Picture a plant pushing upwards its unfurling leaves and stalks, bit by bit, reaching for more light, pulsing with the moisture of spring rains and warming soil. It happens each day in spring as we sit in front of computers, as we sleep, as we drive and shop. Life abundant, racing forward as days lengthen, thunderstorms unleash, and summer heat grows closer.
May is astounding, a miracle in the Midwest. I grew up in Indiana, but in my angst to explore the world and other parts of the US, I left for a while and didn’t know if I’d return. I was growing bitter that Indiana didn’t seem to value its own landscapes, its impressive natural resources. But I did return, and I’ve found hope and new eyes as I look around more deeply. And though many of our Indiana landscapes have been simplified to build big-box stores, parking lots, housing developments, and industrial-scale agriculture field, this slice of northern Indiana continues to burst with wildness, green beauty. Even on the edges and forgotten spaces, there remains a wildness that happens within and surrounding our human-transformed fields, lawns, and commercial spaces as well as within our fragments of wilderness.
At Merry Lea Sustainable Farm, the burst of life of May seems easier to notice as more people return for the season. With spring comes new interns, May Term students at Goshen College (entomology and a field experience course in environmental education), volunteers, and visitors, and everyone’s eyes are on the lookout for turtles, frogs, insects, birds, and mushrooms. Young people are helping move cattle, pull weeds, plant seeds, measure plant biomass in the prairies, and track bird populations. This place is pulsing.
Sometimes, wild creatures show up in unexpected spaces. For example, yesterday, Ellie (our assistant farm manager) and I discovered a large yellow swallowtail butterfly in the greenhouse, resting on some young onion transplants that have yet to be planted. This happened right as some students in the masters students in the environmental education program were giving their parents a tour of our farm facilities. We were in awe of this creature whose abdomen heaved with life. Just one week before, two college freshman caught a large carp in a ditch and were astounded by its size and ancient form. As they laid the fish on some grass, I too was fascinated by its strange beauty, even if carp aren’t known to be a pristine fish. Even finding a meal moth in the kitchen cabinets or seeing katydids above an evening porch light in town can be transformative if we take a minute to look and pay attention.
Want to watch summer unfold up close? Want to see more sunrises and sunsets, learn your frog and bird calls, get compost under your nails as you learn to plant tomatoes and broccoli, and share meals with others using food you helped raise? Come spend time with us at Goshen College’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, a hidden oasis in northeast Indiana. Whether taking the Agroecology Summer Intensive, the Sustainability Leadership Semester, our 11-month masters program, or simply for a one-day or weekend-long public program, there are ways to lose yourself in the sacred created order, the natural world that continues whether we usually notice it in our busy daily lives or not. Learn to see the world as a fascinating and complicated place, that our time outdoors can also be a form of prayer and play even if spent in silence and observation.
Slip away and enjoy the miracle of spring and the arrival of summer. Blessings for your journey into the wild, wherever you find yourself this season.
-Jon Zirkle, Farm Manager and Sustainable Food Systems Educator