The Balm of Gilead or, Lay Me Down In the Tall Green Grass

DAWN HILLOCK RHF HDR (2)Truth be told, I love these mornings.  I wake slowly to the dim light in the trees, black limbs on grey.  In the vague dawn light, there’s no telling what kind of day it will be, eye squinting blue or soft grey all day.  As often as I check the forecast these days, there’s more pleasure in not knowing.

By the time I have made cups of tea for me and Jo and brought them back to bed to watch the daylight come, the character of the day is nearly known.  Whether or not first light touches the tip of the tallest pine on the ridge high above our house decides what kind of planning sets in as I drink my tea.  Sunny, I’ll be out walking the farm all day, tending to what needs tending to.  Rain, I’ll be working in my office doing paperwork, ordering more seeds, making plans….

It isn’t hard to make new plans when everything seems possible.  If I had to describe this time of year with one phrase, that would be it.  Seed catalogs have the pull of gravity, and it takes all manner of discipline not to order everything.  In Spring, flowers bloom, trees leaf out, and you can almost see the cover crop grow inches in a day.  The birds sing their hearts out and the daytime temperatures are like the Balm of Gilead itself (ever heard Paul Robeson sing it?  You ought to).  When the days stretch out in front of you like a trail in the High Sierra, you can skip and sing all day, and tomorrow is good enough to get it all done.

Or is it?  It’s remarkable to me how little can get done in a Spring day.  As many times as I’ve started the winter off with a list called “WINTER WORK!”, I’m amazed at how many items on the list from 2010 are still on my list in 2013.  Do this and do that, do that and do this, and don’t forget to do this and do that….is kind of how it goes, an Alice in Wonderland white rabbit moment if ever there was one.  If I woke at 5, drank two cups of strong black coffee and started work before it was light enough to see, skipped lunch and worked till I couldn’t see anymore and did it all over again day after day without regard for the day of the week, I’d still never get that damned list done.

There was a time in this country when it was all the rage to offer a critique of the Type-A personality.  It was fashionable to know just how much higher the incidence of high blood pressure and heart attacks among A-types was.  Now, as though we’ve all succumbed to the democratization of the pursuit of A-ccomplishment, even the sadhus seeking spiritual enlightenment have to check their daytimers before making a commitment.  We are busy as bees, we are.

2004-02-06 First Frost 2012 018 (3)But while the bees really are busy this time of year, I’m more cow-like, if you want to know.  The grass that stands 12 inches tall is the most inviting grass, and offers the perfect cushioned vantage point from which to appreciate the color of the sky and the occasional fleece of a cloud drifting by.  On this farm, I know where that grass is.  I’m more likely to lose my train of work in favor of a train of thought, and those thoughts have a remarkably paralytic effect on my compulsion to work.  Religion may have been the opiate of the masses, but green grass is mine.

Where we live, Spring is the longest season of the year.  In a wet year we’re driven inside to escape the rain and the wind, and it’s hard to appreciate that fact.  But, in a year like this, it’s week after week of balmy weather that brings the lizards out to sun on a rock.  It’s warm in front and cool in back, it’s sweaters on but sleeves pushed up, it’s out to sit in the sun at 9 but in at 4 to build a fire.  In that morning sunlight, I watch my dog as his eyes start to droop, then his head, then it’s full over onto his side and onto his back, legs splayed left and right.  The word cozy was made for this, too cute for any other time of year.

As much as we hold ourselves above the rest of the natural world for our bipedalism , I’ve heard that 2004-02-08 Winter 2-2012 006walking on two legs is not the most graceful accomplishment in the natural world.  Instead, it’s a controlled kind of falling that’s arrested only because we can put one foot in front of the other.  And that, I’d say, is the most accurate description of my days.  But for the evolutionary achievements of my ancestors, I’d be doing nothing but grazing.

I’ll get it all done, you can be sure.  I’ll get the seeds ordered and I’ll get them planted on time.  I’ll prune the trees as much as they need it, and I’ll get all the paperwork done.  I’ll build this and I’ll make that and I’ll change this and I’ll finally improve that.  And, if I doubt myself, all I have to do is look around and remind myself of what this farm looked like when it wasn’t a farm.  This year is no different than the others.

Today, however, I’m going to sit and drink my coffee while I watch the birds.  I’ll wait for a sign to suggest what ought to be done today.  I’ll think about how much I will get done tomorrow, and I’ll wait for that moment (when no one is looking) to do something that accomplishes nothing.  Today, the bovine wins over the bee.  Tomorrow, I’ll get it all done.


9 thoughts on “The Balm of Gilead or, Lay Me Down In the Tall Green Grass

  1. Alan,
    A fascinating way to think about walking as a kind of falling??? More to consider as I track my treks and possibly your daily walks on the farm. A different shape than I anticipated, however with “Lay me down in the tall green grass.”

  2. Thanks, Alan. I was just going over my to-do list this beautiful Sunday morning, and your blog post made me realized a relaxing bike ride was the only truly critical action item for the day 🙂

    — Ken

  3. Thank you for this wonderful read and insight Alan!
    Instead of going out to the new property and finish it all the way I tell myself ” it is Sunday”! But alas, how lucky we are to be out in all this beauty.

  4. Yeah…this is a very good post, Alan. It’s a lovely description of spring, a delightful interpretation on figuring out what to do with one’s day (on a farm or on a mountainside…no matter…as long as it is outside) and most of all it is classic “Alan.”
    Can’t wait to be pulling weeds, harvesting cucumbers, or collecting peppers. Can’t wait for the banter, the laughter, the community. Can’t wait for the early morning sun, the songs of the birds, the rising heat of mid-morning. Just can’t wait for farm season.

  5. Hey Alan, I am so touched by the beauty of your writing. I appreciate hearing your thoughts about it all and I look forward to reading your first book. Now that would be wonderful. Yes.

  6. Alan, a lovely piece of writing! Looking forward to starting my day with your words in mind. Thank you!

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