The arrival of the animals changed the way we live with the seasons. Suddenly we were part of a rhythm we had not noticed so much before. Certainly, as gardeners we were aware of the gross passage of seasons from growing time to fallow time. But the animals put us intimately in touch with seasons and weather and the heartbeat of life, reproduction and death.
There is a rumor that farm life is simpler than city life. It may be grittier and more basic, but it is far from simple. We still have all the complications of life in the 21st Century. We deal with taxes, utilities, traffic, development, politics, health, shopping, worship, schools, work, committees and volunteer time as much as, or more than, when we lived in the city. The 40-minute drive to Town is gradually increasing to 50 minutes as development moves outward from the suburbs into farm land. We add to that the new tasks of husbanding our acres.
We learn to give injections to livestock (intramuscular or subcutaneous), to operate a tractor safely in the woods, to repair a leaking roof, to keep the pump operating, to replant a logged forest, to set a duck’s broken leg, to keep the deer from the vegetable garden, to know when it’s time for the ram to meet his ewes, to recognize the signs of birth labor, to assist in the delivery of newborns, to keep the yard hydrants from freezing, to know the behavioral signs of friendly or irritable animals, to recognize plants harmful to livestock, to wire up an electric fence, to “release” young trees in the woodlot so they will thrive, to tie up a mule so he stays. We develop a routine of feeding morning and night, and watching for things going wrong. We listen to the owls at dusk. And we live in the clock of sunlight and dark, fair weather and storm, summer drought and autumn rain.
Last week we were in the snow zone. This week, the snow is gone and the mule is rolling in the grass under sunshine (though at the very moment I post this, it is raining again). Even the meteorologists aren’t always in touch with the expectation of weather and climate. Scientists have studied precipitation for centuries, yet it’s amazing how much we still don’t know about the water, as rain, snow or ice, that falls on us. Check out NASA Science News for a story on that.
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Go to http://science.nasa.gov/ to sign up for regular NASA science reports by email.
It’s not that it’s complicated or simple, this life, but that it goes to basics in a way city living never ever can.
A couple of weeks ago I was browsing the thrift store in Oregon City and turned up an odd item in the bins of cheap jewelry. It was a ring-shaped pendant sundial, with a sliding outer ring to index the months of the year and a pinhole aperture to focus the sun onto the inner ring inscribed with the hours of the day. I laid down my $4.99 and took it home.
Even in March we get bursts of sun between the clouds. Pretty soon, along came Sol. Here is the Aquitaine sundial in successful application (click the picture to make it bigger). Look inside the ring and you will see a bead of light between the numbers 2 and 3. It was about 2:45 pm on my wristwatch.
We were pleased to find the sundial accurate to within a quarter hour or so. This, it seemed, was about as elegant a way to be in touch with the season as we could get. Except for the intrusion of adjusting for Daylight Savings Time each spring (and earlier than ever this year!), a little portable sundial truly does speak to the basics of time and season. It may seem sappy, but admiration for the simple things can flow over a person just like a ray of sunlight.
Go here http://www.shepherdswatch.com/products/aquitaine.html to learn more about the Aquitaine sundial and other sun-driven time telling devices.
http://sundials.org/ will take you to the North American Sundial Society for lots more.