Overwintered: Surviving the Seasons

[imgbelt img=sheepies2.jpg] Forget your romantic notions of how living on the land puts you in sync with the seasons. On the northern prairie of Montana, making it through winter may have more to do with hunkering down and ignoring the obvious until spring claws its way back.


TEDx talk, “These raw winters make a person honest.”  (Sarah is the founder of Red Ants Pants and the Red Ants Pants Music Festival) and a genuine rural hero, by the way.)

When we first started farming, I loved how it made us follow the seasons, mirroring natural rhythms. Birth in the spring, ripening in the summer, bounty in the fall and quiet in the winter.

But that was before this last year. That was our first season after buying our own farm and having our little Eli in May. Birth in spring was overwhelming, with too many babies to tend to while recovering from my son’s birth and getting to know my newborn. Then came the ripening of summer with too many weeds to pull and plants to feed and a fussy baby. Fall brought more bounty than we could handle – a baby who was moving and crawling and a toddler who was needing more all the time. Then the winter hit, and the slowness was just too cold, too dark, too lonely for all of us, namely the mother bear in the den.

I started rethinking that romantic idea that we should follow the seasons. Perhaps progress is being able to ignore what's happening outside – keeping a constant flow throughout the year instead of having to bend with the changing of the seasons. Would it just be easier somewhere else? Doing something else?

One day in April, I was cooking dinner and listening to Montana Public Radio reporter Edward O'Brien talk to a bear expert, Mike Madel, about bears starting to emerge from hibernation near us. This exchange stopped me. Almost made me drop the knife I was holding.

Madel: “… Those females who have cubs of the year are the last to emerge. And that's a typical thing that most research project see across the Northern hemisphere. We see bears that have cubs emerge late, last because they're of course nursing their cubs and protecting those cubs to some degree in the den.”

And while I bristled at the thought that I really was just another animal denned up for the winter with her cubs, I also relished that connection to other species. Everything dies a little in the winter, but there's always a spring. Everyone has to emerge from the den sometime.

It's a connection that's hard to hear in this modern life, especially as we have other kinds of connections to maintain.

But progress isn't severing that tie to the natural rhythm – it's learning to move with it. Even in a modern world. And, no matter how grumpy it makes you.

Because slowly, the grass starts to green. The lilacs put out buds. The tulips even bloom.

We watched as our ewes (somewhat effortlessly, I thought, comparatively) birthed their fuzzy little lambs. The sky opened. The birds, oh the birds – they started singing again. The hay started smelling sweet, and the new willow shoots spread their fragrance across the yard. New ideas swirled, hope returned and miraculously, excitement, even enthusiasm, sparked again.

Prairie Heritage Farm, a small farm in Central Montana where they raise vegetables, turkeys and ancient and heritage grains. She also publishes a blog, from which this article is adapted.