Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why Feeling an Earthquake Made me a Better Farmer

Tuesday night as I was sitting nursing my littlest one, the room started to tremble a bit, and the lampshade in the corner started to shake.  My first thought was that the dryer must be on, or the nearby train must be running.  I live in upstate NY, so you can imagine my surprise when a quick trip to Facebook (yes Facebook is absolutely the best source to confirm an earthquake) proved that yes indeed, that was an earthquake!

Now I know that earthquakes can be terribly devastating and destructive and I don't mean to belittle the loss that occurs in major events, but a little tiny bit of me always wanted to feel a small tremor.  It's the same part of me that would secretly love to go storm chasing, and enjoys going outside when it is rainy and windy.  Now as chance would have it, I've actually been in several minor earthquakes where the people around me all felt a gentle shake, but somehow I missed it.  So the other night when the house started to tremble, I leaped out of the chair (sleeping baby and all) and went sprinting into the other room jumping and squealing with glee.

After the excitement faded a bit and I took the time to check 'being in an earthquake' off my bucket list, (in my head, I don't have an actual list) Dave and I started explaining what an earthquake was to our 4 year old twins.  As we simplified the concept, I realized how crazy the idea sounds to a child.  For them, the idea that the earth shifts and shakes is right up there with believing in fairies and Santa, and that got me thinking.

So much of the time I spend in my backyard involves trying to gain control and triumph over mother nature, I fix the soil in my gardens, I build shelters to keep my animals out of the rain and warm and dry, I grow things in my heated house even when it's freezing outside, and I use water from the ground or a barrel when there is a drought.  But feeling the earth shake made me realize something; no matter what I do, mother nature will always win.  There is no real competition, and that little foothold I have in my backyard is such a little thing - such a very very little thing.  When you start to think of things on a global timescale and size, one little backyard seems so insignificant.

That feeling of insignificance can lead you to two conclusions.  You can take that feeling and wallow in the emotion that nothing you do really matters. If you choose to conserve energy, how can it possibly make a difference?  If you grow your own apples, other people don't.  If you plant the perfect garden, a simple hail storm could destroy everything, so why start?

And yet, the idea that mother nature always wins can actually make you a better farmer  When I head out into my backyard today to feed the chickens and goats and pull out the remaining brussel sprouts for dinner, I'm going to do so, not as a way to control mother nature, but as a way to work with mother nature. I'm switching teams, I'm joining the competition, I'm playing for the winning sides team. 

This shift is subtle, but when you start to think about farming, or simply living, as working with, instead of against, mother nature, the task seems infinitely more feasible.  You still do the same things, but you do them differently (or with a different perspective). When you work with mother nature, you accept what she offers you and you make the most of the situation.  There are always more possibilities for building a better life.  So when a hail storm knocks out your vegetables, maybe it's the year to get chickens, or when your chickens scratch up your cucumbers in the mid-summer, it's the year to try a fall crop, or when a drought starts to wither your plants and your rain barrel is dry, don't drain your well, but rethink your water system for next year, and perhaps the plants that really like it dry will do great.  I might brag about the seeds 'I grew', or the eggs 'I raised,' but I'm a fraud, and the small bit of work I did is nothing compared to my partner, the supremacy of mother nature. 

Yes, mother nature is destructive and powerful, she can bring down ice from the sky and shake the earth beneath your feet, but that same power resides in the smallest seed and can transform a yard from flat grass to a thriving homestead. That little tremor I felt the other night is confirmation of this power.  As homesteaders and farmers, we are given the chance to work with mother nature, to tend the earth and the creatures here, and to maybe tweak things just a bit in our favor, and that may be just enough.


  1. Such an inspiring and well-written post! I loved it!

    I have felt several small earthquakes (we live close to the new madrid fault line) and it's really creepy to me. I don't like it at all! But glad you got to mark it off your bucket list, haha.

    1. Thanks Tammy - I think if I felt several or they were bigger they would be creepy too.

  2. A lovely post Gretchen and I couldn't agree more, the more we work with and stay in tune with Mother Nature the better off we will be :)

    Thank you!

  3. Beautiful, Gretchen. It's like you plucked that post from my mind, my heart and my memories. The only difference is when the earthquake struck Virginia last year, I didn't have to explain it to four year old twins, but I did have to listen to a hundred chickens swearing the sky was falling.

    1. Oh my - that made me laugh. It was at night, so I never wondered how the chickens/goats felt!

  4. It's so true. When I teach water bath canning classes, I explain that the goal is only to minimize the probability that something will spoil the jars. We can't control every square inch of jar so we make sure the contents are acidic enough to prevent the growth of botulism and we take off the rings so we can see if something grows and pops off the lid.

    So much of life is like that. It's more like flying on uncertain air currents than walking on solid ground.


  5. This post really hits home for me today as we await Hurricane Sandy here in New England. Perspective really is everything.

    Thanks for linking up with the Clever Chicks this week. Hope to see you on the next hop!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  6. Hello! I’m stopping in to invite you to join us at the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week!

    I hope to see you there!
    The Chicken Chick