Friday, February 4, 2011

the ones you chase

I was driving home from work in a fog. (The head kind—not the weather kind.) My brain was going over all the things I needed to accomplish that weekend (winter still leaves most of the work to the daylight days). I went through the cartograophy of the farm's needs as I zipped around corners on 313 West. Dig out around the fences so the sheep don't walk over the packed snow. Shovel out path for garbage can. Buy more hay from Nelson if it doesn't snow. Defrost Pork Butt. Call Butcher about mailing knives she left. Clean up the barn. Dust up ashes in the woodstove. Put the garden down on Paper. Read about lambing. Watch Youtube sheep births. Buy a crock pot. Meet Brett about fixing up the Red Barn. Find rib recipe. Make ribs for Superbowl party in Dorset. Deliver meat to smokehouse. Call your mother.

It was one of those winter sunsets you chase. You drive a while and things seem to turn dark in the world, everything inside it like black sheer fabric draped over a glass dome. But then you turn your rig due west the pink sky comes back, just a sliver. Proof that the winter is winding down. I was watching this happen, laughing every time I seemed to catch up with the sun. The radio was blaring something on WGNA. I tapped my thumbs on the dash along with the tune I didn't know, but let myself enjoy anyway. My head was warm in the white cap I handspun from my first three sheep. People at work must think it's a homely thing, but I wear it with so much pride it glows. (I don't even have to bleach it.) I was in an old cowboy shirt, Canvas Carhartt vest, jeans, and my black Muck boots. I was in my little truck, which seems to die and be reborn every few weeks in random garages around Washington and Bennington Counties (my land of Veryork) and as I caught up with the sun one last time before turning off route 22, I said a prayer that the Ford would make it until I could afford a new truck. One a little more reliable. Some times she doesn't start. Some times I don't either. I can't really judge her. I have 300 dollars saved. It's a start.

This girl in the truck is so different than the girl she used to be. I'm not talking about the whole city-turned-country aspect either—I am talking about someone who prays on her ride home. I don't even know who the hell I'm praying to, but I do it. It's something I picked up trying to build a farm out here alone. Sometimes you just need to be heard when you're racing light.

I now step out of my salt and dirt covered truck and walk into the Agway looking just as sorry and tired as anyone else working with cows or greenhouses. We're a ragged bunch, us growers. Some have been running to their greenhouses every three hours a night to restock the wood stove so the salad greens won't freeze. Others have been up milking and meeting trucks since 4 Am. Me? I'm not there just yet. I don't work on my land full time, but I too had been up since before dawn. With a headlamp in a huff I was feeding sheep, lugging hay, checking on pregnant ewes, and collecting frozen water bottles. I feed poultry, check on goose nests, plan and devise ways to keep the heart of this place beating. How to improve it. How to improve me. It never ends. I am so grateful it doesn't.

I have decided the girl in that humble pickup truck with the rusted tailgate is a farmer. I doubted it for a little while. I let the fact that I work in an office and write books tell me I was getting there: but not quite. I no longer believe in "not-quite." I am a farmer now, and my entire life has evolved to meet that desire.

I am a farmer.

It's hard to believe you've gotten to the place you've been working towards for so long. But I am here. I have some land, and livestock, taxes and sales to figure out, a commercially registered truck with my farm's name on it. I have a working stock dog (kinda), feed sacks covering my barn holes, and a book on raising chickens under my belt. Today I mailed off a mortgage check. Yesterday I sent the electric bill and ordered more heating oil. Christ alive, it's expensive, but I am doing it. There's pork in my freezer, eggs in the fridge, chicks on the way, and a garden in my mind. I can't wait to slide my hands into that black soil. I can't wait to muck out those winter buildings and start a compost heap. In a year I will have made earth so black that when I spread it over my garden and on the sheep pastures I will have to sing. This is my work. This is it.

I am a farmer.

I can't wait to be so tired on a June night that I can't even lift a glass of sweet tea by my fiddle. But I do, and I watch the cars of friends pull into the driveway to join me at a bonfire. We will watch the darting ghosts of lambs in the pasture and laugh. I will be tanned and tired, lithe and light, zen and bones. Fireflies will meet us halfway behind heat lightning and this winter will be a past life we only talk about in jest. Smiles are worth more when you are tired. Maybe some one's strong arms will hold me close, and remind me you're just flirting with a dance 'till fall, and then winter will return. And I'll tell him to stop that nonsense with a kiss, and to go check on the pulled pork and cider.

I am a farmer.


Blogger DaShannon said...

Sounds like contentment. I think seeing life like you see it on a daily basis makes one see the life is bigger than us picture. Keep talking and praying.

February 4, 2011 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

This is brilliant, Jenna. So eloquent and beautifully said. I, too, struggle with being a not-quite farmer. I live on a farm. I have livestock. But I don't yet feel like a farmer. I hope to get there, one day. Thanks for the inspiration.

February 4, 2011 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

OK Jenna I have you a great rib recipe. It is also soooo easy. Just get some roasting bags large enough for a turkey. Salt & pepper the ribs, place in the bag. sprinkle crushed red pepper over them and then carefully pour a quart of cider vinegar into the bag. Twist the end closed with a tie. Poke a vent hole in the top and bake at 250 to 300 degrees for 4 hours. Don't open the door, just let it cook and the bones will litterally lift out with no resistance and the meat will be so tender and wonderful. I have done this many times and they are a favorite at family gatherings. Have a great weekend.

February 4, 2011 at 7:46 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Indeed a farmer...

And a writer.

Thank you for sharing such beautiful words.

February 4, 2011 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

This is a lovely dream/reality. :) I'm glad you've worked your way to where you are now and I hope you get the rest of what you want (like some strong arms!) soon. :)

February 4, 2011 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

Haha, I meant to reference your desire for someone else's strong arms around you, not your own arms! I'm sure your arms are pretty strong, lady. :)

February 4, 2011 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Just a little country wisdom, don't dump the ashes from the wood stove close to a building.

February 4, 2011 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I've been reading your blog for several months and praying for you everyday. Just had to tell you tonight's post was teary-eyed beautiful. You're doing it sister :-) You are a farmer.

February 4, 2011 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger karen said...

Jenna, after a long week this was just the beauty I needed. You are not just a farmer, you are a writer, a poet and I thank you for sharing all that you do. Have a wonderful weekend. Karen from CT

February 4, 2011 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Ruth @ Hope, Joy and Faith Farm said...

After a day I could've done without, your beautiful words brought a tear to my eye and sent peace to my heart. Thank you!

February 4, 2011 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger ladybughomer said...

You are indeed Miss Jenna, you are indeed.

February 4, 2011 at 8:21 PM  
Blogger SWEETHEARTS MOM said...

And this year that damn fickle spring has something new in store for you. No longer will you dread that season as new life will be born on your land.

February 4, 2011 at 8:22 PM  
Blogger finsandfeathers said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 4, 2011 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger finsandfeathers said...

"There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside. If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the weekend in town astride a radiator."

Aldo Leopold
A Sand County Almanac

February 4, 2011 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Well, I think we all knew it. Just glad that you do too!

Hey, for ribs I found a recipe last summer. I had to- I'd never 'cued them before and I found a website that has a great method and recipe.

Follow it to the 'best ribs you ever tasted' for the lowdown, and do make Meathead's Memphis Dust.

They were just incredible. I was really proud of myself!

February 4, 2011 at 8:44 PM  
Blogger CatHerder said...

GREAT POST...its an aspiration i was never able to attain i envy you...ive wanted to do that since i was a small child...i lived in the country for 10 years and was able to guerilla garden, it was awesome....that song by MELANIE in the 70's 'someday i'll be a farmer' comes to not dead yet..maybe someday..nothing large scale..just a little homestead

February 4, 2011 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Farmer and writer. What a great combination of arts. Keep faith with yourself, sister. Answer every call.

February 4, 2011 at 9:10 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

This is another post that makes me wonder why you don't compile them into a book or 4 :) reading your archives in just a couple days, I love your style and graceful words! This is a much needed pick me up after a hard day of life......normal everyday life, your pink sunset chasing made me smile............never doubted you were a farmer!!!

February 4, 2011 at 9:18 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

A beautiful reflection. I hope those prayers you've started will be heard and blessed in many ways.

February 4, 2011 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Bee said...

On the third day God created the earth and saw it was good.
I cannot fathom being a farmer and not seeing the awesomeness of God. As meager as my little space is, I am a farmer, giving of the abundance of those blessings to family and friends. My payment comes In the form of sunrises, sunsets, the daily weather (whatever it may be), collecting the eggs, watching all sorts of things sprout, mushrooms emerging from the deadwood...all these and more make the lack of greenbacks, the ancient car I pray works everytime I need to take the grandson home and the ever increasing price of groceries, fuel and life...pale in comparison. To spend a day digging in the earth? I cannot help but to pray and song!
(I think I'll post this on my blog! I feel so Ralph Waldo ;)

February 4, 2011 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger Sara D said...

That was an excellent post Jenna.

February 4, 2011 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger Meredith said...

When I sat down to peruse Google reader tonight, I'd just finished a farm memoir that left me feeling disappointed and almost indignant. ("The Blueberry Years" by Jim Minick--I don't regret reading it, but I didn't enjoy it.) There was no passion for farming in those pages. No belief in the face of long odds. No yearning for the land, warts and all. The writing was stilted, as if the author was struggling mightily to find something good and poetic to say about the decade they spent raising blueberries. It vexed me greatly.

But reading your eloquent, heartfelt words was like applying a soothing balm to my inflamed heart. This is what being a young farmer is about, and never have I seen it so purely and joyfully expressed. I still work full time myself (as a graphic designer, no less!), but I am in the same place: all of my emotions and all of my desires are focused on this hilly, red clay, drought-plagued farm that I know very well that I can't live without. At the age of 26, I've made my choice, and my choice is to nurture and love this crazy, frustrating, beautiful, bountiful farm until they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

So thank you so much for this post--I'll fall asleep with happy tears in my eyes tonight.

February 4, 2011 at 11:18 PM  
Blogger Jeff_in_Pawlet said...

Well, I've known you for 2 1/2 years, about time you admitted you're a true farmer! You have been for awhile now.

"Hello, my name is Jenna and I have Barnheart..."

February 4, 2011 at 11:38 PM  
Blogger Joleen said...

Beautiful words. Beautiful photo.

February 4, 2011 at 11:58 PM  
Blogger daisy said...

You have come so far in such a short time. Strength builds in you with each experience. You are a farmer!

February 5, 2011 at 6:49 AM  
Blogger Patsy said...

God bless.

February 5, 2011 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger rabbit said...

i was recently loaned your book (made from scratch) and i adored it! i have been infected by the homesteading bug since last spring with our first garden at our first house! this spring we're getting chickens through a friend - starting off with some "grown-up" guranteed layers. i LOVE the way you write, beautifully honest and naked. if that makes sense. lol this has turned into a ramble but the main reason i wanted to comment (and on this particular post) is because i saw my first glowing pink, blushing clouds sunset a couple nights ago and i am also SO excited for what that means! spring!

February 5, 2011 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger sam's farm said...


You have no idea how much you touch the heart and soul of your readers, especially those who have just started on the path. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

February 5, 2011 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger sam's farm said...

You have know idea how much you touch the heart and soul of your readers, especially those that are just starting on your path. You are an inspiration, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

February 5, 2011 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Chestnut Farm said...

Jenna, you have brought me out of my icy winter funk today! Thank you!

February 5, 2011 at 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the beauty of the rural Northeast is a hard beauty. For me, the spareness and lack of glamour makes you be able to see. I relate to that pink sky. And every day, the birds sing louder.

February 5, 2011 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger jenomnibus said...

Wow - I was reading this post and listening to the new album by Papercuts - somehow your words fit in perfectly with the melody. Really beautifully written!

February 5, 2011 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Greentwinsmummy said...

I had been living in this tiny village for a few months and was out cycling up the lane one evening.The sun was still in the sky,everything was bathed in golden light,filtered down through the leaves of the oak trees that line the lane.It was an unforgettable moment,I dont *know* what happened? I still dont, I just knew at THAT moment, in this lane, that there was a God to pray to.And I have been praying ever since.

Its the very throb of the earth beneath us that makes it very hard not to throw up prayers with each toss of the spade or haul of the hay bale.

I often muse what a funny old world it is,but I never forget what a wonderful one it is either
GTM xx x

February 5, 2011 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Lee Ann said...

absolutely beautiful

February 5, 2011 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Lee Ann said...

absolutely beautiful

February 5, 2011 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Carol G said...

Congrats on the realization of your new reality. You deserve the title. I hope you get a partner to join you sooner than later.

February 5, 2011 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger 6512 and growing said...

Lovely writing and dream-seeking and contentment-finding.

February 5, 2011 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I needed to read this more than you can possibly know. Just as I felt 100% sure of who and what I was, something happened to make me doubt it. This post pulled me out of the fog and set me back on course. I really can't thank you enough.

February 5, 2011 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger Tana Mc said...

You go girl!!
Absolutely beautiful and truely expresses what I feel every day when I swing open my barn door...
Thank you....

On a lighter note, I think that those of us females who work with a headlamp should form a kind of "Cyclops Sisterhood".....

February 5, 2011 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger WeekendFarmer said...

Hey there....Not to worry too much about lambing..they will manage on their own. Make sure you get the iodine to dip the baby's umb cord in. Its a must! I wish you didnt have issues with the truck this winter...Can you not lease or look into a 0% apr deal with a local auto dealer? I hope you find a reliable transport soon. Hope spring comes fast for you!!!

February 5, 2011 at 6:35 PM  
Blogger Goatldi said...

Prayer is what you do when you are the only one in the barn at 2 am and there are two sets of front feet coming at the same time and no noses.

Prayer is what you do when your faithful old doe is down and you have done all you can and the vet is not available to do what you know has to be done.

Prayer is what you do when your Border Collie who is so much of your life she is your life goes down and needs to cross over at the tender age of 6 and you do.

Farming is life and death and everything in between. So much of it relies on faith and the vehicle of faith is prayer.

February 5, 2011 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Jenna, I loved the part about your garden daydreaming. I too dream of my compost pile and what that Llama and goat poop (from my friends farm) and egg shells and garden scraps is going to be like in spring. Black gold!

February 5, 2011 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger Sherry Sutherby said...

John 3:16 ~ and you won't ever go it alone. Ever.

February 5, 2011 at 10:35 PM  
Blogger Finick said...

Hi Jenna,

I don't think I've ever posted before, but I read every post. I was just wondering if you've seen the documentary "Sweetgrass"? I think you'd love it:

February 6, 2011 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger ADK Massage Girl said...

That was beautiful. I wanted to cry; it made me miss NY so much. Does WGNA still have the "Breakfast Flakes" in the morning? ;p

February 7, 2011 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Reading this gave me chills... Thank you so much, you really inspire me. Elizabeth

February 7, 2011 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger Michael Smith said...

I always read your blog but this is my first post. I just love to hear someone discovering farming. I grew up on a family farm/ranch/dairy so I never experienced that wonder/pain of discovery. I'm now returning to the farm and this is what hits me the hardest:
Farming and Faith go hand-in-hand. The closer you are to the land/the animals/the plants, the closer you will come to God. It's the way he intended it; we were made from dirt and we will return to dirt.

February 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM  

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