Halloween Day on the Homestead

There’s a funny thing about holidays on the farm—well, not that funny really. They just don’t happen. At least, that is, not like they do for other folks.

The animals all still want to be fed in the morning, just like on all the other days of the week. And this time of year, the list of “before snow flies” projects remains just as daunting. Days can blend one right into the next, to the point where it can grow difficult to distinguish the days of the week. Holidays can then pop up almost as a surprise.

Agrarianism lives and breaths in the rhythms of the season, in the shortening and lengthening days, in the cycles of birth and death. Choosing a particular day to mark a particular rite of passage in the turning of the year can feel arbitrary—but taking a day to think on the circle of the seasons can also be important. Finding a pause in the process offers moments for reflection and gratitude.

This morning started like most late autumn mornings on the farm, with dusting off the sleepies and heading out for chores. The gray clouds obscured the dawn and left a dusky hue to the morning. Frost coated the stubbles of grass, and our heritage Kunekune pigs were slow to wake from their comfy burrows of straw in their winter huts. The night before, we’d worked into the dark to finish moving the very last groups of young pigs into their sheltered winter abodes we’d just finished assembling…just in time for the oncoming chill.

It was in the midst of the morning routine that it struck me it was Halloween—the turning of the year into the darkness of winter.

Halloween in town is a different affair from Halloween out on the farm. There’s the plastic skeletons, sheet-like ghosts, foam gravestones, and the parade of tikes in costumes on the hunt for candy. Out on the farm, it’s pumpkins and gourds, a lovely potted mum, and perhaps a favorite scarecrow from Grandma. The focus is on the harvest, rather than the scary side of Halloween.

Instead of candy, the day is punctuated by homemade apple cake. We’re too far off the beaten path to see any trick-or-treaters, but pumpkin carving is a definite must…at least for me. While our own pumpkins didn’t amount to anything on account of the drought, Kara and a friend managed to find a couple from another farm to bring home, so our festivities wouldn’t be bereft of the annual carving.

Instead of a ghoulish face, I chose to carve an image of traditional protection against evil spirits—the Nordic eight-pointed star. I’m using this motif in two of my current virtual tapestry classes, so it was fresh on my mind. As we all continue to make our way through this pandemic, the idea of protective symbols that reach far back into the collective understanding of our ancestry sounds increasingly appealing. Please be safe everyone.

But between the morning’s awareness that this was Halloween and the evening’s pumpkin carving and apple cake festivities was plenty of farm work, including tackling cleaning the larger chicken coop. The chicken ladies are still in their summertime hen mobiles, and as the temps and winds grow chilly, it’s time for them to come into the winter coops. But alas, with the craziness that is spring and summer on the farm, I hadn’t had a moment to clean out the rest of last winter’s mess. Instead, it was still waiting for me…ugh.

It’s not a task to be completed in a day, but it was a day to get started. I backed my utility golf cart up to the door of the coop, scooped the dump bed full, then trundled off behind the barn to the far edge of the west field, where we keep our scores of compost piles. Two are heaped high, covered in tarps and ready for spreading in the spring, while the newest one is still being accumulated before turning.

As I came through the wooded trail by the barn and entered the field, a large doe spooked at my approach and headed for the woods on the other side—stopping just inside the brush to turn back and spy on me. I carried on, backing up to the compost pile to dump my first load, when I looked up to the trail that passes through the woods to the south field, where we grow hay. In that trail stood a guardian spirit of the forest—a great buck with majestic rack, stock still, looking at me.

We admired each other for a time, and I sensed no fear from the buck as he stood regally with his white bib and black nose and fluffy ears. He took a couple steps forward, still keeping his eyes on me and my rig.

“Hello buck,” I called cheerily and waved. “Are you looking for that doe? She went that way. I’m sure you can smell her.”

He looked over to the shrubbery where she had disappeared then back at me and took another step forward on his slender legs. I talked to him a few minutes more, and he appeared to listen, as if having conversations with me was a terribly normal activity on such a day. Then, at length, I hopped back onto the golf cart and trundled back for another load of chicken bedding.

When I returned, the deer were gone, like an apparition. And then it struck me, again, that this was Halloween, and such visits should be as no surprise. Now, onto carving that second pumpkin. See you down on the farm sometimes.