Saturday, July 13, 2013

In The Fire Together

I placed the three quarts of goat milk in the freezer. I had just strained the morning's output into a large half gallon jar and as it filled I divvied it out into the smaller quart containers. Usually when I come inside from morning milking I just strain into the half gallon jars and set them in the prepared tub of ice water in the steel sink. That's the way to do it. I milk Bonita, come right inside the house, strain through the small jar-top filter and then place the white dirigibles to plash and float among ice cubes and blue cooler packs from the drug store. The milk chills fast that way, down to 40 degrees in about half an hour. Then the chilled milk goes into the freezer for a "cold pasteurization" of another hour or two. This shock attack of cold temperature to the raw milk keeps it at cow milk flavor, without any tang of goat whatsoever. the only goats milk I drink is fresh, cold, and any unaware person would drink it in their coffee or cereal never thinking for a moment that it wasn't from some random carton of Holstein squirts. That's the usual drill, but today I just strained and set the three jars in the freezer for a shock and awe campaign instead of the usually bath soak. I had slept in and wasn't on my game. All it meant was it would start to turn "goaty" about twelve hours sooner than had it been chilled faster. You sleep in and you pay the price in milk flavor. So goes the world.

I'm okay with this. Right now this little homestead is bursting with productivity. The garden has been offering lettuces, peas, and kale already and the first green tomatoes are showing up on the vine. Yesterday I pulled out a zucchini, the onions are ready whenever I want them. I have those deep forest green vines of yellow squash and field pumpkins swirling around and hopes for a few decent gourds. I had plans to get a plow and set up a proper pumpkin patch with Merlin but that never came to fruition, due to my lack of follow through on getting a plow and having the land cleared to plant. The funds for brush hogging and land moving needed to clear that area, as well as the funds to buy a plow, had to be allocated to other areas. You can't have it all. But I can still have a small pumpkin patch and I have big hopes for it. A few orange orbs with smiling jack faces makes this baling-twine-coated heart soar.

So there is milk on tap, a patch of happy veg, eggs upon eggs, and a freezer full of pork, rabbit, and some leftover lamb from a share I bought last winter. I have a bread machine pumping away right now (I know, I know, but my oven is busted and I can only use the range top so the breadmaker has been a blessing). I have not been to a grocery store in weeks. Things I don't grow and still need like flour, salt, sugar, and coffee are all for sale at the farm stands and co-op in town. If I want more kale or want to buy a rope of garlic for the kitchen I just head down to Common Sense farm where barter is alive and well. I just traded my old single tree for some hay for the hooves here, a good trade since they make hay down at CSF but aren't up and up on draft animal equipment. They just acquired a pair of donkeys and will be using them for field work, carting, and as livestock guardians. I am excited to help them get the girls started in harness.

There are fifty meat birds on the way soon, another barter. I haven't had a single farm-raised chicken dinner yet and I sure do miss that. I would have been enjoying one of those special American Bresse but that raccoon beat me to them, but there are still 8 Bresse chicks doing well by the side deck of the house, chirping away in their safety pen. Every coo and cluck out of them is a recipe on the tip of my tongue. I look forward to their flavor by autumn!

I find this reality incredibly comforting. Money, as I said before, is make believe. It is something we all decided as a society has a certain worth. But at the end of the day it is paper and electronic transfers, not something you can turn into soft cheese and spread on a slice of bread.  You can buy a goat for money but what it is really worth is priceless. Food and safety and the knowledge to appreciate and sustain both is riches beyond compare. To know there is this abundance of food, a stream of cold mountain water, a protective mountain, a fish-filled river, a forest of game and foraging all around me makes me feel like I landed in paradise. I really have. Wealth isn't money, it's living in abundance. This place may be an uphill battle right now but the work certainly is paying off in real returns, and to have landed in a community where horse equipment can be traded for hay and neighbors with maple syrup or vet services are a short horseback ride away is a kind of economy and society nearly lost in modern America. But it is here, alive and well in Washington County. The Daughton family—who are helping me build the Mews—were given Francis the goat and one of this year's kids as payment in advance for their time and power tools. Everything around here works like this, at least for the people who seek it out.

Last night I was helping wrap 300 slow-cooked muskovy duck, Chinese cabbage, carrot, and onion spring rolls at Common Sense Farm. Friday Night Meal is the start of their sabbath, and is a open to the entire community. Having shared plenty of these meals I thought it was time to help cook and serve. I was one of several people preparing food for nearly a hundred people. Mostly community members, since most people in the town are put off by the religious group and feel they can't join in since they don't share the same faith. But a good number of people in town do show up for the live music, dancing, and awesome food.  I was sweating in the kitchen, even with the windows open and fan blowing in on us. Someone asked if I had come in from Air Conditioning and I explained I didn't use it. "You're in the fire with us" was Othniel's smiled reply. He was talking about our shared lack of freon but I took it to mean a lot more. We may be different faiths, live different lives, and have different politics and ideals but anyone out there working with gardens, livestock, draft power, and in the maw of nature is in the fire together. It's choosing to live a life with a lot more labor, time, and effort put into tasks like eating and income but the results were clear. All of us had just spent a friday in our fields, holding hoes, riding horses, milking goats, building a life we feel is correct. We are certainly in the fire together. Some people think we are eccentric, or odd, or escapists because we all left our office jobs, health insurance, and microwaves in the dust. But once you learn that other people's opinions is just a synonym for happiness suicide you stop caring about raised eyebrows in Stewarts because you showed up in a straw hat and a kilt.

Yup. I'm in the fire. There is no place I would rather be.