Monday, March 23, 2015

In Which We Wait

In just over a month our Luella will push a little calf earthside and we will finally be the keepers of a family milk cow, instead of the keepers of a very large and hungry pet. It's a milestone two years and many bottles and bales in the making, and I am completely racked with nerves over the whole thing. There's a certain amount of in the moment, learn as I go, farm woman moxie that I'll have to call on, and it has me unsettled because up until this point much of what I have needed to know could be simply found in a book and otherwise did not have the consequence of death. But of course here I go painting myself into the role of Animal Savior without ever giving Luella the chance to show some moxie of her own. So. While I daily wish for the uncomplicated, unassisted, wake up to a new little love in the barn sort of birth, I will also daily keep myself busy reading and googling and watching bovine birthing intervention videos, for better or worse (mostly worse), because it is something to do when there is not much to do. Or perhaps I could finally get around to planting those god damned onions and give my poor nerves a rest.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Piglets, Etcetera

We are two springs running now with pig manure as the catalyst of my post-winter holy awakening. Last year it came with the thaw of the garden, the pig's last paddock, and this past Sunday it was a two hour drive on hilly backroads, a dog kennel full of hay and piglets, that had me snap to at the imminence of spring. Ah, pig shit. The lifeblood of a winter weary farm woman.

You know, I really questioned adding pigs back into the rotation this summer. Right until we loaded up and pulled out of the driveway, I was a horrible and frustrating mess of shoulds and shouldn'ts. And when we forgot cash and found ourselves in a backwoods store, all local eyes on us, asking sheepishly where do you keep the ATMS in these parts, I thought maybe this is a sign.  It's still so snowy. And there are other things, important things, that we've got our attention turned to. I'm going to get pregnant this year, god damn it, and while a couple of pigs technically won't stop that process, they're More. More to water, more to feed, more to manage.

This summer our maidens de bovine, mother nature willing, will birth their first calves, and with that we'll have more milk than is reasonable for a family of three. Pigs are an obvious choice to have in conjunction with that surplus. We were also told, ever so delicately, that we picked The Worst spot on our 10 acres to plant our garden by a man who has known our land much longer than we have. He says it's the wettest in spring and the shadiest come late summer. Oh the look of pity thrown our way when he said it, too! So, needless to say, we need some animal powered tilling and fertilizing this year as we plot out a new garden space. And not to be forgotten is our dwindling supply of home raised meat. The pigs make sense, they do. But I'm prone to freezing under the pressure of multiple big things, and everything feels So Big right now.

We were recently asked some questions about exiting the city for a life more rural and one posed to us was what we would tell people who want to try their hands at the same sort of life? In the moment, I can't say that I articulated my feelings very well but since then I've thought a lot on the question because I think it's a really important one. Here's my revised answer, in hopes that it might be useful to someone somewhere:

I am scared and unsure an ungodly amount of the time. I feel uninformed and like I'm fumbling through farming every single year. I cringe when someone lays the term inspiring over me or my choices. None of what I do feels brave or noble, or even necessarily right. So don't get into farming or homesteading for ideals. Get into it because it's what you're passionate about, because it's what you feel in your bones as your earthly calling. Because there are days when animals you love die for reasons beyond your control. There are days when despite how hard you've worked, you've lost money on all your effort. And on those days you're going to need to call on passion, not a set of neatly laid out dreams, to get you through to the next day when you have to get up and do it all over again for maybe better results, but maybe not. You need to understand that you aren't just there for the pie cooling on the windowsill. You're there picking the berries, hot skin stretched over an aching back. You stood in the window watching your husband dispatch a beloved pig for the lard in your pie crust. You're there for the whole journey, beginning to end, and it's not all reward. It's not all bare feet in a windblown field or a rainbow of freshly washed eggs. Those things are there and so absolutely wonderful, but they aren't the whole picture. At the end of the day, you've got to love, or at least find value in, all of it because it's all connected, all essential, from the pure shit to the sublime.

I'm glad to say each year we get better at what we're doing here, but we still deal with a decent amount of uncertainty. For us we've found that we've got to be willing to jump. We don't have mentors. We weren't WOOFers and we never worked on someone else's farm. We've just got a bunch of books, a lot of friends doing similar things, and the willingness to YouTube everything. I have no idea what the summer is going to look like- if we'll manage milking a cow daily with grace or if our turkeys will survive their own stupidity until the fall. I am fully prepared even to regret raising pigs again this year. But this is how we learn. This is how we better hone what works for us, what it is exactly that we're doing here. And if nothing else, at least I will always be grateful to those last weeks of winter, when the world woke up to spring and I relished in the glory that is piglets and their spirit cleansing shit.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


At the onset of every season I think it impossible to grow sick of this one, this year. Every solstice is met with a sadness at days already changing their direction. Summer or winter's boots barely on, I turn petulant child wondering how will I get enough of thisThis- sun and time to labor, this- snow and time to turn inward.. Give me more, I urge, plead, pray. More winter! More snow! More time- for family, for hobbies, for just staying put. All with full belief that there won't be enough of those things, a surplus even, come April. And yet. Here I sit, as predictably over February as I've ever been, cursing my foolish dare of calling this winter A Bust when Christmas came our way so thoroughly brown. This winter I certainly got mine, more than mine. And how ridiculous it seems now to have thought I might ever meet a spring with anything other than complete rejection of winter, body thrown down and rejoicing at the feet of the green and growing beast.

I spent the early days of last spring wide-eyed and worried. I buried potatoes in straw and declared life's only focus to be winter. Either we are living it or preparing for it! It (I) was all very dramatic. And I guess it's what you (I) think when short days and deep snow are only a few weeks rewound. It all felt very heavy, a burden no amount of spring or summer would ever lessen. I hadn't yet been shocked awake near sunrise by complete strangers who had managed to bring our roaming cows home with but a stick and I certainly hadn't spent 5 hours, hands and knees, crawling through our wooly blueberry fields for a blessed and measly 5 pounds of fruit. Simply put: I just wasn't tired enough yet. But as the days got longer, and then eventually shorter, the foot stamping and winter cursing eased up. With just enough distance, I could again imagine a happy life in the dead of winter.

And so here I am, on the end of what was a much desired cold season, wailing mercy! and trying to maintain some grace in the painfully slow and snowy final days. After a few years finally spent in the same home on the same land with the same seasons rolling past the same windows, I am slowly coming around to the idea that there's always enough of whatever it is I crave from one season to the next. So I'll stack my library books high, with comforting words like compost and woman homesteader, and I'll make plans for what's still months and more than a couple of melting feet of snow away. And when the weight of this winter lifts, I'll resist the worries of enough.