AgriCulture-Darkness, Darkness, Be my Pillow

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For most of the last twenty years, what has struck me most about the change of seasons on the farm at this time of year has been the sudden transition from cacophony to quiet. The principle cause of the transition was the departure of our turkeys early on Monday morning of Thanksgiving week to be processed and distributed to you all, as the centerpiece of your annual feast.

From about mid-summer on, the turkeys always set the tone here. They were not as constantly noisy as, say, the guinea fowl, whose repetitive monotone rat-a-tat vocalizing went on so insistently it could be annoying. But because the turkeys are much bigger birds, and were far more numerous, their sound, a more joyous babble that rose and fell in something of a musical pattern, won out. They would assemble at intervals throughout the day, and particularly toward the end of the afternoon, in cocktail party like jamborees, where the males would strut their stuff, preening and fanning out their tail-feathers. Any sort of stimulus, like the start of a motor, might set off a chorus of gobbles. Our tried and true trigger for eliciting that chorus was to approach the flock and in a high register to trill the word BEEEAUTIFUL.

I miss having the turkeys here, even though not raising them this year may have turned out to be an overall economic benefit. With so many Thanksgiving feasts pared back to household members only, to avoid transmitting COVID-19, I suspect I would have been left with a substantial surplus of the biggest birds that were always in the most demand, and would have only sold out of the small 6 to 8 lb. hens that I usually have in surplus.

Without the sudden absence of turkey calls to signal the change in season, the sign I have been most conscious of this year has been the loss of daylight. On good weather days, there may be brilliant sunshine at 3:30 p.m., but by 4:00 the sun is barely peeking over the Catskills and if I look away from the golden glow on the western horizon, the sky turns from blue to a grayish hue. That’s my signal to start chores.

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I start with the chickens, because I want there to be enough light coming through the windows into the hen house to see the eggs I gather from the laying boxes. I move on to the pigs, who have no artificial light at their pens. I finish up at the sheep, where if things are going slowly I have barn lights I can turn on to enable completion of the chores. With luck, though, I am done with chores with some natural light to spare and in time to pick some winter greens for dinner before heading back to the hen house to close the door. That’s when the light is so dim the chickens have gone inside to roost of their own volition, and I don’t have to work at chasing them in.

I proceed at a methodical, plodding pace. It’s a peaceful time of day. About 20 minutes before complete darkness, the sky takes on a color that I, with my idiosyncratic color sense, would call slate purple. The moon, if risen, becomes highly visible. Friday evening it was a crescent, suspended directly above like a teardrop pearl. Crépuscule, the French word that encompasses both twilight (when there’s still some sunlight visible) and dusk (when the sun is gone), seems to me a name with just the right sound for this time of day.

At dusk the chickens stop clucking, as they flutter up onto their roosts for the night. The sheep quietly munch their hay in the barn. The pigs burrow into the bed of straw in their hut. It feels like the world is being zipped into a secure dark envelope. The moment evokes in my mind the lyrics to the Jesse Colin Young song that was so popular my freshman year in college: [“Darkness, Darkness, be my pillow, take my head, and let me sleep… “](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ge1VLj2Vf0) And to come from the cold dusky outdoors into a brightly lit warm kitchen, knowing the day’s farm work is done, reinforces that sense of refuge.

Chatting about the drop in daylight last week, my friend George and I concurred that it seems to get darker earlier in the day, and more suddenly, than either of us remembers from past years. This obviously cannot be true. Neither the earth’s rotation around the sun nor the angle on which it tilts has shifted dramatically. As happens every year, the [“Polar night” has arrived in Utqiagvik, Alaska](https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/11/18/polar-night-utqiagvik-darkness/), meaning the sun has gone down for the last time this year and will not rise again until January 23, for 66 consecutive days of darkness. It’s all about the tilt of the earth. The next two months, the month before and after the winter solstice, will be our darkest stretch as well.

So why do we perceive the darkness as so much more dominant this year? Perhaps it’s that as a result of the pandemic it’s the first time in many years that we are not spending most of our time in the City, where dusk does not so have so dramatic an effect on one’s activity. Perhaps it’s also, as the result of the pandemic and the bungling that let it run unchecked, that we are facing what President-elect Biden has predicted on more than one occasion will be a “very dark winter.”

Living in a region where the pandemic killed so many last Spring, and where we thought we had more or less beaten it back, it is of course depressing to see a resurgence underway. It is even more depressing that the resurgence so enfeebles the responses we have traditionally relied on to fight the isolation and depression associated with the season — social gatherings and festivals celebrating light.

In this context, the darkness does not seem such a cozy refuge from the world. We are left to focus on the features that lead us to rebel against the darkness in the first place. At such times, I hope I can take solace in a different song lyric — that it’s always darkest just before the dawn.

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:

A smaller Thanksgiving table shouldn’t mean no table at all. If a turkey is too big for this year’s celebration, try one of our Freedom Ranger Chickens, $6/lb, most about 6 lbs. Roasted whole, they look lovely as a table centerpiece.I also have one small heritage breed frozen turkey hen available, from the group we raised in 2018, under 8 lb, $8/lb.

To start your feast, consider pumpkin soup (a lovely recipe in this week’s New York Times specifically recommends roasting a Long Island Cheese pumpkin — our variety). To finish, consider pumpkin pie. For either or both, we have an ample supply of those wonderful Long Island cheese pumpkins for you to roast, most about 10 -12 lbs, $1/lb.

Or take one of the last opportunities to get a head of escarole, which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying, most recently this week in bean and escarole soup. Delicious. $3/head. What you don’t buy I will braise and freeze in stock.

Exhausted by four years of consuming anxiety about the Presidency of Donald J. Trump, relieved at its impending end (inshallah), I hope you will enjoy a respite from reading about these anxieties and I from writing about them. I do not know where our return to “normalcy” may bring these bulletins, but I hope you’ll stay along for the ride.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK

Escarole $3/bag
Cheese pumpkins, $1/lb
Small White turnips, $3/bunch
Large black Spanish Radishes, $1 each (or smaller ones in bunches)
Daikon radish, $1 each
Kale, (curly leaf or lacinato) $2/bunch
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.

EGGS: $5/doz

MEATS:

LAMB: fresh back from processing, Legs of lamb and loin chops, $14/lb, boneless lamb shoulder and shoulder steaks, $10/lb, Ground lamb, $7/lb. For the Central Asians among you, lamb tails, $5/lb.

PORK: fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb

CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. We’ve already had one and the freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. They are now frozen. $6/lb. Separately, bags of chicken livers, also $6/lb.

FARM PICKUPS:

Email us your order at farm@turkanafarms.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.

AgriCulture-Darkness, Darkness, Be my Pillow
AgriCulture

 
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