Fourth Day of Christmas and Feast of the 20,000 Martyrs Burned in Nicomedia
WHEN I was twelve I took life for the first time. A quail rising faster than a bottle rocket against the amber grass field was suddenly lifeless as the echo of my gun rang into the morning air. Some eighteen years later I take life in different forms nearly every day. But instead of a sport, it is now my work as a farmer.
The soil is an origin. We are told that we have our substance from soil. And it is to the soil we know our substance shall return. But the soil is the basis for this round world in which we live: the roots of the blackberries that I grow are deep in the soil.
As a farmer I have learned that the soil demands sacrifice in order to sustain my life economically and ecologically. At first I resented this, thinking there must be a way to grow crops without this taking of life. But the fertilizer I used was the direct product of death: blood from the slaughter houses, pulverized feathers from chicken processing plants, or fermented fish guts. They all had the same cost: I still had to take life in order to have fertilizer.
Besides the fertilizer, there are the rabbits and the moles. I used to have an idyllic view of my work benefiting the wildlife around it. Then I realized they were trying to kill my work, to eat it so that it would sustain them. Now, I tie my dog out in a cold field all night, multiple times a week, to stand guard. And I have taken to chasing rabbits in the dark of night with my truck bumping through the rows as I drive these beasts who are no longer my friends away.
All of this would be enough if it were not for the borers. Every year, two or three times per year I drench the soil around the base of my plants with oils, microscopic predators, and potent natural toxins all aimed to kill a small insect called a crown borer. Left to his devices he would devour my plant roots and leave me nothing. This pest has given my work a sort of fanaticism and passion I could never have imagined when I just thought about growing plants to eat and sell.
Life is a gift. Once we could accept life with no cost. Now we are separated from life by the cost of death. While we live our mortal lives, we do so by accepting the shedding of blood as necessary that we might have life, and have it abundantly.
George R. Elder cultivates Blackberry Brambles at Elderslie Farm, and along with his wife Katharine, manages a full summer season of hospitality, dining, and tourism on the farm. You can find out more about their work as well as read other of George's musings on their website: www.eldersliefarm.com