Pulling laundry from the washing machine this morning, I heard the faint clinking sound of bits of things fall against the metal spinner. Once it was clear of clothing I saw a pile of grain had accumulated beneath the clothes, the remnants of so many mornings spent taming a wee calf. Finding grain in the washing machine is a sure sign you’re taming livestock, or that your livestock are perhaps very spoiled. It’s become second nature now to fill the goat feeders in the morning and shove two handfuls of grain in any empty pocket (which are hard to come by lately since most are filling with kleenex and mittens) before heading out to spend time with the calf. In my hurry to clean clothes, I forgot to empty pockets and am left with a puddle of animal feed. I try to remember that these things are signs of a life well-lived, or at least a life lived fully. Or at least that I’m alive? I try not to sweat the small stuff like a load of clothes faintly coated with oat and alfalfa dust – is my point.
So many reminders like this lately, so many juxtapositions growing more distinctly -well- juxtaposed. At the feed mill today I spent time chatting with an employee and learned about an organization that lends a voice to farmers and ranchers (FARFA) during legislative sessions (and all the time). We exchanged cards, and I drove the old farm truck home down the potholed roads that cut straight through rolling prairie. With my policy background, maybe I could get involved in this stuff – just a little at first – but who knows what it could lead to. Can I chisel my way into work that finally, actually, completely aligns with my life? It’s a big dream, I guess. But so was the farm. And this place started with just a little box of chickens. I arrived home, sat down at the computer, and worked on public education stuff. Then I went outside briefly for some impromptu lead training with the darling Rodeo Queen (Yes, there’s grain in my pocket again). Came back inside to answer emails related to, again, public education stuff. Farm hat. Work hat. Farm hat. Work hat.
|First feta from Bee Tree Farm milk|
I also talked with the owner of the mill today who likes to meet his patrons and hear about the animals that are fed through his small scale, organic feed mill. He leaned against the truck and asked what cheeses I’ve made, and do I plan to share some chevre with him in the spring? Will I have a little extra cream to spare from the cow’s milk? He got a little misty talking about his love of raw milk, how it’s so hard to come by unless it’s bootlegged (his words). How people clamor for the stuff, and that I should consider upping my production. It was a funny conversation for various reasons, namely that we were suddenly classified as “producers” of anything, just because we have one small dairy cow. Funny also since the entire conversation between both the owner and the talk about helping with advocacy work took place over what was technically considered my lunch break. The owner asked if my husband is a full time farmer. I explained that, no, he is a full time engineer and a part time farmer. So, he then reasoned, you’re the full time farmer in the family? Laughing again, I explained that I also “worked” part time as a farmer but my work from home set-up makes it feasible. But goats and cows, he stated in complete seriousness, they are a 7 day per week, 24 hour per day job, and they don’t take vacation. How, he asked, can you do it? I opened my mouth, ready to spew forth a witty response, but all that came out was a feeble, “I don’t know.”
I don’t know.
Since we acquired Madaline and her calf, the responsibility and work around here has almost doubled. This change coincided with the addition of Atlas, the little buckling, who now lives in the cow pasture with Boss. The transition has been difficult for all of us. The guard puppies are only recently overcoming their confusion over the loss of herd mates, and they’ve finally stopped breaking into Boss’s pasture to make sure he’s ok. This morning I spent a better part of one hour patching areas of the fence that Boss had slipped under to return to his herd, Atlas screaming and kicking along the fenceline each time Boss escaped back in to be with the girls and puppies. Meanwhile, the cows must be separated in order for an afternoon milking which means more animals to maintain with clean water and fresh hay. I cried a few times this weekend in those moments where it seemed many choices were a big mistake (namely – the bucks) and wished desperately to speak their language to explain why it must be so. It also struck me how absolutely tethered I have become to this place now. 2 months ago, I was still more of my old self than new. But over the past few weeks it’s clear I’ve crossed some invisible line that delineates Then and Now. Or the Before and After of these lifestyle changes.
|A pile of bucklings. A pile of trouble.|
Yesterday I turned 33 years old. I spent last year’s birthday in a muddy construction zone arguing with the painting crew and then arguing with the builder, then crawled under the covers and begged Jer to sell the whole damned place. It’s a lifetime away from now, back when we had a garage and were perched on a cul-de-sac and could see into our neighbor’s postage stamp yards. This year I fixed fencing, separated animals, Jeremy shot (another!) coyote, and I milked a cow before my birthday dinner. What’s stayed the same, mostly, is the day job, and it’s making less sense to me every day – is certainly less important. Now, more than ever, I am pulled in two directions; a feeling you can’t prepare for even when anticipated. How do you explain to your employer that you absolutely must not travel in January in case the goats kid? I am officially teetering along the work/life balance beam, (not so) secretly hoping that something will push me fully into the farm. These transitions are tough and they’re dirty, so I scrub beneath my nails at night, and I re-wash the clothes covered in bits of grain forgotten in pockets. And for now I accept my current situation as a wishbone, reveling in the small victories of homemade cheese and clean work clothes – these split identities battling it out each day for my attention. May the best one win.