Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Walkmans in Church

"Do you have a cassette player? Besides the one in your truck?" was the message waiting in my email when I came inside the farmhouse yesterday evening. I had to stop and think for a minute. I was flustered from carrying buckets of water up the hill to the lambs. My mind was still outside in that ritual world of evening chores. I turned around because I had a Sony Walkman right behind me on the coffee table. Inside it was the same NEWSIES soundtrack I listened to in High School. The cassette had been moved ceremoniously from every car I had owned - one glove compartment to the next for nearly two decades. It was more of a luck piece than anything else at this point, but recently I had dug it up to sing Santa Fe to the goats during morning grain. I replied to my friend Patty that I did have one and I could bring it over next time I was at her farm.

This morning broke with sun so saffron my bedroom seemed to have a retro filter on it. I stretched and hugged my dogs, beside me in our double bed and eager to start the day. Gibson was at the window in no time, checking on the hen and rooster strutting by the front door. Friday stretched with me and took up the space he left her, absolute luxury.

The morning chores were better than usual. The sun was warm but the air mild—around 45 degrees—and in a long-sleeved cotton shirt I felt perfectly guarded from the slight chill. With a podcast in my ears I went about the same old story of hay, grain, water, and checking on the animals. Chicks needed their water fonts cleaned and tractors moved. The pigs needed their water trough dumped and scrubbed before refilling. The horses needed fly spray and I took note that they are due for spring worming. I emailed the shearer again, eager to have the sheep shorn. The work that was once thrilling but is now a warm ember inside me. I can't imagine not being needed this way first thing in the morning by something I need just as much. You can get drunk on it if you don't temper it with coffee.

A lot of coffee.

The rest of the morning was spent indoors. The usual to-do list of promoting the skills I have to offer, preparing books for the mail, packaging soaps, and getting artwork completed and in mailers for customers. I made one sale (two short of the day's goal) but knew I had plenty of time to get where I needed to be by dark. One sale is still money coming into the farm. That's something, a step up hill.

I changed into running clothes and got a quick four miles in. The run helped. The music carried me across the now-lush landscape of Washington County. I'm still getting used to all the green. Every year it's a shock how alive the place becomes after such a long winter. That was a gratitude I didn't have to fight to absorb.

After the run I enjoyed a hot shower and got dressed for town. My usual stops of the hardware store, the post office, and gas station were done in quick order. Friday was with me. She hung her head out the window and with her eyes closed took in the day the way I did on my run.

Did I ever tell you that when I stop what I'm doing, any time of day, and howl she howls with me? It might be my favorite thing about the little monster.

Next was the farm work I was most looking forward to that day: the kailyard. I had bought twenty dollars worth of starts (48 plants) with money made from selling goatsmilk soap. Today I'd use the goat compost (a year old) and hand tools to work in the earth and create rows for planting the greens. This was done in the mid afternoon and I felt that sun go from warm to hot as I worked with pitchfork and hoe. The dogs were with me, running around and digging in the garden beside me. They are whimsical and erratic landscapers going through their hole period. It wasn't much help but they stayed out of the way of the sharp points of tools and that was enough for me. I got to wear shorts and a tank top too grubby for civilization and get a bit of a tan.

This was a full day for me. Work indoors, in town, and on farm. I wanted a quick ride with Merlin before the work of evening chores and the soapmaking I had yet to do. So I grabbed my pony's halter and lead rope and collected him from the pasture. If there is one reason above the rest that I am still on this farm - it is this. To walk outside the place I work and use the skills of tacking up and be on the back of a galloping animal fifteen minutes later. To do all that as comfortably as if I had just started my truck- this is wealth beyond measure to me. Struggling here is a song. Sometimes it's lovely and sometimes it's playing jazz in the dark... Like last week.

As we rode I listened to the new song Hunger by Florence and the Machine. Merlin ran and the song crested and I felt like the day was just getting started. Sometimes I can't help but laugh when he really gets going. Not because it's funny, but because this is my Tuesday afternoon. It took so long to get here - and keeping it is a thousand times harder - but no one could take that moment from me. I asked him to go faster and he did and that is mine forever.

The day ended over at Patty's farm. She invited me over to visit for drinks and catching up. Before I headed out the door I remembered the Walkman. It turned out that her husband Mark had found old tapes of his brother's piano playing. The master pianist passed away a long time ago and this would be the first time Mark had heard those songs since his brother was alive. Patty used a Bluetooth speaker by jacking into the old tech with the headphone port.

It felt so personal and beautiful that I slipped away, wanting to let this moment be theirs. As the first soft chords played by a ghost I walked into their old threshing barn. I could hear the music from across the pasture, filling the old space like a whisper in a church. It wasn't my music to hear but I stole some for a moment. Good god, what a day this was.

It was a week ago that the power was shut off and I was alone in the dark. I got through that and now the next thing is on the list becomes the new fight - another mortgage payment, another bill, another day of constantly trying to harness a life of fast horses on Tuesday afternoons.

Maybe some day this will get easier? I'm not sure if I'm built for easy. But I am here for ghosts in old barns, red shoulders, and the straining of my eyes at a dark copse of trees for the first fireflies. They'll come back soon. But I want to see them the way I want to be held at night - not because I need to be, but because my tiny world is better for it.

I'm going to keep writing about these fears and this trying. Please keep reading.