Monday, September 5, 2011

hard respite

It's pouring out there, and I just missed the deluge. I had been outside for a few hours taking care of Jasper's stall. I turned him out to the pasture and then filled a few wheel barrows with manure and soppy hay. I took note of his housekeeping. Jasper rarely, if ever, went to the bathroom in his indoor stall. He kept most of his dumps in the paddock. The far corner of the stall had a small nest of hay untouched by even mud. His bed.

I spent most of my Labor Day afternoon mucking this stall, giving him some fresh straw for bedding. With the three days of rain coming our way, clean, dry bedding seems important. It's what I would want. He walked back to his paddock without much fuss. He's getting used to his routines and used to me. Someday I will ride that pony. Today, I just flushed his toilet.

I have a little cornish hen in the oven over a bed of new potatoes. If you read this blog for some time, you know them as well as I. I thought a homegrown chicken dinner was fitting for Labor Day. Alongside it: watermelon from the farm down the road, and raspberries over vanilla Greek yogurt for dessert. A feast! And a savory, warm meal of meat and potatoes on a rainy night post a day of farm work. This is comfort pornography to me.

It's comforts like this that best explain why I do this, why I live this life. I am a junky for hard work followed by hard respite. But not just any work or any respite. I love working outdoors, with animals (sometimes in service to them) to grow and raise the food and music I will enjoy when the work is over. This is timeless, in our blood. Not one of us doesn't have an agrarian back in their pedigrees. It was simply how our culture became. So to spend a day in a light rain, dripping with sweat, shoveling horse shit into a wheel barrow in hopes that some day I will harness that pony to a log chain or cart: this to me is good work. This is joy paid for up front, emotional insurance.

I can take the work. (Hell, I'm a sadist for it.) I know after that stall is clean I will walk Jasper into it, hand him a little grain, fill his canvas hay feeder, and pour clean well water into his trough. He will have his every need met. He ran across a pasture, chomped apples, worked with me, and now has his bed and breakfast waiting for him post room service. Same goes for the rabbits, the sheep, the chickens—all of them are fed, watered, with warm dry places to call home tonight. When I go inside to rest, it is only knowing I did right by these animals. An unspoken agreement of mutual dependency sings.

When I sit in my farmhouse—even without anyone to share dinner with—I feel so secured and calm by this work. Sometimes, quite honestly, it is the only thing that makes me feel safe. Between my anxieties and a world and economy falling apart, this 6.5 acres cares for me. It stands up to blizzards and hurricanes. It holds fireplaces and warm dogs. It is worth all of it.

The meal I will eat tonight was known as a chick and a seed. It took months to get here, from people I know and do not know. I know myself and Ben Shaw, who raised and processed the bird, and how much work we both did. But what about the people who bagged those seed potatoes? What about the workers at the Hatchery who shipped that cornish? What about the folks who made that hoe, who sold it to me? There is a chain so endless, even in backyard-produced foods, and you don't have to be a religious person to be in awe, or grateful, or say an honest grace because this meal tonight, is a miracle. This day of Labor, is a celebration.

You grow food and you're forever. A part of past, future, life and death. You are sore, and tired, and to wake up without a kinked back or aching hips might require an hour of yoga before bed, but that's okay.

I hope all of you had a wonderful and safe holiday.


Blogger Tara said...

I had a homegrown chicken dinner planned for tonight too. As it happens, I'm too tired to cook it! This is actually a good thing, though, since I got to work outside all day without risk of heat stroke for the first time since May. I totally earned tonight's phoned-in dinner! Happy Labor Day, everyone!

* by "phoned-in dinner", I don't mean ordering out - there's none of that here in the hinter-boonies. I just mean we're eating something effortless. ;)

September 5, 2011 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

You too Jenna. Mark and I are seemingly light-years away from our own farm, but this post brings back for me those days as a working student at a horse farm in Vermont. There was nothing in the world as lovely as the 12 hours of mucking stalls, stacking hay, grooming and training horses and strapping on blankets in the evening, only to collapse-muscles deliciously fatigued--in my little studio apartment over the barn with cat and book after a nice hot shower. I can't tell you the number of times I burned my dinner because I just plain zonked. Thanks for the trip down memory lane and a happy, wonderful Labor day to you!

September 5, 2011 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger K. Jean said...

Sounds similar to our weekend too. Sometimes it's nice to do just the right amount of work. Happy Labor day to you Jenna, and everyone else too!

September 5, 2011 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

After spending Fri, Sat and Sunday of the weekend doing SAR dog training, I caught up around here. I picked tomatoes and oven roasted them. I made pesto. I dug potatoes. I treated the chickens and turkeys to rotty tomatoes and weeds. I picked broccoli and zuchinni. I also mowed the lawn. What a productive Labor Day!

September 5, 2011 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger LMM in Idaho said...

How grateful you are. Your words weave images of true traditions...Lovely to read such a well deserved response to the gifts of an honest day...once again (mentioned in an earlier blog comment) I know you would appreciate the gentle words of author Wayne Muller in his book "Sabbath." Perfect for where you are at in your life right now.

September 5, 2011 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Chestnut Farm said...

We had chicken and veggies from the garden too tonight! The weather made me do it...

September 5, 2011 at 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... weren't sitting in your farmhouse alone having your dinner - we were all sitting there with you having dinner with you by way of your words and this blog. please never forget that we are all there with spirit at least. have a safe and great night!!

September 5, 2011 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Sounds like you had a good day, and you definitely earned that delicious dinner. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I find it to be so satisfying to eat food I have grown myself.

September 5, 2011 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

I never appreciated my little farm as much as I did last night. I spent the day out in Schoharie, helping clean-up the post-Irene flood zone. Mostly, we carried water-soaked clothes and furniture out of peoples' houses and piled it six feet high at the curb, and then we started tearing off the interior walls of their homes, sometimes homes they had lived in for decades. Some will be able to rebuild and some won't. And then I came home to a dry, cozy house and animals with dry, cozy barns and coops and I was very grateful, and very tired.

September 6, 2011 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger greendria said...

Beautiful words, you are so talented. You think big thoughts, and then find the ways to capture them with well-chosen words.

I personally wish you were sharing your dinner with a partner, a love match, for better or worse. When the time, and person, is right, I suppose...

September 6, 2011 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger karental said...


You're in my "inbox" today, on the Community Chicken listserve. Mother Earth News is advertising your attendance at the fair. Congrats. Wish I could be there.


September 6, 2011 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Victoria Nidetch said...

You write very well Jenna. I enjoyed the description of your day.

September 6, 2011 at 11:00 AM  

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