Lullaby for the Land
Three airbnb guests, all young women, graduate students in Washington DC, came for a one-night retreat in the country in mid-February. The weather was unseasonably warm; the sky cloudless. They were open, friendly, and clearly adventurous.
I welcomed them and showed them the house. They spoke to each other in a foreign language. What language are you speaking?, I asked inquiringly. Arabic, the leader responded. Two of them were from Pakistan, one was from Egypt. When I showed her how to light the fire I had set in the fireplace insert, I casually mentioned that they were welcome to make a fire in the fire circle in the back yard using wood next to the fireplace. “Call me if you need me,” I said as I left them.
The next morning, I invited them to work with me in the garden. They were delighted! I walked to the Retreat House with my border collie. Two stepped back immediately as the dog approached. The Egyptian native explained that she had never seen dogs running free. I took her arm reassuringly, as we walked across the property. I threw one stick after another to my dog. They had grown up in large cities and had little experience being in the country. They had finally watched a you-tube video to get the campfire started. Then they sat by the fire and looked at the stars. It was an amazing night!
Now they were eager for a farm experience. They fed a handful of grain to my two Jersey cows. I gave them a brief tour of the garden before starting to work. They had on casual city clothes; one wore white knit boots. She asked if she could borrow work shoes. I said yes. We went to the farmhouse.
One of the Pakistani women sighed deeply as she saw my cat. She scrolled images on her smart phone to show me her short-haired gray cat. I handed my cat to her. She held him close. I remembered how much it meant to me when, as a college student far from home, I was invited into local homes for a family meal. I sensed how these women savored sounds, smells and touches reminding them of home.
Meantime, I considered what job I could give them. Clearly, no mud or muck was appropriate. I thought of weeding the rose bed, but they could not discriminate weed from flower. I saw the row of seven clumps of six-foot-high ornamental grass. Each spring, I struggled to cut the woody stems of the grass in the 25-foot row. My wrists tired from the pressure I needed to exert to cut each stem.
I showed them the grass and asked if they could do it. They tackled the work with the easy rhythm, strength and energy of youth. I worked close by. They spoke to each other in English and Arabic. They could have been women from another time, another place: the cadence of their speech and the rhythm of their work seemed so universal. They began singing a lilting song, a children's song about milk from a cow, they shared. They smiled and nodded toward barn where they had touched cows moments earlier. Their voices, melodious and soft, were a lullaby for my heart, for the land and for the Earth herself.
I imagined my land hearing their song, feeling their touch and and sending a message to their mother land.”Your daughters are here! They are touching the Earth and singing. They are happy and healthy; their spirits are soaring!” It is just what every mother wants to know! Years ago, a friend had suggested that I imagine farming as skin care for the mother, as massage, as touching and being touched.
They finished their work and went to lunch, planning to return to garden in the afternoon. Instead, they packed their things and returned to the city. We had shared a deep moment, touching each other and the Earth. What could be more real, more simple and more filling? May we find more ways to touch each other's hearts and the heart of the Earth.