A Christmas letter from the farm
It’s quieter here this Christmas.
It’s probably the same where you are.
This time of year is always good for reflecting. (If ever there was a year where a little reflection was in order, it’s this one.)
The weather forecast is for heavy rain, wind, and warm (50!) temps tomorrow (Christmas Day). So likely the little snow we have on the ground will be gone by tomorrow night.
No snow on the ground at the end of December? That’s rare.
We’ll probably lose our power. When the wind blows like it’s supposed to tomorrow, that’s what happens in these parts. We lose power here in rural Maine a lot. Twice in the last month alone. Usually it’s out for a day or so - sometimes it’s longer. We have a generator (powering about half of the house - the heat and water, but not the stove) so it’s not so bad.
Losing power three times in a month? No snow at the end of December?
Everything about 2020 has been weird.
Once, ten years ago or so, I was doing some errands with my then 15-year-old son. We were stopped at a red light when suddenly a van plowed into the back of our car. (The van - filled with kids - had lost its brakes. Everyone was shaken up, but no one went to the hospital.)
In the moment after we were hit, my son asked me “what just happened?” In the first seconds of experiencing the unexpected - he was having a hard time processing it. He had never been through an accident like that. He wasn’t expecting it. He didn’t know what to make of it.
2020 felt (feels) like that.
We're all asking, "what just happened?"
As a farmer I think maybe I had a somewhat unique perspective on the past 10 months.
On the one hand, our business surged. In April we did almost as much business as we had done in all of 2019. The demand for our beef - fueled by meat shortages and a mistrust of big agriculture - was overwhelming. We set up our website to take “pre-orders” because we were sold out of current inventory. By the end of April, we had over 500 orders to fill as far out as July.
We had intended to grow in 2020, but not like this. In 2019 we purchased an adjoining farm and doubled our acreage. We grew our herd. We rented a former meat market in nearby Dover-Foxcroft for storing our inventory and doing our shipping.
In those first few months of the pandemic, we hired some new helpers and we hustled and we didn’t do anything but work. The pressure and stress was pretty intense. We had our long-time customers and hundreds of new customers - and they were counting on us. Taking “pre-orders” is the same as a promise. We were not going to let people down.
It’s a bit of a blur still. It often seemed like an out-of-control rocket that was going where it was going no matter how much we tried to steer it.
In those first months, I worked a lot of days at our building in Dover-Foxcroft, getting shipments ready, answering emails and the phone.
At the end of the day, I would come back to the farm. After dinner I would drive the UTV out to the pasture where the cows were. In the fading light of dusk they would be doing what they do, eating the grass, or chewing their cuds, or laying down while their tails swatted at the flys landing on their backs.
I was struck and soothed by the contrast.
I was reminded that despite the craziness of the day, the stress of my own human anxiety, the earth was still rotating, the animals were still fulfilling their biological destiny.
Cows catch viruses and we are always on the lookout. It happens to all animals. We are vigilant, but it is just what happens sometimes.
To all living things.
Covid19 is an earthly, natural, living thing that upended our world. It caused death and sickness and hunger.
But the world is not coming to an end. Earth and the organisms (humans, cows, viruses) that inhabit it are just doing what they've always done.
I miss my kids and my siblings and my dad and my friends.
We all share that, don’t we?
My 94-year-old dad got a vaccine shot yesterday. I hope I can get one soon - so I can visit him.
Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel maybe we can take away this lesson from this year, when we are still asking “What just happened?”
We’re not just subject to nature, we’re a part of nature. We might think we can conquer our environment, but we’re just another living creature, sharing the space with many other creatures for as long as our short time here lasts.
That’s what I think “just happened.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at Heartstone Farm to you and your family,