HOMEGROWN Life: Thank you, E. B. White

Reader Contribution by Farm Aid And Homegrown.Org

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.

A friend gave me a copy of Down East
magazine back before Christmas with a page earmarked. “You’ll die
laughing,” she warned me. Turns out, it was a reprint of E. B. White’s
“Memorandum,” from One Man’s Meat, published in 1944.

I knew of White from his story of a famous pig named Wilbur who befriended a spider named Charlotte in the children’s book Charlotte’s Web.
I must have read that book 20 times over as a child. Maybe it was my
first inkling toward wanting to be connected to animals in some way.
I’ve never seen the movie version. I guess I always thought I’d be
disappointed. Sometimes, the visions we carry in our heads are far more
alive and vivid than anything on a silver screen. At least, that’s how I
see it when it comes to some of my favorite things, one of them being
the tale of a pig and a spider.

I
saved the magazine for a time when I could sit down and read
“Memorandum” without the distraction of something on the stove or a
dryer buzzer going off or another log needing to be thrown on the fire. I
felt like I was due for a really good belly laugh, as was suggested was
going to be the case.

What I experienced instead was the realization that E. B. White and I
had so much in common. His litany of tasks and thoughts and expressions
of worry or concern were exactly the same things I experience as I wend
my way through “working the farm” every day. I said out loud, to nobody
but the cats and dog, who gave me a concerned look, “This is exactly
how my day is!”

I wasn’t laughing. I was completely struck by the description of a
day on a farm and the reality of it all. The shoulds and the oughts and
what it would be a good day to do. The things that occur to him and the
things he lists he’ll need to complete. The endless tasks and
suggestions of the tools that would be good to use to do them and the
thoughts of what there is to do tomorrow and what he needs to do to
prepare for that next day. If you haven’t read it, do. You’ll never feel
alone as a farmer again.

I have conversations all the time with a farmer friend who has been
at this for more than 30 years. Brian always says, “If you get behind
one day, consider you’ll need three to catch up, if you’re lucky.” It’s
an ADD delight, a constant never-ceasing barrage of things rattling
around in your head, all equally important, that keep you from ever
completely focusing on the task at hand and relentlessly reminding you
of what’s left undone. If you farm, tend animals, raise crops, labor
over orchards, house any kind of living thing, you know what I’m saying.
White describes it in such exquisite detail, the needs of every living
and inanimate thing on a farm, you are reminded of the connection to
this way of life, and your heart stands still at the thought that you,
too, experience this kind of intimacy on a daily basis.

Just as White “musn’t forget to set some mousetraps tonight,” I am
reminded of my own tasks that need tending to: “I ought to make a list, I
guess.” If you have a list, and my guess is that, if you’re a farmer,
you have more than one, know you’re in good company.

When it comes right down to it, the way I see it, the real essence of
farming hasn’t changed much since 1944. White’s litany of chores and
thoughts and shoulds and oughts is as alive today as it was then. I find
that comforting. Maybe the certainty that each day will bring a new set
of chores and tasks and unexpected jobs is the simple reason why we’re
drawn to the farming way of life. Days unfold with wind and rain, snow
and sleet, animals birthing, animals dying, papers that need filling in,
stalls that need cleaning, rows of plants that need weeding, compost
piles that need turning, wood that needs cutting or stacking, trash that
needs burning, stickers for cars that need fetching and sticking, roofs
that need mending, sheep that need drenching, and I should go on but
won’t. To me, that’s the beauty of farming, the reminder that something
much bigger than me is in charge of how my days are laid out before me.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time here typing, and I can see it is
four o’clock already and almost dark, so I had better get going.” It
seems even this task is one that takes on a life of its own, as these
thoughts transfer from brain to paper. Thanks for the brain cramp, Mr.
White.

Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross ?ock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

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