How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls
A few folks have contacted me over the last couple days, knocking on my virtual door to check-in, “You still around? What’s going on over there?” Maybe’s arrival coincided with a flurry of activity on the business end of things – the farm business end (just to be clear) – after a lengthy period of waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Nearly seven months worth of waiting (but who’s counting?). There is much to say on this subject, and I will soon, but not yet. The half of me made of eastern European genes wears a cloak of superstition in all that I do. I cannot even speak of what big things might be coming without knocking on wood or throwing salt over my shoulder. It is bad joo-joo to speculate. So let’s just not. But know that something big is on the horizon, causing piles of scribbled floor plans, frantic phone calls, and lots of hand-wringing. For now, I put one finger to my mouth for a “ssshhhh” in response to questions, knocking on wood with the other hand.
Rachael, my sister-from-another-mother farm friend over at The Farmstead, recently revealed news about an idea that she too was hesitant to share for awhile. In a stroke of stupendous luck, and enormous bravery, she and her husband Nick purchased everything needed from a retiring dairy-goat farmer. Rented a U-haul and trailer, loaded the baby, drove to Oregon, and packed her dairy dream into the vehicles. We have been whispering about our plans for months, wondering about the right place, the right time, and then BAM the universe told her it is time. This is a person whose fearless approach towards farming just slays me. Every time a layer of her story is revealed, I am in awe of her tenacity and determination. And the way she responds to most of the ideas I share with her: “You can totally do that.” Whatever it is, that’s the answer. My overall sentiment towards you, my dear Rachael? I’ll have what you’re having.
There are, frankly, an abundance of these women in my life – a presence that’s swarmed around me for a few years now but that only recently stopped me breathless with a forehead smack kind of realization. All of the “in-the-meantime” work I’ve been doing has led me to many lengthy discussions, advice-getting-sessions, and virtual hand-holding from several of these women. People who have, in some way, immersed themselves in the dream of dairy.
Over the past few weeks I better understand how this community of dairy farmers takes care of each other, for the most part. Have felt these women huddle around me with their support. Recently, Kimberly leaned across my kitchen counter for hours talking about the struggles of the farm, how life intersects in every direction, how we bear it one way or another – it all works out in the end. On Sunday, my “one hour visit” to Fran’s turned into three as we leaned over my floor plans, and I listened to 30 year’s worth of goat husbandry advice, tried to gain some of her wisdom through osmosis. Usually just physically being at a dairy helps me learn about dairy. And yesterday I saw another friend who has provided tremendous support with cheese making, her years of experience and insight too valuable to quantify. She also leaned across a table to think through some crucial aspects of my planning. All of these women work on their own farms, an occupation that keeps any of us from ever “hanging out” in the normal sense of the phrase, but who care deeply about this endeavor and a person who they almost never see.
I’ve thought a lot about this recently, wondering about the link between us that hooks in deep, the kind of addiction you can’t shake. At the core of it all, we love animals – we love our animals- as family. Dairy draws us into the most intimate cycles of their lives, cycles that play out like soap opera daily, the physical strain that rivals any workout I’ve paid to complete. Instead of sweating it out in an air-conditioned room on a stationary bike or running in place while watching TV, we’re squatting repeatedly to clean a pen, pull a baby. Bicep curls are lifting water buckets, unloading hay. Ab strength develops in the strain of milking, milking, milking an animal (see also: bicep curls). And repeat. The animals love us back, in powers of 10 (usually), and the ultimate reward is that when we feed them, they feed us. We take care of each other.
These dairy women take care of each other, too. They have taught me to negotiate with the cowboys at the feed store, decipher ingredients and dosages on medicine labels, disbud, trim hooves, haul hay, deliver babies, bury the dead. In my years of developing this farm, I have met countless female dairy farmers virtually or personally. I watch them maneuver their herds, ponytails piled high, sweat and manure smudged across the strong-willed expression on their faces. I used to visit farms feeling like an awkward city slicker and thought these dairy women stood straighter, talked louder, laughed harder, and probably cried longer – loved fiercer.
Now I am certain that we do.
Sunday, I drove home from Fran’s place and cranked up KOKE FM, my favorite country station – rolled the windows down to help calm my nerves that quake more frequently lately with the reality of what is coming. George Strait crooned out from the radio:
How ’bout them cowgirls
boy ain’t they somethin’
they sure are some proud girls
and you can’t tell them nothin’….
That is precisely when it hit me – the enormity of my luck to have these cow and goat gals in my life. These women who I call upon, who call on me too, tough as steel, beautiful, strong, determined. Towards them, I feel an ocean of gratitude for what they may – or may not – realize they have given. Even those I barely know, whose stories I see on websites, whose books I’ve read, whose paths I hope to cross. They’ve beat down the door I’m knocking on right. now.
Which tells me, shit y’all, I will beat it down, too.