“A Farm Dies Once a Year” is a memoir by Arlo Crawford, about his summer spent at the family farm.  His parents had purchased a vegetbale farm in Pennsylvania, and this is where Crawford grew up.  The parents had a dream of being farmers but no experience doing it.  Over decades, they learned how, often by trial and error.  Crawford’s memoir chronicles the tribulations along with the triumphs.  Successful crops of raspberries were tempered by the utter failures of tomato blights and flooded fields. 

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Crawford Farm in February - http://nozama.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54ed05fc2883301a73dac1ebc970d-pi

One summer, as a young adult, Crawford decides to leave his work and surroundings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to retreat to the farm.  He’s joined by his girlfriend and future wife, Sarah.  On the farm, they work and contemplate.  They join teams of apprentice farmers living out the cycle of the season:  planting, irrigating, fixing, harvesting.  The work is unrelenting and hard, but also simple and graceful.  Its simplicity is in the direct connection between what is done and what is created.  Its grace is in how that creation is appreciated by the customers- the beneficiaries of all the hard work.


Engineering is not that much like farming, but there are some similarities in Crawford’s description of the rigors and process of farming work.  Like engineering, farming has a schedule and a sequence:  you plant first, then you harvest, not the other way around.  The demanding schedules for farmers and engineers seem to impose a way of thinking that can forsake the present for the future.   Both farmers and engineers work in the present on products that culminate in the future. Farmers and engineers worry deeply about what is to come, whether it is their structures or grown vegetables.  The demands of worrying about the future can lead to forgetting about being in the present.


 But the end arrives, whether it’s a completed project or the killing frost.  At the conclusion of the farming season, Crawford writes a beautiful and startling passage:

 “It was late afternoon and the pale moon was half dissolved.  It wasn’t quite full-  the harvest moon had been a few weeks before – but it was large, and I know that night that everything would freeze in its white light, the stalks of the grass and the leaves on the trees, the rime of ice clining to the edge of the creek.  I could hear the leaves in the trees, the dry sound of early fall, a crow call way off, and under it all the quite sound of the creek.  For just a brief second I had the feeling of being glad to be alive at that exact moment.  The anxiety of time receded back to its furthest point, and the present took up all available space.”


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