We had a doozy of a storm here the other night. It hit Zala county hard with reports of evacuations in some villages, major flooding in others, and fallen trees just about everywhere. We were lucky. We lost a teapot. One of the kitchen windows wasn’t latched properly so early on, with the high winds, it blew open knocking down everything in its way… a minor domino strike with the only breakable victim, my lovely teapot.
As I ran around the house checking that all the other windows were latched, I worried about our trees. We have one old plum tree with thick branches that crumble under the slightest pressure. I didn’t fancy its chances. I figured the flowers would be flattened and the tomato plants levelled. I worried about the roof tiles, the gutters, and whether the cellar would flood. But worry as I might, there was little I could do about it. What was going to happen would happen. I stood watching as the sheets of water fell, mesmerised. The thunder was very near, very loud. The lightning, too. It lent itself to drama.
But as I was sitting inside, in the safety of a well-built house, others were struggling to save what they could from the rising waters. Our neighbour grows flowers to sell at the cemetery in November. Last year, she was wiped out. This year, too. They’re a significant part of her income.
I grew up with the Ingalls family on Little House on the Prairie and quite fancied trying my hand at homesteading. But I really don’t think I have the fortitude needed to be at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Okay. We have very few plums this year – and I’ve heard similar complaints from others. But I don’t depend on those plums for anything other than a few jars of chutney. Yes, it was nice to be able to pull them out of the freezer in December and stew them to serve with vanilla ice cream but if I can’t do that this year, my life isn’t going to be any worse as a result. Likewise the apples or the cherries or the peaches or the pears or the walnuts… if my trees deliver, great. If they don’t? No biggie.
But to be dependent on harvesting a good crop of anything and being at the mercy of the weather, that takes a mental fortitude that I simply don’t have. I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated the farmer’s lot. They get a lot of slagging at home; the term ‘poor farmer’ is often spoken laced with sarcasm. But to never know from one week to the next if your crop will come in? That’s a level of uncertainty I’d rather not have to deal with.
The flip side of the coin is their idealism, described so well by poet-farmer Wendell Berry in Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy.
There is a kind of idealism that seems to be native to farming. Farmers begin every year with a vision of perfection. And every year, in the course of the seasons and the work, this vision is relentlessly whittled down to a real result–by human frailty and fallibility, by the mortality of creatures, by pests and diseases, by the weather. The crop year is a long struggle, ended invariably not by the desired perfection but by the need to accept something less than perfection as the best that could be done.
There’s a lesson there, one I’m particularly grateful for right now – accepting something less than perfection as the best that could be done.
We didn’t lose any tiles. The cellar didn’t flood. The trees are still standing. The flowers and tomato plants will recover. I spent a day in the kitchen processing the windfall of apples and owe another day to the fallen pears. But other than that – and the teapot – we came away unscathed.