On a homestead farm, something is always breaking. There’s the old buildings, the hand-me-down vehicles and the unpredictable antics of livestock. As farmers, we can be surprisingly handy with baling twine, zip-tie and duct tape emergency fixes, but these are often temporary fixes in the effort to “get the job done.” Steve even jokes that his alternate name is “Daddy fix-it.”
Mending, on the other hand, is different from fixing, and it’s an art form worth cultivating. Instead of fixing something enough to get it working again, mending takes the brokenness and seeks to make something better than what was there before the brokenness. Sometimes replacement is necessary, but mending invites a creativity toward taking what is broken and reworking the situation.
Japanese culture has several examples of the concept of visually celebrated mending. Instead of being ashamed of the broken nature of the object and wanting the fix-it job to completely hide the incident, their processes highlight that this object has been cherished enough to be mended. In the tradition of Kintsugi, broken pottery is mended with the addition of gold leaf, and in the tradition of Boro, clothing is patched and mended with visible stitches that are both aesthetic and utilitarian. The attention to mending is honored through these practices.
The work of mending on the farm can also take great pride. An ill-fitting door is taken off its hinges and completely reworked. This has been the multi-week project we came to call “The Door,” which we installed in the Red Barn this evening. Re-engineered with a trolly-mounted sliding door making it rugged enough to take rams and all weather, it took four of us to heft the door into place. A much more functional door brings a sense of accomplishment and pleasure to closing a barn door with ease that once was a point of perpetual frustration.
Mending not only brings the satisfaction of accomplishment, but it can also add peace of mind. For instance, when the wintertime turkey coop rose to the top of the electrical makeover list, awkward light switches were moved and made waterproof, better lights were installed, robust outlets out of bird-reach were mounted, and the old and admittedly frightening hardware was decommissioned. Now, turning on the lights in the turkey coop during evening chores brings a sense of “Ah, now this is nice,” rather than “Oh boy, is this going to work this time?”
While pro-active mending like reworking the electricity woes of the turkey coop is the desirable way to take care of events on the farm, some mending is made necessary by the suddenness of breaking. The baler misfires and the tines break off, the wind blew too hard and tore the door off its hinges, or hale put new holes in the high tunnel roof. And, well, sometimes there’s just plain old human clumsiness that causes the problem.
That was the case this week, as I was unlocking the door to Farmstead Creamery to start the day. My hands were partly numb with cold from having been wet outside doing morning chores, my gloves were thick and bulky, and I probably wasn’t paying good attention when I dropped my set of keys on the concrete. The keys were fine, but the keychain was not. The little blue plastic guitar that offered a decorative touch to the assortment of weathered metal keys hit the ground and broke at the neck. It was a clean break, I noticed, as I held the two pieces in my hand.
I could have just tossed it out and picked up any number of other key chains I’d somehow collected over the years to replace it, but this was a childhood gift from a treasured friend that she’d brought back from a special place (and happened to think of me while at that special place), so it meant more to me than a plastic guitar with some shells imbedded inside.
I also know that gluing plastic is often less than satisfactory, so what to do? I decided to embrace those Japanese ideas of transforming brokenness with creativity to preserve the object without pretending the event hadn’t happened. Inspired by one of my favorite jewelry pieces by local glass artist Paulette Ross, I hatched a plan to try some wire-wrap technique to create a decorative housing for the little guitar, so it could still be enjoyed but also be held together and protected from future clumsiness.
As I sit in the evening by the wood stove, intricately twisting and winding the wires for decoration and stability, it gives me time to think on my childhood friend and the adventures we shared. We’ve managed to stay connected all these years, despite our very divergent backgrounds and journeys. The small object is a talisman to those memories, reminding me of treasured friendships carried despite being miles and cultures apart.
Mending also serves as a larger metaphor for the work of 2021. This week, think on what you see that needs mending — even the tiniest thing about the house or a friendship languishing — and start the steps to creatively remake the situation so that what comes from your labors is better and more beautiful than what was there before.
See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. (715) 462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com