Wednesday, November 16, 2011

the warmth of work

It was raining as I left the office, everything dark and wet. It's still a little unsettling, leaving my day job and discovering upon my emancipation, that the day has already passed. You try not to feel five pounds heavier, but its hard when you're getting pushed down by the time and space of it all. Gibson and I careened toward the farm, and when we arrived he loped off into the woods and I went inside to see to Jazz and Annie. I look forward to seeing those two more than I could ever express. They are my solid ground, through states and years, lives and change, they are my seraphim's with wolf hearts.

Inside the house seemed cold. At 57 degrees it wasn't cold at all, but I had done nothing more than sat in a desk chair all day. Isn't it funny that we call tedium "work" now, because that venerable word is now synonymous with offices and wages. But there is no actual work being done, not in the sense of labor. My office life has it's place and areas of import, but there is no actual work being done. Work is what people digging new sewer lines and planting winter rye are doing. I was indoors, with soft paws, moving things around on a computer screen. It makes you cold when you come home.

So I was craving animal comforts, the real basics: fire, soft things to lay on, warm food, and a big glass of red wine. I got the fires going, but it was the work outside that warmed me. In the rain I saw that every animal was fed, watered, comfortable and dry. It's dark out, but the yellow glow of the barn light's single 60-watt light bulb and the coop was as loud as lighthouses. I switched all the lights outdoors to traditional, old style bulbs. Not the greenest thing to do, but I was tired of the light in my barn feeling like the fluorescent lights above my desk at work. So I went old school, and now there's a warm yellow light in that land of hay, horse, pig and rabbit instead of the white fury of the twisties. I actually replace my standard bulbs less outdoors, the new kind doesn't seem to do well with rain and cold?

By the time the work of keeping this place running another night was done, I was soaking wet but warm all over. I came inside and the house was already up to 60, but felt like 80. I shed my layers and said a silent prayer of thanks that the worst of the rain was starting now that I was indoors. As temperatures drop into the 30's I know that there is dry wood inside to light and heat this farmhouse into the night.

Tonight, that is what I am grateful for. Now, warmed by a mason jar of red wine, I am thinking of the post I wrote about the place I go right before I fall asleep, that always calms me no matter what is weighing on my mind. It's a gray barn, and tonight as I sit here reading an old post, a post older than Jasper and Gibson, I realize how much consistent thoughts can change your life, and how things happen not so much out of work, but out of faith.

Here is what I wrote on December 22, 2009:

Every night, but especially on nights when it's hard to sleep, I lay awake in bed thinking. I'll toss and turn for hours unless I lay still and decide to go to the barn. I don't get up and go outside. The barn is a place in my mind. As long as I can remember I've had the same calming meditation right before I fall asleep. I imagine myself in this same situation and within minutes, I am breathing slower and grateful. I know it works because I can only remember what I'll share with you in a moment, and then it's morning. Maybe it will help some of you when your mind is loud. Here's where I go:

I turn over on my side, close my eyes, and imagine I'm in a high loft of an old gray barn on a rainy autumn night. I've been riding a horse for miles and besides the mare and I, the only other soul traveling with me is a black sheepdog. I have made a handshake deal to rest my horse in the stall below while I sleep in the hay storage above. The owner has offered me three quilts and a pillow and told me I could rest on the loose hay piled in a sheltered corner. I lay the biggest, thickest, blanket down first on a giant pile of hay and create a nest. (Sometimes it feels so real I can smell the dead grass and feel it crinkle under my mattress.) A lantern shines above me, flickering from an old beam. Besides the occasional quiet lightning outside—this is the only light. Outside a constant, inconsequential rain falls. I watch the shadows the lantern casts dance across the gray walls. Sometimes the light sneaks in-between the cracks and paints an old oak tree outside. Below me I can hear my small horse's gray hooves shuffle. She is a night mare keeping nightmares away. I am so weary from traveling the loft feels like heaven. I am so relieved to be dry and warm and have finally stopped moving. I curl my spine and sink farther into the nest. The black dog rests his head in my chest and sighs. We're warm. The mare lays down. Tonight will be okay.

I've imagined this nearly every night before I've fallen asleep for over twenty years. Long before I ever wanted to homestead, or ever considered a Fell Pony, this was my imaginary oasis of my most comforting things: shelter, companionship, and warmth. I went to the barn in sixth grade, in college dorms, in cities, and on snowy nights in Idaho. I'll go there tonight too. I feel particularly weary.


Blogger Chestnut Farm said...


November 16, 2011 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger KellyV (Kelly the Fifth) said...

Yes, beautiful Miss Jenna. I think I remember this post, yes? I liked it then, too.

I am a green, eco kind of person - I try my best. I am not convinced about the twisty lights at all. They are toxic waste in my town and must be disposed of at the Hazard Fair. They are expensive and I have not seen them last longer. I am open to being wrong about my dislike of them if someone can convince me that an expensive, toxic, overly bright and annoying bulb is better. Whew, I feel better.

November 16, 2011 at 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there are few things more restful than coming home at the end of the day, taking care of what needs to be taken care of, and then settling in (especially with more old-school lighting).

For a long time, I've had a similar approach to falling asleep. For me, it's a cabin in the woods - wool blankets, fire in the hearth, and rain outside. Helps me get to sleep all the time, and I plan to wind up there in real life sometime too.

November 16, 2011 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger JeanineH said...

I bit on the CFL twisty lights and some of the "new" ones that contain the twisty part in an old-style globe but having recently run out of those bulbs and resorting to a real old-style bulb.. I won't be buying any more CFL's the 60W bulb that replaced the 13W CFL lightens the whole room much better rather than having to be right under it.

I'm definitely interested in LED lighting though the price tag ($30 per bulb) is still scary and the possible need for more fixtures as the bulbs I've seen are more of a task-light / spotlight than a room lighting, great for working at a desk or similar but not lighting a big ol' living room. They should last almost forever though I've got some LED bulbs from an old electronics course I took 18 years ago and they're still going strong (only lost one of them actually and I put too much current/voltage through it and it popped) despite numerous projects and some rough handling in the meantime.

CFLs are out for me at least, and yes, they don't really do well in an outdoor setting.

November 16, 2011 at 10:06 PM  
Blogger Jenny Glen said...

We have noticed the energy saver bulbs don't do well in the cold either. We have one in our barn but we've been talking about going back to the old style bulbs.
As for your grey barn, you are such a romantic! I think it's wonderful because I go to the same barn at night myself. I must have come in after you. I didn't notice you and your dog snuggled down in the straw.

November 16, 2011 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

I, too like to dream of being warm and dry again after a day of hard physical work. But to invite in a dog and a horse--that's downright luxurious! I guess that's why you're the writer.

November 16, 2011 at 10:35 PM  
Blogger Lindy and Paul said...

Next time I'm having trouble sleeping, I'm going to conjure up that lovely, warm vision.

November 17, 2011 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger Patsy from Illinois said...

What a wonderful meditation. I think I may borrow it. Would you mind?
Meditations are very personal so I will ask before I borrow it. Some folks may say, "She will never know", yes, but I will know.

November 17, 2011 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Patti said...

I love reading you Jenna. I love how you write about everyday things and give us a glimpse into your world.
I hate to say it but those old style bulbs will no longer be available after a certain date, which I cannot remember now. I was in a lighting store recently and the owner was commenting on how the USA buys all of the new bulbs from China because there is not one company that makes them in them here and that the old bulbs are being phased out and will no longer be available. They are having to purchase all of the bulbs they buy from china. There is something wrong with that. We should be making all of the things we need right here in our own country. The banksters and politicians have ruined our very way of life.

November 17, 2011 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

You write beautiful stories, Jenna--in your head and in your real life :) Thanks for sharing them with us.

November 17, 2011 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

I agree with the "work" definition. There is nothing like stacking wood and feeding animals (in my case, my neighbor's horses) and mucking stalls etc. to warm you up.

I do think however that the only thing I might be careful using a mason jar for is wine ;@)

November 17, 2011 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger JeanineH said...

Just a follow-up for the "banning" lighting, yeah it's coming, if you want 100W bulbs you've got a month or so to get them (not sure if they'll pull the current stock of them when the ban goes in or if they'll be allowed to sell through inventory but not replace it)

The efficiency standards will start with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in January 2014.

November 17, 2011 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

Jenna, I can go outside in the morning and do chores and get all hot and sweaty then come inside and have to take all the layers off because it's too warm inside. And I don't even have heat on in here. My poor husband is cold sitting in his recliner. I tell him to go outside and do something to warm up the natural way instead of just sitting. Do some work and that will warm ya up.

And I love your nighttime story ritual.

And about those twisty lights? I do not like them at all. They don't last near as long as the regular bulbs do. And they are twice as much and have to be disposed of at certain places because they have mercury in them? Not something I want here. Also those little small lights that go in the track lighting are rediculous. Just give me a real light bulb, please.

November 17, 2011 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Zev said...

We had a CFL bulb on our porch light, but had to change it out because it won't come on at all when the temperature is below about 25°. I'm a little concerned about what we're going to do when the old bulbs are banned.

November 17, 2011 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

I could never dream of sleeping in a barn, not after the size of rats I see running around in them! Maybe if I had a hammock...........

November 17, 2011 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Yes, this. And I find myself thinking that a lot about many of your posts, but this is the first one I've posted on. This. Exactly.

November 17, 2011 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger alewyfe said...

The newer cfl's have a lot less mercury than the original ones, and can be brought back to any home depot or most other big-box home improvement places. They do come in different color temps now than the cold blue light... The traditional bulbs spew a lot of mercury into the environment as well- the combustion of coal to power them creates a lot of generalized pollution, heavy metals high on the list. True, they won't work well in your homemade chicken-water-defroster, and don't perform as well in cold temps...

I just bought my first led bulb to replace a fancy-bathroom-vanity one that burnt out... and unless for some reason I have problems with later performance, I'm never buying any other type of bulb. It was $20. It should last a very long time, which means less junk in landfills, or shopping trips to make. It uses 8 watts, and replaced a 60 watt bulb... and it's bright and warm! They have ones that fit the silly halogen fixture that the previous owner put in our bathroom as well... yeah, they're expensive, but if you just buy one at a time as you need to replace bulbs, it spreads the ouch factor out... and it's money up-front to save money later, which has a nice preparedness feeling to me- better interest than my savings account, esp. with how expensive energy is now! Anyway, my 2 cents on the whole lighting thing...

November 17, 2011 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger mb said...

i'm really enjoying your blog (found just recently) and wondering how you got to be where you are right now (farming woman) and wanting to dive in to read all your old posts to find out... but something tells me the barn visualization is key.

November 17, 2011 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger Big Sky Chicken Ranch and Victory Garden said...

Thanks, Jenna.
That was so reassuring. I like the night mare.

Yes, we are all just passing through, and often very much in need of a safe, warm nest.

I buy old light bulbs at garage sales. They are usually dirt cheap or in the "free" box.

November 17, 2011 at 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

November 17, 2011 at 4:00 PM  
Blogger BeetMama said...

Jenna, I love you. This post brought me to tears. I have been reading your blog for close to a year now, and have read your books, and am anxiously awaiting BarnHeart. Today, I am in need of the kind of sanctuary this post conjures, and I am so grateful to you for providing it.
Love and Hugs!!

November 17, 2011 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger Jenny Glen said...

Kelpie and Collie, I'm sure there are cats in the barn to keep the rats down. We are not allowed to have rats in Alberta (really - look it up) so the cats only have to worry about mice.

November 17, 2011 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger Anna D. said...

This is lovely and so poignant.

November 18, 2011 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Diane in VT said...

Good for you for going back to the old school bulbs! I hate the horrible cold blue light the CFLs give off. We don't use them at home for that reason.

My work has switched over to CFLs and it seems like they burn out as fast or faster than the regular bulbs did. Plus as other people have stated they're toxic and can't be disposed of in the trash.

November 18, 2011 at 11:40 PM  

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