Every Wednesday during the 40 days of Lent, two of us make a soup and salad dinner for a gathering at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ventura, a church that has been a faithful supporter of our project from the start. Father K. asks us to share about different aspects of the farm life as dinner is served. Last Wednesday, he asked me to talk about change.
I spoke about several changes that have been a part of this project – our project’s growth, newer understandings of gratitude, and changes in physical endurance – but one of the changes I want to write more about now is a change in landscape.
Until recently, our farm was bordered on all four sides. On the north and east sides, Eucalyptus trees and fences, on the south side, at least 5 long acres of raspberry hoop houses, and on the west side, Poplar trees. I did not know how accustomed I had become to the familiar landscape of our field sheltered on all four sides. I guess it’s not until something is gone that you realize how much you’ve grown to love it. The white hoop houses, which looked strikingly like the tops of Conestoga wagons, were the first to go. It was a slow dismantling as workers stripped their plastic outer shells, then the metal ribs. A foreman helped me glean a last little bowl of ripe berries before they finally mowed over the thorny vines.
After the operation next door removed their raspberries, the 5 acres we’re working on suddenly felt more expansive. We saw cars on the Hwy 1 for the first time, and the trucks seemed noisier without the insulation of those hoop houses around us. If we looked hard enough, we could see “Missile Park” at the Navy base, an open-air museum of historic missiles with nice nature names such as “Oriole,” “Sparrow,” and “Loon.” We watched the farm workers next door, previously obscured, picking fast to keep up with the huge machines that extend over about 10 rows of strawberries. Casey noticed that sometimes they break into a run to be able to pick more berries.
A few weeks after the raspberries went down, we drove out to our fridge truck on the west side of the field to load up for market. A bulldozer-type Excavator sat a couple hundred feet away, half way done with the western windbreak of poplars. Its long arm bent slowly backwards and, like a sleepy giant swatting at an insect with the back of its hand, it struck down a thirty foot tree with the flat of its shovel. “What are you doing?” I shouted over the roar of the machine to the men standing nearby. They told me that strawberries will probably be planted next, where the raspberry hoops used to stand. The shade from these trees would slow the growth of the incoming crop. I stood and watched as another tree cracked and strained at the roots, then toppled under the heavy hand of the Excavator. In a day’s time, the 1/4 mile long line of Poplars lay horizontal with leaves in the dirt and deep root cavities exposed. Paul tells me they haven’t been there long, only twelve years. I think, that’s more than half of my lifetime.
It’s been at least three weeks since the hoops were dismantled and trees felled. Yet for whatever reason, the changes do not leave my mind. A strange sense of grief remains. Cristy Rose named it when she said our field seems more exposed, more vulnerable. The changes opened our quaint-looking, sheltered farm to broader realities. We can see our neighbors now, and the difference between their work and ours is uncomfortably apparent. The military planes that fly low enough to shake the earth are housed closer than feels safe. The transitory nature of large-scale agriculture unnerves me, as does our economic reality that anything can be extracted to make way for business. Everything is shifting now, tractors spinning earth that was just cleared of the old to put in new crops, forming beds, laying down irrigation. A landscape has collapsed around us and is being re-built. I’m not ready for these changes yet.
This week, we celebrated Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry (as triumphal as someone can get on a borrowed donkey, I suppose) into the city of his death. Before the church service, I walked out to the uprooted Poplars and broke off a number of the long branches that still had leaves on them. These served as our palm branches, which we waved above our heads as we marched around the living room singing about glory and honor to welcome our expected Messiah. We sang knowing full well, of course, that by this Friday, he will not save us in the way we expect, but will die on that tree called the Cross. Looking back, it seems appropriate, like foreshadowing in a sad story, that we lifted the branches of razed trees to welcome Jesus our Savior into this week.