Here is a short piece I wrote that was published in the latest Ecological Farmers of Ontario Publication.
During my first year of farming, as an apprentice, my skills of observation were well nurtured. I watched the growth of grasses and herbs give way into the bellies of grazing horses, sheep, goats and cows. I studied the meticulous house cleaning performed by bees, transporting their dead out of the hive. I watched cherry trees blossom, and set fruit and I watched that fruit fall prey to little white worms.
I watched dark cassis noir, or black currants, plump up in the summer sun, and I felt the way they made my cheeks pucker and saliva flow when I ate them at different stages of ripeness.
When I first arrived, George, the farmer, would radiantly join the farm team at the kitchen harvest table for breakfast, evoking the best in us with a kind, sing song “good morning”. George and I would walk the fences, as he taught me to look for breaks in the circuit and how to repair the electric fencing to contain Daisy, Marigold and the other cows.
I watched George’s light fade. Cancer was spreading through his body quickly. When he no longer joined us for breakfast, I would bring porridge to his home, where he would be laying on a couch, often breathing with the assistance of an oxygen tank.
As his health deteriorated he moved into a separate trailer, where intensive care could be more easily provided. A nurse had arrived at the farm, with the intention of learning how to grow food. As it turned out, she learned a lot more about nursing at that farm than about growing food. Being equipped with a strong set of skills, she helped keep George comfortable as his body failed him. She helped him nourish himself with meals, helped him bathing, and eventually tended to his need for a catheter. Both of us would read to him. This took a tremendous load off of his wife. She was nearly blind, trying to care for him and also had the weight of the future to sort out.
I observed this strong, stoic, and proud farmer wince and gasp in pain, holding on so tightly to the life force that flowed through him. And, I witnessed the gradual release – the surrender of a battle and acceptance of a powerful transformation. After his heart stopped beating, his body lay for three days while life left it completely. There was a hollow presence in his room, as if George was still coming to terms with what had happened to him. He was buried by his family, and the community gathered in a circle outside in a pasture to honour his gifts. While his body imparts its intelligence into the soil, his light surely continues to orient bees, nourish grasses and sweet cherries, cassis noir and maybe even some grazing horses, sheep or cows.