I’ve emerged from a steady stream of conferences mixed with (beloved) visits from two sets of Cora’s grandparents and a flurry of last-minute deadlines. Hello January; goodbye January.
I once naively thought that January meant I could take things at a slower pace, you know, like the farmers (turns out, it’s a pipe dream for them, too). After all, the only thing growing in January are babies (oh-my-goodness-she-won’t-stop!) and trees.
So, what do I do? I write about trees (and books made from trees, but we’ll get to that). Yesterday, Cora joined me for a farm visit to Virginia’s suddenly snow-covered Shenandoah Valley. The farmer, who I met at the December Farm to Table conference, and his wife had their fourth child in October, so they encouraged me to bring my like-aged babe along. Mondays are my nanny’s day off for college classes, so I thought, “What the heck?”
Of course, anxiety set in soon after. What if she doesn’t sleep for the two-hour drive and I have to pull over and feed her on I-81 South, where the semi-trucks go 80 miles per hour? What if she screams through the entire interview? What if I drop her and/or my new iPhone in the snow? What if I forget my snow shoes and my big camera (which I did)?
I tried to time her second nap for the car-ride mid-morning, and she cooperated. At least, she didn’t make much of a fuss if she didn’t. I put her in this amazing Burt’s Bees onesie that a friend got us that has convertible footsies and handsies covers. It’s perfect farm wear for a cold day. It wasn’t quite snowing when we left DC, but it was quite wet.
About an hour into the drive, here comes the snow. It’s beautiful, right? But when you’re on your way to go traipsing about a farm with a baby, it’s not the first thing you want to see. The farther West we traveled on I-66, the more it came. Awesome. Farmer Buck had already said we could reschedule if the weather looked bad. But my February calendar was looking disastrous and what’s a little snow gonna hurt?
I consoled myself with sights of snow plows on the on ramps. They won’t let the roads get too bad, surely. I’ll be able to make it there and back, most definitely. I prayed. I kept driving. I told myself I’m not a bad mother, etc.
A few miles later, we hit a clear spot, probably a lower elevation, and there was no snow in sight. Wahoo! I took this as a sign I’d made the right decision, even though snow reappeared in the next several miles. The roads were clear. It was far too late to turn back now.
About 20 minutes north of the farm in Harrisonburg, Va., a little someone started to wake up. I knew this would happen. I mean, two perfectly-timed two-hour naps is a lot to ask of a 4-1/2-month-old. So I, of course, nursed her in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel and hoped no one parked beside me. I tried my best not to do something stupid like lock myself out of the car while it was running with my baby in it (which I did when I was pregnant), and succeeded. So far, so good.
Cora was all smiles when we arrived at the farm, so I was thrilled. Farmer Buck helped me carry in the inordinate amount of stuff one has to take when filling the roles of one-man-journalist and mother at the same time. I confessed that I’d forgotten my goulashes (yes, the houndstooth ones; I still wear them on farms) and he said he had a pair that would fit. Saved again!
Cora fit right in at the house, laying on a blanket next to their sweet new baby. I like to think they had a conversation while we did, or at least I caught a few happy coos on the recorder as I interviewed the farmer. Just as she was ready for a nap, it was time for us to head into the field — so into the baby carrier that got us through NYC and more than a few airport trips. Let’s see how she likes it on a farm, in the snow.
The story I’m working on is about silvopasture, an old-is-new-again brand of farming that combines livestock and forage production with trees. Buck’s neighbors thought he was nuts when he planted trees in the middle of his pasture, so I’m itching to write about why he did it and how it could be a boon for his animals and the environment. (Check out the story in the next issue of the Chesapeake Bay Journal; you can sign up for a free subscription here.)
Cora did pretty well on our trek through the snow. She wasn’t a huge fan of facing out in the carrier (apparently it’s hard to sleep with snow falling on your face), so Buck helped hold my coat and notepad while I turned her around. The cows were quite impressed at her squawking, but she calmed down and conked out once I got her situated. It is moments like these I don’t know what I’d do without a smartphone that can take pictures while I’m recording a conversation. Taking handwritten notes quickly became impractical, so I stuffed the notepad in the back of my pants and carried on. We saw trees. We saw cows. The snow was beautiful.
It’s tempting to overstay one’s welcome at a bucolic farmhouse. I loved chatting with Buck’s wife, Amanda, about how they decided to raise pasture-based beef because it’s what they want to feed their family, and they don’t want to pay a fortune. With their four kids home from a snow day at school and work and life and farming all mixing right in front of me, Cora fit right in. I wondered why we try to keep it all so separate. But then, I change her diaper on a farmer’s kitchen floor and recall that, perhaps, not everyone would appreciate this.
We piled all our stuff back into the car — and I even remembered the baby — who slept peacefully for the two-hour drive home as well. I couldn’t be more thankful that the day went so well. Cora seemed to enjoy (at least the indoors part of) her first farm visit.
In other news, check out my story about a Silver Spring author’s new book, “Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat” in Wednesday’s The Washington Post Food Section and online. I heartily recommend the book, which now has me spouting off fun facts about how many taste receptors we have on our buds and how that tongue map we learned in grade school is dead wrong.