Find me in the flood

I wake at six o’clock to a steady, soaking rain. Yes. Not yes because I’m excited to be out in the cold and wet all day, slogging around in my mud-caked boots, or because I’m particularly ready to jump out of bed in the pitch darkness of late November. It just sounds good. It sounds right. It sounds like late November should sound in the Willamette Valley, finally.

I force myself to sit up, stretch, make a cup of tea to push the morning along. I’ve been trying to reinforce some good habits in the mornings, besides sitting down to write: meditation, physical therapy exercises, more stretching. I could easily use three hours every morning before work to do it all, but my time dwindles after snoozing a few times, responding to a few emails, and taking the time to cook a good breakfast. A big pile of veggies, two eggs over medium, and some tomatillo salsa and mayo on the side. All the while, the rain continues, loud and comforting. I get dressed knowing fully that I’ll have my rain gear on all day, soaked, just hoping that I’ll stay warm enough to move my fingers.

When I arrive at the farm I immediately pull on my boots and rain bibs, find a jacket in the tool shed, and check in with Michael. It’s just him and me until late afternoon when Katie, one of our academic interns from the university, will join us. It feels quiet and empty without the normal Tuesday crew: Sophie, Phil, and Alex, our season-long interns, have finished their program; Julia, another academic intern who was coming just for the morning each Tuesday, is done as well; Johnny, a local volunteer who started working semi-regular “shifts” a couple days a week, extending himself further and further into the afternoons as the farm grew on him, is as ready as we are to take a break for the winter. Ted’s at home today. So Michael and I briefly check in, look at our single to-do list for the next two weeks, and get moving.

As I swing the corner to the farm stand to grab a cart for rakes and hoes, I realize that the rain’s let up. There’s even some patches of blue sky to the west amidst big, billowing thunderheads. It smells like fall, but it feels like spring. Passing showers, barely anyone here, slippery field work to tackle. And it’s warm! At least, upper fifties feels pretty balmy after a week of freezing nights.

After hoeing out some thistle and re-raking half of the garlic beds that’d been under black plastic for a few weeks (the idea was to kill off the carpet of little weeds that survived the flame weeder, but it didn’t do the job, so we had to try to kill them another way), we both stripped down to our T-shirts. The sun pierced out through the cloud banks just as we cut open the first straw bales. Pop! The bales expanded and sloughed off in flakes on either end as we started hauling armloads into the beds. Nice and thick, to block the weeds. The garlic straw reminds me of a streaming fairytale braid every fall: fluffy, golden, clean, long rows stretching toward the fence line. Especially in the thick of cold mud season, it’s oddly uplifting.

 Spreading straw on the garlic beds

Spreading straw on the garlic beds

We continue on the next four beds, raking out all the tiny weeds, spreading the last of the straw, moving tarps to cover the compost and manure piles. The sun holds out until we’re folding a chunk of new tarp that we pulled off the field, trying to tie it while raindrops splash around our fingers, hoisting it into the pump house with feet carefully placed to not slip in the mud. Michael leaves for lunch, and I’m alone on the farm for an hour. The rain picks up the minute I slip into the greenhouse to harvest some lettuce for my lunch, and I’m catapulted back to springtime in the nursery under heavy downpours, screaming over the din to give instructions to unwitting volunteers. Spring is coming, I think. As bizarre as it sounds now, just as winter’s setting in, I can feel it. The light has only a few more weeks before turning its slow gaze back toward us.

I sit under cover at the picnic tables to eat, and it continues. Just a quick downpour, but it means business Fall rain like this reminds me of where I grew up. It’s soothing. I don’t realize how anxious I am toward the end of summer until the rains come back, and I breathe an unexpected sigh of relief, and the world feels whole again. This fall (and many others recently) has been dangerously dry. The forecast has called for inches of rain that just never fell— dissipated in the coast range, or flew past us to the mountains? It felt nauseating after a while, to see those crisp fall leaves, at first so delightful and playful, stay crisp day after day and week after week. We all certainly enjoyed the bright, crisp fall, and it made it much easier to finish the farming season, but it still felt off. The ground was tense for weeks after it would normally have been soft and saturated— I was even wondering whether we’d have to re-water the new strawberry crowns that went in a month ago.

But no, they’re nice and soaked now. Popping first leaves out from their crowns, two by two, every foot down the six beds that we planted with an environmental studies class. The cover crop is flooding the fields with green. The brassicas have steeled their tissues from frost. The apple trees are finally dropping their leaves, letting them die after a season of constant work. And the first beds we’ll plant in the spring are tucked in the dark under wide sheets of black plastic, weighted with canals of rainwater that’s pooled in the pathways.

The cold rain forces everything on the farm to rest, go dormant, grow more slowly. What would the world be like if we all took a long repose during the darkest days? If we all slowed down like the cabbages, laid in darkness like next year’s beds destined for snap peas, and let our work fall from our shoulders like apple leaves finally releasing themselves from the grand rat race of photosynthesis?

When the rains come/ Find me in the flood