Maybe I’m Amazed
The very warm, almost hot, afternoons that we’ve been having this past week could lead a person to believe that we’re already enjoying summer. I was on restaurant deliveries in San Francisco last Thursday and I got my first request of the season for basil from a chef. Since I was double parked on California Street with a swirl of traffic around me I couldn’t take the time to explain that basil is a tropical herb that evolved in South East Asia. We must wait until the soil warms enough so that any basil seeds we plant feel at home and sprout with joy instead of sadly rotting away in the cold mud. As consumers it’s natural to feel the warm sun on our backs and feel aroused for a taste of basil pesto, but as farmers we can’t let our appetites dictate our planting schedule. It’s only February! Once the sun goes down the temperatures fall fast. As the sky darkens we see Taurus, the Bull, high in the sky. In April, when Taurus is sinking into the western horizon at sundown, we will know that spring is here and that we can safely plant basil outdoors without worrying about frost. But next week we will sow trays of basil in our greenhouse so that we can get a jump on summer by transplanting out little tufts of basil seedlings on April 15th.
Maybe Taurus, the bull, is on my mind because we’ve been creating a labyrinth on the farm and planting it with lavender, and we’re making real progress. The Minotaur, you’ll recall, was the monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull who was imprisoned in a labyrinth in Crete. Today we would say that, properly speaking, the Minotaur was imprisoned in a “maze.” The two words, “maze” and “labyrinth,” have been used carelessly or interchangeably at times in the past, but today we understand a maze to be a puzzling construction, full of blind alleys, dead ends, and troubling forks in the paths- like the maze that Theseus threaded his way through when he went to slay the infernal bull headed man. But a true labyrinth has but a single path. True, as you walk a labyrinth your path may loop around and appear to take you away from reaching the center, but if you keep going down the path, you will get to the heart. We are planting beds of lavender between the pathways of the labyrinth that we are constructing, and in time these plants will form a hedge. Last season my partner, Starr, harvested lots of lavender and dried it to use and sell and as this crop grows we will have even more. But why create a labyrinth?
Maybe I’ve just been planting crops in straight lines for my whole adult, professional life and I want to color outside the lines for a change? As a farmer I’ve always understood that farming is different than gardening. As I experience it, gardening is about beauty. Gardening is meditation. Gardening is art. Gardening is a release. Gardening is play. And farming is about money. Nobody pays a farmer to meditate, create art, play, or experience release. People need food at a price they can afford, so if you’re going to stay in business as a grower you need to take whatever measures you can to bring your crops to market at a price that will generate the sales you need to get the money needed to pay the farm’s bills. This reality is as old as God. If you read the Book Genesis you’ll see that we were kicked out of the Garden of Eden for the sin of eating the fruit of the Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil and condemned to farm. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake,” said God. “In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles it shall bring forth to thee….” etc. In April, when the basil sprouts with joy, so will the thorns and thistles in the field. Farming is work. Maybe I just want to play. Or maybe I’m amazed.
In Old English to amaze meant to bewilder or confound and the root word, “maes,” is cognate with our modern word “maze,” which accurately describes the devilish Cretan prison that confined the Minotaur. There is certainly plenty to be “amazed” about these days, from the bewildering climate crisis to our political dead ends to the smog of ignorance and disinformation that contaminates public discourse. If you live in an online world where you’ve had your life upended by stock market turmoil or the kinks in the supply chain, or if you’re working from home and sick of it, then a life outdoors, farming in the fresh air, might seem like a great alternative. But that would be gardening, lol… We farmers have had our lives upended too over the last several years of the Covid pandemic. Last year, for the height of tomato season, the packaging suppliers didn’t have cartons and we really had to scramble. Thank you all for returning the boxes after you canned your tomatoes- that REALLY helped us. By the end of last year’s growing season I felt pretty much out of gas, and I’ve looked at our labyrinth project as a therapy. Don’t forget, the difference between a maze and a labyrinth is that a labyrinth has a single path, even if it is convoluted, and if you stick to it you will reach the center. And who doesn’t need to be centered these days?
The Labyrinth has been a slow process because we can only work on it when we don’t have other, more pressing farm chores to complete, but we’ve been plugging away for some time. For our “staycation” the first Covid winter Starr, and I visited a number of local labyrinth constructions. Oakland’s labyrinth in the Sibley Volcanic Preserve was an inspiration, as was the labyrinth in San Francisco near the Presidio on the water. This past winter Starr and I visited a labyrinth in Houston, Texas, just down the block from the Rothko Chapel, and another in Tucson at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. We came home energized to get back to work on our labyrinth, and the warm, dry weather has given us an opportunity to make a lot of progress. We’re hoping that sooner or later Covid will pass, and we can invite you to come visit the farm, walk the labyrinth, and enjoy the farmscape that your patronage and support is helping to create. And for any of you who don’t want to feed the spirit by walking in circles we’re still planting crops in straight lines to feed the body too. Onions, lettuces, carrots, greens and herbs are growing in the greenhouse already, and right now we’ve got tomatoes started in trays for transplanting out in April when the wintery Bull has left his nighttime pasture.
Our 2022 goal is to be up and operating a pop-up event each week starting in early April and to augment that outreach with a number of on-farm events in the summer and fall. Keep an eye on the newsletters and we will keep you posted on developments and opportunities.
Happy New Year, be well, and we will see you soon.
Andy and all of us at Mariquita Farm
© 2022 Essay by Andy Griffin.
Top photo of labyrinth by Starling Linden.
Row of photos of Oakland and San Francisco labyrinths, and photo of arugula in the greenhouse by Andy Griffin.