Monday, January 6, 2014


I slid into the hot tub and let out an involuntary invocation of deity as my body was slowly covered by the heated water. The invocation was validated, as I felt entirely divine. I soaked there, loving every minute of the pleasure that is being intensely comfortable in the nude (OUTSIDE!) in January. It was the first time in weeks that I could honestly say every part of me was warm. (The glass of bourbon dancing in my bloodstream helped, too.) I closed my eyes and recalled Robert Burns, who said, "Freedom an' whisky gang together!" and smiled. I did feel free. There was a respite from the cold that had kept me a soldier of the farmhouse. It had to be vigilant of the water heater, pipes, two wood stoves, animals, and my own sanity and well-being. But that night was a balmy 28-degrees and I didn't even notice the freezing rain on my head. Life was good.

This was last night, and no, I didn't buy a hot tub. I don't even own a bathtub - this was at a dear friends' home. I called up to ask if I could stop by because my dance card was empty. The holes wet no longer being punched by defrosting pipes or pulling ice balls from between paw pads. I wanted a little respite, and I sure got it. The past few days had offered a snow storm, a rush of intense -12 degree cold nights, frozen pipes, heavy blankets, and uncomfortable animals. One of the most uncomfortable animals was me - as I couldn't get my house above 55 degrees even spending the whole day at home with the fires roaring. It was simply too cold.

This experience in the tub had me thinking about warmth. Depending on where you live (or how you live) being warm is either taken for granted, annoyingly excessive (we call this being hot), or not thought about at all. We live in this weird blip of history when constant comfort is considered "normal" but darling, around here, warm is not a constant. At this farm temperature comes from fire and light, from wool and warm bodies, from fur and hide, and occasionally - from electric outdoor units of wonderful. I savored being warm because while it isn't rare, it isn't normal for me. I spend most of my time outdoors or at my office computer - both of which aren't heated. The heart of my home is the downstairs -which is heated by wood stoves, some space heaters, wool blankets and two dogs. Being warm is something I need to plan, to work towards. Getting my house to around 60 degrees takes a few hours of stoking, tending, presence, and forethought. Occasionally, it also takes whisky.

Homesteading requires these things and for some people it seems downright ridiculous. To be a servant to your own microclimate in a world of modern heating and air conditioning seems like a form of bravado, pseudo-masochism, or general hogwash. Wood stoves and animals tie you to a place, make you turn down dinner invitations to homes six miles away, and reacquire getting up in the middle of a REM period to throw another log on the fire. In a modern world, where comfort is literally a button away, why live like this?

Because I like it.

I like heating with firewood. I like being needed to create primal needs for my own survival. I like making a fire the same way I like learning a new fiddle tune or knitting a new hat. It's creation, but utilitarian and therefore holy to me. I love my farm house's need for me. For so many people their houses are just places they sleep and store the ketchup - but here the house is tended to just like any other living creature. It needs inputs, excretes outputs, and only thrives on constant attention. That doesn't mean it looks beautiful or couldn't use some power washing, hammer, nails and a dump truck - but the bones are good. You walk into my house on a night like tonight and you'll be covered in warmth. There's big dogs, hot stew, a blazing fire, music, candle light, song and stories. You can set a cat on your lap and knit while watching a movie or get a gang together for a board game, music jam, or just talking and laughing. It's another kind of warmth and I depend on it to keep me going just as much as the physical kind.

I don't think any less of people who use conventional heat and I don't think firelight is necessary to be a fully-actualized human being. There are plenty of things I do around here (or don't do and should) that other homesteaders would roll their eyes at. Don't take my aloofness to comfort as judgement to your personal attachment to it. I just wanted to share that last night I was warm and it felt amazing, and just a few years ago I would have never even thought about warm as a noun. Homesteading changed that. It made me savor the gift of being warm in January. For that, I am grateful.

I'll leave you tonight with this:

Back in college I spent one night over at Lehigh University, which had a wonderful Rinzai Zen Monk that taught and ran meditation sessions. One of my fellow meditators was a man named Keith, who was in his late forties and came to the University for the same reason I did - to find stillness. He had a physical job that left him sore and in the sessions we would sit without moving for around 40 minutes. I remember one day he was backing up his mediation cushion and rubbing his back, and he said with absolute genuineness - "I really need to stop preferring to not feel pain". Keith did not see discomfort sitting still as good or bad, just a preference. When I asked him to explain what he meant he smiled warmly and said "No one ever died from sitting still for 45 minutes, Jenna. Being a little cold, hot, pained, or wet from a rainstorm isn't going to end your life. but demanding comfort at all times is definitely killing people"

I will never forget that. My mind split open. I realized then and there I didn't need to be a victim of preference. If I get cold I observe it, accept it, and keep working. If I get cut open or fall down, I do the same thing. And when I'm warm and heavenly-wrapped in booze and hot tubs I observe that, accept that, and savor it - but do not dare prefer it. Because preferring pleasure over pain is as ridiculous as getting upset at the weather.

I know that is a hard pill to swallow, but if you can take one lesson from this blog it would be this: don't let your preference to be comfortable get in the way of the joys of being uncomfortable. And you don't have to shut down your oil furnace and install a wood stove to learn that. You just need to sit still. Or, you know, not freak out if you leave your umbrella at home and it starts to rain on your morning commute. Come of think of it. I don't even know anyone who owns an umbrella up here? When it rains, we get wet. Or our coats, hoodies, cloaks, and uniforms do. So what. I say go into the office with running mascara, frizzy hair, and a smile. Why prefer to be perfect? Why prefer the pointlessness of peer approval for a dry outer skin-like covering and a costume? Watch out or you'll spend your whole life serving your preferences (or worse, someone else's) not out of love, but force. Don't play that game. I may be the worst person in the world to offer life or dating advice but I know this much:

Just get wet. It's the best.


Blogger Sharon said...

Jenna, I think that wood heat is the very best for warmth, it is so much better than the electric heat pump. I keep a small space heater to use in one room in the evenings so that I can get warm in a cold house. Then, I like a cold room to sleep in, with lots of warm blankets. Each of us has our choices....

January 6, 2014 at 11:36 PM  
Blogger Coco said...

Fabulous! Thanks Jenna.

January 7, 2014 at 2:58 AM  
Blogger Cat H said...

Funny that you say this. Yesterday morning it was pouring here. I ran out to the car, went to work and juggled whether or not I should take the time to get out of the car and get my umbrella out of the trunk or run (ok, walk very quickly) to the door of the building. I figured I would get just as wet if I stopped to get the umbrella out of the trunk. I was already a bit damp from the first dash to the car. Ah, the hell with it - I walked straight to the building. This is what I usually do when it's raining. And the great thing is,no one in my office ever says anything. I don't know if they're just being polite or are used to seeing me like this.

As my mom used to say, "You aren't made of sugar, you won't melt."

January 7, 2014 at 5:51 AM  
Blogger Westfarm Goat Mom said...

I definitely enjoy being out in the cold for a couple of hours caring for the animals and then really appreciate coming inside to get warm.
One of the greatest inventions I've discovered are the handwarmer packets. These allow me to stay outside for hours without my fingers freezing off. It's great to rewarm your fingers after taking the gloves off to milk each goats or pick up the eggs.
But there is a difference in the brands. "Hot Hands" get warmer and stay warm for many hours. I can use the same packets for evening chores as I did in the morning.

January 7, 2014 at 8:41 AM  
Blogger 3 Dogs Barking Farms said...

my mother still yells at me because I refuse to carry an umbrella or dress sensibly most of the time (except times like this weather like this you don't mess around with hell I even wore a scarf today) but I love the feel of rain drops nothing much better in my mind!

January 7, 2014 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger Liz Witter said...

Very well said :) Being out in the elements makes me feel alive! Nothing is better than getting uncomfortably cold or wet and coming back to a warm house with furry friends.

January 7, 2014 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Love this post Jenna. Jason and I always said that 5 below lets you know you're alive!

January 7, 2014 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Love this post Jenna. Jason and I always said that 5 below lets you know you're alive!

January 7, 2014 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger Bottling Moonlight said...

This is such a great and insightful post. I've always thought that convenience (which is often related to comfort) is the enemy of freedom. Too often I would find myself rushing through the rain (sans umbrella), with my head down and rushing to get in a building. It took some practice, but I began slowing down, realizing I was getting wet anyways and I may as well enjoy it. All it takes is a change in mindset to enjoy things others deem to be uncomfortable. And once you begin to do that, the whole world opens up. Thanks for sharing your great words and thoughts.

January 7, 2014 at 9:14 PM  

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