Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Little Broken Pieces

Few things make me feel more like an adult then stripping beds after overnight guests stay at the farm. It's a simple ritual and I love it. I love the whole series of chores from removing the sheets, taking them to the laundromat, and bringing them home to remake the guest bed. I spray them with lavender water. I make it look as nice as my means allow. This isn't an easy place to get to and it isn't always a comfortable place to be. I value company that can handle this scrappy farm and share these stories.

There's been a lot of guests at the farm this July. Writer friends Sarah and Danielle were here early in the month, stopping for a few days on their cross-country road trip. Those ladies stayed during the heat wave that nearly baked us into the Washington County slate below the soil. If it wasn't for the Battenkill and its various swimming holes we might have perished from talking too much about books and relationships (Admittedly, not a bad way to go). We sat like mermaids on river rocks. We laid on the hill looking at the sky and talking until we had to go to sleep, walking slowly down the hill when the stars and bourbon couldn't keep us up any longer. They loved the farm in a way I had forgotten.

Last week my friend Veronica from San Francisco stayed for a few days. (I need to tell you guys a story about a broken horse cart, an ice cream parlor, and a 2 mile walk back to the farm with three of us ground driving/riding a team of Percherons home safe but that's for another day, but there's photos on Instagram!) For an urban vegetarian who works in tech she could sit a horse, fry onions, chase piglets, and care for basil better than most in this zip code. By the end of her visit she knew locals by name, had the weather report for Saturday, and tolerated me showing her around Hildene in Manchester instead of tubing. I don't know if I ever had a person stay at my farm with a life more different than my own, but I cherished that visit more than she'll know. 

And just a few nights ago my friend Tara and I had a girl's night to talk about what's been going on in our brains over the past few weeks, and since she and I were enjoying wine and rom coms late into the night she chose to stay as well. The next morning I made a breakfast of eggs and bacon and she took a moment to savor. She told me what I do here is amazing - the work and the food - and I really needed to hear that. Lately it's been so damn hard.

Anyway, after all these friends leave to return to their own lives I go back to the work of keeping that guest room fresh and ready for whomever may visit next. A tiny bit of hospitality that makes this place seem a little larger than it is. The fact that folks can choose to come here and share in the farm for a while makes me feel more connected and accessible.

And yet every time one of these people leaves and head off to make their next stop or catch a plane my heart breaks into all these little broken pieces. Not because I mind being here alone, not because I can't join them on their journey, not because I even want to leave the farm and travel. It's because I can't do anything...

This feeling of sadness started a few months back when my friends and I went to the movies. When it was over they told me such wonderful news. They had bought a vacation home on an island, a time share, and wanted me to join them sometime there. It hit like a gunshot. I didn't expect the news to slam me like that and I had to fight off a panic attack I wasn't expecting and didn't understand. It wasn't about being able to travel or not, again - I'm not even that keen on travel - but it was the fact that I couldn't get away. And even if I could I couldn't afford it. They might as well ask me to join them in growing gills and swimming to the bottom of Lake Placid. I simply can't do these amazing things. And the comparison hangover was intense. The fear that I would never be able to go anywhere again sunk into my heart.

I haven't gone anywhere for a vacation since, well, I guess since I was a child? Since college I never traveled anywhere that wasn't related to work. Instead I focused on a life that made every day feel like vacation. I scrapped together a way to buy this farm, work here full time, and make a life of hobbies, hunting, farm and garden my everyday paradise. And for ten years that was all I cared about, to the determent of family visits, vacations, dating, everything else. And now when people come and stay on those clean sheets I am more grateful than ever for their company but also insanely jealous they could stop whatever they were doing and stay at a farm for a few days.

Sidenote: People always suggest things like getting a farm sitter or having neighbors watch your stock while you're away but that only works when you have a farm that runs fairly normal. This one doesn't. Even if my closest friends were willing to live in my house I wouldn't feel comfortable asking them to watch my dogs, chase escaped sheep that leap over 4ft fences, or a loose 200lb sow, or rake snow off a roof at 3AM, or check for lambs in a snowstorm. If it was a matter of filling tanks with water and throwing hay to horses... sure. But that isn't Cold Antler right now. I am trying to get it to a place where I feel safe leaving it. Truthfully, I didn't think when I started farming at 25 I'd be single a decade later. I always thought there would be a partner in my life that could stay home and care for things if I had to travel. Oops.

I couldn't travel right now if I wanted to. Maybe someday I will. My goal for 2019 is to make one or two summer overnight trips with the dogs where we stay in a real hotel and order room service and watch a bad movie in bed and spend the day exploring Portland or Salem or Mystic. The kind of trip that costs $400 or less in every expense from rental car to gas to lodging. Right now if I was handed $400 it would go to stove repairs and firewood. It would go to keeping the lights on and the mortgage paid. But maybe if I scale back, save up, and allow myself these little things I would feel less isolated. I wouldn't have trouble breathing in a movie theater over delightful news. Maybe getting away for a night would make me feel a little more freedom?

The irony of all this isn't lost on me. I'm supposed to just be grateful I have this dream I fought like hell for. That I am still fighting for. And I am grateful dammit but I don't want to do all of this alone anymore. I will come home again to breeding lambs and milking goats when life is easier or the apocalypse returns us all to homesteaders. Right now the work is to find balance and connection and pray to just get through this month with some firewood stacked. I have ten days or so to make that happen.

I guess the point is I am tired of feeling that rush of panic when someone invites me to travel. Five years ago I'd have all the confidence in the world and say no thank you and mean it. But as I get older and continue on this adventure I want to get out and see what I've been missing out on for the last ten years. Not because I want to quit farming. Not anything grand or long. Just a night away once or twice a year with my dogs and the road and a lighter heart, unworried about being liable if a car hits a sheep.

And all of this doesn't mean I am unhappy. But all of this is a part of the decision you've been reading about. I need to hunker down and focus on what I want. I need to be honest about what I can handle well. I need to see some of this stuff away from pullets and horse harness and butcher appointments. Some of you are disappointing in that. Like changing is waving a white flag. But it's not about surrender. It's about feeling okay with a thousand choices that ended up with some little broken pieces and gluing some back together again.