Thursday, April 10, 2014

This Old Life

I sat on the tailgate of my Dodge, one leg hanging off the edge and swinging. In my hands was a bowl of simple dinner: meat, rice, and vegetables. It was an hour to sunset and I was putting off milking Bonita, enjoying the languid feeling you get from eating basic food when you are very hungry and very tired. As I savored a neighbor drove by in his new Subaru, shiny as a new quarter. I didn't stop eating but lifted my fork-wielding hand when he honked hello. If he thought I looked silly—eating like a seven-year-old at the State Fair—I didn't give the tiniest shit. Amicable exhaustion removes most inhibition, I find.

What. A. Day.

Chores started early. Early enough, anyway. I had slept in a bit and wasn't apologizing for it. When I walked outside with Gibson and my milk pail the sun was well up and the horses were heckling from their gate. So be it. I could feel the promise of warmth and that was quite a thing. The winter was so long, so cold, and so threatening to the farm and spirit that this kiss of light was worth stoping and soaking in. I stood there for a bit in the sunlight as if I had some chloroform hiding somewhere secret, maybe in my right knee? I stretched out there, really stretched, turning my head and rounding shoulders. I reached up for the sun in lazy worship, letting a smile slide slowly over my chapped lips. I thought of the last sentences of my favorite short story of all time:

"Of course God is the sun. Everyone in the life before was cranky, I think, because they just wanted to know."

The sun was out and I welcomed him. I did chores, smelling the mix of spring known as woodsmoke and mud. I milked the goat and fed the animals. When finished with that bit of work I came outside the barn with four eggs and 3 quarts of milk in hand. Not a bad salary for a half hour's work.

I set down the milk canister and eggs to feed the turkeys, geese, and chickens. As I did this a rabbit hopped up to inspect the goods. She sniffed at the eggs and stainless steel container before hopping off. I am down to one meat rabbit at the moment, my oldest doe. She is no longer in a hutch and just roams the barn and farmyard. I'm not worried about predators (rabbits are wicked quick in a pinch). She is old for a domestic rabbit but she doesn't need to be faster than a fox. She just needs to be faster than the slowest chicken. Which she is.

Two types of people read that last sentence. One type frowned and the other type smiled. I smiled, too. Farming is a bloodsport. Don't you dare let anyone tell you otherwise.

The rest of my morning was nothing of consequence. I sat at a laptop in my living room and worked a few hours. I wasn't writing but emailing and designing, back in the old email folders I thought I left forever when I resigned my position at Orvis. But I have recently been hired back to work from home, part time. I'm hoping the new gig helps me catch up on the mortgage. I've been treading water, but the level is getting higher and higher. If what follows in this post makes you in any way jealous of the life I live know that my variety of self employment is risky and I do not sleep well at night. But if fear is the tax I need to pay for the certainty that I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's in the wide world, I will pay it. I will wake up every night shaking. I will pace and growl. I will find a way to keep this farm and this life. So I sit and design, correspond to familiar names, plan lunch meetings, and get up every now and again to throw a piece of wood on the stove. It's not cold in the house but I like the company of combustion.

So I worked. At least until I couldn't take it anymore. A few hours of click-clacking on the keyboard and then I closed the laptop and headed outside to my horse. The sun was up now, the wind was up too. I didn't care, it was the in-between wind. The kind that comes in April and August, the inhale and exhales of summer heat. I let it blow without preference and grabbed a lead line and halter and found Merlin. The highlander was caked in dirt and his own clods of shed hair. An hour of grooming later and he seemed slightly less dusty. I did some groundwork with him and then saddled him. Ready to ride I swung a leg up.

Well, I tried at least.

Flexibility is not the issue. I can kick a six-foot tall person in the head while standing next to him, but I was making the common mistake of wearing work pants. Jeans, to be specific. They were a fine make from a fine and common workwear company but they were not designed to throw a leg over a thousand pounds of draft horse. I cursed for not having the sense to wear a kilt. In three years of regular riding and driving I can say with assurance NOTHING is better for the trail saddle than a kilt with a pair of full-seat breeches underneath them. You get all the flexibility and friction of the tights but the protection, pockets, and comfort of a kilt. Do you know how wonderful it is to ride through brush and burdock with a layer of canvas over your rear end and tender thighs? Take my word for it. And if riding in a skirt makes you squirm know there is plenty of room for bandaids, pocket knives, bullets, cell phones, keys, cordage, and a flask. For trail riding like we do kilts are it. Quick and dirty.

Alas, I had no kilt today. I just had my jeans and they did not allow the flexibility I needed. So I walked Merlin to a piece of slanted land (not hard to do on my farm) and with 12 inches between us in topography I hopped on. We trotted down the paved road in front of my farmhouse. After the shock of hearing the construction site nearby (many mini-explosions of nail guns and hammers) I decided to head back to the farm to do more ground work then head for the woods. We might slip on the melting ice and snow or get spooked by deer but, you know, less nail guns.

I will confess a secret here. I am terrified of riding Merlin sometimes. I am especially terrified of riding him after a long winter when he is both disinterested in having to carry a passenger and extra bossy. Merlin has plenty of personality and he shares it by bucking, kicking, crow hopping, and generally refusing to budge when a rider proves she is less stubborn than he is.  So I have learned this pony and his quirks and find them endearing. But the only way out, is through. The only way to get to that Zen-like state of teamwork and comfort is to start by being tense in April. Every spring we are a nervous pairing. Or maybe just I am nervous. Too much time out of the saddle lets me forget the need of it. I imagine this is what people recently single must feel like alone in bed, a little hollow, a little confused. Given enough time they get used to sleeping alone. But given a new lover they are awkward and confused again under the sheets. That is how a winter without riding Merlin feels like to me, a reluctant bed.

I ask Merlin to trot and he does exactly what I didn't realize I was expecting from him. He sets his head low, pops his butt in the air, and kicks with me on his back. The Jenna from a few years ago would at this point fall off, cry, call for help, and write about it at length. But not now. Without expecting the joy of this little hissy fit I felt my body adapt and change with the horse. He kicked and my round ass sank deep into that saddle, feet at home in the stirrups. I smiled like a wolf. I wasn't going anywhere. My center of gravity remained in place as I leaned my chest forward and cursed in Gaelic at him, calling him a beautiful demon and telling him I was home. His ears flicked and both of us were surprised that this first true ride of spring had us both where we ended last Autumn.

I made $18 today.
I rode Merlin well, sitting through a kick.
I am beyond wealthy.
Now I am going to share a song with you.

So we rode. We rode down the pavement and up into the trails of mountain and stream. We got through the woods and up into the high mountain trails. At one point I could feel the sun hitting all of my black wool sweater and all of my black horse at the base of a hillside. I knew there was no way to hold him back. Merlin bunched up his head and shoulders and exploded uphill into a full-out gallop. Not a canter. Not a jog. But the kind of running that turns the earth. He reached farther with each stretch, his stout body proving to the world he too was a crow. He could fly. So he did.

God's Body, he RAN. He ran and together we let go.

I was too excited to be afraid. I leaned forward into his neck, smelling hair, winter's dust,  and horse sweat. It was a heady combination. The run did not last long but when it ended we were on an overlook, high above the ground that is Cold Antler Farm. I turned him around swiftly, 360 degrees to take in the view and looked down on the farmstead that is my home. I trotted him a bit more, heading back home soon enough. I was so pleased to not be afraid of him.

It wasn't even lunch yet. This will be a long post.

I untacked Merlin and thanked him. I let him into the open pasture and let Jasper out to join him. Merlin enjoys room to run but Jasper is a connoisseur of motion. I watched the white and red pony pony sprint with abandon past me and through the gate, leaping around Merlin and flying through the air. If Merlin is a crow Jasper is a wren. I let the boys enjoy the sun and grabbed Gibson for a trip into town.

I headed down to Anne's place. She and her family moved here from Key West and bought an amazing piece of property in town. She had been asking polity for weeks that I walk the grounds with her and help give ideas and warnings about fencing and stock. Having made every mistake you can make with sheep and goats at this point I felt well suited for this task. And together we walked her pastures, orchards and fields. She was ready for sheep that day if she wanted them. She had wonderful fences, a barn, gates, everything. We left with the notion of a possible ram renting for rototiller future barter proposition. Good meeting in my book.

I came home to a full sun-dappled farm. The wind was low now and the horses, sheep, and goats seemed content. I took Italics from his mews and set him out on a perch in his weathering area. While I puttered around the farm and tried to come up with income he could enjoy the sun on his feathers and contemplate molting.

I gave up on the income ideas and went for a two-mile run.

Upon my return I did the evening chores and once everyone had hay, feed, water, and been milked I gathered up my hawk on my fist and walked out to the horse pasture. I could sense the fear in Italics and the disinterest in the horses. Horses do not bother with birds. They just are. But few Red Tails get as close to horses as Italics was and he soon went from stress to calm. I fed him while the horses nibbled the first green shoots from the good earth. Merlin sniffed his chest and not a talon was raised in protest. I also consider this a good meeting in my book.

At some point Italics was back in his mews. The horses back in their paddock. The Jenna back in her farmhouse. But since daylight and time would not stop flirting I grabbed bow and quiver and headed outside. My first three arrows hit the yellow center of the target, the next three hit the red. I beamed. I had sat a kicking horse, walked a farmer's field, worked with an international corporation, and created milk from force and will but these three arrows made my heart sing and twitter. It is a placid sort of violence. A punch in the wind. A rooster's dance. Tiny gods, I love what a bow and arrow do to my mind. I shot until dark. When I came inside I turned on youtube and played some more music. A local band called The Parlor lit up the house with music. Upstaters know what it is to shuck and jive. Enjoy:

This Old Life, Indeed. Thanks for the music, Hasselwander.


Blogger Jennifer said...

I love that line, "...the company of combustion." How awesome.

Sounds like a day most people could only dream about

I made plans today for a fence-line pallet planter and worked out how to grow tomatoes in old tires. Best I could do.

April 10, 2014 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Ohiofarmgirl said...

".. she doesn't need to be faster than a fox. She just needs to be faster than the slowest chicken." i laughed... a lot. thanks for the grins. and yes. the barnyard as the Peaceable Kingdom is for the hereafter. here-present it's a cage match.

April 11, 2014 at 5:28 AM  
Blogger Jess Sheppard said...

Thanks for the new music-I'm in love already.

April 11, 2014 at 7:29 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Ha ha, isn't spring grand and full of promise!??

April 11, 2014 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Tanya T said...

Ah a day in the life. Lovely and makes me sure that I could be doing a lot more around the farm, if only I had the time. Happy weekend!

April 11, 2014 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

When you talked about riding Merlin, I thought that you were bareback. Wow, a ride in the spring is always a bit scary...I never know what to expect. The quietest horse loves to buck sometimes! Farm and bloodsport, well that is what happens..........take care!

April 12, 2014 at 12:11 AM  
Blogger 2 Punk Dogs said...

Ugh, Hate riding in jeans. Hope you didn't chafe your legs too much. :) Sounds like an awesome day!
The Mr. just broke 3 of his new carbon fiber arrows that everyone at the gun club said were great. Think we might need to keep going old school for spring turkey season.
Love The Parlor, thanks for sharing the song and video, they're so darn cute!

April 12, 2014 at 1:26 PM  

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