Travis’ alarm went off at 6am. We pulled our covers tighter and wrestled with the cold morning air for the next half hour or so, the alarm re-beeping at us every 10 minutes. I conceded and got up at 6:48, threw on some clothes from an open basket Travis and I have casually titled, “farm clothes,” then shuffled up to the farm house in a fog, craving coffee and in need of a bathroom, and kicking myself for not waking up earlier and utilizing the beautiful, wild mornings in Brewster, New York.
I should be communing with nature, I thought. Meditate or do yoga or something. If nothing else, my aching muscles could use a good stretch. I walked into the house—the door is never locked—and found Betsey sitting at the kitchen table watching the weather report. About 70 degrees all week, rain on Thursday, which meant we could get away with not watering the fields today. Betsey and I chit-chatted for a while, before she hustled off to work.
On top of managing a farm on her own property and hosting 6-8 apprentices every summer, Betsey works full time as a nurse at the nearby hospital. She is also active in the Brewster community, serving on several town boards and projects. I’m not exactly sure when she sleeps, but I’ve never seen her tired or cross. “It’s a good thing I love my job because I do it a lot,” she has a tendency to say. A part of me thinks she would rather devote all her time to her farm, but farmers in the United States aren’t provided with health insurance, and since both Betsey and her husband are Type I diabetics, she has to keep working. After Betsey went to get dressed, I dumped some cereal in a bowl and chomped on it loudly. Travis walked in a minute later and began making coffee.
I began reading a book of poetry another apprentice had let me borrow—Stephen Dunn’s Local Visitations. I wasn’t really enjoying it, but I was making myself read it to be polite. I found one poem I could say something intelligent about, made a mental note, and closed the book. Travis and I ate, a phrase here and there breaking the familiar silence. Then Betsey’s husband, John, came downstairs, poured himself a cup of coffee and nuked two frozen egg and cheese sandwiches. No, they weren’t organic. Not even close. Betsey and her husband don’t even think of eating organic. They buy what’s cheap and what they like. This is a surprise that I’ll have to write more on later, but I think it points to a certain disconnect between an intellectualized ‘organic movement’ and what really happens with growers. John is an extremely good-natured, straight-forward man, who barely opens his mouth when he speaks. He began asking Travis questions about guitars. John owns 14 guitars of every variety, except classical, which are too “snooty.”
Travis and I finished breakfast and looked at the written list of tasks Betsey had left for us. Mostly transplanting. Betsey had basil and several varieties of flowers that we were supposed to pluck out of large flat trays and place into pots for sale. There were at least 100 sprouts per tray, and about 8 trays. Travis and I got to work, just the two of us, at 8am. At 9, Rich, the apprentice who had given me the book of poetry, joined us. The three of us sat on buckets we makeshifted into chairs outside Betsey’s greenhouse all day, taking small flower sprouts out of large trays and placing them gently in filled pots. We took a lunch break at noon. By 4pm, we had gotten about four trays potted.
Many of the jobs Betsey assigns us are big and monotonous, and I find sometimes I have a hard time doing one thing for that long. Luckily, there are always smaller, ongoing jobs that can be done, like watering, weeding, planting, or just tidying up, and often I’ll go do one of those things for a few minutes when I find myself staring off into the distance instead of doing the task at hand. After work, I went for a jog around the neighborhood, something I’ve been itching to do all week. Running in a new place makes me feel like its mine. Plus it gives me a chance to listen to my music and be in my head for a while. But I realized quickly that I’m surrounded by country highways with small shoulders—probably not the safest place for running—so I’ll have to find another way to expend my energy at the end of the day.
When I came back Travis and Rich were in the kitchen laughing, and Travis was trying to organize Betsey’s explosion of a pantry (Betsey and John seem to have a hard time throwing things away). Travis and Rich are becoming friends; he always wins people over by making them laugh. Normally at this time, around 6pm, I would have begun making some dinner for Travis and me and whoever else was in the kitchen who wanted some—usually consisting of whatever veggies and protein I can scrounge from the fridge or freezer—but tonight I wasn’t hungry so I just took a shower and came to a coffee shop to write.
Tomorrow will go much the same, but Betsey will be home, and will hopefully show us some more techniques. It’s always better when she’s there because we can ask her questions. Every day I just try to soak up as much knowledge as I can and enjoy this beautiful place I’m in for the summer. Tomorrow I’ll try to wake up at the first alarm.