I’ve been looking forward to reading a copy of Tricia Knoll’s Broadfork Farm: Trout Lake, Washington for months. I first learned about the farm over a year ago when Tricia, a regular contributor here at Flora’s Forum, sent in her poem “Backyard Chickens”. The poem was one of my favorites, and I loved the chicken photo. Tricia explained that the hens were residents of Broadfork Farm, where she farmsat once or twice a year. She also said that a book was in the works.
Now I know farmsitting is not easy—all those animals to feed and worry about, not to mention all the green and growing things to take care of—but, oh, in return, you get to live, for a while, on a real farm! (One of my dreams.) As a side note, believe me when I say I do not romanticize farm life. Much. I’ve had a dose of it here in town raising a menagerie of animals through the years, including rabbits, chickens and ducks, and growing food and flowers in almost every available nook and cranny. It’s not easy taking care of animals and plants. In fact, it’s a 24/7 job.
Getting to read Tricia’s book is the next best thing to a visit to Broadfork. The first passage I read is one of the few offerings not in poem form and it hooked me immediately.
“Gloucestershire Old Spots”
Two steps out of the van, the boldest little girl asks if she can hold a baby pig. I’m not a real farmer, just a stand in for these neighbor kids, friends. I choose not to answer. (The Old Spots are darn big even if they are a fifth the size they could grow to be. In this high-nineties heat they have started wallowing in mud instead of dust.)
The chaperones and kids follow me to the barn. The toddler delays at the John Deere toy tractor. I whip out my conversation starter: what do you like about your favorite friends? They say friends should be kind, gentle and fun. I say that’s exactly what Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs were bred to be . . . kind, gentle, friendly to people. Good citizen pigs.
I rattle off that Old Spots are Princess Anne’s favorite pigs. Pigs with royal patronage, orchard pigs that can thrive on pasture grass and windfall apples in all kinds of weather. They need shade because they sunburn and can’t sweat. I do not mention how factory farms dock pig tails to keep crammed-in neighbors from biting them off. These pigs live the life pigs are meant to live. Nosing for greens, roots and bugs. Loving organic grains. Wallowing. One will live to be a very good mother. The male will be eaten at a neighbor’s Christmas Eve.
hundreds of years
heritage and breeding
the perfect small farm pig
Two of these girls visited Broadfork weeks ago when the piglets arrived as timid beings with soft fur. Since then, the farmers and students have nurtured these pigs with chances for petting, clean water, sweet feed and foraging. Gone was soft fur. Added was bulk. No one asked again to pick one up. Everyone petted. We did not talk bacon. This time.
After cursory looks at the meat chicks, lambs, the big white guard dog, and the laying ducks, the adults herded six sweaty and thirsty children back to the van. I wished I’d had time to talk about duck eggs. Next stop inflatable swimming pool, the kid wallow.
That’s that. Kids mimicking pig noises. Touching. Barn Smells. Hands on. All good.
Then evening. Back to the barn to close the door to the chicken’s henitentiary. The lambs had left the barn for pasture to graze in the cool evening wind off the mountain.
I glance into the part of the barn the pigs choose for sleeping. Spooned together in straw against a wall, the two Old Spots snore. I flashback to my tiptoe nights to a crib to check on my infant daughter. Our visitors saw how fast babies grow, how we care for them. How long-time-forever we are wired to love babies, safe and vulnerable in sleep.
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This little story is a microcosm of life on Broadfork Farm, which has the humble goal to “feed a few and teach caring.” That caring, along with the sharing, the interconnectedness, and the realities of the bitter and the sweet are examined and celebrated in Knoll’s book. In it, you’ll find a world that is mostly breathtakingly beautiful, but where the ugly isn’t sugarcoated; murderous animals, for example, exist on the farm and in the wilderness surrounding it, as do reminders of the problems of the world outside, where atrocities like terrorism, hate crime, and exploitation of humans and land sometime take center stage. Tricia shows us how all relate, all are interconnected.
One of the things I relish in Knoll’s work is that she paints with all the emotions. The delightful intermingles with the dark, and even the banal is important enough (because it, too, is part of life) to be noted. One poem, “Motha of the Bride” brought tears to my eyes, and I laughed out loud at a stanza in “Farmku”, a poem that shares over a dozen unique moments of farm-life, haiku style.
drops her bra
in the forget-me-nots
(Gosh, I love that.)
While there are many things to admire about Tricia Knoll’s work, perhaps her greatest quality is that she is an eco-poet who doesn’t overwhelm you with that message. The elegant pictures she paints with her poetry, her many astute, and sometimes wry observations of nature simply show you what she loves about this world. And through her art, you love it too.
Broadfork Farm was published by The Poetry Box and you can buy it here.
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