Last Thursday I took an exit off the highway towards my old house in Austin. It was for work-related reasons, not because I was getting misty about that place, but I was shocked at the comforting feelings that immediately oozed over me momentarily. And I succumbed – for just a minute – to the memory that wrapped my head in a downy blanket. If I just take a right into the neighborhood up ahead, I thought dreamily, I can drive slow down perfectly manicured lawns where children ride bikes and people jog with Labradors on leashes. The neighborhood pool will be open by now, I remember, with the sno-cone truck parked in the lot and a line of shivering kids lined up in wet bathing suits holding $1 bills in grubby fists. I could cruise into the cul-de-sac where the garage door opens smooth and dump my bags on the kitchen table. Pat a few dog heads, stick my head out the back door to check on the five chickens (my only livestock). Sink into the couch. The day would be done. Just the thought of all this made me smile momentarily, one of those slow and stupid grins that we all grow in lazy, trance-like states. In the old house I might be able to sleep for an eternity. Take a shower and stay clean all day long.
Daydreaming about this solitude rocked me like a lullaby until I realized I’d missed the turn for my work-related destination so that I was forced to pull over. In that moment of pulling over, reality rear-ended my fantasy and suddenly I remembered – You Do Not Live Here Anymore. Home is a farm where so many creatures wait for you and call for you and need you. I remembered what living in Austin was really like for me, especially in the final years. How I paced that comfortable little house like a caged animal and clawed at the privacy fences and dug into the landscaped yards. I wanted out so desperately, even before accurately understanding the mess and drama I was stepping into. The memory of my Austin house with the three dogs and a few chickens, the memory that felt comfortable and easy suddenly was deeply lonely. Where were my goats and the cows that come trotting to the fence? Where was my porch where you can’t go barefoot because of scorpions? Where were vultures that circle, the blackbirds that call, the whippoorwills that sing every night in summer?
On April 2 I sold three of the four baby goats born here at the farm. They were loaded into a truck, and I stood with their mama’s in the pasture, listening to their strained bleatings fade down the driveway. In those moments I physically feel a page turn inside my Book of Life. Can hear the pages rustle, moving from one chapter and on to the next. That’s how it was when it was just us again, the little herd together without all the babies jumping on the picnic table and running between legs. Except there was Bee, who I kept, and Dolly was soon to follow. I remember eyeing the girls warily, Jolene in particular who has been a prolific dairy goat since the beginning. It was mid-afternoon and her bag already looked distended. Sending her boys down the road meant I had just officially signed up for twice daily milking, since no babies would be nursing. It meant I’d have twice as much milk but that my time would be twice as compromised.
To the seasoned farmer/dairy maid my operation is incredibly small potatoes compared to your work. And even now the chore of it – chore having an unintended, negative connotation here – has just become part of my day. Do you brush your teeth twice daily? Take a shower? Eat food? For me, this is an inextricable part of each day, and I forget sometimes when I’m out in the world that most people around me don’t have these duties injected into their standard routines. Sometimes I’ll catch myself in the middle of an eye roll at 6pm, just at the thought of needing to go through these motions. In fact, I’ve been rolling my eyes a lot lately as the temperature has trembled well above the 100* mark. Afternoon activities scorch, literally, and intensify things like pests and smell. The flies double as does the barnyard fragrance. “It’s worth it,” I grumble while wiping the sweat that trickles into my eyeballs, swatting a fire ant with a free hand. It’s worth it – said through a grimace.
Looking back I have to wonder how on earth it’s only been three months since, now, I literally do not remember a time before this routine. I vaguely recall the luxury of lying in bed in the morning knowing that – if I REALLY REALLY did not want to get up – it would ultimately be ok. But it seems so distant and unrealistic now that it’s hardly worth remembering. Now we awake to the sound of insistent yelling; the girls line up near the porch and stare intently at the door, a chorus of voices scream in unison at 3 second intervals. Jeremy has wondered on occasion, “If you just stay in here, will we eventually hear the pop of an exploding udder?” “NO, JEREMY – stupid.” I roll my eyes and then frantically scramble from bed because, holy crap, what if I hear the nauseating “pop!” of an udder? Is that even possible? I certainly don’t want to find out.
In only three months I have finally, tangibly realized the dream that sent us packing from suburban paradise. I wanted to raise goats, without understanding exactly what that would entail. What we sacrifice to be here includes every creature comfort that keeps people who are on the fence about country living, firmly rooted in the city. So that moment there, just past the turn I missed, on the shoulder of a road I traveled for eight years from work to home, from the store to home, from anywhere to home in the suburbs where the grocery store was within spitting distance and the most vile predator was the neighbor’s angry cat – that moment – I felt gratified in knowing it has all been worth it. For me, any time before a day smashed full of goats and dirt and stinging bugs and poisonous snakes and chores chores chores – that is fiction. It is a former life where maybe I was only a translucent outline of myself, the different parts of me only now becoming solid.