NEW FARMER JOURNAL: North Country School, Lake Placid NY

Invisible changes
The day-to-day miracles that take place on a farm are fostered by a lot of hard work.

By Laura Rickard
Posted June 16, 2005

Farmer-At-A-Glance

Laura Rickard recently graduated from Brown University with a degree in environmental studies. She is currently in the middle of a 12-month farm/garden internship at North Country School/Camp Treetops in Lake Placid, New York. For more information on North Country School, visit http://nct.org.

June, 2005. The funny thing about farming is that things apparently never happen and always happen—just that way, all at once. There is the same half-acre plot of strawberries a few steps from the greenhouse. Except now, the brittle, brown transplants we tucked into the earth about a month ago throw out pert green leaves and shy little flowers. There is the broccoli patch next to the compost pile—once a jumble of spindly stems and frost-burned foliage, now a respectable band of brassicas. And what of the annual flowerbed hugging the fence of the horse pasture, that thin strip of soil I pass twice daily on my way to chores? As if nothing and everything has changed at once, dainty marigold heads and feathery coreopsis leaves now nod to me from their new home.

Where has the time gone? That I spent most of last week collecting sweat under the brim of my sunhat would have seemed improbable when I began writing back in February. Somehow the series of days between then and now has blended into a collage of light and color, or sometimes a single scene: a smoky landscape of the Hudson River School. I’ve lived amid seasons for the majority of my 24 years and yet still…summer always takes me by surprise.

On the farm, our pace has quickened to match the vigor of the strawberry plants and pea vines in the field. With classes over and camp a few weeks away, John (my boss) and I have been hard-pressed to keep our daily “to do” lists from spilling onto a second (or third) page. The annual transformation of North Country School to Camp Treetops is, like our flowering strawberries, a seemingly small transition but a monumental change nonetheless. In addition to planting carrots and beans, transplanting the cucurbits, and clearing the greenhouse for the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, we’re also cleaning out student residences, amassing mounds of stray T-shirts and barn boots, and turning the water on in the arts-and-crafts building.

If the departure of the schoolchildren left me melancholy, the constant momentum and hum of activity has kept my mind elsewhere. I miss the students, to be sure. I miss seeding lettuce with boisterous sixth graders and putting up electric fencing with chatty ninth graders. I miss the occasional late-afternoon greenhouse visits by Anthony, an inquisitive seventh grader always interested in just what I had done that day. I miss talking medicinal herbs with Aidan, an eighth grader with a mop of blonde hair and a guitar habit. Yet, when I lay in bed at night, exhausted and sunburned, I envision cotyledons, not middle school children, and sometimes Elliot Coleman’s soil block recipe. I dream of work so frequently, in fact, that I am often unsure as to whether I have actually potted up the cilantro and dill seedlings or if my subconscious just wished (or decided) that I had.

When things around here change so dramatically and seamlessly that a freshly-planted flower bed looks as if it must have survived underneath a snowdrift all winter, one has to wonder if there is anything less than magic taking place. That the toilets flush again in the camp buildings after months of pipe-freezing weather, that our chickens now graze on fresh grass, and the horses roam around the lake hill seems nothing short of miraculous. Miracles, at least on this farm, however, are the stuff of hours of hard work. Hard work often completed quietly, unobtrusively, and out of the public eye.

If I take anything away from this experience, it will be an awareness of the incredible commitment required to maintain a small community in all of its physical and intangible dimensions. So thank you, Greg and Jeremy, for fixing the camp plumbing. And to John, for watering when I forget to, for plucking the boulders from the field, for giving me pep talks before 8 a.m., and for rigging up the chicken pasture. Kudos to the kitchen staff for having breakfast ready when chores are finished and for washing the bushels of lettuce and spinach I bring in from the field. At the eve of this subtle and monumental transition, I give thanks to all members of this community—from the faculty and staff, to the counselors I haven’t met yet, right down to the goats and pigs—who have helped me seize each day in the quirky and marvelous place as if nothing and everything might change all at once.