Postcard from the Prairie: Horticultural Time
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Cows

The long cold is upon us; with the holidays over, the season of patience begins. There is scraping ice of windshields, the drive to work on snowy roads, just getting dressed to go outside – everything takes longer and feels harder. And we don’t know when it will end. Last year at this time, we still had 5 months of cold left, though thank goodness we didn’t know it then.

Recently, I was perusing a book on mindfulness in which the author suggests the reader switch focus from Industrial Time to Horticultural Time. She describes Horticultural Time as “measured in a slower arc than we are accustomed to, a time span that is in harmony with the biology of living things.”

Any one who has lived on a ranch knows about Horticultural Time. Exhibit A: Checking heifers. Last winter was my first experience with this, and I remember taking the midnight shift -- trudging out to the barn across the glittering, diamond snow, the night as black as could be, with the stars cutting sharply through the darkness. The cold air felt sharp and glittering too, slipping into my lungs and biting at my eyebrows. Once in the barn, the steamy heat of the heifers bodies and breath mellowed the sting, and their soft lowing seemed warm as well.

But I never caught anyone laboring, or even getting close, and after a few days, the nightly routine started to feel like a bad habit. Pulling on my boots with a weary sag in my shoulders, bracing my body for the first knife blades of cold, I forgot to look up. I forgot to listen to the apple-bright crunch of the snow. I forgot to admire the handiwork of the heavens scattered brilliantly across the sky. I just felt tired, cold, and annoyed that I had to go to the barn in the middle of the night for no good reason. The initial romance of Horticultural Time was wearing thin.

I never did find anyone about to give birth on those nightly trips, though I did get to see a few calves born. It just never happened on my watch. But it turned out to be a good way to practice mindfulness, and as the days turned into weeks, I found myself consciously trying to re-experience the wonder I felt those first few nights. It almost always worked when I remembered to do it.

I guess this is the point I am trying to make: Living through deep cold, it is almost impossible not get a taste of Horticultural Time, and that, in my opinion, is its own kind of gift. Patience is a virtue after all, a skill that needs cultivating, and that rewards its practitioners with serenity. So, this year I’ll throw a little gratitude in with my practice of mindfulness. Thank you Winter, for slowing us down and making us wait. Every flake of snow is a tiny reminder that each moment of the day contains its own unique perfection, if we only take the time to pay attention.