Thursday, January 21, 2010

joseph in the snow

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


There’s a condition that inflicts some of us and I can only describe as Barnheart. Barnheart is a sharp, targeted, depression that inflicts certain people (myself being one of them) as harsh and ugly as a steak knife being shoved into an uncooked turkey. It’s not recognized by professionals or psychoanalysts (yet), but it’s only a matter of time before it’s a household diagnose. Hear me out. It goes like this:

Barnheart is that sudden overcast feeling that hits you while at work or in the middle of the grocery store checkout line. It’s unequivocally knowing you want to be a farmer—and for whatever personal circumstances—cannot be one just yet. So there you are, heartsick and confused in the passing lane, wondering why you cannot stop thinking about heritage livestock and electric fences. Do not be afraid. You have what I have. You are not alone.

You are suffering from Barnheart.

It’s a dreamer’s disease: a mix of hope, determination, and grit. Specifically targeted at those of us who wish to god we were outside with our flocks, feed bags, or harnesses and instead are sitting in front of a computer screens. When a severe attack hits, it’s all you can do to sit still. The room gets smaller, your mind wanders, and you are overcome with the desire to be tagging cattle ears or feeding pigs instead of taking conference calls. People at the water cooler will stare if you say these things aloud. If this happens, just segue into sports and you’ll be fine.

The symptoms are mild at first. You start glancing around the internet at homesteading forums and cheese making supply shops on your lunch break. You go home after work and instead of turning on the television—you bake a pie and read about chicken coop plans. Then some how, somewhere, along the way – you realize you are happiest when in your garden or collecting eggs. When this happens, man oh man, it’s all down hill from there. When you accept the only way to a fulfilling life requires tractor attachments and a septic system, it’s too late. You’ve already been infected. If you even suspect this, you may have early-onset Barnheart.

But do not panic, my dear friends. Our rural ennui has a cure! It’s a self-medication that that can only be administered by direct, tangible, and intentional actions. If you find yourself overcome with the longings of Barnheart, simply step outside; get some fresh air, and breathe. Go back to your desk and finish your tasks knowing that tonight you’ll take notes on spring garden plans and start perusing those seed catalogs. Usually, simple, small actions in direction of your own farm can be the remedy. In worst-case scenarios you might find yourself resorting to extreme measures. These situations call for things like a day called in sick to do nothing but garden, muck out chicken coops, collect fresh eggs and bake fresh bread. While that may seem drastic, understand this is a disease of inaction, darling. It hits us the hardest when we are farthest from our dreams. So to fight it we must simply have faith that some day 3:47 PM will mean grabbing a saddle instead of a spreadsheet. Believing this is even possible is halfway to healthy. I am a high-functioning sufferer of Barnheart. I can keep a day job, long as I know my night job involves livestock.

Barnheart is a condition that needs smells and touch and crisp air to heal. If you find yourself suffering from such things, make plans to visit an orchard, dairy farm, or pick up that beat guitar. Busy hands will get you on the mend. Small measures, strong convictions, good coffee, and kind dogs will see you through. I am certain of these things.

So when you find yourself sitting in your office, school, or café chair and your mind wanders to a life of personal freedom, know that feeling is our collective disease. If you can almost taste the bitter smells of manure and hay in the air and feel the sun on your bare arms, even on the subway, you are one of us and have hope for recovery. Like us, you try and straighten up in your ergonomic desk chair but really you want to be reclining in the bed of a pickup truck. We get that.

And hey, do not lose the faith or fret about the current circumstances. Everything changes. And if you need to stand in the light of an old barn to lift your spirits, perhaps some day you will. Every day. For some, surely this is the only cure.

We’ll get there. In the meantime, let us just take comfort in knowing we’re not alone. And maybe take turns standing up and admitting we have a problem.

Hello. My name is Jenna. And I have Barnheart.

winthrop and his girls

These last three photos (my hat, bonfires, and chickens) were taken by Diana

Monday, January 18, 2010

fires and anxieties

This weekend was the annual Burning Christmas bonfire party in Sandgate. Locals bring their dead trees from the holidays and throw them on a blazing fire pit and watch them go up in sparks. It's a potluck, so everyone gets a plate of food and a beer and goes outside to be warmed by the flames and conversation. I brought an apple pie I whipped up before the party. Diana came along this year, and it was good to share the tradition with her. I liked showing her some of the quirky greatness of my mountain town.

I'll have a large update soon, so much is happening. There's a lot of potential in this cabin I'm hoping to buy...but it all seems too good to be true. I worry my heart is jumping the gun as I haven't even been inside yet and have no idea of its actual condition. Part of me is scared it's too expensive to winterize that summer home, and the project is more than I can handle. Any plumbers out there? Have a few minutes to talk to a confused woman in Vermont looking at a cabin?

Tonight I'm a little beat. The weekend was good, but exhausting. My emotions and anxieties seem to be constantly at a brisk canter. I miss those summer days where I swung in the hammock with the banjo, letting my imagination and music pull me into a nap. I look forward to those days again. Hammocks are exponentially more comfortable when you know where home is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

my new hat!

jacob's ladder

Yesterday Diana and I spent hours in yarn stores, looking through skeins and talking about projects. When it comes to knitting, I know the basics and can whip up a basic scarf or hat without a problem—but Di is an artist and a professional. She knows tricks, terms, and yarn in ways I can not even fathom. She makes these beautiful and complicated projects that put my utilitarian work to shame. The night I picked her up at the airport she presented me with a beautiful ear-flapped winter hat. It was hand-knit from baby alpaca wool with delicate patterns of purple and blue on snow white wool. It was so comfortable I wore it to sleep.

Having a talented knitter was the inspiration I needed to expand my own knowledge. I wanted to learn to knit hats in the round (on circular needles) and for her to show me the right way to purl. Last night I got an all-out lesson but got horribly frustrated. I was trying to do too much at once, jumping into a project without even practicing on swatches to gain confidence. But this morning I started over with a deep breath and twenty stitches instead of sixty. I still messed it up, but I understood why. Practice is slowly making perfect. Every row gets a little easier and my fingers seem a bit more nimble. There's light at the end of this tunnel, folks. I'll get that hat made proper.

The real inspiration to get better at knitting comes from a line of yarn I found at Black Sheep Yarns in Dorset. Rowan Purelife has a series of skeins sold not by some whimsical name or combination of wools, but by the sheep it came from. The British Sheep Breeds series sells you beautiful 100% natural wool from heritage stock of Great Britain. I chose a coarse, brown Jacob. It was the same wool used for the sample hat—that just holding, made me want to jump on the back of a fell pony with a border collie pumping at our flanks as we'd ride up the hill to check on the lambs. Diana convinced me I could make that hat. I'm a sucker, so I believed her and bough the yarn to use to learn the new skill. My successes in knitting aside—as a shepherd in training I was thrilled to see yarn that actually talks about sheep. Hell, had their picture on the product itself with detailed information about the breed. Here's to keeping those old heritage boys alive. I'd wave a flag, but instead I'll attempt a fancy hat from Jake.