A Wannabe Farmer’s Guide to Mindfulness
Photo and narrative by Katie Carey
Halfway through my 12-week farm internship at Camp Treetops & North Country School, I found the shiny excitement that comes with being in a new place begin to tarnish. Standing in noonday sun, blinking salty sweat from eyelashes, desperately trying to untangle sheep fencing or push a shovel through rocky soil, there comes the occasional moment when any air-conditioned office job starts to sound pretty good.
In those moments when positivity dwindles and my thoughts wander to other places, I do my best to practice mindfulness. I focus on the powerful call I felt to be here, to grow food, and work in this community. Regardless of the frustrations, the long hours, the sunburn–I am where I’m meant to be. Now nearly finished with my internship, I wanted to consider what guidance I might give myself, and other young wannabe farmers.
First, when the misty morning mountains demand your attention: heed them.
When surrounded by experts, allow yourself to be humbled instead of intimidated. In the presence of teachers and mentors, absorb their patient instruction with gratitude. Neither admit nor hide hasty lunch hour Googling of agriculture vocabulary like “perennial,” “mycelium,” or “cotyledon.” Remind yourself that, at 21 years old, humility and active listening likely serve as more valuable virtues than specialized knowledge anyway.
When cultivating in the hot afternoon sun, don’t let boredom swallow you. Bring your attention to the beads of sweat on your furrowed brow as you distinguish week-old carrot sprouts from weeds. Remind your wandering mind of a time, mere months ago, in fact, when you gazed out lecture hall windows forlornly and dreamed of open fields and sunny days, of garden spades and soil-covered carrots. In the same breath, be grateful that for now, your naked feet grow roots into Adirondack earth instead of tiled classroom, that your hand grips a wooden handle instead of 3rd edition textbooks.
When planting, tuck seeds into their beds as a mother might a sleepy child. Chat at bunches of teenage onions (when no one is around). Sing to the emerging, green-orbed tomatoes (when no one is around). Comment on the state of the flower bed (OK if people are around). Surprise yourself with the lengths you may go to in order to calm a frightened chicken. Grant yourself the feeling of awe when confronted with gangly flower sprouts that, honestly, were just seeds. How did they grow so fast? Remind yourself to be kinder to all parents.
When shoveling compost, stay grounded by allowing the musty, heated odors of decomposing scraps to fill your nose. Wonder if you will ever remember the difference between aerobic and anaerobic bacteria.
When working the land, do so with respect. With no clock cracking her timely whip, no red-eyed news alerts buzzing calamities into your pocket, wrap your calloused hand around a lean broad fork handle and wonder if the off-gridders of the world might just be onto something. Quickly reconsider this romantic vision of extreme homesteading when you remember carnal pleasures like air-conditioned movie theaters and $2 taco nights at that joint down the road.
When your young mind begins to daydream of the days behind or ahead, relish the luxuries of this place and harvest her riches mindfully. Pluck an assortment of lush greens between your thumb and forefinger, hold them in an outstretched arm, and laugh like a child as your sun-kissed coworker chomps a bite from the leafy bouquet. Scrub the dirt from beneath your fingernails before dining. Let any rainstorm pull upward at the corners of your mouth. Fill a hungry belly with the meat of a lamb that trotted on the same grassy plains you have walked.
When the sun hangs fat like a fermata over the mountain crests, watch until she flips her golden rays beneath the horizon like a flirting lover might hair over a slender shoulder. At dusk, light a fire. At nightfall, throw your head back to the stars and thank those pinpricks splattered against the night sky.
When you have a week left in this place, when the sadness of leaving trickles in, press the details of these moments into the folds of your heart like blue forget-me-nots so that you may forget them not. Heave a delicious sigh and offer thank yous like a mantra to any living thing that will listen: Thank you, stars. Thank you, mountains. Thank you, plants. Thank you, farm. Thank you, North Country School. Thank you, Camp Treetops.