“A bay is a noun only if water is dead. When bay is a noun, it is defined by humans, trapped between its shores and contained by the word. But the verb wiikwegamaa–to be a bay–releases the water from bondage and lets it live. ‘To be a bay’ holds the wonder that, for this moment, the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with cedar roots and a flock of baby mergansers.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 55
“In compost we have a means of kindling the life within the earth itself.” – Rudolf Steiner, Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, 70
The day began with disappointment. The skies were gray and thunderclouds rolled in overhead. Water fell from the sky, and wind whipped through my hair. Myself and a group of others had gathered round an earthen pit, shovels in hand, preparing to dig.
We dug, and dug deeper, using the iron blades of our shovels to heave earth, removing the soil layer by layer until we found what we were looking for–the ivory prongs of a cow’s horns. I put on my gloves and started in with my hands, scraping away earth, and removing the horns one by one from the place where they had been buried, spending the winter within the earth.
This is the spring ritual of biodynamics. After the equinox, as the green world is beginning to show its colors once again, the horns, stuffed with manure in the fall, are removed from the earth. They are greeted with anticipation. They hold the promise of the earth’s fertility, for over the winter they have undergone a transformation. They are placed within the earth as green manure, raw and full of stench. As the season passes, the manure matures, becoming a rich black, sweet in smell and full of microbial life.
Usually the horns, after harvest, are emptied. The rich black manure seeps with aliveness. It holds within the whole process of decomposition and digestion, the concentrated action of a winter of activity. During that time, the manure transforms, growing as you or I grow. It moves, it acts; it becomes alive. The completed preparation is as much a verb as a noun, as it carries within the whole of that dancing process. But this year there was no transformation. The manure remained unchanged, undigested. It had not grown. It had not lived. It was not charged with the grammer of animacy. It did not prepare, that is, become a preparation. It only stayed stuck as what it was, inert, unbreathing, non-alive. It remained only a thing–manure–and not an action.
The biodynamic preparations carry the hidden art of transformation. They change. They speak of process, of life. Without this essential act, without this process, this artful becoming, the farmers are without the necessary nourishment for their fields. Without this quickened mobility, there is no life.
The farmers gathered around the hole stood still, crestfallen, awkward with their disappointment. “This has never happened before,” one said. One after another they repeated the refrain: “Never before, never before.”
A true farmer is never idle for long. Even in our disappointment, we moved into action, replaced the horns, burying with them our hopes–that after another season within the earth they will come to life, they will transform.
The hours passed and the sun returned. That afternoon fortune smiled upon us. We unearthed other buried treasures within the earth–chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, and oak, all buried as well within the ecstatic skin of the earth. And each of these, one by one, had come to life. Each had, true to its own process, transformed.
More photos of the day’s events: