“Good morning, Mikey.”
“Good morning, Dave.”
“I have a pretty weird question for you, given that it’s the first thing you’re going to be asked today.”
“If you take a piss, would you mind going into this container? I need to fertilize my tomatoes.”
June 1st. The first day after the average last frost period for Barnet, Vermont. Dave will be planting his tomatoes, and I will be helping. I arrived yesterday to stay with Dave at a goat farm. He isn’t milking goats, but he’s in charge of the vegetable garden for himself and the goat farmer, Ted. Dave’s thoughts wax agrarian this time of year. His head is in a book, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith. He tells me about an idea for a shirt that involves a silkscreen impression of Ed’s smiling face.
“I think around here, people would recognize who it is.”
(In case it isn’t clear, I am not in Canada, on my originally planned route. I am making my way through Vermont, coming from the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Barnet is just south of St. Johnsbury, in Caledonia County, part of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.)
We eat breakfast: spinach, eggs, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Goat cheese is an ingredient in every meal we make. Goat cheese and salad. Goat cheese and pizza. Goat cheese and pasta with goat’s milk béchamel. It is delicious. Dave drinks two or three glasses of goat’s milk a day.
“This goat cheese is the trade-off you make for living out here and not having a lot of human contact.”
A week ago it was snowing in Barnet, but today it is 87 degrees and humid. I am glad for a few day’s rest from biking, and I am avoiding the warm front. The song of a hermit thrush hangs over the farm. Occasionally a goat will slam itself into a metal wall for reasons Dave does not know.
As we weed and mulch a few beds of potatoes and peas, I find two shiny insects copulating. Dave says they might be soldier bugs, and thinks they are good for the garden. I hold them briefly in my hand before putting them down in the shade, which they seem to like. I check on them fifteen minutes later, and they are still there, attached.
While we’re in the woods cutting down small trees for the tomato trellis, we find a patch of morels. They are a little past prime and taste like ordinary mushrooms. They the first wild mushrooms I’ve eaten. We look for ramps too but don’t find any. Dave hands me young milkweed to try. It tastes like asparagus.
Clouds roll in the next day. We swim in Joe’s Brook and eat jerk chicken. At the farm, the top of the hill is blanketed in mist. Dave and I walk down the road a little, looking at trees. He points out the fir trees, how their top branches point skyward unlike the spruce. There are sickly ash trees with few leaves, perhaps victims of the ash borer. There are bigtooth aspen, white pine, red oak, sugar maple. There are smaller trees, pin cherry, moosewood. There is something with leaves as big as a moosewood we can’t identify. There are hemlock trees, pretty in the mist. The lower foliage of cedar circumscribes a perfect line at the far edge of a lake, three feet above the water. I point out the red-winged blackbird and, my favorite, calls of the wood and hermit thrush. There is the song of the white-throated sparrow, “Oh-sweet-Canada.” When I hear it I think of Barnet. There are many, many calls I can’t identify yet. Coltsfoot and lupine grow on the side of the road.
While the weather is mostly calm, I learn later that towns several miles to the west are hit hard with an unexpected microburst. The winds are so severe they reportedly remove a roof from a house.
Here, nature is immediate, confronted directly by the people who live in the area. Fewer middlemen are providing the necessities of life. Woodlands are managed for trees and sustainable growth. Gardens are hard-won on the sides of hills. Sunlight is captured in solar cells to power well pumps. When you talk about the weather, it isn’t exactly small talk.
During my stay, I am mostly killing things: weeds, potato bugs, small trees.
“Some people have an issue with this, so I want to tell you first: you might come across a goat bone or two in the compost.”
Under the porch of Ted’s yurt, a cat nurses her five kittens, weeks old. She is the happiest cat I’ve ever seen.