Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day

One thing I love about winter is snow, and another thing is being in barns. Of course it is always better to have your animals out on the green pasture in the bright sunny air. But also, of course, we live in northern New England, and so our animals grow extra hair in the winter and get cozy in the barns and ruminate on hay. And in the barn, life moves at a different pace than outside. Outside, the sky may be grey and the snow building up all day against the doors and windows. But inside, the heifers nose through their hay for the choice bits, then lie against each other later, chewing. The bull calves sleep, full of milk, and suck the latch chains and your sweater when you come in to refill their bucket. The cows eat, and poop. I love the sight of a contented cow or sheep, lying down, nose slightly lifted, eyes half-shut, chewing, chewing, chewing her cud. The inside of a barn is predictable, and cozy with the warmth of all those 102 degree bodies. No matter how much snow piles up outside, covering the tracks you just made coming to the barn, each heifer still does her individual dance at the thought of grain.

Last year, working at Lydia's farm, I used to finish the long morning of chores in the sheep shed. In late January, the sheep are two months away from lambing, long in wool and starting to look a little fuller. They eat their hay peacefully and then all go find a spot in the bedding for a good rest. On snowy days, the back door of the sheep shed framed nicely their pasture, which was a picture of white. I liked to sit on some hay and watch the sheep. With that quiet snow, I heard little but their chewing, the occasional shift in the hay.

Today, I am away from any barns. Too bad, because it is snowing steadily. I hoped to go have lunch at Taylor Farm with Oliver, to eat with him but also to bring some peaches for everybody. I was inspired by listening to Greg Brown's song about "taste a little of the summer, Grandma put it all in jars." I don't know when that song was written, but it wasn't recently. He wrote, "What with the snow and the economy and everything, I think I'll just stay down here and eat 'till spring." I love that! It goes to show how this economy stuff can only touch you so deep. If you've got all your food put up, it doesn't matter as much. And you can eat peaches at the dairy at noon on a January snow day! Providing the little Honda can stomach the trip.

We'll see.

Here is a poem that Garrison Keillor read on The Writer's Almanac last week. Thank you to Krista for printing this out and slipping it under the door when I was sick! It's by Susie Patlove.

First Cutting

What is the hayfield in late afternoon
that it can fly in the face of time,

and light can be centuries old, and even
the rusted black truck I am driving

can seem to be an implement born
of some ancient harvest,

and the rhythmic baler, which spits out
massive bricks tied up in twine,

can seem part of a time before now
because light glitters on the hay dust,

because the sun is sinking and we sweat
under the high arc of mid-summer,

because our bodies cast such long shadows --
Rebecca, with the baby strapped to her back,

the men who throw impossible weight
to the top of the truck, the black and white

dog that races after mice or moles
whose lives have been suddenly exposed.

How does the taste of my sweat take me
down through the gate of childhood,

spinning backwards to land in a field
painted by Bruegel, where the taste of salt

is the same, and the same heat
rises in waves off a newly flattened field.

In the duskiness of slanted light, we laugh
just as we laughed then, because there is

joy in what the earth gives, allowing
our bodies to mingle with it, our voices

small on the field, our working assuring the goats
can give milk, the sheep can grow wool,

and we will have in our bones the taste
of something so old it travels in light.

In peace,

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feelin' It (the vision)

I am such a nerd, loving homework again. This time it's homework we created for ourselves: to come up with separate goals, and then meet tonight to talk about them and unify statements into one joint goal. Goal, you say? Say it like the World Cup. GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! Not just any goal, mind you. We're talking Holistic Goal. Thank you, Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield. These smart folks, whose work it is to help people figure out "what they want to do," wrote a book all about holistic management. Fortunately for us, they focus on issues of ecology and agriculture. I have been told many times that the first step to creating a business plan is to establish my vision, and create some goals out of that. Up until now, that has all seemed so convoluted. I mean, my vision has changed so much in the past five years. How could it help me go forward? This book is really helping us, because it reminds us to stay general at first, to dream a lot. It tells us that what we want is attainable, only more so if we write it down.

The Holistic Goal happens in three parts: a quality of life statement, forms of production, and future resource base. You can also write a Statement of Purpose, which is supposed to be short and sweet. I feel pretty sure about all of them. My rough copy of quality of life is as follows:

To be engaged in meaningful work, to be secure financially, physically, and emotionally. To maintain good health, to feel spiritually safe and secure. To raise a happy, healthy family in a natural environment that fosters creativity, learning, and love. To engage with plants and animals in a way that is mutually beneficial. To be respectful of life around me, and to be respected and liked for my work ethic and compassion. To work and reside in peaceful, beautiful environs. To enjoy what I do every day.

Do I detect a little cynicism? It was there, in me, but then I failed to find a single reason why I should NOT enjoy what I do every day. It's not that I believe I am entitled, privileged. I intend to work for all of it.

I'll include the "forms of production" and "future resource base" at a later date.

My statement of purpose came to me as "to nourish my family and community." It came to me so quickly that I'm having trouble trusting it, but it could possibly be the one. Anyhow, am leaving it for now.

I've been walking a lot more lately, around the little triangle here at East Hill Farm, and then out onto the stretch that opens up at the Ponds' pastures. Looking southeast, I can see hill after hill, a rolling, bumpy landscape tucked in between two closer hills. On a clear day like today, Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire is visible. The road between these pastures is so exposed, and when there's wind, it's wicked. It once blew the buttons off Mary Callanan's coat! They are some beautiful pastures, and I am having heavy dreams these days of pasturing cattle out there. I have always been a dreamer, but lately I've been doing it without guilt, without reserve. It seems to keep my spirits up. I am also more practical than I have ever been before, so that boosts the spirits, too.

At Lisa's the first five dry cows went out today to their own paddock to eat first-cut hay and mope. Babies in March! Oliver is outside, bucking up firewood. Tonight we are going to eat the last of Brigham's buttercup, sausage, and coconut tapioca pudding. They are predicting 8-14 inches of snow in our area for tomorrow, but Nate Pond said he thinks we'll only get six.

In peace,

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fancy Cows

Let me just say something about Lisa's cows.

They are so spoiled.

Nobody claims otherwise. Yesterday, I was standing in the hay mow which looks out onto the bedding pack. All the cows were in, patiently waiting for milking. Wait -- they weren't "patiently waiting." They were lounging. They don't give a good goddamn what happens as long as they are comfortable. Bird's eye view is a funny perspective for looking at cows: their bodies look even wider than usual, spread out on the ground as they lay. You could say they are lazy. Why else would one remain lying down while pooping? But no, not lazy, just secure in their knowledge that soon some poor fool human will come running along, apologizing for being late, manure fork in hand. Sometimes I'm picking the pack while they're standing around, and I'll see a tail lift, and over I go with my fork, to put it down on the ground behind the cow. I say, "Here, let me get that for you." Who else has someone to catch their crap before it hits the ground? I tell you.

I bet they wish I were Hindu. According to Mohandas Gandhi, "the central fact of Hinduism is cow protection."

Look: "At festivals commemorating Krishna's role as protector of cattle, priests mold the god's likeness out of cattle dung, pour milk over the navel, and crawl around it on the floor....the priests say that to take care of a cow is in itself a form of worship, and that no household should deny itself the spiritual enjoyment which comes from raising one."

That's a little education from The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig, by Marvin Harris.

I haven't tried the deity-making yet, but I do connect with the spirit when working with these animals (and all animals). If I didn't receive milk at work, I would want a family cow. Peter the cheesemaker didn't quite laugh at me the other day when I told him how I want a Randall Lineback cow. Randall Lineback! The original Vermont cow. Think that could be a marketing plug? They are so pretty with their black noses and brindle. And they don't give too much milk. I told Peter they were dual purpose and he said, "you mean, beef." Ha-ha, Peter. I don't know if we'll actually get one, but I'm still going to go visit the ones that were brought to Taylor Farm.

Well, time to drink more tea and bring in wood. Why does the sickie get the wood chores today? Because she's at home and we need wood. Oh well. I love being at home so much that even being sick isn't so bad.

In peace,

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I just noticed that Oliver labelled one of the file slots "Farm." It makes me feel good to see evidence of our dream coming to life, however slowly. I have been incubating this idea since I was little. Today, while scratching the sick calf's neck, I had a memory of wanting to be a vet when I was young ("what do you want to be when you grow up?"), and then alongside that memory was a little voice that said, "no, THIS is what I wanted." The calf belongs to Lisa, an excellent farmer who I work for and learn from. The little guy is designated for the freezer in about 2 months, but right now is very sick and we're not quite sure of the cause. It has been severely cold out lately, which compounds any illness, so it could be just an upset stomach -- which, in ruminants, isn't so minor. At least he is not grinding his teeth like he was (a sign of pain). We brought him a couple of friends. The freemartin heifer (meaning she's sterile -- the frequent consequence of being a twin in cattle) and the other bull calf joined him, after much protest and a little rodeo, and he put his ears up a little.

I work at Lisa's farm, and then I come home and work on our own farm. Farm to me encompasses so many things: us, animals, plants, neighbors and visitors, steady work. I have always liked hard work. Sometimes, especially during early morning milkings, I am whiney and wish to go nap for the rest of the afternoon. But I don't really want that. I feel better when I am productive. I feel productive when I am producing something! A farm is where things are growing, where my life is dependent on the lives of the animals and plants, and vice versa. We cultivate, and mind, and strive for health. I suppose, with that general definition, you could say that Oliver and I already have our own farm. But I can't really call it a farm until we have some animals. We are in the beginning stages of planning out how the year will go. We know we want to raise chickens and pigs this year, and are debating lambs. We will have a full garden and grow a lot of produce to eat fresh, freeze, can, and store in Ann's root cellar (Thank You, Ann!). So now it is the business end of things. Wouldn't we rather be outside? But the "boring" stuff is not actually so boring: pricing out equipment, researching where to buy piglets. I'd like to get a tutorial in Excel so I can make spreadsheets to lay out some financials before we make any big purchases. What else are you going to do in the winter? It does seem each season keeps the next in mind.

I just put the yogurt to set and need to go hang laundry by the stove before I head back to work. We're unloading 300 bales of hay this afternoon...and then I milk.

In peace,