Montanans love to tell people how much they love the seasons here. But, if you pay attention, you'll note that this praise often comes in the spring or fall – when the brutality of winter is thawing or the oppressive dry heat of summer is starting to lift.
In January, if you ask, the honest ones will tell you, Eff This Place.
As I write this, it's Mother's Day – May 11, and it's snowing. Nay, blizzarding. The first thing I said upon waking was “bullshit.”
It's been a long winter. Everyone says so. (Long enough, apparently, that we (I) swear more than we (I) should. Sorry about that.)
But I'm not sure it's really been any longer than any other winter. (The winter you just went through is always the longest, right?)
For this family, this has been the longest winter that has ever been. Ever.
One of my friends recently shared a photo of a rosemary plant, peeking through the cold dirt, but still green and growing. She was so proud she said, that the plant had overwintered.
The term has been on my mind a lot because honestly, just like the kale that started shooting green sprouts after numerous -30 degree days or the scallions that popped up in the field or the lilac that still managed to grow buds, I am genuinely surprised we made it to May this year.
The winter after my oldest was born, my husband traveled a lot. We lived in a tiny rental house – cozy and cute, but little and dark. It was one of the longest seasons of my life and the first time I really – and I mean really felt winter in Montana. And then I had another baby.
During that first of the longest of winters, on one of Jacob's travels, he met our now friend Sarah. She was authentic and funny and driven and he told her she must meet his wife – the wife who he must have known was struggling and needed a friend just like Sarah. So, Sarah took Jacob at his word and stopped by one day on her way through. It may have seemed odd to anyone else – these two just-strangers, gabbing and hugging like old friends. But when you live in the middle of nowhere and you've survived more sub-zero days in a row than you'd like to count, and one of you has been taking care of a suckling baby inside of a dark house for months, and the other's been building a business from scratch in a tiny town, it's not so odd at all.
I was reminded of this when Sarah said recently during a TEDx talk (she really is awesome, did I mention?) “These raw winters keep a person honest. It's the kind of place where you need a lot of grit and dependable friends and neighbors to make it."
When we first started farming, I loved how it made us live a life that followed the seasons, a life that truly mirrored natural rhythms. Birth in the spring, ripening in the summer, bounty in the fall and the quiet of winter.
But that was until this last year. It was our first season on our new farm and had our little Eli in May. Birth in spring was overwhelming. Too many babies to tend to. Then came the ripening of summer with too many weeds to pull and plants to feed and a baby that needed more than just food. Fall brought more bounty than I could handle -- a baby that was moving and crawling and a toddler who was growing up too fast. And then the winter hit and the slowness was just too cold, too dark, too lonely.
I started rethinking that romantic idea that we should follow the seasons. Perhaps progress is being able to ignore what's happening outside – keeping a constant flow throughout the year instead of having to bend with the changing of the seasons. Would it just be easier somewhere else? Doing something else?
But then slowly, the grass started to green. The lilacs put out buds. The tulips even bloomed. We watched as our ewes (somewhat effortlessly, I thought) birthed their fuzzy little lambs. The sky opened. The birds, oh the birds – they started singing again. The hay started smelling sweet and the new willow shoots spread their fragrance across the yard. New ideas swirled, hope returned and miraculously, excitement, even enthusiasm, sparked again.
These things, they pale unless you've been without them for awhile. You don't appreciate the greenness if you haven't just been through too much brown. You don't feel the warmth of a 60 degree day unless you've survived -30. A new idea isn't as rich if you haven't been stagnant for some time. You don't hug your friends, or your kids or your husband as hard if you haven't just survived together.
These winters keep do keep us honest. They keep us grounded. They keep us grateful. They make us creative -- not on a whim, but out of necessity. More importantly, getting through does make for good neighbors, good friends, strong family and good people.
Maybe that's why it does make sense to live a life so intimately tied to the natural rhythm.
And, maybe that's what we really mean when we say we love the seasons here.