November 29, 2012 § 5 Comments
In the mornings, early, often before it is fully light, I walk down the rutted farm road to feed the cows. We have them fenced into a two-acre logging cut that we’re gradually returning to pasture; I say “returning” because from the rock piles and farm detritus we uncovered during logging, it is clear the history of this small parcel included ruminant animals. I find this strangely comforting, as if it absolves me from the devastation wrought by saw and skidder.
Hay has a certain smell or, more precisely, many certain smells, depending on many particulars. First cut, or second? Square bales (dry) or round (usually fermented, but not always)? If round, at what stage of fermentation? If square, freshly cut, or mid-winter? I love all of these smells, each with its own season and reason, although I suppose my favorite hay smell is the one that hangs in the air around the barn in the few days after we fill it with just-baled first cut. It’s an almost indescribably sweet and comforting smell, I suspect in no small part because it embodies both the labor involved and the relief inherent to the knowledge that, for another winter at least, our animals will be fed.
I am am just realizing, late learner that I am, how much the smells of our little farm add to my life. Every morning and evening, the hay. At least once a day, one or more of the cows, who kindly tolerate my burying my face in their soft hides and simple breathing for a minute, one of the small, strange luxuries in my small, strange life. Fresh cut wood; this morning, fir and spruce, thick and sweet. The saw that did the cutting, the particular acridness of a two-stroke motor run hot and fast. Everywhere, the soft piles of cow shit, and anyone who thinks that cow shit smells bad has never see what it’ll do for a hayfield or a garden. Every morning this time of year, before anything else, the first, hungry flames of the cookstove fire and then the burnt odor of coffee bubbling over onto the stovetop. Even snow – or perhaps more accurately, the air that portends and carries snow – has a smell. It’s clean, like fresh laundry. A freshly laid egg: Have you ever smelled a warm egg? I’m not even sure what to say about that.
I believe that the more we allow ourselves to experience a particular place, the more we come to appreciate it. And the more we come to appreciate it, the more we allow ourselves to experience it, to become immersed in it, to view ourselves as being little more than a thread woven into its fabric. The truth, of course, is that most places would do just fine – and arguably even better – without us. In short, we need place more than it needs us. Or I do, at least.
It can be a little uncomfortable to acknowledge just how inconsequential I am, that were I to die to tomorrow, this place wouldn’t mourn my passing for even a second. This is not a relationship built on mutual need and attraction: I pine for it, but it does not pine for me, and nothing I do will ever change that.
But that won’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of it while I’m here.