Saturday, January 22, 2011

a useful space

There was this moment in the barn last night when my memory took a photograph. To see it properly in your own mind you need to picture the small space of my red barn (about the size of a generous one-car garage). Since the back end has been boarded off years ago for cock fighting tournaments, I am currently only using the downstairs front third of the small building. You walk into this scrappy two-story abode and you are met by a loft ladder just to the left. I'm not using the loft, but I like this ladder. It's sturdy. Stacked next to it are about twenty bales of green second-cut hay for the animals. The hay stack was once a small mountain but now it's more of a wall-hugging Jenga. Chickens (about seven refugees) perch and glare from the bale ends and I can just see them in the light from the pig pen. This hay/chicken structure, it takes up the whole left side of the available space.

About six feet from the door, dIrectly in front of me is the farm trike, protected from the elements near the ten rabbit hutches that line the main wall. Last spring these were all full, and now only two rabbits remain. One hearty meat doe that was born here in late April, and my Angora Buck, Benjamin. I had come into the barn to bring them water, and this has become an ordeal tonight since I had moments before watched the Doe's bottle crack in half in the sink from the cold. So we were down to one bottle shared until I could buy a second in the morning. (Leaving bowls out was pointless. They freeze in ten minutes and freeze the noses of the rabbits too.)

Pig has the rest of the space, and it's fairly generous. She probably takes up fifty square feet of thick hay piles, feed pans, and red water bucket. I still turn on the heat lamp for her when I am home, and she lays under it like a Diva. On her tummy with her front, dainty, hooves splayed on the hay and her back legs crossed like a 1930's cigarette model on a beach-side billboard. She sees me right next to the pen near the rabbits and starts grunting and nibbling my jeans. I reach behind me to scratch her ears and she closes her eyes. She's so big right now she doesn't even resemble the little gilt I brought back in a dog crate. She's easily 150 pounds, maybe more, and her back arches like the pigs on the old-fashioned meat cut charts. She looks like, well, like a pig. I made a pig in this barn.

So there I was, living in a photograph for a few moments. I was holding a water bottle for a thirsty rabbit in my left hand, scratching a pig's ear behind me with my right, and surrounded on all sides by leering chickens in various cathedral-heights of hay and some such. The only light was the golden glow of Pig's lamp and it cast dramatic shadows on the small space. It was beautiful. Not only in the light and animals, but in the intention. I was breathing deep and happy in a space that just a year ago was storage for large, plastic, outdoor Christmas decorations and a lawn mower—now it was feeding me. This barn, hell, the front section of this barn housed dozens of rabbits, countless eggs, a mountain of lamb and wool producing hay, a freezer-full of pork, and happy little meat birds. I never kept score of exactly how many pounds of hay, dozens of eggs, or rabbit and chicken dinners came out of the space, but it was substantial. Substantial for a chick with a desk job, at least.

A hundred square feet of wholesomeness on a winter night. A hundred square feet of recipes and stories, hay trips and tradgeties, of future stories too. It's a good barn. A useful space. And even in my hay and shit-caked Carhartts, I shine in it.

18 Comments:

Blogger Jeremy said...

Watch the animals this weekend, its going to get FROSTY here in the north country. They figure it will be 20 below in MIDD by Monday Morning. Good weather for frozen chicken combs. I just checked mine and they are perched under the heat lamp clucking away.

January 22, 2011 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger City Sister said...

I understand the frustration over water. My little barn has a chicken waterer that I have to defrost daily with a tea kettle kept for the purpose. Your barn seems like a lovely calm place. Useful and nourishing.

January 22, 2011 at 7:22 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I know! Cold weather post coming later today!

Thanks CS!

January 22, 2011 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

Jenna I sit here amazed at how you can paint a picture with words. Your blog has rapidly become my favorite place to visit getting a feel for what life is like in the frigid north country. I admire the intensity you take making sure all your family of animals are cared for and overcoming obstacles that mother natures sends your way. Thanks for allowing me to follow along.
Odie :)

January 22, 2011 at 7:41 AM  
Blogger Glenn said...

It's in moments like that when all feels right in the world

January 22, 2011 at 7:51 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

It has been about 2 weeks now since somehow I tripped over your blog in my net searches. Have read every entry back to 2007. You're going places girl, an amazing talent for telling a story that just captures people. Stick with it please.

ps - love my barn too.

January 22, 2011 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thank you Rick, Odie, shucks....

I have never read the blog from one end to the other, ever. I think I might cringe at all the grammar, farming mistakes, and such. But some day I'll get around to it. I can't believe this thing is almost 5 years old.

January 22, 2011 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Meredith said...

I read this post three times, and tried for a fourth, but the baby won that round. I found something I couldn't help but read outloud each time and savor it.
I can picture this post in Mother Earth News - one of those pieces they print to remind all of us why we do what we do.
You are a wonderful writer Jenna and I can not tell you enough how much I enjoy reading your words.

January 22, 2011 at 9:16 AM  
Blogger Sewing Machine Girl said...

I worry about Pig breaking your heart when she goes. I know you respect her place in your cycle of production. How do you deal with attachment issues?

January 22, 2011 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

SMG, I'll find out next week....

January 22, 2011 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Jenna,

I like Meredith's idea of you being featured in Mother Earth News.

It doesn't get as cold here as it does where you live, only in the twenties and sometimes teens at night, but I've found a way to keep the chicken's water (and the girls themselves) from freezing at night. I hang a heat lamp over their water with a $13 thermostat plug-in that turns on the lamp at 38 Degrees and turns it off at 50 degrees. Maybe this wouldn't work with your extreme cold winters, but just thought I'ld share.

Thank you for the lovely cozy image of your time in the barn.

Cindy
Sidetracked Artist
Wheatless Foodie

January 22, 2011 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger dtburgess said...

Best memories from my time caring for animals - nighttime scenes. Nights during spring calving watching over heifers in case they need help with that first one. Sometimes an arctic air mass would move in and sit under high pressure - the air so clear, the stars so bright! Or nighttime barn scenes with the angular lighting – the calf's leg is back or its head is turned and mama needs some help with the birth. It's out, and she turns and looks intently, ears cocked forward, she sniffs, licks, and nature takes its course. All is right with the world.

As you say, “photographs” in the album of our memory – to be cherished forever.

Thank you, Jenna.

January 22, 2011 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger chesapeake said...

You are, quite simply, awesome.

I love that you are living your dream.

January 22, 2011 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

You will feel bad, just before she's dispatched. You may even shed a tear or too, and I believe she has earned that. Once it's over though, and she's parts, you will then reconcile it all.

January 22, 2011 at 2:03 PM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

I'm feeling a little misty here for Pig as well, but I'm reconciled to the fact that when we get piglets (and I do want them)...they'll eventually become bacon, ham, pork chops and lean pork barbecue tenderloin.

I'm also still stuck on the part about the back of your barn being boarded up? Can you reclaim that space and what would that take?

Blessings,
Dianne
www.mysouthernheart.com
(my primary blog)

January 22, 2011 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger cory said...

I am praying each night that you don't kill "Pig."

January 22, 2011 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger Jenny Lee said...

I get all teary eyed when you write about Pig because sooner than later she'll be in your freezer. I've known her fate from the begining but it still hasn't stopped me from becoming ridiculously attached to her,lol.

January 22, 2011 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Today I walked in on Pig eating a chicken she caught that landed in the coop. She started in the middle.

January 22, 2011 at 6:44 PM  

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