i will go
In a few moments I was outside the dry barn and pushing a wheel barrow loaded with a bale of hay up to the sheep sheds from a gate near the gardens. A battery-powered lantern lit the way, and as I walked uphill my rubber boots sank ankle deep into the mud. It was odd, that mud. It was in a state of near freezing, so as I sank into the crunchy glop I could feel shattering through the thin rubber as eat foot was freed. I was crying because I had just raked the back of my right hand (healing from a wood stove burn) across a rabbit cage and at the time it didn't bother me, but ten minutes later the still throbbing hand mixed with the amount of work ahead of prepare the farm for the storm was overwhelming.
I get overwhelmed about twice a month. Something happens that seems small but it is the final straw in either a day of kindling emotions or physical exhaustion. It's not the work itself that is tiresome, my jobs here are basic and simple: Carry water, move feed, load hay, check fences, bring wood inside, clean the farm house, walk the dogs, etc. None of this is the sort of labor only lumberjacks or trapeze swingers can do, but what is exhausting in the presence. A farmer is never not present. I don't care if you have three raised beds, a rabbit hutch, and a chicken coop in Brooklyn or 80 acres of cattle in Alberta, your plants and livestock have turned you into an agrarian. Someone who has welcomed back into their lives the work of feeding ourselves. The lives and the time involved are constantly in need of food, water, shelter, weeding, and so on till their lives end. It doesn't matter if it's a lamb or a carrot, these living things call you home in a way few can understand who haven't committed themselves to the same good work.
So I was crying complicated tears, the kind of tears that express exhaustion and gratitude at the same time. And by the time I got to the sheep's shed I was over the drama and busy balancing the lantern on the inside wall's shelf as I opened the bale to the 15 sheep inside. I spread it out over the straw I set down earlier for insulation and clean bedding, and the lambs and ewes dove into it. I watched them eat, knowing they had all the water, feed, and minerals they could need and headed down the hill with the lantern in the empty barrow. I started to sing I Will Go, an old Scottish song, as I have done since I moved to Vermont years ago, when I get weary.
"I will go I will go, when the fighting is over to the land of Mcleod that I left to be a soldier, I will go..."
I sing and I feel better. I sing an old song, and I feel a million times better. It's so easy to make jokes and stereotypes about folk music, that it is something for hippies and greenies, but it is not. Old Songs, specially old ballads, are living history. I know with absolute certainty that other shepherds have sang the verses of I will go, to their flocks. I know that generations of Americans told the story of Shady Gtove, Wayfaring Stranger, and Barbara Allen (I am southern through marriage to Tennessee). When I sing or play these songs I feel like a woven string of cloth, a part of something large and warm. I dare you to learn an old tune and sing it with all your heart. It will change you.
By the time the animals were fed, in their respective shelters, and the dogs eating their kibble in their bowls, I came inside soaked through and nearly cried again at the site indoors. Outside was wind, rain, wet horse flesh and mud. And yet here, in this little house, was warm fires, kind dogs, candle light and soft music playing. I undressed instantly, threw everything into the washing machine, and grabbed a book and a beer and sat down in front of the fire to do something old and grand: read words by firelight.
In the morning I will wake extra early to snow, roof raking, stove stoking, and hay hauling. But for tonight, as the wind wails and those rain drops turn from water to ice, I will be calm and read by primal comforts. This dicotomy of harshness and softness is my peace. A book by a woodstove turns savory after wet chores. An early morning turns from exhaustion to duty after snow and ice. And a woman so full from the life she baked in a loaf pan all around her, will sleep in ways unknown to people with 5,000 couches.
Goodnight, my antlers are cold.