It’s snowing and we’re tucked in. Piles of books by the end of the couch, tea kettle spitting, we’re thoroughly nested in woolly things. We are reflecting on this past year and beginning considerations for next season. This year brought a number of changes to the farm: a new CSA market model, a nearly completely functional packshed, fewer than planned prepared and planted rows, our first hired farm hand (yea, Madeleine!), and a new mural.
In preparing for the construction of our packshed area, last spring (2016) we moved our walk-in cooler over to the south side of the garlic shed (‘garlic shed’ – currently a catch-all glorified junk drawer for wood working tools, bags of clean sawdust for nesting box bedding, and where we hang garlic to cure in the summer). The walk-in is an 8’x8’ insulated box cooled with an air conditioner and Cool-bot; the outside walls are cedar sheeting. A perfect spot for art. Big art. Last season was spent pipe-dreaming mural ideas as we walked back and forth by the empty, exposed wall of the walk-in cooler.
Vegetables and bicycles. Heaping baskets of vegetables. Butterflies and bumble bees. A giant lacewing. A schematic of the carbon cycle. Sunflowers? Lots of sunflowers! We schemed mural ideas.
…but why duplicate something on the wall that already grows right here, something we see routinely?
In the end, we decided that we needed something far removed from the daily activities of the farm, but something we are still connected to. The decisions we make here and our land management practices effect habitat and ecosystems far removed from our immediate farm. We are super far away from the oceans and yet, in not terribly obvious, ittybitty ways and profound, undeniable ways, we’re connected. We are trying to grow good food as a means of working towards greater goals, a stronger community and a healthier planet. And so, we decided the farm needs an octopus.
On the surface, we are radically different creatures, us and octopus (underwater invertebrates, eight legs and a beak(!), chromatophores (!?). Completely bizarre in every way). However, octopuses embody characteristics that we are inspired by and strive for in our farm management. They are intelligent, cognizant, and interactive. They are problem solvers. Curious. Adaptable. Flexible. Resilient. Strong, yet vulnerable. Playful. Emotional. Observant. Deliberate. They are ecosystem engineers, able to shape their community and benefit other species beyond themselves.Despite limited experience with oceanic invertebrates, our friend Rebecca graciously agreed to paint an octopus for us. Over the course of a few weeks, she came out to the farm and set to work. The October bright blue weather had her melting against the south-facing wall some days. And, on other days, we helped rig up a tarp shelter and space heater in order to help keep the paints – and Rebecca – from getting too cold. Over these days we had the chance to watch the transformation from featureless cedar surface to near-animate being. A sketched outline projected on the blank wall became chalk. Then a bright blue silhouette. Turned orange. And an eye! Then suckers. Rows of plain white circles became many-hued dimpled orbs of early sunrise, each its own magical oystershell of pink and purple, blue, but still white. It’s no longer an it. She is an octopus. She is intricate and vibrant. She welcomes conversation and reflection. I think her name is Halcyon; Jeremy’s not so sure. Her presence is a nod to our own beloved, hand working, and omnipresent farm invertebrates. She makes us feel like we had better do a good job. She is a reminder of what we are working toward.
We feel honored to have this beautiful piece on the farm. The thoughtfulness, creativity, generosity, and love that went into her creation are an inspiration to us. Thank you for sharing this gift, your gift with us, Rebecca.
P.S. A couple additional comments of note: Jeremy’s father, Dave, pointed out with great mirth, it’s an especially apropos totem for the farm. And Papa Jenkins thinks this is clearly a sign of our good taste. We have since discovered that there is a history of octopus murals in Spearfish, or at least one other.