Wednesday, November 6, 2013


For this post to make sense you're going to have to watch a few videos, but I promise they are either short or delightful. The first one is my own video (short), filmed by Patty, of herding with Gibson on my hill. The second (delightful) is by a personal hero, John Green, of the Author/Vlogbrothers fame.

Okay. Here I go.

If you watched that video you probably saw a girl and her dog herding sheep. That's because that is what the video is about. But when I watch that video I see nothing but failure. I see a dirt-covered hillside that once had beautiful grass on it. I see an overweight, broke, woman with low self esteem. I see a dog that is doing the exact opposite of the commands I am saying to him (i.e. Going Come By when I say Away and vice versa). I see failing fences. I see erosion. I see shame. No part of me was proud of this video. To me this is dirty underwear printed in the town newspaper.

I see this because I have lost perspective. I really have. And I didn't realize that until a few days ago when someone forced it down my throat. See, what you have there is a video of a girl and her dog. That's what it is. All those negative things I associated are not necessarily shared by anyone else, certainly not all of them (I hope). But that didn't matter, because that is the lens I have seen myself through for the past two years. If I'm honest, the last five. I see myself as a failure, and any "success" I have along the way is just a residual offset of larger failures along the way. This is a sad way to live. I wish I didn't see myself this way; But I do.

And that is what I was thinking while Brett interviewed me for his Doctoral thesis. His PhD is based on modern homesteaders and community, or something like that. So he asked me questions about my reasons for getting into such a lifestyle and what my measures of success were. These are perfectly logical questions to ask, but I kept using them as an excuse to apologize to him. Apologize for the scrappiness of the farm, for the sick lamb in the room with us, for the sheep that got away while herding. I apologized for over-grazing, eroded topsoil, and broken down barns. I wanted to cry during this interview, because all I could feel was failure. This farm feels like a failure in so many ways. I expounded on this by going through all the mistakes I made and the plans to fix them. I told him about selling livestock, re-seeding pasture, fixing fences, power washing the mold off the house, and just saying all that felt daunting. I told him that how this farm looks is a direct representation of how I feel about myself: a mess. I told this to Brett. And he just let the recorder go on and asked simple, non-emotional questions. Then he said something along these lines and it was a smack in the face.

"Jenna. When I met you, just three years ago, you were… farmCurious. You had three sheep, a few chickens, and that's it. Now you have mastered this place."

Brett isn't one to hand out compliments. I didn't believe him, but he had my attention. Master? Are you kidding me? Yet that strong a word has a lot of weight and it made me pause, think, and reevaluate what I had all around me.

I thought about how the day before I had taken two live roosters and turned them into food. How I taught this skill to a friend and together we butchered seven birds. I thought about my demonstration bird and the perfect kill stroke of the hatchet. I thought about the dozens and dozens of birds it took to get to such a point of confidence in teaching such a slaughter to others. The woman just a few years earlier was a vegetarian who thought fox hunting was along the same lines as vehicular manslaughter. That growth is something.

I thought about the sheep I just sold him, four large and healthy animals we loaded into the back of his truck with our own hands and my dog. Gibson and I are not sheepdog trial stars, nor are we anything special. But we did work as a team, him reading me and I reading him and communicated the work of gathering sheep and at the end of the day he had certainly helped to do the work he was bred for. That doesn't just happen. It was three years of working and living side-by-side, on this little farm. That relationship is something.

I thought about that hill side I am so ashamed of. And how even if it is a disaster, it is MY disaster. That this is land I own, bought myself, and raise food on. That I had a whole plan on paper for re-seeding and healing my mistakes and that is something. Even though it was a sloppy first-three years it was also impermanent. This wasn't a jail-sentence, but an interim. And a mistake that one summer of proper seeding and nature's blessing could return to grass, and eventually, livestock. The video is showing you dirty underwear, but you can do laundry. It's never too late to wash those drawers. That realization is something.

And yes, my body isn't something you'll find molded out of plastic at the GAP modeling a sweater. But you know what, it's my body. It is alive in every sense, and only getting better with every year. It's got curves and it knows what to do with them. It can buck hay, carry full-grown goats, ride a draft horse up a hill, and hit a bullseye with a good arrow. It can run, swim, smile, and shine. It has loved men, climbed mountains, and smote epic summer jogs. Plastic people can not do these things. They do not even try.

I felt better after Brett's interview because it allowed me to see myself as more than I had before. It made me feel better. And watching this video from John Green, it seemed to validate the experience. How often do we forget that a simple phrase, quote, movie, or experience can change things in a person. How often do we hold back kindness, when it could be everything the other person is grasping for so blindly. I like John's story. And while he is talking about a decade and change before, it still holds true to my own experience. Sometimes things get better because you decide to make them better. So from a few dead chickens, a dirt hill, and four sold sheep I got a little perspective, thanks to Brett McLeod. All it took was letting myself choose to see the positive instead of my haunting negatives. I am all those things I said in the beginning of this post, but I am more than that, too. I am a woman (not a girl) who has fought and won the life she desperately wanted. I have gone from half-hour rides on dressage horses at lesson barns to traveling miles by horse cart from my own front lawn. I have learned to spin wool, chop firewood, heat my home, milk goats, breed critters, and sell pigs. I am a hopeless romantic, morally secure, spiritually wealthy, and a powerhouse of hope and force. I have grown so much, more than anything else on this farm that was ever so planted and it truly floors me when I think about it. You can go back to the beginning of this blog and read a life from a total beginner who had no idea what was happening, just the passion to try. Now there's a lot more frustration and fear, yes. And a lot of healing of mind and land to happen, but I am certainly equipped to pull both off. I needed a lumberjack to tell me that. I needed a witness.

I am not a failure. Cold Antler is not a failure. It's just a beginning.

And that's some serious perspective.

P.S. If you aren't watching the VlogBrother's videos, you should. What started as youtube videos between two brothers in different parts of the country has become one of the best social and political works of our time, talking about everyting from Gay Marriage to Bronies.