Grist for the Mill

By Ashley Warlick | December 28, 2015
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On a clear, crisp winter day, I followed George DuBose, Chris Miller and Brett Barest into the acre of Reedy River Farms to take photographs. I hung back, looking for perspective. One of the beautiful things in winter is how big above you the sky can seem, the bones of the trees laid bare against it, and as I was looking up, I stepped off the track and into a patch of soil George and Chris were preparing to plant.

I sunk easily halfway to my knees, like stepping into snow.

There’s a process to making soil like that, layers of nutrients added, boundaries to block weeds for a season, tilling and turning. And too, there’s time. Time brings the earthworms, the beneficial bugs and healthy balance, even to a patch of ground right off Academy Street.

The new year is beginning. I have a memorial service to attend at the end of the week for a woman who lived a long, full life. I have a daughter waiting to hear about college, but kids don’t check the mailbox anymore, they check email. Last week, my sixth grader threw his arms around my waist and sobbed in loneliness, but he’s good now. He’s getting the hang of middle school. In a few months, the novel I’ve worked on for the past decade will finally be published.

Time is that thing that allows for all the hard work you’ve done to take effect.

I’ve taken a notebook into the field with me too, even though this isn’t my story, because that’s how I pay attention. Things get said in interviews that I just have to write down.

In my notebook, I’ve written: “Everybody loves a garden.”

And also: “We ran away to work on a farm.”

Reading this issue, I am struck anew by the significance of trusting time and process when it comes to championing the things we love. I had the chance to talk with Stephen Nix of CFSA about the long-term impact of the fall flooding (“After the Flood,” page 13), and what we can do to help. His advice is basically to hug a farmer, to support them however we can. I had the chance to talk with Nat Bradford (“An Orange in Winter,” page 34) about his watermelon rind pickles, and collards grown from seeds his family has saved for generations. He brought a peach basket of them to the bookstore. I tasted a leaf, as tender as lettuce, with a potent, horseradish flavor that had developed in his garden for over a century. There was such joy for me in that moment, a small triumph of endurance.

And survival.

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