I am gaining on them.
Good, I had no reason to rush as I set the percolator on the wood stove and got the dogs outside to pee and regarded my morning with the rural civility it deserved. But as soon as I headed inside to pour that first cup of coffee I heard the crash of a giant horned head bursting through woven wire and brush and knew that demon sheep was back to his addiction. I heard the baaas of his girls behind him, and came out just in time to see them romp across the little road to my neighbors yard. Goddammit.
My neighbor was outside with his granddaughter, waiting for the school bus. This whole thing is both embarrassing and ordinary. I wave and send my two sheepdogs after the sheep, about fifty yards away from us. Gibson uses the little road as his path to an outrun. He then does this dog-food commercial leap over a stone wall and slams into the grass below it with decision. God's Body there is nothing better than seeing a beast doing what it was born to do! I can't help but whoop for him, and little Friday trails behind him. He runs towards the sheep, slows down to his crouch and slink, and gets all seven back on the road and home in seconds. I don't know how anyone out there raising sheep isn't doing it with border collies. They have better fences, clearly.
The dogs and I spend the next hour outside in the sick-warm of an unseasonable November. It is mud everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I am carrying out fresh hay, grain, and lugging water buckets and while my body is on the tasks of livestock breakfast my mind is just on hunting. Whitetail season opens again in a few days. I'll be out there trying, but I am being realistic about this season. It's been five years of hunting and not once have I filled my freezer. I want to because sixty to a hundred pounds of venison is a serious haul of grass-fed protein for a winter larder. It's money I don't have to spend at the grocery store. It's going to be a tight winter and anything hunted is an economic and gastoral blessing. I hope I get lucky. I have a muzzle loader tag this year as well, so maybe a late season doe will be a real thing.
I am thinking of deer, but also about taking Anna Kendrick out to chase some squirrels this afternoon. I don't care if she gets one or not, that girl just needs to fly. I am planning on taking a long hike with her on the mountain this afternoon. Her, flying beside me, stealing my hat from my head, playing tag with the glove... it's worth every second spent with her even without a kill. We walk and I think and watch the woods like the pair of predators we are. If the rain isn't coming down in buckets I will take her out. The choice is made right there and then as I move the chicken pens out of the mud and onto solid grass.
Chores get done and the collies and I get dirtier. I say a quiet luck prayer under my breath for a house with linoleum floors. There is no carpeting in the living area anymore and that is a great thing. I see us walk inside with my coated boots of mud and manure and two dogs covered in the same and watch the muddy paws make a trail to the water bowl across plywood and plastic and smile. I think of when my sister came to visit a few weeks back and pulled me aside to say, in that loving-but-concerned sister way, that "I love you, Jenna but your house is gross." That hit me hard because before their visit I spent three days scrubbing and cleaning and buying things like scented candles and Febreeze and I thought the place was ready for a photo shoot. She saw the permanent stains on the plywood from thousands of muddy paws crossing them. She saw the curtain lace needing to be washed and turning from white to cream. She smelled those farm-house notes of wet dog, earth, puppy pee and burnt coffee. Of course it was gross to her. I shrugged. It was a reminder of how feral my life must seem to a mom with a suburban house and floors literally clean enough to eat off of, because she has babies crawling over them. When you got two adults, two incomes, and 100% less farming you can make your house spotless. I'm not saying it's easy, but with diapers catching most of the manure in your life its a hell of a lot easier to keep things tidy. I'm fine with my house being gross to some people. They aren't on Team Farm.
I'm back inside now and Gibson is asleep, exhausted, in the overstuffed chair. The wood stove is lit just to fight back the damp outside. Friday had her puppy breakfast and is in her crate asleep as well. Annie (who sleeps as much as possible at 16) slept through all of this mud and memories and hasn't moved off the comfy daybed since her morning piss. The house smells like wet dog and burnt coffee, and I still smile. I poured myself a giant mug of the nectar and I'm enjoying it with sugar packets I pocketed from the gas station because things are too tight right now to go out and buy a box of Equal. That sentence might sound tragic to people with cleaner floors, but I am happy. I wouldn't trade in this scrappy life for a maid staff, sugar canes, and espresso machine.
I am looking forward to a hot shower and the chicken and potatoes with lupine anticipation. It's not ten-pointer but it'll do. Last night I had two chicken thighs cooked in an asian sauce for dinner. It was amazing. The rest of that bird is in the crock pot, a sort of leftover stew to pick at when I get too wolfish to fuss with recipes. Yesterday morning I had bacon and eggs from this farm's chickens and pigs. When the place that gets you mocked, takes care of you so well, you don't really care about others' opinions. Kind of like when you're old enough to not be embarrassed by your parents anymore - just grateful.
Today is just about indoor work - graphic design clients and writing - and that is good. I'll clean up the place and run a mop and light some candles to fight against the mess. I'll put on a record, something good for a rainy morning like Iron and Wine or Band of Horses. The house will be filled with music and dog sighs. I'll get a hot shower (which I am looking forward to more than most people look forward to getting laid), pour myself some more strong coffee, and put on some clean clothes and lipstick and feel like the huntress with a mortgage I am.
I am okay with all of this being messy. I am okay with a sister grossed out by my floors. I am okay with people I went to college with being wealthy while I am sliding pink packets into my pockets after buying a cup of coffee at a gas station. If the race is about happiness, if that is our actual metric for a good life, I am lapping nearly everyone I know.
And the ones ahead of me?
I am gaining on them.