Thursday, September 3, 2009

let the ghosts die

I originally planned to drive into Manchester tonight. I was going to do laundry, run some errands, pick up some provisions and generally stress myself out for the long weekend ahead. I have only been farming a few years, and that post-work impulse to run into town and spend money in preparation for company still haunts me. However, upon pulling into my driveway all plans died. The setting September sun, the hint of woodsmoke in the air, the cries of my animals, the weather report claims that tonight would drop into the mid-forties... Screw town. I was a homesteader and home I would stead. I'm learning to let the ghosts of town die.

I let the sheep and goat out to graze. I mowed the lawn. I baked bread and pie for the weekend (which would involve a handful of guests, a bonfire, and friends). I ran out of dogfood and instead of running to the store I put some rice on the stove and scrambled half a dozen eggs. It would do for one night. The dogs did not complain, and gobbled their meals down to the lamb biscuits at the bottom of their bowls. Then they chomped into them and came by my feet to be reminded how wonderful they are. Which I did, over and over.

As the evening turned I went out into the pasture with the hoofstock. I grabbed a bottle of hard cider, a book, and a quilt. I sat and read while Finn and the sheep ate around me. The chicks I bought on my birthday scattered around as well. They seem braver (read: stupider) than the large laying hens which were already roosting in their coop. I watched them try to fight the sheep's mineral block. Finn watched with me. He spent most of his time by my side, as a dog would. Like my co-captain he would stand next to me. Together we'd look at the sheep and without looking away from the flock, munch some grass and sigh. "Yeah Lady. We got this place covered..."

I scratched my goat's head while I read. The book in hand was Gene Logsdon's The Contrary Farmer. Inside the front flap was a note from my friend Diana, who had gifted me the book a few years ago back when we were coworkers in Sandpoint. If you read Scratch you may remember our adventures stealing chickens by the cover of night, saving honeybee colonies from the brink of death, and finding fiber rabbits. She wrote this:

My favorite book—May it be the inspiration to you that it's been to me! -Diana 4/10/07

Diana, it most certainly has.

I wanted to share this excerpt from the book. Something I read a few years ago, but did not fully understand until recently. This year taught me a lot. Some of it epic and wonderful—and some of it downright gut-punching awful. You take your lessons as they come. Gene shares this observation:

There is a deep satisfaction in scattering clean yellow straw knee deep for the animals to sleep on and then feeding them in the still of a winter eve. Sheep give the most contented little sighs when they nose into their food. Horses snuffle in their hay, and the soft munching sounds of cows chewing their cuds rise serenely into the hay mow where I sit and listen. The mother ewe with her coaxing grunts encourages the new lamb to nurse and finally the smacking sound of a lamb sucking vigorously reaches my ears. All is well. It is no surprise to me that a god might choose a stable to be born in; only the ignorant think such a birthplace would be below a god's dignity.


Blogger karental said...

That's it! Tomorrow I quit my job, head to the hills with the great danes in tow, and buy my little piece of heaven!

*sigh* It was a nice moment anyway. Thanks for the beautiful words and the continuing encouragement. I'm sure my little place and my draft mules are right around the next ridge...

September 3, 2009 at 9:50 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

just past that ridge are my sheep and border collies. we'll get there, some how.

September 3, 2009 at 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the last sentence.

September 3, 2009 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger Dawn Dutton said...

I believe you both will get your dream farms.. keep working towards that goal....

September 3, 2009 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger Rachel B. said...

I'm right behind you two!

September 3, 2009 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger Rois said...

I am with you ,Not being at home is not much fun any more.
I also loved the last sentence it even gave me chills.

September 3, 2009 at 10:14 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

It's a great book, touching all aspects of small farms. Check it out. It's like talking to a favorite sassy grand-uncle on your porch.

September 3, 2009 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger Louis said...

Jenna, I stumbled across this and wanted to let you know. Sorry to use the comments, but I didn't know how else to contact you. Anyway, they are giving a flock of angora goats and a custom made run-in shed as the prize in an essay contest on why you want to be a shepherd. Not sure if you are interested, but if you are, I wish you the best of luck!


September 3, 2009 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

A few folks have told me about this. I'm flattered to be thought of, and would love angora goats, but the farm is packed right now. I couldn't take a single new animal till I'm in a new place or things change. Thank you though. What an amazing thing to win!

September 4, 2009 at 6:59 AM  
Blogger Lorri said...

I really enjoy Gene's books - delighted to see you mention them here!

September 4, 2009 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

I need to add that book to my birthday/Christmas list.

I agree about getting over the habit of going to town. That part IS hard. We're still working on it. We get better all the time, though.

September 4, 2009 at 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See? That's why I come here. I live "in town" and the ghosts are still alive and breathing. But I can vicariously come and lay on the grass and read Friend or Nearing with a glass of hard cider and a goat at my side.

Thanks for the slice of heaven!

September 4, 2009 at 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Logsdon! He's such a good writer.

September 4, 2009 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger Kara said...

Mr. Logsdon certainly has a way with words... BIG THUMBS UP :)

September 4, 2009 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Jenna, You are a positively charged, energetic, inspirational woman. I found you through the subsistence pattern blog and have read all your older posts as well as your book. I have gardened organically for years, cook and bake from scratch, sew and bead. I have long wanted chickens and you have given me the final kick in the butt to begin building a coop, nesting boxes, etc...I feel confident that come spring with continued research and this blog, I can pull it off. You are also responsible for my current search for a used dulcimer...a fiddle may come later:) Thank you for sharing so generously of yourself. By the way, there is something about Maude I just love, maybe it's her total indifference to being what we all would want her to be, you know, sweet, warm and loving. Namaste, Chris

September 4, 2009 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Conny said...

The paragraph you quoted from Gene Logsdon's book is one I read two days ago - I'm reading a bit in the evenings when I can. Reading The Contrary Farmer is enjoyable and inspiring.

I currently live in a very urban environment. Because if his book, I'm re-thinking about what happens to my yardwaste. I compost (with kitchen scraps) and yet I send my yardwaste offsite, via the green waste recyling bin, to be composted elsewhere. I began to question: "Why would I do that?? If my soil is crappy, which it is, then the leaves from the trees and grass clippings should remain here on my property." I can sweep them off the concrete, leave them under the trees to degrade naturally, and have better soil for it.

I can't wait to read some more of Gene's writings - I wonder what other lightbulbs will go off in my head.

September 4, 2009 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger René said...

I finished reading Goat Song a couple of days ago and was in love with it, even though he had a tendency to wax too poetical even for me. I love all these book suggestions that you share here. I've read a couple of Gene Logsdon books and plan to read some more once I get through my current load of goat research and start back to school in a couple weeks.

September 4, 2009 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger BenAmyDau(Leggett) said...

One of my all time favorite books. Gene Logsdon nearly brings me to tears. His preface "The Ramparts people" is terrific. This is really a great community that is forming - I am glad that this dream is in so many people.

September 4, 2009 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Well, my wish has come true. :) Be well, dear friend, I miss you, back here in ID!

September 5, 2009 at 12:47 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 5, 2009 at 12:48 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

I am reading this book right now! I'm on Chapter 4, and so far it has been a complete gem. What makes it even more interesting to me is that I grew up in a part of Ohio less than 2 hours away from where Gene Lagsdon farms. I know the lanscape that he writes about. He is a kindred (though much wiser) spirit.

September 5, 2009 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Beautiful. And such a good reminder that we so often have all we need right in front of us.

September 6, 2009 at 12:14 PM  

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