These are not natural silences…that necessary time for renewal, lying fallow, gestation, in the natural cycle of creation. The silences I speak of here are unnatural: the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot. In the old, the obvious parallels: when the seed strikes stone; the soil will not sustain; the spring is false; the time is drought or blight or infestation; the frost comes premature.From Tillie Olsen, Silences
A dozen years ago, this farm went silent. Chickens were culled; one remaining old ewe soon died; the market garden fell to thistles and bindweed. Determined not to weep in the house, I did it sitting on an overturned bucket between what used to be raised beds. I’m a resilient person. I see the absurd at the edges of hardship. But it seemed clear then that I’d need to pack up and scuttle off into the city.
Poets make the best and most useful friends. During a farm visit at this silent time, the poet, Tim Lilburn, suggested what needed to happen: see the farm from “new angles,” he said. I trust him, and so I quit crying in the kitchen garden, put my boots on, and limped out into the field, to see life from out there. To look back at it, not away from it.
Six 20-foot cedar boxes; berry cage and asparagus box; little patio for al fresco salad; gravel paths, deer fence; concrete composters. I spent money I didn’t have to console myself, yes, but also to restore and revive. Two new ewes, one of them mysteriously pregnant. A flock of Salmon Faverolles heritage chickens. Presto, no wallowing.
Here’s what I saw from the healing garden: across the field, down a subtle draw toward the pond that drains further down a hill into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and to the alley of Lombardy poplars planted by a founding father/farmer of Metchosin.
But within 6 months, an excavator showed up on the south side of my garden and dug a hole 10 feet from its edge. Ninebark Farm is in the middle of what was about 20 acres of hayfield 150 years ago. We remain in the Agricultural Land Reserve, though now the field is parceled into 6 lots, and mine’s the only one in production; I borrow two other fields to the north for grazing sheep.
That hole became a 2-story shop that now obscures it all. Sunlight is depleted. Trees were removed; the hedgerow between our properties—vital to wildlife and the berries that sustain me through the year—has been eradicated. Countless loads of gravel; pavement; a motocross track for the new baby; hot tub; trampoline; the permanently parked RV.
To be clear: this is a clash of worldviews and value systems, yes. But the only objection I’m entitled to is the fact that this took place on farmland without consultation with farmers. Bylaws allow everything I’ve listed.
Early into my emotional shop aftermath, I discovered the French artist JR and his amazing InsideOut: The People’s Art Project, “a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.” Please explore the website, but in short, we are asked to use portraits applied to public spaces to incite activism. Back then, I thought about covering my windows with vinyl sheep portraits; I looked into getting a machine to project portraits onto the roof of the shop. Loved ones tolerated my brainstormings but were reluctant to cheer me on, bless them.
Then last week, when I started my #itsnotpretty series on Instagram, I remembered what I wanted to do and why. The photo you see is of my granny ewe, Marianne Faithful, that mysteriously pregnant newcomer to the farm a dozen years ago. She’s still with me.