As fires burn in the farmhouse wood stoves more regularly, the contrast between inside and out becomes more apparent. Indoors can be quite cozy with warm drinks and a fire, but with the wonder of proper and snug layers, outside can be just as comfortable. Hygge, the Danish concept of coziness, occurs in moments of light in the dark and warmth in the cold. It is found in friendship and comradery, in moments spent together, in fires and snowfalls. The farm looks idyllic in yesterday’s snow and has many secrets yet to reveal as the seasons change. Children arrive for our programs fully dressed to work and play in any weather. Their pom-pom hats and rosy cheeks remind me of days spent sledding until my fingers went numb then running the two blocks home for hot chocolate. The children’s excitement has me trying to see the world with the same wonder that their eyes reflect.
Sometimes, I don’t even have to look for the magic, it just finds me. One Friday in October, I was working with a group of seventh graders stripping winterberry in the barn. Rain poured down outside, but for the time being, we were totally focused on stripping the green leaves off of branches to leave the bright red berries. The storm outside shadowed the whole barn, but string lights helped illuminate it. Between the warmly glowing lights, green and red, and the raging rain outside, we felt quite cozy in the barn, and the setting had many of us looking forward to the holidays. Soon the middle schoolers started singing Christmas carols and we sang the whole time, taking turns contributing the bits and pieces we knew off the top of our heads. Not everyone celebrated Christmas, but everyone, even the more recalcitrant ones, joined in the singing.
On another dark and stormy day, a feeling of hygge came over me in the kitchen. Anne and I were re-boiling maple syrup to bottle, the last maple syrup from this year’s sugaring. As the fire in the woodstove roared and the smell of maple syrup wafted through the farmhouse, we played classic Christmas tunes and danced around the kitchen. As the syrup boiled and we sanitized bottles, the simplicity of the task could have given our minds time to wander, but instead we stayed focused on the moment. Each time a door opened, another one of our colleagues stumbled in soaking wet. The frequent interruptions made us ever aware of our good fortune and thoroughly grateful that we had been given this task, which we could complete so cheerfully and cozily, on what could have been a miserable day. The feeling of warmth that our gratitude and fun brought us is hygge.
Connecting these little moments and sparks of joy have spirited the Danes through centuries of dark winters, and hygge will hopefully lead me too through these slower and colder times on the farm. Not every job on a farm is enjoyable, most are hard work, and some are distinctly unpleasant, but co-workers make it bearable, as do the moments when the mental or literal clouds clear, and I can clearly sense the magic of the farm. In February, maple sugaring and birthing season begin, and the magic of the farm will be palpable to everybody. For now, when people ask how I am working through winter service on a farm, I will explain hygge and recount the moments that have made my first three months of TerraCorps so special, even on the darker days.
Essay by Zoe Chambliss