Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Whip the eggs enough

One of the things I have never fallen out of love with regarding farming, is the constant flow of small accomplishments. The tasks that seem so small on their own—a bucket of water carried up a hill, a few minutes of weeding, a bit of fly ointment rubbed on the cheak of mare—that all lead to a morning of chores completed and a small menagerie calmed and cared for. This morning I was able to do those things while thunder rumbled in the distant and the clouds swirled dark. We needed the rain. I was happy to hear it, even as Gibson shot looks of worry my way (he hates storms). And right as the last swim suits drying on the post were brought inside and car windows shut tight; the torrent of rain exploded in the sky. It was a gift to the squash and the tomatoes, and to the dry land all around where farmers worry over hay and I do too.

It's a cloudy morning now. Breakfast is sitting light and bright in my belly. All four of us (two women and two border collies) had some very fluffy Japanese meringue pancakes with my farm's eggs and her farm's honey. Berries picked earlier in the summer were defrosted and heated on the stove with sugar to make a light syrup with some powdered suger. It was a delight to make! And while serving the chubby cakes to my girl and collies (a rare but appreciated treat for Gibson and Friday, though theirs were sans berries) I couldn't help but be flushed with the happy thought that I am the wealthiest broke person I know. I may be strugglng every month this pandemic (Let's be honest, I've been struggling way before!) but as of this morning the lights are on. The food is good. The farm is sated in all the ways - fed bodies and wet soil. And I have kind dogs and a beautiful woman to wake ip beside. Adding fluffy pancakes feels like a criminal level of happiness, a whipped cream topping on the day. What a treat life can be, when you whip the eggs enough.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Three Times

I came home from a run yesterday bolstered and feeling amazing. I had stopped at the bottom of the mountain to talk to friends, Shelly and Iggy. They are remodeling and cleaning out an old farm house in stages, building their homestead a piece at a time. Shelly is a large animal vet and her husband runs his own small restaurant. I have known them as neighbors since I moved onto the mountain and watching their gardens, goats, and home grow permanent has been a lovely addition to our little mountain community. I felt glad to have such great neighbors and made my way up the mountain at a brisk pace.

When I came home I wanted to do something special for my late lunch. I took one of the firs zucchini from the garden and sliced it and diced it up. I added it to a hot skilled with some olive oil, garlic salt, and pepper and Italian sausage from my pigs. I cooked it all up and put it in a nice little bowl with some hot sauce and ate with chopsticks, which is how I like to eat every meal if I have my Druthers. I felt good. My body was starting to loose its winter layers, finally. I was running daily. I had this small farm, which fed and fueled me. I had pastures, horses, vegetables, eggs, livestock, and a woman I can not wait to hold again. I had less than $200 to my entire name. But! Only because I was able to pay the June mortgage on July 14th, which means now I am at least earning money to pay for the present month again! I am still here, and blooming, and eating very good sausage on a sunny day. Wealthy as can be, regardless of the bank account.

And then, as all farms do, humility was thrown down on me like a hammer. Sometimes things simply go wrong, regardless of preparation or efforts to do your best. With the help of three other farmers, the internet, and some phone calls I still wasn't able to save a small new spark of life. And even after all these years it still hits me. It hurts like hell. It doesn't feel like guilt or shame, not when you try and do all you can. But it does remind you that when you're playing with agriculture sometimes you roll snake eyes and there's nothing you can do but nod and try not to cry in front of the dogs. You keep going. You learn. You move past it so you can focus on all the other animals that make up this farm. You can not lose sight of the whole. That is how homesteaders fall apart, give up, give in. The farm is always bigger than any single part of it. Always.

Which also includes preparing for winter. I am saving up for the first delivery of firewood, a cord and a half cut small enough to fit inside my Bun Baker woodstove. It's $350 and I hope to have that set aside as soon as possible, while still earning towards the mortgage. I can't just wait until I have the mortgage paid to buy and stack wood. Seasons do not work that way, neither does my wood guy. You get it when you get it, and have it ready for winter by October nights. But I am adding to it with the fallen ash tree that friends helped me cut down. I am hoping to add a half cord at least from the tree to stack first, hoping it is dry enough by late winter to burn in 2021. Friends will come today in the heat to help chainsaw and arrange rounds so I can start chopping and stacking. They say wood heats you twice, but when you work in a heat wave I say it heats you three.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Lucky Number 13

I woke up when the world was still caught in blue light. In the cool bedroom the world seemed tame and easy. Friday stretched out beside me, her paws pressed against the headboard as every inch of her spin gently curved and she yawned like a lioness before smacking her lips and kissing me on the nose. Gibson was on his back on the dog cushion beside the bed, paws up in the air. I said good morning to him and when his tail thumped against the old planks I felt it in my ribs. You can’t not smile at a dog like him. Gibson has spent nearly every day of his last ten years beside me on this farm. He’s watched it rise and fall and me do the same, in the joy and excitement of new books and horses and hawks and the despair of busted pipes and loneliness and fear. But it is July and the sun was rising and we had happy work to do. We still had time to stack firewood. I was only a few weeks behind on the mortgage instead of months. There was an entire farm waiting on us to be fed and start the day and they were stirring awake, too. So I got dressed and took us three border collies outside to see our world.

With the sun just starting to rise we walked outside the farm house and made our way to the chicken coop. Not the Eglu, not the small chicken tractors, but the proper coop. The building made for chickens that was used for storage these past three or four seasons, mostly because of a raccoon that got in one night and killed and panicked so many birds that none of the survivors would roost in it again and it was abandoned for the pig barn by the flock. But the 30 meat bird chicks inside don’t know that story and their first few weeks of life have been nothing but lovely in the remodeled and reinforced chicken coop. It felt so good to open the old red wooden door and see all of them bright and chirping, excited for their breakfast. I don’t know if I’ve been as excited about anything as those babies were for mash and well water.

The coop and the meat birds inside are just one of the improvements and additions to the farm this year. The whole place has a new life in it. I don’t know if I can convey how much life by just popping in here to write about it a few times a month, but if you walk across the lawns and pastures you can feel it. In my tenth year farming basically the same few species - sheep, goats, horses, pigs, and poultry — the lessons of the decade have created a happy home for the current stock. Everyone is bright and hail. The horses are lean and strong and ready to be saddled and ridden by riders of all experiences. The ewes are meaty and calm. The laying hens raised from chicks during snowstorms this spring will be laying their first eggs in about six weeks. The gardens are the most complex, healthy, varied, and productive this place has ever seen. There is a specialized herb garden, a dipper gourd garden (the gourden!), a pumpkin and potato patch. There is a kailyard behind the farm with lettuce and tail that has yet to bolt! There are jars of strawberry and raspberry/blackcap jam on shelves. There is meat in the freezer. There is a promise of a winter spend curled up against the woman I love more and more each month.

This morning marks my 38th Birthday. I wrote Made From Scratch and started by blog at 25. Thirteen years of farming, and as a Swiftie that makes year 13 the luckiest. I can’t argue with that science, because despite the usual anxieties about making bills and preparing for winter there is such a swell of goodness about this coming year and what it could hold. I have a book in me. It’s a very important and personal one. I have a farm to grow and shelter into snowfall. I have a body I need to learn to accept and love regardless of my size - which tends to fluctuate with daylight hours (the less light the more cheese) and I have a lot to give back however I can. This farm only made it ten years because of the support of readers, neighbors, customers and community. It remains only because of these things. Some of you have known me nearly 15 years now, have watched me go from a terrified naive beginner with too much confidence and a shaky seat to a strong woman comfortable in her own skin, sexuality, and saddle. It took a farm to get me here. I want to help others find their stirrups, too.

There is no party or big celebration today. After I post this I am going into town to use the laundromat and wash sheets and towels and muddy clothes. When I come home I have weeding, watering, and mulching to do. There is a battle between myself and the cucumber beetles. There is a dead woodchuck somewhere in the weeds I need to find and bury before the heat of the day sets in hard. I have soap to mail, illustrations to work on, and animals to tend. But if I can make time later today to go to the river and cast my line for some trout or perhaps set up my hammock among the jewelweed behind the barn and sway - I will. And I will do so with the gratitude and exhaustion of a farmer in July trying to figure out her entire empire inside two dirty palms.

I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out. Here's to luck, and love, and a safe Autumn and warm winter, all.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Carry On

July has come into the farm like a thunderstorm, beautiful and a little scary. The days here are so full with the work and animals. Mornings are about moving chicks onto new grass, graining the fat lambs, weeding the garden, training a pack goat, and working to repair and recreate this farm once again.

It's all been lovely and the long summer days are bringing rides with friends in the mountains on the horses and meals pulled from the meat and veg this farm produces. It's the dream I dreamt. I'm still here. And for the first time in years places are being dusted and painted and revived thanks to love and time and someone here who believes in me and this farm. I'm a very happy woman. I hope that is coming across well in this blog, even if the posts are scarcer as the work gets busier!

July has brought river swims and fly fishing at sunrise. It brought swaying above my entire valley in a hammock on a hiking summit. It has brought neighbors and friends onto this farm to help remodel the old chicken coop and get it set up for a winter's worth of chicken dinner futures! It has a new breeding flock growing fleece and sass up on the hill - which is no longer eroding soil or overgrazed by too many hooves. This woman and her farm are healing. I am falling in love with it all over again!

The scary part is keeping it from falling back behind. June came and went without a mortgage payment and soon the July one will be late, too. This means doing what I can to catch up and stay solvent. Mostly it means hunkering down and figuring out how to remedy this. And it means planning expenses like firewood, or ways around expenses like firewood through barter or work-trade. So this morning while I am sitting with my coffee and writing in my notebook the plans and goals of the day, I need to focus on just the day I have, each and every day. I can't think of too much ahead of me because it can seem like storm clouds, looming and dark. But if I spend today just focusing on the $200 I hope to make in soap, meat, logo, or art sales. If I take care of the animals' needs and carry today's buckets of water without thinking of the thousands of gallons ahead I could never hold... I can get through this day. Build up myself the same way I am building this farm.

I hope to keep you all posted on the healing and relief this farm is giving and receiving. I hope you are all healthy and safe from dangers of the pandemic. I hope you find the peace in the routines of weeding and milking and canning and mending old clothes - the chores and work that has fueled civilization since long before any of the banks threatening this farm had a chance to blow down doors. And I hope you are all able to take on today, with hearts full of warmth and care.

Carry on!