“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
We wind up saying “bird by bird” a lot at our house. When the task at hand seems too big to possibly tackle, we say it. Sometimes we don’t even believe it when we say it, but just the saying of it makes us feel better, as if, in the noisy, messy chaos of our everyday lives, there really is a way forward.
Nearly every July since I started the farm, I’ve wondered seriously if I just shouldn’t go ahead and plow the whole thing under. This is usually once the humidity has risen to its soggy southern heights and so have the weeds. Just walking outside is like entering a blast furnace and you can see the steam rising off the paved roads. This is when I wonder just what the heck I was thinking in starting this farm, and that’s when I start my mantra, “bird by bird and row by row….”
Starting is always the hardest. It’s that first shovel full of dirt. That first unopened seed packet. But if I can just stick that shovel in the dirt and tear that seed packet open, after an hour, I look back and can’t believe how much I’ve accomplished. So hour by hour, row by row, bird by bird, my crazy idea of what to do with the rest of my life slowly takes shape.
So I just keep plodding along, doing the best I can do, and sometimes things work out. The snow melts, the birds come back, the humidity rises, and the flowers bloom again. Row by row.