All in the merry month of May
When the green buds they were swellin’…
Well, we’re not quite there yet, but the days are lengthening and the birds sing their songs from the barren branches more lustily than before. Slowly, the decorations of Christmastime come down—packed away for another year. Even though winter still holds its icy grip on the land, we take a moment to warm our hearts with thoughts of Valentine’s Day.
Now, some folks can be rather cynical about this holiday, deeming bunches of red roses and flickering candlelight a frivolity of the Victorian era. The farm animals certainly don’t notice—the breeding season is a faded memory, with the birthing season not yet arrived. The snow piles high against the barn (or the barn door), and everyone seems pretty well ready for spring. But groundhog shadow or not, we still find ourselves facing six more weeks of winter. It’s not a wonder few are in the mood for a celebration.
But the old songs and stories cut through the dismal chill.
As I roved out one winter’s night
A-drinkin’ of sweet wine,
Conversing with that pretty little girl
Who stole this heart of mine.
Who will shoe your pretty little feet
Who will glove your hand?
And who will kiss your ruby red lips
And who will be your man?
And it’s just like the old ballads to respond:
Papa will shoe my pretty little feet
Mama will glove my hand,
You never will kiss my ruby red lips
‘Cause I don’t need no man…
Song snippets like these are a good place to chuckle at the nature of courtship—birds put on tremendous displays, other animals sing or preen or dance. My Tom turkeys strut and puff most of the day, prancing about their ladies, who merely seem to sigh and say, “Ho-hum.”
Humans might attempt gallant feats or graceful gestures, but in the end we are left to resort to the use of words—pitifully constraining things made up by somebody else. In many cultures, a variety of words abound for affection, with different meanings for the bond between mother and child, a child and her toy, or a young man and a woman. In English, we find ourselves with the word love, which is profoundly simple, complex, deep, and shallow all at once.
Do you love an apple
Do you love a pear,
Do you love a laddie with curly brown hair?
In researching the history of the celebration of love, I found only inconclusive evidence regarding the life of St. Valentine, who appears to have been an ancient Greek who was martyred for his beliefs. It was not until the Late Middle Ages that renowned author Geoffrey Chaucer penned an association with the feast day of St. Valentine and the practices of courtly love. The connection has stuck ever since.
The discovery of the tomato by Spanish explorers on the American continents brought new symbolism to the celebration. Known originally as the “love apple,” its outline was gradually transformed by artistic interpretation into the heart shape we know so well today. At the time, “love apples” were considered an aphrodisiac and therefore appropriate for Valentine’s Day symbolism, even though February is (quite admittedly) not tomato season in northern climes.
I’ll give to you a dress of red
All bound around with golden thread,
If you will marry me, me, me
If you will marry me…
Even if you’re not particularly fond of blind Cupid and his arrows, you can still find some enjoyment during the Valentine season. For instance, it’s hard not to like chocolate (especially considering its anti-cancer properties), fine music, or the good company of those we hold dear. At Farmstead Creamery & Café, we’re holding an authentic made-from-scratch Italian-style harvest dinner (completed with home-grown tomatoes!) on the evening of the 14th in honor of the occasion, accompanied by acoustic music performance. There may still be some seats left by the time you read this, so feel free to call us for reservations (715-462-3453).
As Willie and Mary met by the seaside
A long farewell for to take
Said Mary to Willie, “If you go away
I’m afraid my poor heart it might break.”
“Oh don’t be afraid, dearest Mary,” he said
As he clasp his fond maid at his side
“In my absence don’t morn, for when I return
I will make ye sweet Mary my bride.”
In the end, Valentine’s Day is about making space for special moments with those we hold close to our hearts. The roses and the chocolates and the lace-embroidered cards are all nice tokens, but offering our time and personal attention (true recognition) is the greatest gift we can give each other in honor of the season of love. Warm Valentine wishes to you and yours, and maybe we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com