new addition to the farm program. Students in the distance hefted heavy white buckets full of sap into the small-tank truckbeds. Willow got to touch a cow; laughed at the horses and called them dogs; flashed her teeth in the warm sun; got a light sunburn, her first, on the tip of her nose. Of course, on the farm death is part of life; while we were there, Carrie, the farm Border Collie, managed to slip under the wire and kill a yearling chicken lickety-split by the neck, although in her defense she was surely trying only to herd the stray back towards the raised coop, and seemed to understand the severity of her crime immediately. But overall, an afternoon well spent, New England Spring at its finest. I praise whatever God or gods brought us to this place of sunlight and warmth and friendship, to raise a family together in a community full of love and grounded in the cycle of the land.

As always, bonus points to anyone who can correctly identify the source of today's blogtitle.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:29 PM |

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