With our second season upon us here at our new place, we are just barely beginning to get our boots wet - or more accurately, filthy - with the "farming" end of things - the daily care of the animals in our charge. It's exciting to be at the beginning of something - with so much still to learn and discover. So much yet to experience. Everything feels new - because everything is new. We marvel at each new thing the animals do or show us. There is much wondering, discussion, dreaming and planning for what and who may (or may not) come next. There is a pile of books beside our bed, beside our couch, and next to the rocking chair - providing us with ideas and inspiration (which reminds me to tell you that I recently added a 'farming' section of books that have inspired us to the Amazon Bookshop). And there is a neighborhood and community (thank goodness) of old farmers around us who are quick to lend a hand, offer their advice and help us out when a solution is needed. (Oh, the stories I have overhead - while contemplating covering the ears of my littles - between my listening husband and those folks!)
Yes, all of this feels new, exciting and wonderful. Natural, even, if I may be so bold as to say that. My heart is happy here, doing this right now and anticipating what's around the corner. And yet - it's also a little bit scary, a tiny bit frustrating, and a whole lot humbling. To be doing this on our own, to be so fresh in this community full of others' experience, to have an audience of thousands, no less, watching along as we stumble our way into the beginnings. For all the books we have read, and the little farmsitting we have done, and all the life-long farmers we may know and even share a bloodline with...the true reality is that we know nothing about what we are doing. Nothing really at all. It's a truth that's freeing, even in it's vulnerability.
With our second season getting underway, a new set of winter challenges has come too. We are grateful for the manageable crew of animals we began with - because yes, even seven chickens, one duck and two pigs is enough to keep us busy enough this first go-round the winter cycle (because there's the house too! Oh so much to do in this old house!). The daily rhythm of their care has found a nice groove, as we adjust and figure out freezing water, molting, extending their light hours, feed they love, preventing frostbite, providing the warmth and shelter they need and all the rest of that.
It seems fitting then, that my strongest memory from this holiday season will surely be of one animal here at our brand new little farm. For it's Belle - the female pig - whom I think we all (especially Steve) spent more time with, thinking about, and money on - than anyone else in the past week. That silly pig decided that Solstice and Christmas week would be the week on which she'd test out the solar electric fence that's held her "home" without any trouble for three months. She decided that, well, the shock wasn't really all that bad. Definitely worth plowing through to do a little bit of wandering...into the larger pastures, into the woods, into the neighbors garden, and oh - into and down the road. Over and over and over again.
And so over and over and over again, Steve (for whom "pigs" mostly fall under in our current household division of labor) would lure her back in with another cup of my (precious, needed for holiday baking!) cream or milk, adjust the fence, and walk away. Over the course of a couple of days we changed some fencing, we bought new gear, and tried a whole host of solutions in hopes of keeping her in. Including crossing our fingers.
As we all headed out the door to a party on Christmas Eve afternoon, we were greeted at the house door once again by Belle...truly on a mission to stay out of her pen this time. And there we were. With four sugared up, excited holiday kids, a whole lot of ice and snow, a mountain of gifts and freshly baked party food teetering in our hands...and our party clothes on. (You know my love of shoes? Yeah, I wasn't wearing my farm boots.)
The next twenty minutes saw the six of us scattering to our appropriate and personal Emergency Instincts. Papa's voice got firmer and calmer at the same time, he stood a little taller, and I saw solutions starting to fly out of him. I did my usual head count, reminded everyone (but mostly myself) that all was fine, and then jumped in to help. Calvin was already ahead of me, ready for whatever action was required of him (despite that it might get his brand new, so-coveted Converse sneakers wet, thereby breaking one of his self-imposed rules for wearing them). Ezra, who realized we weren't going anywhere anytime soon, was back inside the warm house, excitedly watching through a window and surely dreaming up how he'd include this latest fiasco into a song or story (which he did). Adelaide had run to the barn for rope and was quickly pig-side demanding that Belle listen to her right this minute. And Harper, well, Harper was just standing in the middle of it all, not a bit surprised by any of it with a grin on his face of contentment. As we finally cornered the pig and then wondered to each other what to do with her next, Steve and I surveyed the scene and laughed. "This is what we wanted!" I said. "Yup," my husband replied with a grin.
(I should tell you that we've since 'fixed' the fencing problem. Or at least we think we have. We'll find out soon enough, right?)
I never envisioned calling myself a farmer anytime soon. My grandfather, who worked so hard nearly his entire life running a dairy farm and yet barely made a 'living' - he was a farmer. Our friends, who rise before the sun - far earlier than I ever could - and whose hands live covered in beautiful dirt - they are farmers. Our neighbors with their tales of decades worth of life and death on the farm - they are surely farmers.
It took me two published books to call myself a writer. I still won't touch the word photographer. And yet, on this Christmas Eve - pregnant with my fifth child, with a party dress on and completely (fabulous, but...) ridiculous shoes on and a pig securely wrangled between my legs...well, I started to think about that word 'farmer' and why it couldn't at least start to fit. I may be a new and totally inexperienced farmer, I definitely feel like a humble and vulnerable farmer, but goodness, I do believe we're farming now.