The monthly Farmer’s Calendar from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, read by the author Tim Clark.
Farmer’s Calendar for December 2020
Clues #1 and #2: The room stank with a funky musk, and the cat hunched, its full attention given to the heating vent. When I snapped on the lamp, A-ha! Eye-shine glimmered from the open vent, and then a flash of white as something dashed under the dresser. After extracting the cat and shutting the door, I made an ignominious phone call to someone I’d heard was handy with these sort of predicaments. Hello, I greeted the person and got straight to the point: There’s a weasel in my bedroom.
“Ermine” is the winter word for this creature whose brownish coat has turned pure white, a camouflage in snowy environs. Shouldn’t I have been grateful for a lithe carnivore to feed on the unseen things constantly scrabbling in the walls—Mice? Squirrels? Chipmunks? Every night, I bang to quiet them. Futilely. But whose bedroom is big enough to host both cats and weasels? After the Good Samaritan arrived and set up his trap, I expected a prolonged scuffle—so I closed the door and wished him luck. But before 5 minutes had elapsed, my uninvited roommate was caged and leaving the premises, on his way to a spacious field that matched his hue.
Farmer’s Calendar for November 2020
When the new woodstove arrived, it sat unevenly until the deliveryman supplied a quarter and a nickel and stacked them under the stove’s short foot. His 30 cents endures, even as the steady stove’s been dark and cold for months, serving as an overbuilt pedestal for vases displaying the summer’s array, from aconite to zinnias. Once, on an excessively sultry day, I caught the cat draped across its soapstone top. Not anymore: Now orange flames flicker within and both the cat and the dog have succumbed to its heat, basking before it, on the floor. I’m keeping the fire alive by feeding it pages of old notebooks full of my expired ideas and crossed out scrawl. Later I’ll shovel these ashes into a wide tin pail, the one I’ll carry out to the snow-fleeced pasture. There, I’ll scatter and dump these soots to sweeten the grasses’ roots, which will bring on lavish clovers later, when the snow is over and the coin-size Sun again burns steady in the sky and finds me lugging buckets of water out to the grazing lambs. Then an idea might spark my mind and I’ll dash back to the desk beside the chilly stove to scribble new lines on a white page.
Farmer’s Calendar for October 2020
“The Pumpking” is what his parents called this enterprising guy, their son, because he arrives on their lawn at dawn and dismounts his ATV to inspect his 6,000 loyal subjects: pumpkins, arranged in tidy rows, like a royal court, a crowd of orange faces. Consider that Ben, in his mid-30s, can say that he’s been sovereign, the reigning monarch of squash in his quadrant of northeastern Vermont, for more than a quarter-century, growing his business since the ripe old age of 6. Now he lives adjacent to his parents and grows 20 pumpkinds, ranging from the diminutive fists of ‘Jack Be Little’ to the chunky orbs of ‘Howden’ to a hassock-size cucurbit called ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’. There must be enough raw jack-o’-lantern material here to gratify every kid in a 30-mile vicinity. I am a mere kindergartener when it comes to this business, selling just a few dozen of one variety—‘New England Pie’—from my 5-year-old roadside shanty. Yet Ben and I have at least one thing in common, which is that we refuse to outgrow our love for the round, orange vegetables of Halloween. Nor do we fear leftover inventory—it’ll just mean a preponderance of pumpkin pie for the great banquet at Thanksgiving.
Farmer’s Calendar for September 2020
A reclusive neighbor sometimes asks me to tend his pair of elderly cashmere goats. Then twice a day I’ll bike his class 4 road, a single dirt track that runs through hayfields and birch groves, past boulders and ferns, and terminates in front of his remote goat barn. Far more private and wild than our roadside pastures and garden, these fields are where I’ll sometimes startle a doe that goes bounding into the bushes or hear a hermit thrush utter its haunting trill. Once, hurrying along before a thunderstorm, I passed a paw print in the mud of a low spot in the road. As I stopped and knelt beside it, I noted four toe pads. Not a coyote print, nor fox. Not in the dog family at all. No claw marks like a bear would leave, but it was big: I held my left hand out beside it, fingers spread wide—yes, as big. The Department of Fish and Wildlife insists that our state’s catamounts are extinct. Still, locals swear by their sightings, “I’m telling ya, that weren’t no bobcat.” Regardless, doubt prevails. So the next day I dragged my husband right over to the print to prove it, but the creature’s secret remains—by then, the big cat’s evidence lay under a pool of rain.
Farmer’s Calendar for August 2020
Most of what we grew, the summer I first worked as part of a crew of farming apprentices, was annuals: carrots, lettuce, peas, watermelons—plants whose entire life span transpires within a single season. We sowed and reaped the “one-time offer” as opposed to a “lifetime guarantee.” But eventually we began to harvest something that we had not planted—garlic, whose cloves are all clones of the mother bulb. The previous year’s apprentices had left us this gift; they’d pressed those individual cloves into the soil, cloves that endured through winter, sprouted in spring, and developed into whole new garlic heads. We grabbed onto each stalk and yanked up this crop, as if taking up a baton left by the previous crew, a baton that was now ours to carry into the barn to let cure throughout the waning summer days. Before we left the farm to begin our winter jobs, we tucked hundreds of garlic cloves in the ground—something for yet another set of hands to recover. It’s been 20 growing seasons since I pawed that farm’s soil. Yet each summer I draw on the one-time memory while harvesting my garlic. For days afterward, my hands remain un-scrubbably pungent.
Farmer’s Calendar for July 2020
A nearby farmer swears she hears field corn growing on muggy nights—says it sounds like a drawn-out squeak. In the decade I’ve lived beside 80 acres of it, I’ve never heard its rising stalks sing. Nor, during all those years, did I grow my own corn, for fear of windborne cross-pollination. Recently, the big field changed hands. Now it grows other plants. So we sowed our own kernels in hope of reaping a choir’s worth. While working on other farms, I’d harvested the ripe corn in the morning. Shuffling into its narrow forest, I towed a flimsy sack that fattened as I snapped off ears with the thickest girths. The dewy leaves scratched like a cat’s tongue, and by the time I emerged on the field’s far side dragging a bulging bag, I was scoured and damp and bearing enough corn for an orchestra. But this year I emerged from our stalks with hardly enough for our two-part harmony. I’d under-guessed its ripeness until I spotted one shucked cob dropped on the lawn. Every kernel was gouged. Inspecting the rest of the patch, I noticed that the plants were nearly earless. Robbed, all I could do was feast my eyes and imagine a moonlit raccoon’s chomping.