Saturday, October 20, 2007

Broccoli Prayer (Wednesday, October 16, 2007)

This morning first thing we drove up north, to the field we call Greenpower, to harvest broccoli. The first miracle is that the name of the field is Greenpower. Most of our fields are simply numbered, and so our talk runs something like, “I’m going out to eight to get the beets, but I can meet you in four afterwards if you want help with the greens.” Going “up north to Greenpower” is something entirely different. It’s about a mile across town from the main farm. There’s no people up there, and from the middle of the field, you can’t see any houses. There’s just the wide sky, the circle of trees, the earth. It is always silent, in the way that the deep woods are silent: punctured with the voice of the wind, the cries of black crows, the scampering of mice and snakes trying to keep warm and avoid the gaze of hawks. Every time I pull in to Greenpower off the long dirt road, something in me settles and quiets. My breathing stills to the rhythm of the field. Places are sneaky. They can slip inside your heart unexpectedly, though you never meant to fall in love with them.

After the familiar sound of the name Greenpower in my mouth, the miracles were countless. That’s one way, I believe, to define a prayer: countless miracles. We got a frost last night and there was ice shining on the green heads of broccoli as we bent down toward them with our knives. It was so cold our hands went numb and we had to pause every few feet, banging them against our thighs to warm them up. It was a true morning up there, cold and frosted and silent. The sun was a hard golden line behind a bank of dark fall clouds, the bluest most pine-hard wall you’ve ever seen. The frost netted the broccoli like fine-veined crystal, layered in patterns of blue and silver like new lace. The ice on the bright green heads shook and quivered each time I put my warm hand on a cold stalk and cut. As the sun slowly worked its way out from behind the clouds the ice dripped and cracked away. Once the light was on the plants the whole field erupted white and brilliant. On our left was a stand of winter rye pushing its way up out of the dark, just-tilled soil, and on our right was a row of dead cornstalks Erik left when he ploughed up the field. The cornstalks were a hard, blazing brown, bent and broken, as a dead a thing as you’ve ever seen. The winter rye was still small, and standing in the field among all the brown and white and grey it looked like someone started a fire of needles in the soil. The young shoots were sharp and when the sun and wind passed over them they glistened like waves.

Harvesting at Greenpower in the early morning, I was surrounded by things scared and solid. Broccoli dazzled with ice, the sky a contrast of sharp and hard, soft and vast, the young rye that keeps the field healthy through the long winter. There were the dark clouds and then the sun breaking over everything, sending a waterfall of light over the broccoli, deepening its leaves into the brightest, smoky blue. There was the ice that sizzled into water when it met the heat of my hands, and the sound of the knife slicing through the flesh of a plant.

I am still trying to figure out what it is about farming that opens these windows in my heart. Maybe it is the sound of ice crystals sliding down the heavy green leaves of the broccoli, leaves as big as a child’s head. Maybe it’s waking up and being out in the world first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s the sky over my head all day and what that tells me about love and loneliness. Maybe it’s the way I follow the sun with the curve of my back as it crosses the sky, as it changes color from soft pink to brilliant white to the saddest gold I’ve ever known. I don’t know what it is about being out in the fields that makes me feel this way, that makes me want to keep singing and weeding until there are no more prayers to speak. I only know that it changes something in my bones and the hollow of my throat and the skin behind my knees. I only know that this work opens me and opens me and opens me. It expands my capacity for joy, it mellows me out toward tenderness.

I want you to know what it was like this morning at Greenpower harvesting broccoli. I want you to know every detail. The white frost, the hard curtain of the sky, the angle of my back bent toward the earth, the weight of my full buckets as I carried them back down the bed, the one-armed movement I used to swing them up into the truck and how good it felt, how good it felt to use my muscles first thing in the morning. I want you to know these details because they are the only way I know how to love, the only way I know how to forgive, the only way I know how to be grateful. I want you to know what happened in my gut as I watched the fall sun slide out from behind the clouds, releasing the field into a circle of light. I want you to know how it felt to watch that light spread across the leaves of two hundred feet of broccoli plants. I want you to know how big a space that can open in a heart. I want you to feel the way my muscles softened under the sunlight, the way the whole world in that moment seemed to enter me.

I need you to know these things. I need you to know about the endless poems written in the way the dead cornstalks and the young winter rye moved against the sky. I need you to know that I fell in love again this morning. I fell in love with the movement of my body, with the ability of my legs to walk through the cold frosted rows and the ability of my arms to hold buckets and the ability of my heart to let these things touch it, to be changed by colors and seasons. I fell in love again this morning with the blessed dance of life and death that happens every day in farming, with the endless blessings in the colors blue and green and white. I fell in love with morning again, the kind of cold hard morning that dazzles your eyes and sharpens your heart, that stands up and announces that it’s another day in the world and you’d better notice all the blessings because each one of us has a finite number of days. I need you to know these things. I need you to know how small the ice crystals were, how every time they slid off the plants they made a sound like rain. I need you to know about the black cut of a crow as he flew crying over the clouds. I need you to know about the burning in my hands and the frigid footprints my boots made as I walked and harvested and wondered. I need you to know these things because it is the only way I know how to give away wonder.

This morning was cold and bitter. Harvesting broccoli, I loved the frost, the sky, the death of the corn. I need you to know how that love widened inside me, how I’ve been holding it in my muscles all day, how it inhabits my mouth and my fingers. I want that love to change you too. I want you to feel it on your eyelashes and in the breath that leaves your mouth. This is all I have to offer the world: frost on broccoli and sunlight on winter rye and the way a morning can speak a prayer that fills a body to overflowing.

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