Like most non-farmers, I used to assume that nothing really happens on a farm during the winter.
It took me around 5 years of working on one to realize that might not be true.
In my case, during the early years of adult farming, I was able to slide back into my city life with no farm obligations once markets ended and the crop was sold out in October. Mom and dad were doing whatever needed to be done. Feeding chickens? Reading about farming? No idea. I was off the payroll. November, December and January were excellent months to live in the city and have an inside job.
Spring in the city however, was depressing. It arrived early, starting with the first smell of dirt in February. While the farm itself was still safely covered in an un-farmable mixture of snow, mud and ice, each year my body felt the arrival of spring more strongly and it became more excruciating to have city obligations.
In March, the cherry blossoms, crocuses and daffodils lined my bike commute and I would arrive very distracted indeed. April came with the awareness that potato planting time was just around the corner and my work quality slipped even further. I quit, probably mere moments before I was fired, earlier and earlier every year.
I was unaware of the strength of spring. I wasn’t quite familiar enough with the process of farming to recognize how it was pulling my attention back to the farm.
Today, I get it. In fact, this very day I get it. And I got it powerfully one month ago, on March 1st standing in the farm yard, surrounded by snow and mud, with the sun gaining the upper hand on the clouds, and its warmth on my cheeks that was strong enough to reach my bones.
For that day, I felt spring, and with it, the inexorable pull to get to work.
It’s still quite easily ignored, as the list of jobs that can reasonably be done given the muddy, snowy, rainy freezing and puddling conditions of March will be very short for weeks yet. Nonetheless, the process has begun, and I now get to enter the flow gradually. The key at this time of year is to do all the tasks available, as the snow recedes and the mud dries up. They are not many, but if they are not done, they will be added to an ever-growing list and before long, they will drop off the bottom of it. That’s exactly how we develop stress on a farm.
I understand this now; I didn’t then. That doesn’t mean the compulsion to get to work wasn’t upon me. It was there alright, and it made me really cranky. While most people I knew in the city greeted spring with buoyant cheer, I became depressed, and couldn’t wait to get out.
By year four, with the February sun streaming in through the office windows, I knew I was not going to make it much longer. At that time, I was pretending to be an Administrative Assistant in the head office of the big natural food store in town. I sat at the front desk fielding phone calls and health care plan administrative details. It wasn’t absolutely terrible: I got to organize all kinds of things and had worked on a few interesting projects for my boss- the friend who always had to almost fire me.
Although still not able to articulate the effect of spring on my psyche, I was certainly no stranger to it by then, and I noted the arrival of spring with weary resignation. Instead of doing the work I was paid to be doing, I found myself planning another bike trip. By March I was well into it, in Australia, having a wonderful time. Bike touring noted as a very effective distraction.
The city charade was abandoned in year 5. I still needed something to do in January, however, so I babysat my uncle’s cattle ranch while he took a holiday. There was certainly no issue with spring depression symptom triggering because it was minus 40 most of the time. I learned a thing or two about isolation up there.
That February at the farm was glorious. Sunny every day, tiny little jobs to do here and there, and the freedom to move gently into the farming season. I still didn’t know very much about what I was doing, but at least I was doing something. And that’s half the battle.