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Quail Hill Farm | A Note From Scott | April 2017

Quail Hill Farm
April 28, 2017

By Scott Chaskey

Joe G., long time farm member, has a tendency to reappear in my Spring letters. He returns to our valley just after the redwing black birds arrive to inspect and clear the bluebird boxes. His bluebird boxes to be exact, for Joe Giunta is the Johnny Appleseed of this avian species on the eastern end of Paumanock. Perhaps he should be known as Bluebird Joe — he is almost singly responsible for the resurgence of this iridescent creature throughout our airways and fieldways.

He asks: “Have you seen or heard a phoebe in the valley? They are the new harbingers of Spring you know.”

Of course this role long belonged to the robin, perhaps the most familiar visitor to our lawns and fields. But now the robin has chosen to stay, not to fly away when winter comes. A harbinger is required to depart, and thus to return. And such is the habit of the phoebe, a rather plain bird in color, but the characteristic flick of the tail to accompany the call — “phoebe, phoebe” — is unmistakable.

“What is the line from Frost?” Joe asks (part of our amiable Spring ritual). And I recite, delighting in the poet’s measured cadence and his intimate knowledge of the natural world:

            “…Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,

            And the aged elm, though touched with fire;

            And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;

            And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

            For them there was really nothing sad.

            But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,

            One had to be versed in country things

            Not to believe the phoebes wept.”

The farm is a whirlwind of activity now of course — as the bird population returns to occupy the space so do we: seeding, pruning, clearing, transplanting, contemplating. My daughter wrote to me recently, having found a book by Peter Matthiessen in a certain Thunderbolt bookstore in Santa Monica, one that resonated. I have a shelf-full of the Roshi’s books, so I too chose to read for some resonance. I found this, cited by Peter, from the 13th century Zen teacher, Eihei Dogen:

            “To what may the world be likened?

            Moonlight in a dewdrop

            Falling from a duck’s beak.”

When you return to the farm we hope that you will find the magic that infuses the dewdrop (and the moon!) and that inspires the rhythmic flick of a phoebe’s tail to accompany song. We are here to rediscover it daily as we go about the business and ritual of caring for the earth.