Wednesday, December 7, 2011

i will go

Less than an hour ago I was outside in a driving, cold rain. I was dressed for the weather, but that didn't matter. The work of preparing the farm for the coming snow storm had me breathing deep in a combination of sweat, rain water, and tears. They were calling for 4-8 inches, starting around midnight. This is a big deal on this small farm, since snow in that volume can damage roofs, force the sheep into the shed for the night, and keep the pony in his stall in the barn. I had been outside for the better part of an hour, feeding pigs and checking on the rabbitry. I fed Jasper and closed the door Brett made for us, keeping him inside so raking the roof would be easier in the morning. He stuck his head out the open dutch door as I moved his water bucket to his indoor quarters. "You are a comfortable pony tonight, sir," I said as I fed him an apple-flavored cookie. "You've got hay, grain, cookies, and warm straw in here. Consider yourself the King of Antlers." Jasper just stared at me while I stroked his neck. I'm going to write a fiddle song about that horse some day. It'll be called The King of Apples.

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.


Blogger downeast becka said...

thanks for keeping it real, Jenna.
it is both hard and lovely, all the time, this country living...but totally worthy.

December 7, 2011 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger jim said...

jenna-beautifully written and you handle your chosen duties so well-as far as burning yourself on the woodstove i used to do that occasionally until i started using an old pair of leather work gloves when feeding the beast-never had a burn since. Maybe you could do the same---a good thing for burns is a product called "foille"-i used to work with molten glass and thats what our medical staff used-should be able to get at drug store over the counter====j

December 7, 2011 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger KellyV (Kelly the Fifth) said...

Very nice post Miss Jenna. God speed, stay warm, and I hope the snow is beautiful.

December 7, 2011 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger Lorrie said...

Your antlers are cold, but your animals are warm and dry! Beautiful post!

December 7, 2011 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger onesilentwinter said...

thank you for this.

December 7, 2011 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger gipsiwriter said...

You have a way with words. Thank you for taking us with you on your chores this evening. My favorite old song is Danny Boy. Loved Harry Connick Jr.s version on Memphis Belle. Find myself singing it all the time. Hope you have a wonderfully cozy evening.

December 7, 2011 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger redbird said...

Nicely said.

Became sold on “folk” when I realized songs like The Cuckoo, Oh Death, or Pretty Polly were actually real songs that had a bucket load of history from even across the centuries and the ocean. Until I was maybe 9 I thought that my grandparents and other family had made up a lot of these songs! Amazing to think of all the others who were singing the same.

December 7, 2011 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

I fell in love recently with Wayfaring Stranger courtesy of Runaway Planet. It sounded so much like Johnny Cash that I had to check to see if it was originally his(of course it was). :)

December 7, 2011 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

Oh I love old folk songs... I'm a Southern Rebel by birth and breeding, and those songs strike such a deep chord in me... Celtic songs are also a love of mine. I guess Irish blood will do that. ;) The 'Ballad of the Highwayman', and 'Skellig' are two of my favorite Celtic folk songs, and songs such as 'Groundhog', 'Old Homeplace', 'Raining Here this Morning', and 'Man at the Mill' are favorite southern songs.

Sorry to hear about your hand. I do that way to often with my own rabbit cages! It hurts!!

December 7, 2011 at 9:50 PM  
Blogger Trekout2 said...

Sound like you'll sleep good tonight. I wish I had a little farm to work I know it's hard but it's your place...

December 7, 2011 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger georgie said...

Hope you get a very good night's sleep after all of your chores. You have a lot to get done tomorrow morning before the paying job!
This time of year I'm always grateful to end the day with a working furnace, content cat and dogs, a mug of hot cocoa and flannel pjs.
Keep on the Sunny Side is a song that always gives me encouragement.

December 7, 2011 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

You have such a way with words! You not only share the journey with us, you take us along for the adventure. I just want to say thanks for the ride.

December 7, 2011 at 10:06 PM  
Blogger Lee Ann said...

Beautiful post - reminding us of what is truely important. Thank you - I needed that this evening. Blessed be, and be warm.

December 7, 2011 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

You've gotten much stronger in the past year. You don't get overwhelmed by being put your shoulder to the wheel and push on through, knowing that it's been worse and will be worse again, and you may cry, but you will survive.

I hope Jasper appreciates his warm, dry space tonight. King of Apples is a grand name for a song.

December 7, 2011 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

What a beautiful post! I was thinking today, you will never know how grateful so many of us our for this blog, it keeps us going, and your writing is such a treat. Thank you for always sharing, and for always being the same Jenna, it means a lot to a lot of people! Hope you get some rest for the big morning ahead!

December 7, 2011 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger quiltaholic said...

Awesome post Jenna! Just remember - you go to bed sore, wet and tired tonight - but you will wake up to Narnia in the morning (even if Narnia only lasts for a few moments) :)

December 7, 2011 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Joleen said...

Feel better. Sleep sweetly.

December 8, 2011 at 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a moving and meaningful post. Thanks so much for sharing from your heart. I love what you wrote about crying "tears that express exhaustion and gratitude at the same time." So well put! This applies to so many ventures in life, and is the exact emotion that I have felt on more than one occasion. Also, I too share your love of folk ballads, particularly those of my forefathers in Scotland (stirring songs with stories from history).

Thanks again for your transparency!

Katherine in Maine

December 8, 2011 at 12:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it sounds barbaric, but, when I get a burn I immerse it in or hold it under the hottest water I can possibly stand, several times. Our first inclination when we get a burn is to cool it to soothe it. By doing this we close the pores holding in the heat under the skin. When we put the burn under hot water it keeps the pores open so that the heat can escape and the blood can keep flowing to the skin. Once sunburned after a roofing job I immediately sat in a 100 degree hotub and the sun burn disappeared. Give it a try sometime, it can save you a whole lot of pain in the long run.

December 8, 2011 at 3:35 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

Beautiful Jenna! I picture you pushng your barrow up the hill, singing in the rain.

I second Jim's suggestion. The previous owner of this house left a pair of welding gloves when he left. We have used them to tend the fire for twenty years and they are stil good and excellent at protecting the hands we stick into the stove!

Carry on, and the best to you!

December 8, 2011 at 5:09 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

oh i have stove gloves. i just didn't use them this time...

December 8, 2011 at 5:44 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

You were going DOWN the hill singing==I adjusted my mental picture.

December 8, 2011 at 6:15 AM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

Jenna- why are you hauling water- can't you use a hose? They have non-freezing hoses now too. Hauling water is for the BIRDS!!!!!!!!!

December 8, 2011 at 6:48 AM  
Blogger seagoddess said...

Hi Jenna, Have you ever heard of flower essences? Not aromatherapy. Bach is the most well known of them. Rescue Remedy probably the most well known. Helps under stress. But flower essences work in both stressful and wonderful times. I've been dabbling in them for nearly 20 years and passed the first course in becoming a practitioner - till unemployment did not allow for further studies. Anyway, let me know if you'd like me to make you a blend (along with descriptions of each essence).

Keep on keepin on. I am a single gal and get overwhelmed some days, so I can't imagine having a full-time job and all the responsibilities of your farm. Go girl.

December 8, 2011 at 7:27 AM  
Blogger daisy said...

What a gift to be fully present most of your waking hours. I am still working on that. I guess I need a farm! Warm wishes your way.

December 8, 2011 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Julie, there's no outdoor spicket or hoses here. There's a constantly running artesian well, and I use that with buckets.

December 8, 2011 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Thank you for giving me this to read this morning. Right now I am consoling a gassy baby, wrangling a two year old and caring for a husband just out of surgery. I needed to read something like this.
I am needing some inspiration right about now.
In a few minutes, I will build a fire in the woodstove, check the chickens water and get my husband another ice pack.
I think I will sing Fields of Athenry, my song when things get overwhelming.
PS - Sorry to hear about your hand.

December 8, 2011 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

You can hook a hose up to you water tank if you can get to it. I only have one hose bib and it's at the front of the house. It's an option anyway :)

December 8, 2011 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Patsy said...

Jenna, I am of Irish heritage and even though don't have sheep, I am somehow drawn to them when I see them on a hillside. Could it be a leftover gene?
Could you share with us your nationality and did you come from hearty stock a few generations back?

December 8, 2011 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

I had a near-meltdown yesterday because from all the rain and wood swelling and shifting, I could not close the barn door or the chicken tractor door to save. my. life. I was wet, freezing, and covered with mud and poop. I literally had a little tantrum. Then I took a deep breath, squared up my jaw and got it done. This is how it goes.

My song to sing is "A Parting Glass".

December 8, 2011 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Tiffrz-N-Kidz said...

My zoo hears Amazing Grace in the evenings, though if I could get through Danny Boy without crying I might have to switch. I was thinking of you and your chores last night while I was doing my rounds (not in a creepy lesbian-stalker way, but in a kindred heart back to the Earth farmer kind of way). This is a wonderful post. No, it's not always fun. I came across a meatie last night that I am going to have to cull early because she has started hobbling, but then I noticed my Nubian's udder is considerably more firm than it was yesterday so HasliVal will lose one and gain one. Circle of life and it has saved a wretch like me. Keep on keepin on.

December 8, 2011 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger Greentwinsmummy said...

There can be a tendancy to view tears as a negative thing.Not at all. Its all part of living. And better to cry over doing something you love than cry because your life is hollow and dull. In the midst of our tears we feel a little spark that jolts us from our perceived sorrows and reminds us we are alive, we are living. Like Tara I have had a tantrum, many a time the hay feeders been kicked and kicked and kicked! because I cant open the lid,I am slipping in mud/frost/snow/fingers so cold they are not working.
The patch of heaven over my fields hear bugger! and bloody hell shouted far too often, but they also hear song as well, and laughter.
Its living. Its wonderful.
GTM x x x

December 8, 2011 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

Jenna, I highly suggest a pair of welding gloves, the kind that go almost up to your elbow. I get mine at either Tractor Supply of Harbor Freight Tools. After suffering one too many woodstove burns, they have saved me many times. Just be sure to use them every time, especially if you are tired when loading the stove. I typically wear out the right hand only since I'm right handed.

December 8, 2011 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger DebH said...

I get that..

December 8, 2011 at 5:52 PM  
Blogger Lyssa said...

I get what you mean about feeling overwhelmed...about once a week while I'm working on the house, I hit my head on something and start to cry. The combination of hard work and pain just seems so unfair sometimes.

My mom used to sing Wayfaring Stranger all the time. It's a great song.

December 8, 2011 at 8:57 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

An absolutely gorgeous post. I am just about to finish Made From Scratch. I was so pleased to find it in my library last week. Been wanting to read it, but funds being what they were... I had my man read some to me tonight while I rubbed his feet, with the woodstove warming us nearby. Simple pleasures are the best. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

December 8, 2011 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Tina - Our Rustic Roots said...

I have those days, too, and those cries leave you refreshed in a way nothing else could. Sorry about your hand, I hope the burn isn't too bad.

December 9, 2011 at 11:07 AM  

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