Monday, July 6, 2009

Red, White, and Blueberries

This Fourth of July, for the second year in a row, we spent our holiday with our favorite farmer and his wife. This year our friend Anne came, too. Emily met Ward when she worked as a grower at Lindentree Farm in 2004. He quickly became her friend and mentor, teaching her not just how to drive a tractor, how to identify the different signs of pest infestation and plant disease, and how much, when, and where to plant. He also taught her that although farming is backbreaking work, there are many small pleasures that come with working the land, like discovering that swallowtail caterpillars, beautiful enough in their own right, will shoot out bright orange horns to ward off predators if you gently squeeze them and that nothing is better than tasting a sun-warmed melon hacked open right in the field. She learned that picking the first tomatoes of the season and gathering handfuls of fragrant basil come along with picking rocks out of field in March and pulling weeds from between tiny carrot shoots on your stomach for hours.

Ward and Nora rent a house that abuts one of the trails that Henry David Thoreau walked when he worked as a surveyor for the town of Concord in the 1850s. Across the road is Hutchins Farm, where Ward now works, which has been designated farmland since 1775 but has been worked by humans for much longer than that. Plowing those fields, Ward has discoved many Native American artifacts--spearheads, axes, flint shards--some of which are ten thousand years old. He works on hallowed ground.

Ward gave us a tour of the farm before dinner. Walking past the apple orchard, plucking blueberries off of 30-year old bushes, hiking down into a valley striped with rows and rows of onions and summer squash and scallions, I could not help but think that this rivaled any fireworks display. A squash blossom is just as colorful and explosive. And man, you should have tasted those sugar snap peas! Bang!

The Fourth of July is our nation's time to reflect on and celebrate our political and cultural independence, and to take pride in the fact that our country still is a beacon of hope for people everywhere who aspire to freedom. Spending the Fourth on a farm seems an appropriate form of celebration: those who choose to work as farmers enjoy a certain kind of independence from 9-to-5 cubicle employment. Farmers come close to achieving what Thoreau himself hoped to achieve by moving to Walden Pond: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

But Thoreau didn't live in the woods forever (and he was only a mile away from town!), and farming is more about dependence than independence: our dependence on the land and nature for survival; our dependence on the sun and the rain and the earth to provide the raw ingredients and energy necessary to grow our food; our dependence on culture and tradition; our dependence on one another. On the day we celebrate our independence as a nation, I think it is also fitting to celebrate and honor those things upon which our lives depend.

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