Farm News

Tending Spirits

I woke this morning to a crimson sun and ash falling from the east. I set about my normal chore routine all the while feeling hazy inside and out. My eyes feel raw. I think of my farm animals. They can’t escape ‘indoors’ as all the health organizations advise. An irrational fear streaks across my mind before I regain my composure; the thought of having to evacuate my livestock nearly chokes off the air in my throat. I remind myself the forecast eventually calls for rain. I hope water comes soon to wash clean my white-grey dusted crops and my agitated spirit.

This is a day set apart from all my previous days of farming; I am hard pressed to navigate the eeriness. I sit down to write, but remain edgy in a way I can’t explain. Honestly, I’d rather just not talk about it.


When farmers congregate, they discuss many things: economics, plant physiology, crop rotations, husbandry, and yes, sometimes the weather. But beyond such tangible tools and evolving production methods lies a field each one of us is independently responsible for cultivating. This is a deeply personal section of land we rarely admit to owning—the terra firma of our mental health. It’s the plot of ground we have seeded to feelings and emotions we often don’t remember planting. It is not a proving ground on which we are eager to evaluate yields or discuss our management strategies with others. Instead, we tend to rush on by, especially when we find spiny weeds that chafe or a thicket of burrs that lodge in our heart. But even in neglect, this is hallowed ground. This is the small earth we flood with unshed tears, where we bury our fears and hide our deepest hope.

To some extent, I can understand a lack of personal introspection. The long-time farmers I know don’t much care for dwelling on loss, even privately, even when coming face to face with their own mortality. Churning in such a state is a route down the slippery slope into despair and worse yet, the stagnation of indecision. If I had to sum up the philosophy of my rural Indiana heritage, it would probably sound something like, “Sitting around doing nothing except wearing your thoughts thin—now that is a sure way to die.”

So in one way, I get it. Just like the profile of our soil, we don’t choose the mental predispositions we are tasked with tending. Why dwell on it? So what if I am edgy? My pigs still need fed and the chicken eggs collected. Toughen up! We can’t spend all our time being hypersensitive to hardship. But at the other end of the spectrum, ignoring the deeply astounding, powerful experiences we alone are intricately connected to—well, this is simply not a recipe for good health.

I know of no plant that can survive in thin soil watered with fear and nourished solely by despair. Just as we must learn the inherent characteristics of our soil before we can skillfully work it, so too we must be devoted to attending to the nuances of our own internal landscape. Being desensitized to death or unmoved by miracles is not a path to longevity of spirit. The stewardship of our mental wellbeing is every bit as important as the stewardship of our soil. Our lives and our livelihood depend on both.

Farmers may be known for tending that which is beneath our feet. But I would like us also to be known for tending spirits, for living and speaking wholeheartedly the truth of our experiences. This is much different than “wearing our own thoughts thin”; I refuse to be simply complacent or grossly ignorant of my misery or joy. I am choosing to both stay close to the acrid smog of fear and to speak up, even if my message is tinged with worry or edged with concern.

During these hazy, uncertain times, my hope is that each of us, farmer or not, will find the courage to visit the terra-firma of our mind and tend to the seedlings. Perhaps you’ll find a sapling of fear that requires a heavy pruning. Perhaps you’ll find a weeping plant of kindness, thirsty for a drink. Whatever you unearth, however vulnerable it may feel, know there is a steadiness, a power in consciously choosing connection over isolation. We are all community stewards. We can all tend spirits. ~AJ