In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

–Shunryu Suzuki

It’s seems cliche’ to begin a post with a sagely wisdom, yet I venture this one because of its coincidental timing.  The quote came from a book I received at Christmas.  The first page of, the little zen companion by David Schiller, is dedicated to the above saying.  Following Mr. Schiller’s Intro advice, I gave “. . . the words time to work” and came up with this New Year post.

Winter cedes time.  With eight hours of daylight–and much of this heavily diluted by cloud cover–the rising sun is a call to action, yet all too soon its setting is a call indoors.  Thankfully, January is a reprieve from the closing door of Fall.  It is hope.  Even when the sun rises above the eastern peaks, only to be swallowed by the shroud of clouds, there is a glimmer.

January is also a lean month.  Increasing daylight gives us peace of mind and thoughts of summer, yet it is test for wild and farm animals alike.  For instance, in November the cows sifted through the hay like a guest surveying an appetizer tray.  Now, they moo and jockey for the first leaf to hit the manger and all forage is gone by the next feeding.  Sometimes, I feel cruel portioning out their rations, yet they are healthy and it must last until the pastures dry out and grass returns.

On the other hand, some creatures I wish I could starve, or at least remove a treat from their tray.  Specifically, native trees (which I planted) and my burgeoning apple orchard.  Beavers, voles, and rabbits survive the tight times by eating my trees.  Sure, beavers create diverse habitats and serve a dynamic role in the ecosystem, but their engineering work is a little premature on this project.  When I come across a new stump I always think of Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings: “Many of those trees were friends, creatures I had known from nut or acorn. . . ”

Meanwhile, voles and rabbits girdle the trunks of my newly planted apple orchard.  Again, I get why they’re there, but the timing is frustrating.  You could make an argument that voles would not be a nuisance if I didn’t plant apples.  True, in my hayfields I enjoy watching the rodents spring across the cut grass as they avoid the tractor.  I give them time to escape and the Coyote time to pounce.

Now, however, the coyote is seen more as a threat.  As the back fields fill with rain and runoff, coyotes are pushed near our domestic border.  This puts our poultry at risk and our Shepard on edge.  Many of our birds and beasts have fallen to the coyote’s constant marauding.  Our loss, though upsetting, is an opportunity to learn from our mistake and next time outsmart this tenacious canine.  Unfortunately, many reach for a gun and seek to erase nature’s lesson that perhaps they should be as vigilant as the coyote.

Yet it is winter, and in the farmer’s defense, a gun represents a problem he or she can solve.  This is a gratifying feeling in a profession that is dictated by nature and often out of their control.

Looking out on my fields I see a calm chaos.  Much is out of my control and I’m ok with that.  Actually, I’m happy.  As much as I like the physical work and the satisfaction of being productive, a rainy, winter day is time for reflection.  Sure there are “things to do,” but they can wait.  If it clears tomorrow and the air is cold and dry, I’ll be out pruning and protecting my trees from rodents.