The last couple of months of winter are almost always soul-wearying. The excitement and anticipation of Christmas has come and gone, and the rest of the winter can feel like a fight to survive. Outside, everything feels burrowed-in and sleepy. The drive to hibernate kicks in and, at least for me, motivation wanes. Meanwhile, Dani took an opportunity to go back to work teaching our son’s kindergarten class. It has been a blessing in countless ways and gave me the chance to be home more and catch up on projects and get ready for the farming season. One of these days I will maybe write about the things I’ve learned about being a part-time-working-part-time-stay-at-home-dad, but for now, let’s say this: I had high hopes for getting things done. High, high hopes. And I spent all my time trying to survive (therefore, neglecting this blog and most of my projects).
However, spring is now upon us. Spring. The season of anticipation, and eternal frustration. It is the already-but-not-yet season, especially here in northern Alberta. In fact, yesterday I spent the day reveling in the sunshine (wearing shorts), so glad to feel the sun gaining strength again, and today (with the same temperature I might add) feels cold and dreary because of the clouds and the wind and I don’t want to go outside. Spring is a time of life and death, and life again. The snow starts to melt, the grass appears, and then it snows. A few warm days in a row trick us into putting the winter gear into storage, only to have to pull them out again 3 days later. There is the promise that summer is just around the corner, and then ice and frost reminds us that the battle is not yet won.
Spring is full of promise. It is the blank slate of the year. Seed is waiting to be put in the ground. Pregnant animals promise reward for all the work of feeding them over the winter. Summer plans expect to be made. Grass waits to be uncovered, to turn green, and to be cut. In spring, the whole year stretches out in front of us, waiting to become. And at the very same time, each cool wind or dark cloud threatens to plunge us back into winter. What a perfect season for Easter. The struggle between life and death, between death and resurrection, between already, but not quite yet.
My grandpa used to quip, “Spring is sprung, the grass is ris’, I wonder where the birdies is?” Out at our place, we have birds of all kinds returning, but still not much for green grass. We have a family of bald eagles that live on the quarter to the southeast of us. There is a massive old spruce outside our door that stands head and shoulders above our smaller poplars. The kids call it the “Eagle tree” because occasionally we step out our front door and look up to see a massive baldy perched at the top, watching for chickens, rabbits, or spring lambs. The eagles have been around more now that our laying hens are out of the barn and back into their coop with its outdoor yard. After the eagles come the geese and a variety of other, smaller birds. At first, the geese fly in as seemingly lost and lonely singles, then come in pairs and small groups. In a few more weeks, they will fill the sky and cover our hay field, which is largely underwater on account of the family of beavers that keep our creek dammed up. The trumpeter swans and ducks will be close behind, mixing and mingling, and carrying out their seasonal duties on the creek and in the soggy fields. The only sound to be heard for a couple of weeks will be the ruckus from the creek; the quacking, honking, flapping and splashing of a thousand waterfowl. And our dogs barking at each bird, individually. And a chorus of frogs as well.
But spring isn’t all about birds at our place. The lambs are coming, too. We had a pair of ewe lambs, a white one and a black one, on St. Patty’s days. The remaining 9 ewes are a heat cycle or two behind and are due any time between today and the end of April. Within the next month we’ll have a roving gang of wobbly-kneed, randomly-leaping lambs exploring the yard while their moms anxiously call them back inside the fence. We picked up our weaner pigs for the year this last weekend. 13 this year! Some spotted, some baby pink, some jet black… all rambunctious and full of life and curiosity. They are warming to us slowly, still slightly suspicious, but food seems to be the way to an animals heart. At feeding times, their smacking snouts can be heard across the yard.
So, spring has been a time of addition on our farm. But we have also had some subtraction. Our milk cow, Summer, is currently drying up about two months earlier than we would have hoped. She still had the calf on her, and is pregnant, and was giving us milk too, and it started to seem like it was just too much for her. She seemed tired, like she was living in slow motion. Or depressed. So we weaned the calf, and she has decided to refuse us milk, but seems to have more life in her. The loss of our milk supply has big repercussions. No more gloriously thick white gold in the mornings. No more making cheese and yogurt. No more homemade ice cream. We will cut back our dairy intake significantly over the next few months as we wait for the start of August and the return of “milk on tap.” A dry milk cow also means that we will have quite a bit of time freed up. She will be on pasture soon, so we will have less time invested in feeding and milking her, and in making dairy products. So a rest will be welcomed by all, but probably mostly by Summer. This spare time will be eaten up, I’m sure, by fencing and moving animals, by the broiler chickens that will arrive at the end of the month, and by the house and yard projects that will now call for attention.
So as the scarcity of winter fades, and the new, fresh, youthful promise of spring unfolds, it seems everything relaxes. The sheep and the cows rest lazily in the sun. The chickens go about their scratching and pecking with less meanness, and more of a leisurely curiosity. Life begins to emerge from every direction. Our chores are less rushed and more enjoyed. I often just stand still in the yard listening and enjoying. Whether it is the sun coming out from behind a cloud to melt more snow, or the stars in the clear sky at night, the yard has a peaceful anticipation. It is no longer sleepy the way it was in the winter; still, and tucked under blankets of snow. It is still peaceful, but it is alive again.
The world is waking up.