Monday, August 5, 2013

Highs & Lows

Yesterday I had planned to take Merlin out for several miles in our small red cart. I had recently touched up the paint, polished the leather harness, and attached a produce bin to the back bumper so we could carry home a haul of fresh onions, carrots, and greens from Stannard Farm Stand, my closest farm market. I was heading down my road when I noticed my left tire was low on air. I stopped to get a better look and saw the rubber had been ground down to the wires! I couldn't use the cart in this shape and headed home, a little sad. I had been telling the ladies at Stannard I would be coming for weeks. But hey, better safe than sorry.

I ended up going for a trail ride instead, which was glorious. Merlin, Gibson, and I explored the mountain and beat the rain home, just. My Sunday afternoon wrapped up with slow-cooked pork and garden peppers over rice and friends mark and Patty invited me over for post-dinner drinks in the hot tub. It was cool enough at dusk to put on a wool sweater, believe it or not. This morning the farm was 45 degrees! I had spent the day farming, carting, riding, eating my own farm-raised foods, and ended the night with jets on my tired back watching shooting stars. That, my friends, is what we call a High Time in the rural life.

But around here Nature always bats last, as the saying goes. I drove home happy as a clam and Gibson and I did our usually night rounds. Before I headed in with some mint tea and a book (reading Bloodroot, Appalachian magical novel) I lit a lantern and together G and I checked on four sleeping shoats, two calm horses, birds in the coop, bunnies making nests for kindling, and a dozen sheep on the hill. All is well. Last check was on the 50 Freedom Ranger chicks I had inside the house, in the mud room brooder under a headlamp. They were all eating and drinking and happy. A great day in farm country, no?

I woke up and 44 of those chicks were gone.

I know. I know. Horrible. No blood, no sign, no struggle. It was (as someone on Facebook said this morning) a chick version of the rapture. Only 6 little sinners were left, totally fine. I scooped them up and took them to a scrappy makeshift brooder. I inspected the brooder after that and discovered the entry point. There was a hole gnawed into the plywood, about the size of a billiard ball. I was so incredibly crestfallen and angry. If there birds were outside you would almost expect a mass die off, but this was in the brooder I have used for years, inside my home. What happened had to be rats, weasels, martens, opossums or something of the sort that came into the room through the dirt floor behind the washer and dryer. My mudroom was the old farmhouses original woodshed, so there is no stone floor, concrete foundation, or other critter-proof walls. I just never expected to loose so many animals in a day. I put some rat poison inside the empty brooder, not my favorite way to take care of pests but this is war. I'll also put in a small, live trap with bait. This, my friends, is what we call a Low Time in the rural life.

The only good news to this - A friend mailed me a hatchery gift card last month. At least I can get more birds. These were late-season replacements for the other adult American Bresse/Austrolorp meat birds I lost to the raccoon. I am not having a great year of the chicken.

Living this life, with animals and so close to my food and nature is amazing, but it is also a constant emotional gut punch. Every day is an adventure, every day a series of tasks and quests that need to be completed. Yesterday included everything from mucking a pig pen to walking over the crest of a mountain ridge on horseback. It is both ends of the spectrum, pig poo and paradise lost. There are always highs and lows, but the point is to love and learn from both. I wouldn't want a farm that never knew a raccoon or sunset ride. There's a balance here. It keeps me steady.