Sell Your Story
Recently I had the great good fortune to attend an event where I was introduced to a talented cheese maker and dairy woman. Having come to the event straight off of a day working on the innards of our big red barn, still vaguely sleepless from the daily battle that is parenting infants, I asked for some advice about how to get started. Some “what would you do if you were me” advice from someone who has Been There, Done That (But, like, really. She also had young twins when starting). Aside from some important ideas regarding dairy itself, she looked at me squarely and said, “What you need to do is sell your story.” A broad statement given by someone who actually doesn’t know my story, who likely will never read this blog or visit our forthcoming dairy website. I momentarily and silently wondered about this – about why she thought my story, unknown to her, may be compelling. Until it hit me just as squarely as her statement: she does know my story. My story is her story. Her story is, if you’re trying to scratch a living from land, your story. It’s our collective story.
So in that vein, I will tell you a story. Although, you farm guys and gals know how it goes, can repeat the plot from memory, shake your fist at the villain, shudder at the denouement, weep at the conclusion. And search for a moral at the end. Or some morality, at least. The very short version begins with a drought, builds momentum and tension as a hurricane barrels towards your state, explodes into action as your farm, smack dab in the middle of that state, floods, and the creeks that have been cracked and dry for months fill fast and rise and rise while you stand inside plastered to windows that fog with the steam from your breath. You know how this story keeps telling, right? The way the waters tear the fence, and how the creek that was so parched suddenly doubles then triples in size, and the water rages so fast and furious that it foams and tumbles, spreading out on both sides, swallowing bushes, covering the ground. Water that never existed suddenly pummels and pours down the wrong side of the hill your farm clings to. Sweeping under everything in its path, vegetation, and – in this case – one of your beloved creatures. Your cow. Your Lollipop. But you folks who live close to the land and in the wild places, you already knew all this. It’s a sad story, but it’s your story, too.
I try not to wake up spitting vinegar when these dark days rise up to reveal themselves with the sun – it’s no wonder I always dread the mornings. We haven’t been at this long, briefly enough that it’s still feasible to imagine throwing in the proverbial “towel” on these mornings that dawn with so much sadness. We huddled in our house the entire month of May watching the storms tear through the fences Jeremy spent months building. Then we spent a week or two muttering about the possibility of a return to sidewalks and asphalt and subdivisions where we might maintain order with a bottle of Round Up and a push mower. We talk about what we would be doing instead, at this moment, on a Sunday afternoon, if our choices had been different. Maybe watching a movie, discussing paint colors for the living room, planning vacations. But no, we are here, wringing our hands, pacing porches, shouting into trees that don’t answer but lean sideways, indifferent. They’ve seen worse. They’ve stood and sheltered creatures forever. There’s nothing special about us.
In the spring I plan to open the farm for a smattering of classes about backyard goats: how to live with and learn from them. Maybe someone will ask for our “story” as inspiration to “go back to the land.” On days like today I am compelled to tell them to imagine the very worst of the very worst, jiggle it all together, jump straight in and question whether that sounds bearable. If YES, then proceed. Otherwise…..maybe not.
Tonight the clouds broke, just in that magic hour when the sun is gone but glows beneath the horizon and the sky fades into 50 shades of (sorry, but it’s true) gray. It’s exactly when the coyote tiptoe from the places they hide and toss feral heads back to howl at whatever Gods they worship. They wait out the same storms as me, they hunt and prowl, they rise with the same sun, they sleep under the same moon. They are just as hungry.
So that’s the story I will sell, about the insatiable hunger for something intangible that keeps us creeping out from hiding places after the storm has passed. It’s the story about surveying damage and choosing to stay where it’s hard instead of going where it’s easy. Because we’re hungry – and even when it hurts – life does, in fact, taste better out here.