Don’t Look Down
We left the farm for 5 days. 4 nights. A moment so brief that maybe it doesn’t even register in the chronology of life’s events. Except that it mattered so much. It was everything.
Home, now, I’m not able to find my bearings again since I was quickly shedding ties to the dairy over the past month. Snipping the strings that – sometimes – make me so attached I suffocate. Maybe this is a normal reaction to small business ownership, especially when it’s a business where distance is impossible since my work is so deeply embedded in my home, the land, the air – even the air – that I breathe. In the most blessing-and-curse sort of way: there is no escape.
But I needed to escape, perhaps a shameful admission, considering the years spent scheming to create just such a deep level of connection to my work, something rooted in home. It was my mantra set to NPR’s Morning Edition theme music that I listened to each morning on my way into some office somewhere, my vision blurred by the miles of brake lights stretched on the highways I traveled every day. “Have. To. Get. Out. Have. To. Get. Out,” I’d unconsciously chant, fingers drumming on the steering wheel, shaky hand reaching for a cold coffee in my console. Sometimes I’d eat breakfast in traffic (to save time), balancing a bowl of cereal on my knees. Life was measured by the length of traffic, length of meetings, length of memos, length of work trips, length of pencil skirts I’d buy at Ann Taylor.
Ann f***ing Taylor.
These are memories I typically don’t have the luxury to review until it’s necessary to review them. And over the past few years I find myself revisiting them during this distinct, brief period of the year when I suddenly have free time, and when I’m in the depths of burnout. It’s the burnout especially that makes it necessary to carefully replay the past, slowly turn all those experiences over, inspect the carcasses of previous professions and the deep impressions they made. The bruises have faded but beneath this thin skin I need to remember their dull ache. The years of wanting this, exactly – this.
Look, I am just like you – YOU. The one following exactly 52 homesteaders and small farmers and small producers on social media, the one reading this blog entry on a couch next to a bookshelf sagging under the weight of books about perma-culture and backyard chickens and bee keeping, and soap making and rotational grazing, and sustainable living and urban farming and “how-to-have-an-entire-farm-on-one-acre” – those books? Yea, I had those too. I took some classes, I talked to some people, I took too many chances, because I had to get the hell out of the traffic and the office and away from the horrible bosses. I was chasing the endorphin high of those sunrise mornings with my two little goats, I was cradling green-shelled eggs in my hand from a hen named Penny as if it were the Hope diamond. Because it was – it was my Hope diamond. I raised that damn chicken. I found that damn egg. I ate like a king.
Those memories – those are the ones I’m searching for, too. When I find myself in these dark crevices of exhaustion, I need to let the light creep in. And, honestly, the exhaustion comes less from the season that just ended – it’s a fear of the season that is coming. The hardest hours come at the beginning, when the goats kid and the work is – without hyperbole – endless. There will be loss. There will be situations beyond my capabilities which means I’ll have to rise to the occasion when all I really want to do, when what I really need to do, is soak in a hot bath with a cold bourbon and a great book.
But in those moments of peril – the ones that, yes, are certainly coming – I won’t hide. I will be in the barn. I would crawl on my knees if I had to, because I am still just like YOU. I still have those books, run off endorphins even when I’m running on empty, take a moment to cup my hands around a warm egg found tucked into a hidden nest. I still love these goats much more than I should. Much, much more.
Last week in New Mexico, in the little town where I spent summers growing up, in the purple foothills of purple mountains, where air smells faintly of pinon and aspen – I watched the sun set low as a small herd of bighorn sheep grazed dangerously close to the edge of a steep gorge. It was a sheer drop into the Rio Grande. A single ram ambled slowly beneath the bridge where I stood, an incredibly rare sight, and he was magnificent, ethereal. I could see his muscles flexing as he picked a careful path in the rocky soil, balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff that could mean certain death. He never looked down at his hooves.
He never looked down.
Instead he stopped for three, possibly five, seconds as his enormous head swiveled slowly upwards until meeting my gaze with such steady indifference that I nearly lost my balance. And then he was gone, gliding beneath the bridge, up a hill. Gone.
I don’t believe in magic, not in the sense of white rabbits being pulled from hats. But I believe in the universe tapping a shoulder when it’s time to pay attention.
So, ok, you’ve got my attention. This is a precious, short time of stillness and relative silence, a dangerous combination that can lead to the opposite of solitude and instead cause the dissection of decisions, resurrection of regrets. But that is just noise. I need to look back, then forward, and I’ll try – I am trying – not to look down.
This is dedicated to YOU. The folks who write me asking questions, who bought the books, take the classes, read the blogs, follow the accounts, tap your hands to the same rhythm on the same steering wheel in the same traffic. Life is, oh my god, it’s short. It’s far too short for cold coffee and (no offense to anyone) – Ann Taylor skirt suits. It’s also dedicated to all the producers and do-ers and crafters and schemers, buried in the thick of it, who experience burnout and regret and exhaustion and fear. All of us.
We don’t have to rage against the machine, we just have to become the machine, the path, the ram, the miracle, the magic.