Full moon over field


By Jessica Gigot

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There is a rhythm in what we do here. I am trapped, but I am free.

The full moon rises over the blackberry bramble along the ditch. It has been shining so bright these past few nights, aiming light into all the dark spaces, memories, regrets. I pay attention to moon cycles now, more than before, the waning and waxing, the pull of tides and push of emotions that comes with each phase, the odd behavior of animals under the full moon.

Excerpted from A Little Bit of Land, by Jessica Gigot (Oregon State University Press, 2022). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

A Little Bit of Land, by Jessica Gigot

In A Little Bit of Land, Jessica Gigot explores the intricacies of small-scale agriculture in the Pacific Northwest, the changing role of women in this male-dominated industry, and questions of sustainability, economics, and health in our food system. Gigot alternates between describing the joys and challenges of small farm life and reflecting on her formative experiences outdoors and in classrooms throughout the region—from Ashland in southern Oregon to the Skagit Valley in Washington State. Throughout, she discovers what it means to find roots, start a family, and cultivate contentment in this unique corner of the world.

Learn more and purchase the book.

Wendell Berry writes, “Ways of life change only in living.”

Below the moonlit driveway I see the tall outline of our old barn. The one built in the 1930s. The one that has been saved: the posts reset, the south siding replaced with clear vinyl panels. The previous owner used part of the barn as a well-lit workspace. He built a boat there and sailed away on it. It has been years since this place was farmed in any real sense. The new barn to the north—the one we built—glimmers under the lunar glow, light reflecting small miracles off the solar panels.

I could read a book out there in all that brightness, but I retreat inside, assured that the next day will come soon enough. And I need rest. It’s summer and it’s already been a long season. It’s summer and I am counting the days until fall. The absence of choking wildfire smoke this August is a small comfort. The sky is clear tonight and rejuvenating.

Since we milk the sheep every day, it’s hard to get away this time of year. In the fall, when they are dried off and bred for the next season, we get a break. For now, and for the foreseeable seasons to come, summer will always mean go. Heat equals work and motion—and long days. I keep reminding myself that I can relax and visit with friends and family in a few short months. We might even take a trip in October. For now, I must surrender to the activity. The constant needs and little fires. A sick sheep, a last-minute order. The broken cooler, full of freshly made cheese that must stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or we are legally obligated to throw it all out. The wilting plants begging for water. We’re giving a farm tour to a school group next Tuesday. It’s nonstop.

But it’s not all chaos. There is a rhythm in what we do. I feel proud working this hard. I am trapped, but I am free. Our small sliver of tideland-turned-delta is so beautiful I don’t want to go anywhere else anyway, at least not at this time of year.

The sheep will be rowdy because of the moon.

Dean is out back tilling in a few rows of purslane. We have been harvesting from those plants for weeks, and now they have bolted to swollen, unmarketable, yellow flowering heads. The rich, fleshy plant grows here as a weed, but it’s becoming more popular in restaurants, so we grow an upright variety from seed. It has a lemony, sweet taste and was traditionally a staple ingredient in Lebanese and Mexican cooking. We seed it three different times in the growing season to make sure we always have new, succulent plants. Purslane goes to seed when the temperature gets unbearable.

I am inside with our two girls. We can’t afford a full-time babysitter, so in the afternoons, my husband and I alternate, fusing into one person running the farm. During this particular day I have milked the sheep and made a batch of cheese. Now I am coloring and eating carrot sticks and apple wedges while he does the tractor work. He will feed all the animals and come in to make dinner. While he makes dinner, I will go out to finish chores. An agrarian merry-go-round.

The sheep will be rowdy because of the moon. They will make zigzag jaunts around the barnyard. I’ll find it amusing and then, realizing how tired I am, annoying.

We will eat together out in the late evening light on the porch, with fresh blackberries for dessert. I am a good cook, but he is a great cook. It’s how he shows love. His portions are generous. Each ingredient, each flavor, is deliberate. I make a mess; he cooks and cleans methodically. He applies that same care to the girl’s lunches, cutting their sandwiches in perfect squares, refining his fruit leather recipes, or whipping up a dish of homemade mac ’n’ cheese.

It’s my turn to do bedtime. I will wash my hands and change my pants before taking the girls upstairs to read stories and sing songs. Right now, “The Farmer in the Dell” is a favorite. I laugh as the song begins, since I’ve changed the lyrics from “The farmer takes a wife” to “The farmer loves her life.” They don’t notice the difference yet, but they will in time. It’s still remarkable to me that two girls came from my one body. They are 22 months apart, and because of either our apparent lack of planning or my exceptional fertility, they were both born in the farm season. Even though I waited until my late 30s to have children, I fortunately did not have any issues getting pregnant. A few tries and the deal was done, which I know wasn’t the case for a lot of my friends. I don’t take this for granted, even though our daughters both were born at inconvenient times.

Eloise, our youngest, was born in May, and June, now four, was born in July. I didn’t realize how hard we had been working on the farm until we added new babies to our summer work. The last few seasons have been a blur. And now these two blue-eyed enigmas (my husband and I both have brown eyes) are staring back at me  waiting for another verse.

It hasn’t quite sunk in that this is my life now. That I am their mom.

My youngest daughter is hanging on my shoulders now, and the oldest dances around the room to the new song I’ve started singing. “Jingle Bells.” I sing it year-round because they love it and I love it and we all know the words. We defy holiday music rules and all sing together. I want my girls to be outspoken and empowered and uninhibited. I also want them to love holidays, because I do.

“Again, Mommy!” they both shriek in unison. Time isn’t a concept they can grasp yet and I remind them that it is almost time to fall asleep. A few more rounds and they will both settle into their beds. Eloise, unconsciously, shows she is tired by putting both her hands behind her head. June twirls her hair around her first finger. They both get a soft glaze before fading into sleep. The blinds are closed so they can’t see the brightness of the lingering moon. They don’t know the grass outside is glowing. They also don’t realize that we had to bury a lamb today. There is a lot you don’t tell toddlers.

It’s taken several seasons of watching things grow and die here to develop a practical management plan.

Right now it feels good to lie on the thick bedroom rug and listen to their perfect breathing. Echoes of a baseball game rise from the living room. I’ll zone out here for a little bit longer before going downstairs to pour a glass of wine and sit out on the deck. There is a slight chill in the air—a sensation that saddens and excites me. In the morning we will rise with the sun and do it all again. Kid routines and animal routines. Feeding and cooking, eating and making, define our days.

I moved onto the farm property almost ten years ago, and I will never forget the crazy explosion of spring. The land transformed and I wasn’t prepared. The pastures, fruit trees, and front lawn all became small jungles and I didn’t even own a mower, except for a small orange electric contraption a friend had given me for free.

It’s taken several seasons of watching things grow and die here to develop a practical management plan. Now we intensively rotate the sheep through the pasture, moving them after they have eaten the grass down to no less than three inches. We use landscape cloth in our commercial herbs to block the weeds. Another friend, who owns a raspberry farm, prunes the fruit trees in the winter. We start ripping the morning glory out of the garden rhubarb in June, but it always comes back, every year.

I guess if it didn’t return, I would be upset. Our rhythms would feel off. We can’t cut corners; all the jobs need to be done—and at the right time of year—so we can feel one step ahead of the constant, fierce push of nature, its urge to grow and spread.

The other day I saw a news story featuring a fishing village in China that had been abandoned and was now being “returned to nature.” All the buildings were green, colonized by opportunistic plant life. I know that feeling well. The steady creep of chickweed between newly transplanted herbs. The proliferation of thistles in an otherwise suitable paddock. Farming, no matter how natural, has always been about resistance to nature in one way or another. Altering the landscape for gain, making space and order within its wild brilliance.

It is me and the moon again, outside. The cool calm on the deck offers solace. The farm is a destination I’ve reached and, still, a blank slate in many ways. I am writing this story anew each day. The girls are definitely asleep now, and Dean is half asleep in front of his baseball game. I hear a barn owl screech and imagine that the moonlight makes hunting easier for her. I hear the constant, distant din of the neighboring farm’s irrigation pump. A low moan, a summer siren.



Jessica GigotJessica Gigot is a poet, farmer, and writing coach. She lives on a little sheep farm in the Skagit Valley in Washington. She is the author of A Little Bit of Land, published by Oregon State University Press in 2022. Her second book of poems, Feeding Hour, won a Nautilus Award and was a finalist for the 2021 Washington State Book Award. Her writing and reviews appear in publications such as The New York Times, Seattle Times, Orion, Terrain.org, and Poetry Northwest. She is currently a poetry editor for The Hopper and a 2022 Jack Straw Writer. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Header photo by Elenamiv, courtesy Shutterstock.

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