Belly of the Beast
This spring I got an intriguing email. A young woman wrote to inquire about whether I may be looking for summer farm help from someone equally in love with goats, someone who wanted to pursue a life in the country, someone who I initially thought was also a 30-something searching for her true meaning in life. Until I got to the part of the note where she mentioned that she was a high school senior. I was shocked – her writing was so mature and articulate! She included a picture of herself smiling proudly over her goat and its babies. I responded immediately.
Sarah worked with me all summer. In the blistering heat, the sweltering humidity and – on her last day – she finished expertly trimming the hooves of my herd in a torrential downpour. I ran out to the dairy in blinding rain and found her calmly crouched over a goat. She was completely soaked, streaked with mud, grinning broadly. It was her last day here at the farm and the image of this young, bright, enthusiastic woman choosing to spend one afternoon weekly covered in shit and sweat and dirt and in the rain made me certain of one thing: she is my kind of people. I know you’re reading this Sarah, and I miss you already.
The rain that drenched her last week was the beginning of what became the 4th major flood our land has endured in one year. One Year. We know the rain gauge collected around 17″ after 6 days of intermittent showers. By Sunday morning we stopped emptying it and counting because at a certain point the number no longer matters, we just know that it is too much. We know it’s too much when we watch helplessly as the creeks that criss-cross the northern boundary of our property rise and rise and rise and swallow the fencing and churn angry white caps around trees and spill over hills. We stopped counting when, in a brief break from the downpours, Jeremy ventured into the back pasture where the cows’ hay bale resides and called me in a shaking voice, “Another cow has drowned.” The second in one year. The first lost in the October flood. That’s when we kept counting the inches that fell, and we counted 24″ in one week.
We bought this land during a drought and built the house when a historic forest fire scalded the Lost Pine forest in our neighboring county, a fire so large and brutal that the sky was darkened by black smoke the week our foundation was poured. It seemed an ominous message the universe was sending at the time, but we were already in too deep. 5 years later and that drought finally broke, or was plunged down into the waters that just keep hitting this eastern edge of our county. It makes for treacherous conditions no matter the endeavor but on a farm – on a dairy farm – it equates to misery in all its forms. It’s been such a hard year and just 2 months since we got our head above the spring water.
Yesterday I was low. I had not allowed myself (still haven’t) the luxury of tears over the loss of Junebug. There are some deaths I can’t consider. And the learning curve of cheese making and dairying appears to be actually more of an uphill battle, made more difficult when the hill is covered in mud.
So I was shocked by the timing of a letter received in the mail yesterday. A real letter. Hand written. The kind you can hold, the kind that tells more than an email or text message could ever convey because the author’s intent and earnestness translate through the slant of their script, the heavy handedness of ink on paper to underscore certain points. It was from Sarah. She had written to thank me for working with her over the summer. She told me that I am her people, too, explained what the work and our farm meant to her. She couldn’t have known how perfectly timed this letter would be as I stood in the grey divide between giving up or giving in (both options suck), feeling like a prisoner of our climate and my poor decisions.
So, publicly, I want to thank you for your work here and for your unwavering enthusiasm and belief that this is a life worth pursuing. In the deeply dark moments this past week, I remembered how you grinned while slathered in mud and dripping wet from the slanting rain and I remembered how excited (and lucky?) I also felt at one time to be in the thick of it. You reminded me – for that I am grateful.
As for the cows: we are learning about this land and how to adapt to a climate that is changing and certainly has changed already under our watch. It means some cow management adjustments that aren’t quite defined just yet. Regardless, Junebug and her inquisitive little soul that appeared so sweetly one early June morning – will be greatly missed.
And that’s all I can say about that.