-By Claire DuFresne
So often I am asked “how” I do it. For those of you who don’t already know, I work as a 6th grade Reading teacher at a wonderful local charter school in Memphis, an hour drive from the farm. I am “on stage” as a teacher from 7:30 am until 4:30pm plus a minimum of an hour and half of wiggle room around that for prep. I help Chris run the farm, which is more than just a job or a hobby, it is a way of life in our kitchen, and living room, and my poor little SUV (emphasis on the “U”). Weekends are for two-person farm work, cleaning, cooking, and, on good days, grading. This is not easy to do. However, the “how” is the easy part. You just do it. You see something that needs to be done, and then you do it. Easy peasy. The “why” is key, though, to finding the energy for the “how.” If I do not have a compelling reason to do something, if I don’t understand the need for something to be done, then I don’t want to do it, or I won’t even recognize that it needs to be done. Because I recognize that if a student thinks that the teacher cares about her, she performs better academically, and, ideally, she plays a more prominent role in her own self-determination, I bother to ask about her new kitten that she got for Christmas. Because I recognize the importance of my participation both as a consumer and producer in the food system to myself as an individual as well as to the well-being of my human, and otherwise, community, I come home to do physically demanding chores, in the dark, after a 10- hour workday as a middle school teacher.
I am a Venn diagram of a person. In one extreme, I revel in discussing the finer points of vocabulary acquisition while on the other the various and graphic joys and pains of animal husbandry. I live my balance in the middle. I am forever chasing the retreating wil-o-wisp of balance.
My twin passions of farming and teaching both have taught me that things that I used to think were important just aren’t. I used to dream of sitting sipping tea in a clean, well-decorated living room, but I have discovered that it’s way more fun to sit on our usually dirty and cluttered back porch while watching the dogs romp and listening to the birds sing. When I am more tired than I thought possible, when “tired” is so sadly inadequate a word to describe how I am feeling, I notice the birds singing on a warm starry night. When all of my patience has been wrung out of me like so much water from a damp rag, a student runs across the classroom to tell me that the snails, Gary and Turbo, have had a baby. And I am immediately back, refreshed, even if for a brief spell. These passions of mine may be what drains me, but they are also what sustains me.
My students teach me how to be patient and that everyone deserves a second (and fifteenth) chance to make a positive choice. They teach me to never take anything for granted. They teach me how lucky I have been in my life.
And what does nature teach me? Patience and humility. Farming reminds me daily that I am like I am because you are like you are. (For more on that I highly recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s text Peace is Every Step.) I am not the most important creature, and I am forever responsible for everything that goes on in my world. Nature teaches me to stand back, observe a situation, then act. Ducks herd differently than goats, than chickens, than turkeys, than pigs, who just don’t. Success is entirely dependent on respect for the particular quirks of the animal in question. If I want them to do something, I have to convince them that it was their idea. Nature teaches me that small things are amazing and beautiful. The woods are as stunning in the Winter as they are in Spring, and Summer, and Fall.
When I tell students that I am also a farmer, they don’t believe me until I show them pictures, and even then, they’re dubious until some of them visit the farm and come back with tales of giant pigs and dogs. When I tell people who only know me through Loch Holland that I’m also a teacher, they look at me as though surely they must have misunderstood. Yet I do not find my worlds to be opposed but, rather, complementary. It’s not the one or the other that makes life special, it’s the combination that’s novel: the magic of the first French fry dipped into a Frosty – the first pickle and ice cream eureka. My good friend Jonathan once remarked with a sigh, while standing in his driveway shortly after sunset, that this was called the “blue hour.” It is the visibly stunning, but often overlooked, time that is not quite night but not quite day. It models the marvelous transition, and the beauty of not quite being entirely one thing. It’s only a temporary state, though, just like all the best things. I keep up, as best I can, the balance of teaching and farming, because it is delicious a combination and a constantly dynamic and beautiful transition.
So I keep moving. I keep trying. Life is terrible, wonderful, horrifying, beautiful, exhausting, rejuvenating. In short, it’s everything all at once. I drink from the firehose, a sentiment borrowed from my equally busy brother, and I’m not sure I could have it any other way. May it never be said that I lived a long and peaceful life sipping tea in my clean, well-decorated living room. I’d rather drown in the firehose than dehydrate lapping at a trickle of life crawling past.