Saturday, August 6, 2011

Over the finish line - reprise!

The garlic is in, that means in the barn, out of the ground, all 15,000 bulbs or heads, and they are all sorted, labeled, bundled, and the vast majority of them are also hung up to dry in the barn's loft. No small effort!

To give you an idea of what a big job this was, it is important to know that we doubled our crop from last year (15,000 cloves planted last October versus 7,500 the year before), we started harvesting about 10 days later than last year because of weather and field conditions plus slow plant maturity, and yet found we were harvesting the same late-maturing garlic varieties on the same day this year as last year.  So translating, that means we harvested twice as much garlic in less time than last year.

Many things made this year's harvest more difficult, such as having no time for weeding this year (moving, working to get our previous home fixed up to sell, and yes, the highlight, our older son's wedding! all took priority over weeding without a second thought), so the raised beds and paths were a tad bit overgrown :-) leading to difficulty seeing some of the more 'floppy' garlic varieties along with the increased likelihood of insect/spider bites and scratchy plant abrasions.

(Note: Since I could never get the entire field weeded at this point, I do run through the field regularly looking very selectively for various weeds to pull out like the invasive garlic mustard, poison ivy, plus other prolific water and nutrient-depriving weeds like velvet leaf which goes right into our 'burn bag' not the compost pile because it will go to seed even after being picked.)

(Note 2: just to be clear, we never burn or compost poison ivy. I bag that up separately and put it in the garbage.)

My husband and I really thought on a logical basis we could do this increased harvesting relatively easily by ourselves. After all, 15,000 heads of garlic divided by ~30 days in July is only 500 per day. It didn't seem overwhelming last year (except for that last day when we worked until midnight to get all the garlic out of the ground and hung up in the loft of our new barn the night before we left for our younger son's wedding!).

Hmmm, what can I say except yes, we suddenly saw the forest for the trees (or is that the trees instead of the forest?), began to get worried (even a little snippy!), began to get a little more worried and even fearful as we could see that the weather, field, and plant conditions were not cooperating (not at all!) to allow us to evenly bring in the crop before we started losing some of it.

Fear is a powerful thing - what if, what if, what if?? Sometimes fear is empowering, however, more often fear is paralyzing. I have lived this 'game', having been through it over and over and over again, too many times to remember, let alone count, as a long-term, multiple-time cancer survivor.

In our case, this time we got lucky, and I mean that sincerely. I feel that the universe smiled on us, gave us a break, an opportunity and taught us to not count on last year's experience, to be ready next time with a plan for the unplanned, and then sent us the help we needed, an extraordinary young man who 'dropped in' to our life for the past several weeks to help us bring in the garlic. Pure and simple, we could not have brought in our crop on time (and with minimal losses) without his steady work, and I am grateful beyond measure.

Because I do believe that the universe operates in ways beyond our understanding, ways that could be called irrational, ways that are also beyond one simple definition of serendipitous ('happy accident'), it crossed my mind that the universe brought this young man to our farm for more than our direct benefit of getting the garlic harvested. I'm thinking about what else he may have learned (other than perhaps more than he ever expected to know about garlic!) while working with us these past few weeks. In addition, I'm considering what I may have learned or re-learned, what increased awareness I gained, what changed for me by working with my new young friend during this short time.

While listening to words at the surface and in the current underneath our conversations as we talked while working together, I found myself feeling the power and interplay of words like fear, gratitude, trust, joy, and hope, among others. I thought about my life, I thought about his young life, I thought about my sons' lives.

I would modify Shakespeare's line about serendipity in act 4 of his play Henry V "All things are ready if our minds be so" to say instead 'all things are ready if our minds and hearts be so.' I don't believe it is enough to only have a ready mind. Because fears can so easily and so quickly infect the mind and bring a person to his knees with paralysis (or worse, a state of complacency about a less than optimal situation), I believe a ready heart is also necessary to help over-ride those potentially destructive fears with kindness, gratitude, trust, joy, and hope.

Early in the week, one of my doctors' staff asked me if I ever forgot I have had cancer. I was very surprised by the question, but without hesitation I said 'no'. Later in the week, I spent time working (weeding) with a dietetic intern at another farm, and she hesitantly asked me what it was like having cancer. Without hesitation (again) I responded 'it was awful' and gave her just the tip of the iceberg of 'awful' along with the other side of that coin being the unending examples of kindness that people showed me during the 'awful'.

No, while I do not think of cancer from minute to minute, I do not forget I have had cancer, nor do I want to forget. In spite of how truly awful it has been undergoing multiple treatments and having the annoyances of multiple subsequent long-term and varied complications in my life, cancer has been the medium that has opened my mind and opened my heart to a life and a world where serendipity can happen, a life that can be lived where trust, joy, hope, gratitude, awe, wonder, love, and kindness are all trump cards over any fears that start to sneak in to my mind.

Where am I going with this? From my farm to cancer and back again? From fear to serendipity to friendship to gratitude? All of the above I guess. My post is longer than I anticipated. Today must be a ramble instead of anything succinct or focused.  I'd better stop while you are (may be) still reading. :-)

I'm going to wrap up with a food blessing I read earlier this week when we had friends finally eat in our dining room for the first time (so nice to have all our furniture in one home now!). No photo of what we ate, but instead the photo is a box of the beautiful and delicious organic vegetables grown by other young friends of ours, Nate and Jill of Green Things Farm in Ann Arbor that we used to make our nourishing meal, including the gorgeous sunflowers.

(Photo: Vegetables from Green Things Farm, Ann Arbor, MI)

I inform thee that I intend to eat thee.
Mayest thou always keep me to ascend,
So that I may always be able to reach
the tops of mountains,
and may I never be clumsy!
I ask this from thee, Sunflower-Root.
Thou are the greatest of all in mystery.

~~ Thompson River (Salish) Indian food blessing
(unknown translator, likely in the late 1500's or early 1600's)

Of course there is more than one way to the mountain top after a cancer diagnosis, after enduring hardship and suffering of any kind, but living intentionally with gratitude and being open to the joy of serendipity has helped make my path less difficult. I hope in some small way that I can help others have a less difficult path to the mountain top, too.

And now for my readers who have hung in there (thank you!), here are some photos (finally!) of the last couple of weeks during our garlic harvesting. :-)

(Photo: Spanish Roja garlic fresh out of the ground July 19 held by the caring hands of our field helper Eric who did nearly all the digging and carrying of the heavy bushels of garlic back to the barn. I followed him down the rows carefully lifting many of the 15,000 heads out of the soil and then taking them to the baskets to get the garlic out of the sun. Some days my husband was able to join us, and thus we found that a three-member tag team was very efficient.)

(Photo: Day 1 harvest in the barn, the front edge of the garlic tsunami. At this point, we can still fit the tractor in the barn! The garlic heads are dried for a day or two on pallets before being bundled, labeled, and then taken up to hang in the loft of the barn to fully dry or cure.)

(Photo: Day 1's harvest, hung in the loft to dry. This end of the loft is for the garlic going to market. All garlic being saved for seed stock that we will plant in the fall, i.e., the biggest and best, is clearly labeled and hung at the other end of the loft.)

(Photo: Our Friday farm friends last week having a garlic tasting of about 10 varieties, all raw - woo hoo!, at the end of a long, hot work week.)

(Photo: Barn sign for our 'open farm' last Saturday where we invited people who have signed up at the markets for our Garlic Friends email newsletter to come out to our farm to purchase freshly dug garlic, not cleaned or dried yet, and both pre-made or garlic braid kits. We had a great time, being in the barn the entire day helping people instead of doing more harvesting ourselves. We had a very happy day!)

(Photo: The last day of harvesting, our nearly empty and scruffy-looking fields, we worked way past usual quittin' time to get them all out of the field that day.)

(Photo: Number 15K comes out of the ground!)
(Photo: Our garlic hung in the loft - remember that photo of day 1?. Well we hung some more, pushed it to the side and then hung up even more. Most of the 15,000 are now hanging in the loft. We thought it was crowded last year with only 7500 bulbs hanging. I think our wonderful helper might be glad he is done! We're already re-thinking the harvesting and drying process for next year. At the very least, I think we need to hook up a pulley, which - silly me - I did not think we needed on day 1! However, honestly, we all had 'hit the wall' by the last day.)
(Photo: Last but not least, and I'm sorry it's small and probably fuzzy, but just after we finished harvesting the end of the garlic, out pops momma deer and the fawn likely born on our farm last May from the woods at the end of our garlic field. Mom stood guard watching us without moving a muscle for many minutes while her baby had a good time being cute and frisky, paying no attention to us. They were beautiful to watch and a great way to end the harvesting.)

I'm done now. I'll try not to be so long between posts, but we go back to our local farmers' markets next week on 3 afternoons. So we'll need to get into a new routine with that schedule. Of course we have hardly touched our disorganization. I wonder what happened to our intentions to unpack and organize one box of stuff each day? :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Diana. Your posts are always delightful and keep me reading to the last word. Congratulations on the harvest.
Denny Holmquist in Georgia

Diana Dyer said...

Thank you - I am honored you read to the last word. I could not stop myself today, and I still feel like there is more quietly meandering around in my own brain and heart that I am sorting through, but honestly, that is enough for one day. Thanks again for your thoughtful words. :-)

Uncharted Journey said...

So glad to hear from you, Diana! Being a cancer lady myself, I had actually begun to worry when you were silent so long. Now I can imagine you falling into bed exhausted each night, a much happier thought! What an accomplishment ... to harvest so much! Your move to farm life feels quite complete and rewarding. Elizabeth

Diana Dyer said...

You are right, we used every minute of daylight, often not eating until 10 and then would fall right into bed to sleep the night away. If someone would have peeked and taken a photo, I am guessing they would have seen smiles of both exhaustion and contentedness on our faces.

Today, I needed a 'day off' from the fields and barn work - we still have our last garlic to bundle and hang, so after our house guests left this morning, I spent the day walking the farm looking for my bluebirds, cleaning up a tiny bit of back-logged email, and then enjoying the writing of this blog posting.

I'm still almost hopelessly behind with email but at least my blog readers are up to date! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about our new farm life. :-)

Trudy Gerstner said...

Hi Diana,

Glad to read your long post, especially after the long silence and happy you are doing so well with your farm! Enjoy your new life as a "garlic farmer" and stay well!

I feel like you, not forgetting the awful cancer treatments and grateful that I am healthy now.

Take care and continue to write, I always enjoy your E mails.


Brian Brogan said...

Thank you for reminding me how FEAR can be crippling and that we must overcome it and allow ourselves the opportunity to remain open to all that is and could be! I love your posts and enjoy reading them. I recommend your book to everybody I know that needs it! You have been a great help to me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks I needed that. Charlene

Diana Dyer said...

Trudy, Brian, and all,

Your kind comments have touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing them. Since my husband and I have so much we want to do on our farm and for our wider community, I hope I am given the opportunity to write for years and years, even (deep breath) decades and decades. :-)

I am inspired by many people along with many of my observations and try to pass on both hope and happiness. I thank all of my readers for caring about me, but more importantly I thank you also for everything you are doing within your own circle of influence to continue finding, strengthening, and passing on the good within the universe.

True confession here - I cannot fully explain how all of 'this' (book, speaking, blogs, etc) happened, because I struggled through high school English classes (plus the one college English and writing class I was required to take). I was so completely intimidated by the 'smart kids' that I didn't enjoy writing and I don't think I had the courage to voluntarily speak up with one word all 4 years! So this entire aspect of my life these past 15+ years has been a total surprise to me, and a pleasant one at that. Message? Of course there are several, but at least one is my favorite, "never say never"!

Diana :-)

lookinout said...

I always look forward to your posts and generally read to the end. I enjoy the expression of your thoughts and philosophy.

Panic Attacks said...

This statement - sometimes fear is empowering, however, more often fear is paralyzing - describes it quite well. I admire your courage. Your blog is a source of strength and inspiration.