While much of the world is worrying about the bottom line, the focus at the farm is trying to keep from extremes. Through the days and through the seasons we seek to balance work and rest, availability and boundaries, giving and receiving. Even the view others have of us and of the work tends to polarize--either seeing the life as idyllic or as grim, seeing us as either saintly or deluded.
The work and rest balance has become easier with practice. The Sabbath book a visitor left with us has helped us see things we had missed. Experience makes the work easier as we learn from our mistakes. We’ve stopped planning work based on promised help that may not materialize. The backlog of urgent repairs has dwindled to a list of routine maintenance. From the beginning the practice of morning prayer provided balance for the day and the slower pace of winter allowed us to rest up from the growing season. We’ve added some winter work--making toys and cheese and syrup as well as running the sawmill and building storage into the barn where we live. We’ve found rest opportunities in other seasons with Zach’s annual biking and camping trip to the Adirondacks, Joanna’s visits to Quaker gatherings, and family day trips each spring and fall.
The balance between hospitality and boundaries affects that of work and rest. We try to be clear about what the farm offers--an alternative to consumer messages and virtual reality, an opportunity for manual labor and learning basic skills, and the natural beauty of woods and fields and starry skies. The challenges are inevitably attached and include rising before seven, working beyond fun to weariness, getting dirty, washing in sulfur water, encountering biting insects and prickly plants. Communicating all of this to campus ministers and youth leaders who want to bring a group but don’t want to limit the numbers, do basic work at the farm, have any of their consumer culture challenged or recognize their own neediness is difficult. Other visitors encourage us to stay open--families looking for a place where children can sled and explore and help, individuals looking for a place to learn about farming or sustainability, anyone wanting to stop and think and willing to work. Some visitors find a balance here while others find an extreme which they visit briefly and then feel they deserve something extravagant to compensate for the simplicity.
Balance is crucial to our stewardship of the land. We take firewood and logs (often from blowdowns or trees beginning to die) and leave snags and brush piles for shelter and openings for new growth. We tried to share the fields with snowmobiles, asking neighbors who wanted a place to ride to stay in certain areas and leave others for skiers. Finding the fields were rutted all over when we took a first time skier out, we put up ropes and no snowmobiling signs on the openings from the road. Hunters ask for and receive permission to hunt turkeys in May and deer in autumn. Each year a man stops in and asks if it is still ok for him to shoot squirrels out by our “pig nut tree”. I’m still not sure what tree that is but the answer is always yes. The coyote hunters pose a problem. They come in the winter and they stay on the road in their pickup trucks while their pack of dogs run the woods hunting coyotes. After the first winter of this hunting we heard no coyotes and it was a bad year for woodchucks and rodents. Coyotes haven’t ever bothered our livestock (not even young piglets kept across the road), but domestic dogs running loose have killed chickens and worried the goats. And winter is a hard enough time for all wildlife without packs of well-fed dogs running unsupervised through the woods. We tell these hunters their dogs are not welcome on our land, and we’re still trying to understand the regulations and voice our concerns as the DEC clarifies the policies governing such hunting. Some of our visitors are shocked that we allow hunting at all, and some of our neighbors are outraged that we prefer skiing to snowmobiling and that we see coyotes as part of the balance of nature.
Balance is what we offer in a world where so much is out of control. The fresh vegetables and herbs we send to the local soup kitchen provide a balance to the packaged foods they get from other sources. The toys we make for refugees are insignificant compared to the obstacles they face, but perhaps their simplicity and beauty can balance some of the confusion and ugliness. We try to give a balanced picture of our work, but responses tell us that some still see us as grimly hanging on while others perceive us as carefree escapists from the hard realities. We are grateful to those who help us keep a balance in our bank account, to those who encourage us when we feel defeated, and to those whose prayers fill the gap when we lack wisdom or strength. We help each other keep balanced best when we are aware that we both give and receive.