Saturday, July 12, 2014

Back To The Start



This morning as soon as chores were done and the farm seemed to reach a baseline of homeostasis - I threw my day pack into the back of my truck and Gibson and I headed to Vermont. It was a grand day, the weekend of the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials - of which I have been attending since the very first summer I lived in Veryork, over five years ago. It was an important day. The girl (and she was a girl) who showed up at that trial years before rented a little cabin in Vermont and desperately wanted a border collie and some sheep. She showed up at Merck cow-eyed and bushy tailed. And over the next four years would go from volunteering at trials and attending beginner clinics without a dog at all to getting her first puppy and taking lessons with wonderful trainers in Massachusetts and New York. Gibson grew up to be the dog of my dreams, the dog I needed, and while we have never entered a trial and he can't even do an outrun—we work together every day on this farm. I depend on him.

A lot is going through my head tonight. Some of it is guilt. I wanted to be one of those handlers down in the trial fields so badly, and I still do, but the reality of driving three hours round trip to herding lessons, working (at the time) a full time job, and writing books and running the farm became too much. Then Merlin came along right when time for herding lessons came back and I was out on trails and with the Draft Animal Association. Basically, I dropped the ball. I felt guilty because I know Gibson could have been a dog at this trial had I put in the time and effort. I watched the handlers around me, many of which I know by name, still feeling that awe. But also feeling that if I had a tail it would be between my legs, because in my head I have let them down. The trainers who started us out, the folks in NEBCA, the readership on the blog...

Amongst all these swirling feelings of trial excitement and regret, I felt that old excitement again. The feeling of just starting out into the Society of Lamb & Wool. The thrill of being asked to help keep score with the judge. Talking with handlers, explaining to tourists how the trial worked, just being engaged. With Gibson at my feet and a morning of chores under my belt I started to feel less like a failure and more a part of this world. I was not a trial handler. But I did live with the finest border collie in the world, and at four years old maybe he still can train for the trial fields? Old dogs/new tricks and all that. Someone asked me if my dog was competing today? I pointed to a dog in the trial field. Out there a sleek, 35-pound, dog was expertly driving sheep through a gate. I said "That is a precision instrument." Then I pointed to Gibson. "This is a hammer."

On the ride home from the trials—Gibson riding shotgun as always—I thought about the blog a lot too. Had I failed the readership the same way I failed the herding community? Had losing that beginner's mind, that excitement, that thrill of learning to bake and garden, raise chickens and sheep, and all that just left like magic sucked down a drain? I went from wanting a farm so bad it hurt to finally getting one of my own, then desperately trying to hold onto that farm. And I think in the struggle I have lost sight of some of the simple joys of digging up new potatoes, cooking a simple meal I new as a seed, and the amazed wonder at reclaiming country skills. I realize now, as I am typing this out, that my guilt was not about never walking up to the post with Gibson and saying "Come By," not really. My guilt was based on becoming the woman who forgot what the girl felt on the trial grounds. So I am going to try and find her, ask for her help, and go back to the start.

This evening ended with Gibson and I back at our farm. I opened the sheep paddock up and let the flock out to graze on the new pasture on the hillside. The grass was tall and lush and that amazes me because just a few weeks ago it was mud and rock. Overgrazing had destroyed it, topsoil slid off it and pooled in the driveway. It also looked hideous. "Welcome to Cold Antler Farm! To your right, notice the giant Dirt Hill! What DREAMS are made of!" but now that mistake is fixed and the sheep all doing well. Gibson joined me, acting as the electric fence - only zapping at the sheep if they left the grazing area we had allotted. But mostly the sheep just munched, we just sat and did what shepherds have done for thousands of years: watched. And in the sunlight, on my own deeded land, with my own flock, and this fine dog I didn't feel like a failure anymore. I felt hope.

I mean, if a landslide can turn into a pasture such as this; I can grow better, too.

12 Comments:

Blogger Katie S said...

Your paragraph about losing the beginner's mind really resonated with me. I hadn't had words to describe how I've been feeling until I read yours. Thank you.

Beautiful hillside now! :)

July 12, 2014 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger aart said...

Ah yes...the 'Jill of all Trades, Mistress of None' syndrome. BTDT. It's hard to have so many passionate interests then realizing you just don't have the time and resources to be *really* good at all of them, in fact you can only pick a few to focus on unto near perfection....and then you just become an appreciater of the rest of them.

But awareness and gratitude for what you have and have accomplished, and for what others have accomplished can be very satisfying. I find great joy in researching all kinds of topics and focusing on a few at a time(fewer as I get older) to really delve into and experience first hand.

So did you plant and/or amend the soil on that hillside or just let it come back? Rotational grazing and cultivating the soilfoodweb is fascinating.

July 13, 2014 at 5:48 AM  
OpenID roseandphoenix said...

Jenna, I'm sure you will have many people saying this ... but I love that you write about the realities after the honeymoon phase. It is important to keep the joy of the path -- and reclaiming that can only be good, I think -- but for those of us following along behind or with you, we are deeply grateful that you tell us about the mud and the bruises, the grief and the strains, and yet keep alive the sheer beauty and wonder of living a good life.

Jane Yolen has a book on writing called "Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft," which is obviously about a different vocation but might be worth reading for this topic as well.

I don't think you've betrayed your readership in any way. I came here via a link in Mother Earth News. I haven't kept up reading MEN, but I keep reading you.

July 13, 2014 at 7:11 AM  
Blogger mdoe37 said...

Wondering....So the folks that have those highly skilled dogs.

Did they start their own farm?

Are they single AND self-employed by that farm?

Its makes a difference. I shoot clays...its a sport. Hunting is real. Running dogs around in trial is a sport, your single, self-employed, mostly self sufficient farm with your dog partner is real. How many of those people can say that?

I drove past the fairgrounds and they were having a horse show. And you pick out all of the money girls with their pretty outfits and pretty horses. And there are a few girls out their who aren't as fancy. We refer to the first ones as horsey people, the later group as farm girls.

Make believe versus real world.

July 13, 2014 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

No, you have not failed your readership! (emphatically not).
Those of us who have been reading your blog for years have seen your progression from 'beginner', if you will, to owning your own farm - and have seen how hard it is at times. To pretend otherwise (not that I'm saying you would), to try to still be a novice when you're not - that would be pointless.

Also, to be honest, I don't think you have lost the joy in the small things that much - every day you tell us how much you love your farm, and your life. Sometimes it's hard, and you tell us that too. It's honest, and it's real, and for me at least, it's why I keep coming back.

I don't know many people in real life who have as much passion and love for their life as you do Jenna.

July 13, 2014 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Sonya said...

You are my rock star..for real. You are the only one I come to when I need a reality check, when I need encouragement,and when I need to keep the dream alive. I get tired of the..everything is coming up roses. Why? because I know it's not real. Life isn't like that. There are thorns to be scratched by,ups and down,and everything else in between.

You've got me planning my 5 year escape plan of getting out of the Netherlands and back into the U.S. for good and planning my own little farm.

Because of you, I have 5 chickens in my back yard..you certainly have not let anyone down..you've only encouraged us,made us think,made us plan, and had us coming back for more :)

July 13, 2014 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Peacemom said...

Jenna, I have a bit of this concern myself. The learning of new skills and starting the new adventures loses some of its sparkle as we do it more and more. I have become more adept at letting go the things that I don't necessarily hold passion for but were excited to learn. And in turn, developing the passions of the things that resonate and make my soul hum. Not everything we try will do that, but that doesn't make the adventure of starting any less valuable. You can't know if you don't start. So kudos for the trying and don't feel badly for the things that don't hold as much sparkle, it the natural course of things, I think. ~Vonnie, NH

July 13, 2014 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I agree. As a single woman also trying to get started farming you are an inspiration even as your "beginner" status has morphed into "in the trenches". Your enthusiasm for your lifestyle still shines through and your descriptions still encourage me and remind me why it is worth it even on the hard days. Thanks.

July 13, 2014 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Mary Schroeder said...

Haven't let me down. You tried, and trying is the most anyone can ask. You are doing a lot and running your own farm and living off of the income you make from home is a huge time consumption. Training any animal to be that precise takes at least an hour a day with someone that knows exactly how to train it. You have a full life and I love experiencing it through your writing. If you took the time from your writing and dedicated it to training for the trials, I would understand, but miss you and your life.

July 13, 2014 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Haggie810 said...

I love this. You are not a failure. You have not failed the trainers, or your readers. You are human. There are only so many hours in a day! I love what one of the commenters said about being a Jill of all trades but mistress to none of them...that is so me. I think I'm too worried to focus on perfecting one thing, only to find that I'm not good enough to perfect it. That's kind of my anthem...slightly above average at lots of things...outstanding at none. lol. This post really resonated with me though too because, as I'm in the 4th year of having my own garden, and trying to move more and more towards homesteading, and I'm also trying to raise 5 children, and work part time, I find myself losing the joy of growing my own food (raising it went out the window with the harsh winter since we lost our flock and the husband doesn't want to start a new flock until we get a new home...did I mention we are in the process of looking for our dream home/homestead, that will hopefully be our forever home...on a very limited budget, and our area is limited because of his job?) Yeah...we have just a little bit going on. My blog, and my book, are massively suffering too, but at the end of the day I'd rather have my book, my blog, even my garden suffer rather than my kids or their schooling. Its a harsh, but real, reminder that it's not all a fairytale, but we can still find the joy, if we're looking. :)

July 14, 2014 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger rebecca allers said...

Jenna, I've just started reading your blog. I'm not that great with words, but the things you have to say provide me with hope for my own future. Even though this is probably the least of your worries, Gibson still has so much potential in regards to trialing. A four year old border collie is by no means an old dog! There are people on the trial feild with 11, 12+ year old border collies! What I'm trying to say is, you havent failed at anything. When you have more time to work on it, you still can. Life gets busy, and that is ok. And if you decide you don't want to trial in the future, hell, thats fine too! Lord knows trialing is expensive as hell and most people in my neck of the woods (Michigan) don't do it. They work. Keep it up, Jenna. you've had a positive impact that goes beyond what you can know or see.

July 18, 2014 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger rebecca allers said...

Jenna, I've just started reading your blog. I'm not that great with words, but the things you have to say provide me with hope for my own future. Even though this is probably the least of your worries, Gibson still has so much potential in regards to trialing. A four year old border collie is by no means an old dog! There are people on the trial feild with 11, 12+ year old border collies! What I'm trying to say is, you havent failed at anything. When you have more time to work on it, you still can. Life gets busy, and that is ok. And if you decide you don't want to trial in the future, hell, thats fine too! Lord knows trialing is expensive as hell and most people in my neck of the woods (Michigan) don't do it. They work. Keep it up, Jenna. you've had a positive impact that goes beyond what you can know or see.

July 18, 2014 at 1:40 PM  

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