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By Shelley Gillespie

It's the end of the farm season and I want to hold a pen or some lover's hand. Instead, I am bunching collards and holding a harvest knife just right so that I don't slice my fingers. Dirt stains the minute loops of my fingerprints. My hands snag on the fabric of my clothes. My wrists pop, too. They sound like corn stalks cracking when the ears break off.

I am hired for my knees. In June, we hand weeded the potatoes, crawling back and forth, row feet turned to miles. You might look out across that field and tell me it's flat, but get down on your knees and crawl and you'll sense the subtle rise and dips. On my knees, I learned the topography of the field and I carried it home with me, half the field up my nose. I left traces of soil behind me like an ancient glacier trailing rocks.

I am hired for my back, too. I carry trays of lettuce starts and boxes of washed greens and buckets of beans and crates of onions and mesh bags of squash. Long hours and muscle twist into ropes down my back.

This is the body I ask day in and day out to take me into old age. We ask the same thing of the earth.

When the heavy machinery arrived to clear the lot next to the leased farm acreage where I work, I was bunching scallions, crouched as if praying. In the time it took me to bunch forty scallions, they cleared an entire grove of maples and firs. They plan eighty-five houses for that land. A red-tailed hawk lived in one of those maples and often soared over us. Its screeches reminded me to look up, to notice the clouds hanging off the hills to the southwest. That hawk reminded me to breathe, to begin again, slicing, crawling, lifting. The trees swayed over the massive saw, over and over, cracking and crashing.

Several days later when we brought in the garlic harvest, a volunteer found a long hawk feather among the garlic stalks. She stuck it in her hat. A sorrow spread across my chest as I stooped to pick up one more garlic bundle.

Bunching collards in the cold wind of the late farm season, I notice a flock of birds flitting down the row. Tiny scratches scar the edges of the leaves, the mark of the birds' feet where they perch to get at the aphids. Last night I ate collard greens for dinner and even when I bitched about my aching body over my steaming plate, the greens' tender sweetness reminded me of the value of my work. This work that holds my survival, our survival, on the most basic and visceral level.

Shelley Gillespie farmed coffee in Costa Rica where her love of agriculture hatched. She works on Kirsop Farm in Tumwater, exploring every aspect of food production and writing along the way. She can be reached at: shelleysol@hotmail.com

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22