The kids and I listen to a lot of audiobooks in the car. Currently, it’s the final book in the Emily trilogy of LM Montgomery, more famous for the Anne of Green Gables series. In the book, Emily, after a major life disappointment and illness, becomes engaged to an older man, Dean, whom she’s always looked up to as a friend and kindred spirit, even though she’s always given her heart to a younger man, Teddy, who doesn’t seem to reciprocate her affections. She figures that it is Dean who has been true to her, Dean who has always loved and heaped affection upon her, and Dean with whom she is most comfortable and at ease. They get engaged. They buy and furnish a house. They set a date for the wedding. It is all eminently sensible and desirable.
Except it’s not. Emily finally faces the truth: she loves Teddy and not Dean. She can’t explain it. She knows Teddy doesn’t reciprocate her affections and that she’s dooming herself to a life of lonely solitude. But she rejects what is comfortable, safe, and reasonable – but dishonest – in favor of what is risky and inexplicable, but true.
I had my own Emily moment this week. After a glorious start to our CSA season in May, the last week has been tough. We lost our first crop of cucumbers to the spider mite (a first!) and our first two plantings of carrots – an essential staple in our CSA – have been stunted and malformed (another first!). The cool weather has kept our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from maturing on schedule. And on Saturday I hurt my back. As I woke up on Monday morning at 6:00 am to harvest – back too stiff to work without soaking it in a hot bath, and lacking two major CSA staples – it began to seem like I’d reached a breaking point. The farm was keeping me from my family, from keeping the house clean, from studying Italian, and from any sense of relaxation. I wasn’t sure we’d have enough vegetables to harvest for the CSA in two weeks without the carrots and cukes. I told my wife that maybe it was time to finally admit defeat and suspend the CSA mid-season.
It would have been a comfortable, safe, and reasonable thing to do. I would have time for daily writing, time to make real progress in my Italian, time for the kids, and time to just take it easy a bit. Perhaps my farming life would have seemed crazy in retrospect. My wife would likely have been relieved.
But like Emily, it would have been comfortable but dishonest. Like Emily, I’m animated by a desire I can’t quite explain, one that nourishes and feeds me while being completely impractical. If I’m honest, I’m never happier than when I’m farming. The creativity, the connection to land, the production of something healthful and useful… all of these explain the attraction, but only imperfectly. Like Emily, my passion for farming is ultimately inexplicable, but no less true for being so.
I realized it later in the day talking to my extension agent, who had come to diagnose the trouble with the cukes and carrots. Even looking those disasters in the face, talking to him about the farm revived me. Thinking about what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future reanimated me. Walking the fields thrilled me. I knew the sacrifices were real and needed to be continually considered. I knew I was taking the road less traveled and the road more torturous, but I knew that if I were honest I had to admit that it was the farm that most fed me and my passion for farming that was the great passion of my life.
Like any decision which one almost makes – walking away from a difficult marriage or an imperfect job – and later realizes would have been a disaster, the decision to continue on with the CSA come hell or high water has been a relief. It has breathed new life into what was becoming tedious drudgery. I came back from the cliff, and like a literal near-death experience, I’m left feeling more alive than ever.