“Life is so very good on certain days that one almost lives in fear of having to pay for it in full.” –Ken Millar, letter to Eudora Welty
Those who have traveled with me know that I tend to live toward my future by means of a series of snapshots. For better or worse, if I learn that I’ll be going to Paris, I’ll suddenly find that I have an unreasonably detailed image in my head of what it will be like to, for example, be sitting at an outdoor cafe in Paris with my coffee and croissant, listening to some chanteuse in the background while autumn leaves flutter amid pedestrians. And having unshakably converged on that figment, I will steer my trip so that its trajectory passes through that exact point, spline-like, as well as all the others I had unreasonably imagined as the moment approached.
I’d never actually attended a work party on a farm, let alone organized one, but when Logan told me she was going to ask around for volunteers to help put in the 100(!) chestnut trees she, Lacey and Shay were bringing in for the upper pasture, a work party seemed like the way to go. I sent out email to everyone I knew in the area: “Whether you’re able to swing a shovel or just bring a tune and a smile to keep us company – please stop by if you can,” and got to imagining.
I imagined kids and grownups digging in, sharing hot cocoa and pleased-to-meet-ya’s. I imagined a beautiful February morning out on the peninsula with sun on the mountains and folks singing while they planted. I imagined us all, dirt-caked and exhausted, raising a pint (or two!) in the evening to celebrate the place that brought us together. I imagined all sorts of unreasonable fairy tale stuff.
And today was so much more wonderful than even that.
As the day approached, I kept scurrying off to Henery Hardware, the Co-op, Safeway. The forecast was for snow – snow?!?? – and freezing temps in the morning. Did we have shelter for folks out in the field? Did we have something big enough for the amount of coffee we were going to need? How about hot cocoa for the kids? Somewhere to sit and warm up? Shovels, rakes, hoes. Would the vaguely-promised 25 cubic yards of wood chips actually show up? And again: snow?!?
And yet, when day broke and north wind slowly pushed the evening’s clouds back past the mountains like a winter sleeper reluctantly sliding its comforter off for the morning, everything was Just Right. Nearly a dozen local farmers showed up with shovels and rakes, asking “What can we do to help?” Mark, Meghan, Eva, Brendan, Chris and Karen and their kids, and others. Even – I kid you not! – the Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up, but they just really wanted to talk about God, and didn’t seem to have come dressed for the mud.
But the high point, by far, by far, was when an unfamiliar family showed up and introduced themselves, saying they’d heard there was a planting party and wondering if it would be okay if they helped. They were the Jacobsen side of the Swanson family; they, their kids and their grandkids had grown up on this land and were hoping we wouldn’t mind them staying connected with it in this way. I just about hugged them all, right then and there, and I’m kind of proud of myself for not crying. It felt transcendent to have Karl and Sandy, Eric and Sym and their little ones all out there with us, welcoming us and continuing to be a part of this beautiful piece of land that we all love so much. Josh Taylor (from the Taylor side of the Swanson family) wasn’t able to get the time off from work, but managed to drive all the way out on his lunch hour to lend a hand while he could.
We dug, we planted, we listened as they told tales of that tree over there, and those rocks, and the story about the deck and the pond. And we sat and shared pie that Karen baked and brought and nibbled pizza from in town. It was glorious, humbling and uplifting. Not at all what I had pictured, but so much, so much more.
I now have a new picture, one I’m confident I won’t see, but have some hope will happen some day long in the future: when the next generation of Swansons, Jacobsens, Taylors, Wyeths are sitting beneath glorious chestnut trees on this hill (hopefully alongside some Cohns?) reveling in the beauty of the place and talking about how, when they were very small, they helped plant this orchard.
The words keep coming back to me from Millar’s observation to Eudora Welty about life being so very good on certain days. Except that, in a way, it felt that being here today was in fact a small step toward paying it back. And forward, too, I hope..