Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lesson Embers

The biggest decisions of my life were made out of fear. I used to see that as a flaw. It felt like something to be ashamed of. We’re taught that broad gestures and risky life changes are acts of bravery made by strong people who know exactly what they want and exactly what they’re doing. That was never the case for me.

Not one year of this farm came from swagger, it all came from varying degrees of panic. Everything I chose—from buying a farm alone at 27 to quitting my safe day job to training my first hawk—was a combination of self preservation and regret management. I needed to distract myself from what I wasn’t ready to accept while remaining vigilant of the dream that I had centered the entirety of my self worth around. I ran away to a farm to hide from myself, and the place I was hiding in defined who I was.

That said, it was never a cage. It was always a secret garden.

I chose to hide from the world for years on this farm because I was so afraid of myself, and being isolated meant I didn’t have to deal with it. That is what I convinced myself I was doing. What actually ended up happening was the opposite. That isolation became a pressure so intense it forced atomic changes. It was in the act of remaining here, on this farm, for nearly a decade that forced me to be a stronger woman. And it wasn’t a fairy godmother waving a wand and turning my rags into a sparking dress - it was violent and awful, a writhing werewolf transformation from a terrified girl into a powerful woman.

But now I howl.

Ten years on this farm has been a gift. The most important being the work of caring for animals. When you make yourself a caregiver,  every single day, for nearly a third of my life - it changed me. Being distracted by the needs of a hundred other small lives meant I could never allow myself to sleep in, or have a sick day, or ignore the work outside in all weather. It meant no vacations. It meant no travel. And it meant every singe day I was avoiding my demons by playing farmer I was instead forced to dance with them.

When you raise animals you are forced to constantly deal with life as a reaction. An animal became sick? Either heal it or you’ll be disposing the body. A storm is coming over the mountain and tearing down trees and removing power - start up the propane stove outside for hot coffee and start sawing limbs and repairing fences. The bank sends someone to talk to you about your third month behind on the mortgage threatening a short sale if you don’t pay up fast - pace and sell whatever you can offer legally to make at least one payment to keep the door only covered in scratch marks instead of bite marks.

Those knee jerks and panic attacks, the constant resourcefulness and fire-smiting… do that for a decade and when you turn your head to look back you realize that the forest fire that you’ve been running away from for so long has started to consistently return to pasture. You can squint past the smoke and charred earth right behind you and see green. Those years that were hell and now scarred over and healing. The fraught moments that made sleeping past 3AM impossible are now lesson embers.

Homesteading changed from the passionate novelty of my twenties into the everyday work of my thirties. I stopped writing about it as if I was crushing on the new girl in town sauntering in a sundress. Now I write about it with the certainty and security of a hard-earned marriage. The work of the farm stopped being a blog, books, and workshop vehicle and started becoming an actual brand. And by brand I mean literal, burned, permanent marking on who I am, invisible runes tattooed up and down my spine.

I was playing dress up with authenticity and stumbled into the back wall of my wardrobe into Narnia. One day it was real. It was mine. Finally.

These are the thoughts that take up most of my time these days. The book I am working on selling now is about who this farm made me into, what it taught me, how I needed it to become who I am today. It's a love story about realizing happiness isn't something you get from travel, or religion, or love - but from accepting who you are and where you are at the exact moment you are in. I am starting to find that in myself and be kinder to myself because of it.

It's September and I just want to mail this mortgage check so I can exhale for a few days. I don't know if I can pull that off without the luck of a freelance check coming in ASAP. I still have no firewood stacked for winter, so no heat at all. And I am constantly waking up worried. But I have a lot of faith in the woman that's carried this with her for the last decade - and knows worry the way some people know regret and that's the better option. At least for me.