Signs of spring on the farm

skunk cabbage

Stepping off the wild ride to see the signs of spring

By Chris Hardie

One sign that spring has arrived is when you realize that no matter how many hours you try to squeeze into the day it just isn’t long enough to get your work done.

Field work, yard work, garden work, and work work all blends together into a dizzy carnival ride that never stops. You just look for opportunities when it slows down so you can jump off at intervals to retain a little bit of sanity. Then you jump back on because you left sanity at the station a long time ago.

A more traditional harbinger of spring on our farm is the emergence of the flora in our creek bottom such as skunk cabbages and yellow marsh marigolds, or cowslips, that grow profusely in the boggy ground.

Skunk cabbages are named after the strong odor they give off that lures insects for pollination. They will grow up to 3 feet tall, blanketing the wetlands with dark green, cabbage-like leaves. Cowslips are members of the buttercup family and are now starting to bloom.

On a recent evening I was crossing our creek bottoms after forking off another load of manure on my compost pile when I noticed the skunk cabbages and blooming cowslips. I shut off the truck and stepped outside for a better look.

It was quiet in the bottoms except for the gentle murmuring of Little Creek and a few spring

Cowslips or marsh marigolds

Cowslips or marsh marigolds

peepers warming up for their nocturnal concert. The golden glow of the setting sun fell upon the skunk cabbage leaves and made the yellow cowslip blooms seem so much brighter.

I thought about my great-aunt Sara Clair who loved the flowers, a memory of her younger days on the farm. My wife Sherry and I would always try to pick a bouquet for her when she couldn’t get to the creek.

It was only a brief intermission, as I had to jump back on the wild ride and finish the evening chores. But the gentle reminder of spring in the bottoms left me with a smile.

Speaking of wild rides, will the extreme partisanship in our country ever end? When we will talk about what unites us rather than what divides us?

A scene in my barnyard last week is perhaps a lesson we can all take to heart. We have quite the menagerie of animals sharing one space — cows, sheep, donkeys and goats. Different species and different temperaments all living together.

I am waiting for the grass to get a little longer before they are put into pasture so all of the animals are being held around the barn and being fed hay. Around the edge of the field is a line of trees, which are just beginning to leaf out. All of the low-hanging branches are quickly stripped by the goats.

Last week Sherry noticed that our goat Pan had come up with an ingenious way to reach a little higher. Our donkey Henrietta was standing under a tree and allowed Pan to stand on his hind hooves and place his front hooves on her back. The extra stability gave Pan a few more nibbles at the higher leaves. Henrietta was in turn having her face cleaned by our Scottish Highland calf Squall, who was licking her.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you work together.

Don’t get me wrong. The animals have their turf and it’s not always one big happy family. Life is messy.

It’s easier at times to live and believe in the extremes. That keeps us feeling comfortable and secure about our political blindness.

The reality is that no side and no party is right all the time or wrong all the time. It takes courage to step out of our comfort zone into the middle. Instead of reacting with hostility we can plant some seeds of civility.

Maybe, just maybe, we can reach higher when we work together.

getting along

The goat Pan balances on the donkey Henrietta while the calf Squall licks Henrietta’s face.

Different animals all get along together.

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