Monday, January 23, 2012

ice rain and respite

No part of this farm is level. None of it. The land all slopes downhill to some degree and the farmhouse's old floors are so warped from a century and a half of human life and weather, no ball set down won't roll. Usually this isn't worth mentioning or concerning yourself with, but when the entire thing is covered in ice in a hard rain at night: it matters.

Chores tonight were long, wet, and rough. I think about the people who email me wishing they had a farm of their own and wonder if they too would want an evening like the one I just pushed through? Melting snow from the warm winter day quickly covered the earth in a saran-wrap layer of ice. Even with my good snow-gripping boots I had to slow down. I had to really slow down when it came to carrying 80-pounds of water or a 50-pound sack of feed. Every step tonight was a measured and calculated motion. Add a wheeled cart and some plastic-battery lantern and it ante ups to a ballet. You have to know your body the way a yogi does, or a dressage rider. Everything you do from toes gripping around stones through a boot to a deep exhalation while you pull hay bales down from the high places could mean a slip or a fall. So you think. You go as slow as your mind needs you to. You consider things. You get very, very wet.

I am proud that I am gaining focus. I didn't fall down once (though I did spill water all over my jeans), and no part of me is bleeding, bruised, or even scratched. A homestead kindles a messy grace.

I'm inside now and grateful that I did the dishes and set out firewood before I left for work. Chores are done, tea is on the stovetop, and I am fed and feeling fine with a glass of cider. I just fed the cats and spent some time with the timid Lilly, who meows and lets me pet her honey pelt, and then eats wildly before hiding back behind the washing machine. I'm just grateful she is so used to the litter box she uses them, and isn't filling the house with cat scent. Little things like this make me beam.

I have changed into my "post-farming clothes". I have fallen in love (this is not a dramatization, but love) with Thai Fishing Pants. I come inside and wash up, and change into clothing so impractical for farm chores it is laughable. However! These clothes are perfect for meditation, yoga, sitting cross-legged with a bowl of rice and beans, or sitting with a fat cat and a book. The Thai pants are practically sheets—comfortable swathes of airy and clean cotton you wrap around your waist like a hug and then tie around you with a fabric belt. A comfortable tank top later and you feel equally ready to do downward dogs or cook dinner. It's a silly luxury but a happy habit, using a pair of baggy pants to celebrate being dry and warm.

And I am dry and warm and happy as a clam. Its an easy emotion to drum up when just an hour ago I was out in that endzone of icepiss. I say that with a coy smile, but the truth is, I love nights like this. Even when I am out there amongst the concentration and cold rain—I love that kind of work. I love it because no matter how cold, or miserable, or wet, or whatever it is out there I am literally a couple dozen feet from certain comforts. You don't have to fret about pain or wet gloves on a temperate night that close to your hot shower, warm meals, and dry bed.

I have a theory that people drawn to homesteading and comfort pornographers. I mean that. We are so serious and into creature comforts that we will put ourselves through all sorts of physical exertion, animal slop, weather, and strife because we all secretly know that the more we put into the world outside our farmhouse door the better that woodstove and fiddle feel when we return from the war. It's twisted, really. I bet I am not the only one out there with a horse or chickens who worships her shower and bathrobe and revels in a favorite blanket and movie? This kind of farming makes the simplest things: clean pants, warm soup, cold beers - seem like coveted jewels. I adore this modest sadism, it feels normal. How far removed must we be from normal human toil to be irreverent about such things? I like this about our tribe, this desire to sink into comfort that we earn. It's not being lazy, and it's not mindless relaxation, but instead the kind of end-of-toil prayer we call respite.

44 Comments:

Blogger Michelle said...

In the mornings when I pry myself out of my warm comfortable bed with its fuzzy blankets the house is so cold I can barely move. I'm shivering. By the time I finish chores the very same house with it's very same temperature is so hot I think I'm gonna suffocate before I can get out of my coveralls!

January 23, 2012 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger Single Serving Jack said...

Have you looked into making a pvc hand pump to pump the water up the hill instead of carrying it? I am sure the supplies to make one would be less than $30. Run a hose up the hill and suspend it over your water bucket. Add a bucket the same size at your hydrant. Fill that bucket up, stick in the pump, connect the hose to the output and two minutes later you are done. Disconnect the hose and let gravity drain any remaining water out so it doesn't freeze.

January 23, 2012 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I know that feeling Michelle!

January 23, 2012 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Jack, Brett and I (really, just Brett) tried doing that. The "well" is just a free-flowing artesian well, and doesn't have the pressure to pump the water up the steep hillside.

January 23, 2012 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

that said, I will eventually install a hand pump well! and hose!

January 23, 2012 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

I absolutely adore this post! I'm a simple creature, and I find magic in what most people consider mundane. One of my favorite things about you and this blog is that you have a deep respect for, and find much joy in, the "little things".

January 23, 2012 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

Your description of old farmhouses... I grew up in an 1867 farmhouse in Maine. My little sister learned to rollerskate by coasting downhill and then holding on to the table up hill around and around the kitchen table... the house had sunk over the old stone foundation lines...

January 23, 2012 at 8:19 PM  
OpenID 251c0b12-8d41-11e0-9c51-000bcdcb2996 said...

I too have fallen in love with thai fishermen pants! As you say, perfect for lounging and being hugged by dry soft material! However, I've found they are useful for one time of outdoor work---gardening in the rain!! I think there's nothing worse than working in muddy wet jeans.... so when it pours and pours I don my thai pants and bring my mind to the rainy work of the tropics. Works every time :)

January 23, 2012 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

I enjoy reading about your farm life and it makes me nostalgic for my grandparents' farm, but I don't wish I have a farm of my own. Hope you're warm and cozy tonight!

January 23, 2012 at 8:29 PM  
Blogger Mary R. said...

Jenna-
Have you considered running a hose from that sink in the mudroom out to the barn so at least you will have water on that side of the house - then as $$ permits add links to that hose to get water up the hill??

January 23, 2012 at 8:45 PM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

You are so right, Jenna. Being outdoors in bad weather makes all those creature comforts so much more appreciated. I'm going to look into those Thai fishing pants - since moving to the country I've realized the need for a post-chore, sit around the house relaxing, wardrobe.

I do know there are these things (I think they are called yak traxx) that slip over your shoes, they have spikes on them. they were originally made for joggers for safe running on icy streets. i've heard many good things about them. might be worth getting a pair to fit over your work boots for such nights as these.

January 23, 2012 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Oh my--congratulations on staying upright! Seriously, I'm impressed. (I was going to ask about those spikes, too--don't know how often you find yourself doing ice ballet.)

I know what you mean about comfort junkies. Just last night I was having trouble falling asleep. In those cases I often try to imagine myself out in cold, wet weather as you described, doing something in service to others, to make me really appreciate the wonderful cosy bed I'm snuggled into. (Last night I dreamed I was paired up with a search-and-rescue dog & trainer. We found the little girl and dug her out of a snowbank.) :)

Tonight it was just a chill, misty walk with the dog, but this 67-degree house sure feels warm right now.

January 23, 2012 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Jenna.
So I am unsure exactly of how you are transporting your water...but it sounds difficult! Have you ever tried a "pack sled"? It is a sled with sides on it about 10" in height. Some 5 gallon buckets of water with lids attached/closed might be a way to move the water about without spilling any along the way. A pack sled would easily fit 3 or 4 of the 5 gallon buckets and it would glide easily over the ice. Just an idea- I don't know if it would work or not-but I know the feeling of spilling the precious cargo of "winter water"!
Lisa in Maine
PS-
We have the same "even" floors in our farmhouse as you do!

January 23, 2012 at 9:14 PM  
Blogger ladyfarrier said...

RE: the ice....get some Yak Trax. Very inexpensive, they actually work, and even if you only use them once a year, they are priceless.

January 23, 2012 at 9:19 PM  
OpenID notherethenwhere said...

Well said about comfort, and working so that we appreciate it even more. It's the simple things that I love - a big mug of tea, thick sweaters, a good book, some evening yoga, a pile of wool blankets and down duvets - but coming home to them after a long day (or especially a long and cold day) makes them all the more a treat and a reward and a reminder of what's really, really good in life.

January 23, 2012 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Flannel jammies from the Vermont Country Store (mine have sheep on them!)

January 23, 2012 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Em said...

Do you have a source you could recommend for the Thai fisherman pants, or did you make yours? Every summer, I have trouble finding decent lightweight cotton work pants to use on the farm--I need full-length pant legs because of insects but lightweight fabric because of the extreme heat, and I haven't found a truly excellent pair since 2007 (and those were destroyed that season). Being plus sized makes the yearly hunt extra miserable. But these pants sound like they could be just the thing...

January 23, 2012 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger windhaven farm said...

Maybe you can find a way to store your hay up where the sheep are next year. We've been working a year on our little 3 acres homestead; sheep, pony, chickens, bunnies... and we've been learning the hard way to store as much feed where the critters are as possible. And find ways around some of the chores that seem hard and tedious. I don't know how you do it, without help or a backup. It's just myself and two teenage daughters, but still, we can cover each other's chores in a pinch. Just a kindly suggestion, as we are working through our little tasking tasks ourselves and trying to make things easier so that we can enjoy all the wonderful things that we adore about our farm.

Every time I hear myself or my girls getting upset or annoyed or frustrated with a chore, we try and figure out how to make it better/easier/more efficient... haven't solved everything, but wow, has it made life so much more content. The internet and folks blogs who have done it before us has been a HUGE help for sure!

I just worry about you lugging 80 pounds of water and all this hard labor by yourself! Be careful!!!

January 23, 2012 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Megan, Rudy's mom said...

If I had a farm I wouldn't mind doing animals chores in any weather. They depend on me! It's the same here with my 2 dog and the rest of the zoo. I think like you have said in the past that knowing my animals are happy and well fed makes me comfortable at the end of the day.

January 23, 2012 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger Misty said...

There is no better feeling than walking into the house after chores are done for the night.

One of the best things I've done for myself this year: I invested in a pair of rubber rain pants (the heavy duty ones with shoulder straps). It matches the heavy rubber raincoat I bought a few years ago. I don't mind doing chores outside in the rain now. In fact, I can get down and dirty in the mud and I stay completely dry. (Coupled with insulated Muck Boots and flannel lined rubber gloves, it's all good.)

January 23, 2012 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger Ruth @ Hope, Joy and Faith Farm said...

Nothing better than knowing the critters are all tucked in for the night (even if my chores were done in the downpour of sideways rain-we get that here on the Oregon coast). Nothing gets done here at our place until the animals are fed at night. It just completes me. I don't have any cool pants, but my baggie sweats, and old t-shirt and no bra accomplish the same feeling you describe.

January 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Ruth @ Hope, Joy and Faith Farm said...

Nothing better than knowing the critters are all tucked in for the night (even if my chores were done in the downpour of sideways rain-we get that here on the Oregon coast). Nothing gets done here at our place until the animals are fed at night. It just completes me. I don't have any cool pants, but my baggie sweats, and old t-shirt and no bra accomplish the same feeling you describe.

January 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

The water only has 10 or 15 yards to go, it's not a far haul, just tricky on the ice. I have a metal green garden cart, but it's more work than just carrying the buckets! I don't mind it. Just cause something is hard to do doesn't mean I don't like it. Good exercise!

January 23, 2012 at 10:01 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

And I get them all off ebay, just search for thai fisherman pants

January 23, 2012 at 10:01 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

You could get a small drill pump for a quick, cheap water solution. Works with a hand drill and pumps a decent amount of water, not sure how much lift you need, but it might work until you get a permanent solution.

Mount it on a quick tripod, put a clamp (or rubber band) on the drill trigger and you could water while you get some other chores done.

January 23, 2012 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger Kelsie said...

I love what you said about "comfort pornography," because it's so true. I used to work on a goat dairy in the Pac. Northwest, and I've had many nights just like the one you described...only I fell...with two 5 gallon buckets of milk. But...BUT...returning to a warm house at the end of the night (midnight, for me)? Suddenly, everything seemed wonderful: the bad country song on the radio, the glass of cheap whiskey I sipped while making scrambled eggs, the woolen socks I slipped my freshly showered feet into...those things gave me not only the strength but also the desire to do it all again the next day. :) Love reading this blog...so glad I found you.

January 23, 2012 at 11:22 PM  
Blogger georgie said...

A friend gave me a set of Martha Stewart flannel sheets and I bought some flannel p.js. The house is kept pretty cool to save heating $. At bedtime, flannel sheets, flannel jammies, a duvet and a cat. So hard to get up in the a.m. Especially last week when there was snow and ice outside!

January 23, 2012 at 11:39 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

"A homestead kindles a messy grace". Nice line.

January 24, 2012 at 1:37 AM  
Blogger onesilentwinter said...

i know exactly how you feel. i do not mind going out there rain or snow yes it harder when it raining and your whole farm turns into a icing ring but just like you describe when it is done comfort awaits. i think for myself it is two things knowing that every one is well fed and tucked away for the night and finally i will be warm and stay warm and dry while rewarding myself at the end of the day.

January 24, 2012 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

I heartily agree that comfort and respite are so much better and more deeply appreciated after hard work. I wouldn't have it any other way.

January 24, 2012 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Patsy said...

Jenna, Do you carry a cell phone with you when you are doing the chores just in case,God forbid, you would happen to fall and really hurt yourself? This is just your 60 year old friend looking out for you. Been there, done that. God bless.

January 24, 2012 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger kelly said...

If I were in a different place in my life, I'd move up to your area in a second so I could join you in your farm work. I have my own 10 acres in Florida but totally have a girl crush on you! :)

January 24, 2012 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

Since you inspired me to learn to knit, I have also enjoyed ending a hard work day with "simple pleasures" wrapped in a handknit wool shawl, it is the ultimate in comfort and warmth. Your doing a great, hard job, be safe and warm!

January 24, 2012 at 5:23 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

@Em - those pants are all over Etsy! I haven't tried them, but I really should, for summer. It's so hot here that sometimes even shorts are uncomfortable (waistband chafing, etc.) and while I've never categorically been a "dress" person, my love for my cotton sundresses is deep and abiding! I do farm and garden work in them in high summer without any hesitation.

And I must agree with the love of comfort - so true! Those things are really extra special after what we put ourselves through.

January 24, 2012 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger Buttons said...

Oh I love this post. I was just out delivered a calf came in made supper and am now sitting in comfortable pants and drinking a tea. There is nothing like this life. Toil, rest, toil, and rest I love it. I do wish the ice would go away though. B

January 24, 2012 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

Totally with you on that respite thing and those comforts! Have comfy clothes I wear till I can wear no more and then that favorite quilt...

January 24, 2012 at 7:49 PM  
Blogger Maggie in Tally said...

Yak Trax! They're great for ice.

January 24, 2012 at 7:52 PM  
OpenID Matt said...

When I worked as a forester's apprentice, I remember coming home hot and exhausted. I loved the hot shower and sitting down with a good book (or a quick nap) while supper cooked. It was great. I have an office job now, but I have the same simple appreciation after a day spent out in the garden, hiking or camping. I think it comes from being immersed in the natural world. You just come to appreciate everything more.

January 24, 2012 at 8:21 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

I have had many nights after work, when it is cold, raining hard, muddy, and black as night doing chores. I understand completely. At times my child was young and had to wait until she was asleep. The comforts of a warm house, a pet, flannel sheets, and hot shower were such a blessing.
The ice is really bad, get some of those traction things for your boots. A fall could turn into a disaster, as my brother found out. He fell on ice, messed up his knee rally bad...surgery, and off work for 3 months.

January 25, 2012 at 12:03 AM  
Blogger Wellfleetgal said...

You said it! Yesterday in the Hudson Valley the air temp was 34 but the ground was frozen/mushy, making for a lovely surprising black ice situation as I fed the horses in the dark at 5:30AM. Then the warm and dismal afternoon cleanup and feeding- mud and hay and manure all mixed together at the hay rack, and mud-caked horses. But I sure did feel great knowing that they were fat, well fed, and comfortable before going inside to eat short ribs (made on Sunday) and drink a glass of red wine with the dogs hanging around the fireplace. Money cannot buy this kind of inner comfort!

January 25, 2012 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger ScottS said...

Last winter, my 9 yo son and I blazed trails through 4 foot snow drifts to feed the livestock. I simultaneously love and hate weather like that. Hate to go out in it, love to succeed in spite of it.

January 25, 2012 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Cassie said...

Give me snow any day, but hold the ice. I had an unfortunate incident involving ice, and a shovel. I now have one elfy looking ear.

January 26, 2012 at 12:05 AM  
Blogger Single Serving Jack said...

Hi Jenna! I don't think I explained adequately what I meant by a hand pump. I think the hand pump you are referring to is what I call a hydrant. You lift the handle and the water comes out.
The hand pump I am referring to works like a two handed bicycle pump. Instead of moving air from the atmosphere to a tire, this moves water from a bucket by the well to a bucket up the hill. The pressure to get the water up the hill comes from you pushing down on the pump and a one way valve.
See one in action on Youtube: hurricane irene + home made pvc sump pump = dry basement
Cheers!

January 26, 2012 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger Jeff_in_Pawlet said...

If you have 2' of falling water, you can pump 20' uphill with a ram pump, continuously for free, just add trough. Google it. I installed one in South Royalton, saving the town lotsa $!

January 26, 2012 at 8:27 PM  

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