Being a farmer, I have had the opportunity to learn about life from a perspective that involves continuous birth, living, and death. It is a cycle all too easy to miss (or misunderstand) and I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to live my life this way.
I love birth, in that it is such a thrill seeing the new life wiggle forth to deal with spindly legs and unpredictable conditions. There is always such promise in every new arrival, although it is almost immediately evident if one will not thrive. I find it a wonder to observe the newborn as it establishes its place on this earth. I live vicariously through this tender being and am able to feel the sun and the wind more, hear the birds with intense clarity, thirst for crystal waters and nutrients so generously offered by nature, and smell the pungent humus that is comprised of all life, including births and deaths. Sometimes it is an act of kindness to simply end a new life if it is clearly not thriving, although this never ceases to be hard for me.
The day-to-day active and unique expression of life on a farm is at once peaceful and chaotic. The first impression of quietude is a phenomenon of which I have yet to fully understand. There is nothing quiet about a farm or nature and yet I am truly at peace when at the heart of it. There are infinite levels of involvement, though, which dictate how much awareness I have of my boisterous surroundings. The persistence of my own existence and the certainty of surrounding life that flourishes with or without me are ever-present. On a daily basis I get to choose just how intimate I want to be with that teaming life on the farm. I can be oblivious to all the little voices that comprise this farm, walking through it as if alone and separate. I can perform tasks robotically and one-dimensionally, reaching the end of my day with an exhaustion that feels on the verge of desperation. Or I can keep an arm’s length, aware of the choices that I have and the ways I can fill the needs of those myriad lives by offering sustenance, protecting them from predators, and making sure they are living in conditions that encourage health. But what I love most about farming is the opportunity to immerse myself in the chaos that so astutely caters to the immense diversity of life in utter harmony. Immersion means I get to be part of that harmony on all levels and the result is wellness.
The end of a life, or death, is as much a part of farming as anything else. I suppose this is where I am reminded of my own aliveness more than anything else. From microscopic to all things great, farming encompasses death. It is the passing of once burgeoning beings, even if the living moment was extremely brief, that feed the lives of those who follow. Without death there would be no life. I am up to my wrists in death every day. I spend my days turning compost that is a mix of manure, dried plant material, and green cuttings that still speak of their livingness; sprouting seeds and then tossing those I do not plant to the chickens; snipping buds that could have become fruits or veggies and feeding them to the goats, thinning carrots by deciding which little sprout will stay and which will go, pulling spent kale after months of generous giving, plucking young fruit from the mother plants, lifting fresh eggs out of a hens nest to fry in a pan in my kitchen. It is all death, life-giving death.
Being a farmer, I participate with birth, life, and death knowing I, too, am a part of that cycle. I swing and sway with the movement of many, grateful for the wondrous newborn, inspired by the creativity of every individual, and awed by the infinite endings that lead to new births.
Christine Cole is the owner and operator of Full House Farm in Sebastopol. She is a member of Sonoma County Farm Bureau and a director and second vice president of Sonoma County Farm Trails.