by Jennifer Welch
“Thirteen Pair of Winter Cardinals”
Winter. It means something different to everyone. To me, it is the longest and slowest of all the seasons. It carries with it the least variability, gelatinous and dark, a time for reflections and musings. Sometimes it seems as though time stands still in winter; frozen within the ice, buried beneath the snow, waiting for the urgings of a new spring to push it forth from the dirt. When I was younger, it would tend to make me restless and fitful. Now I have learned to appreciate the tides of the seasons, the death that is so vital to the rebirth. And though most things use this time of year to remain dormant, my mind is anything but …
Here on the Acre, we busied ourselves over the previous spring and summer with the building of our forever home; a monumental and boundless task. As the summer slowed to fall and soon faded to winter, we took it as a much needed rest. We used the slow gait of winter to create an intimate family setting within our new home, to rest from our weary labors, to brood over new beginnings. It is as though the seasons were suddenly begging us to stop and rest no matter how badly we desired to keep striving – and though as dark and lonely as winter seems, its sole ambition is a new beginning … Which brings me to where I sit tonight, pondering on old accomplishments, new beginnings, and all that lies in between.
The birth of a farm is both an indulgent and selfless task. I have taken into consideration such things as: What fruit would I most like to harvest for my own use? Which breeds of animals will thrive in our high-desert environment well enough to provide adequate sustenance for my growing family? What is the proper ratio of cultivation to preservation of this land that I am growing to know and love? But it doesn’t stop there. You see, I have three children, three small children. I often find myself thinking in terms of not only my lifespan, but of theirs as well. Sure, I want to build a barn, but I want to build a barn that will withstand the winds and snows of the next hundred winters. I want to develop stock that is productive and reliable, to hang pictures on our walls of their generations which will have grown alongside and sustained our children and our children’s children. I want to nurture plants and trees that will continue to give their bounty long after I am gone, to leave them to look over my family in order to ensure that they never want for food, for love, for anything.
I am reminded of a picture I came across a while back in an old family album: thirteen pair of winter cardinals in the old blackberry brambles. The photo speaks loudly to me of a time that is slowly disintegrating, of a family’s struggle to preserve a certain virtue in their way of life. This blackberry patch wasn’t just inserted into the earth randomly, it was born with a purpose. It was meant to grow alongside our family, to teach us of the sharpness of thorns, to provide us with succulent fruit. Even when it was not doing these things, it was cared for. These are sentiments I want to instill in my children. A blackberry is not a random item found on the shelves of supermarkets; it is a living thing, a food source protective of its fruits, a gathering place for cardinals in winter. I remember trying to move gracefully through the patch in search of perfectly ripened fruits which my grandmother and I would then bake into a cobbler, oozing of summer. I remember befriending the feral cats that made their home near the brambles for protection from packs of wild dogs. I remember sitting on the tailgate of my grandfather’s truck, shucking corn in the heat of the sun, waiting for a break so I could swim through a sea of thorns for a bit of sweet respite from the labors of the day. I remember; that alone speaks volumes, that alone is the gift I wish to give my children.
I imagine that my grandparents used their winters to draw inspiration for each spring. They would map out what to plant in their garden, start their seeds in the naked cupboards of their cellar, prepare the beds to bare new fruit. Every winter a slow labor, every spring an eager birth. It is the same way here on the Acre. After our long, deliberate rest, we hurry to join the rest of the earth in the mass awakening and rejuvenation of all of the life and beauty that comes with each new spring. And with this spring will come the carefully proposed bearings of many plants, trees, and livestock with which we will continue to craft a way of life for our little family. Each generation passing down our aspirations to the next, just as our ancestors did, just as the seasons continue to do.
Jen Welch lives in the Upper Arkansas River Valley and she writes merely to serve as proof that this life is ‘actually’ happening to her.