The Jump on Season

A.V. Walters

It’s so dry that for over a month it’s felt like October. There are agricultural practices that mark time, plowing in spring, cultivation and harvesting in summer and, around here, spreading in fall. Yes, that’s manure spreading. The dairies store it in in lagoons and tanks until the time is right to load battalions of “honey trucks” to spread this rank slurry on the fields and hills. It is the most environmental of solutions (the practice, not the slurry.)

For a traditional dairy, whose size is limited by how far a cow can walk for milking, the amount of manure produced does not overwhelm the carrying capacity of the land. (Though it can, and does, contaminate the ground water.) This traditional recycling puts the nutrients back into the soil, to fertilize the grasses that our winter rains will bring, and that then feed the herds. This would not be a solution for the big factory dairies, whose cows never see grass and whose scale requires an industrial strength waste disposal system. Here though, on the small farms in the rolling hills of Sonoma County, it is a common agricultural custom.

Usually, the spreading starts in October. This year, everything is so dry (including the lagoons) that the spreading started in mid-August, before the slurry went to sludge. The hills are a brittle brown (soon to be a different kind of brown.) During the manure spreading, we keep our windows closed. Our wild Two Rock winds whip up the particulate and, if you open the windows, the house will soon have a layer of dust. We know what’s in that dust—so we hunker down. This, too, is part of the flavor of agricultural living.

I thought I’d have moved by now—but my pre-relocate obligations are taking longer to wind down than anticipated. It’s been a tough summer, full of false starts and dashed hopes. The delays have been good, too. We’ve been able to help out for some things we almost missed. We’ve strengthened ties and said (multiple) goodbyes. (Some say, “Well, goodbye already.”) We’ve packed (and then unpacked some.) We’re looking forward to a new life and the challenges of new seasons. My dear mum is patiently awaiting the grand arrival. She’s the primary inspiration for the change. After losing my father, I’ve become more conscious of the need to enjoy the present—lest it slip into the past without proper savoring and leave us with deep regrets.

We’re still on hold, but we can see an end in sight—maybe we’ll get away before the hills are all—that color of brown.