Friday, September 25, 2015

The Dearth of a Farmer

No, no...slow down. It says "Dearth" not one's dead yet here at OTF. Tired and weary, yes. And recovering from a cold that didn't kill me, but just wore me out. 

I spend a lot of time in my own head as I suspect most farmers do. I daydream and plan and scheme. Sometimes, I bitch and moan and grouse, but mostly I muddle along pushing from chore to chore to chore...almost, but not quite mindlessly. Most folks use the word chore to mean something that is onerous, but really the basic meaning is just something that is routine. No big deal the chores, but there are a lot of them and they are relentless. Imagine Groundhog Day only with mud, poop, blood, tears, milk, feed, hay, and so on. There is never a shortage of chores, but there is always a shortage of time. The dearth of a farmer.

Many days I push through the chores feeling like I'll never get it done and as such I never stop to "smell the roses" as they say...though the smells on the farms are generally less than sweet if you want to get literal. I do chicken-chores first and as I bustled back and forth from barn to chicken tractor to barn to house, I paused for maybe two seconds to admire a rainbow. Out loud, I said, “thank you for the rainbow...the bow without the rain” and then I moved on. Hustle, bustle. 

It is my habit to count the chickens when I close the coop, to touch each goat, to say their name, to check in with them each and every one. Some nights I feel guilty because I know that I didn’t lay hands on one particular goat, or I forgot to check a bloody horn scur, or that I have otherwise neglected someone because I was on auto-pilot, doing the chores by rote. Neglecting them and me, routinely.

The farm is an entity and it requires constant attention and I give it that attention frequently ignoring what I need or want, but sometimes, just sometimes when the wind is just right, or the moon is in its wandering phase, or as tonight the Great Horned Owl calls me, I step away from the chores. I allow myself to shirk my duties for a few minutes.

I had barely begun the chores tonight when I heard the call of the Owl. Immediately I went back to the house and pulled on my boots and went to seek her out. Although I frequently hear her, it has been months since I've seen her and she was calling me away from the barn, into the woods to follow her voice. Usually the barn doesn't let me go so easily. I’m tethered to the mental list of things to be done before the sun is down. The light was fading and the sky was pink. I knew I would be finishing chores in the dark, but I moved on anyway. The owl, our namesake, had given me leave to wander a bit. 

Down the (finally) dry creek bed, I followed, pausing at the original owl tree, a pecan that has succumbed to age and drought. Standing still on the edge of Turtle Forest at twilight is a special kind of gift. There was a breeze high in the trees, but it was still below. The birds fell silent as I stood and waited, patience a gift also. As darkness dropped I still didn’t hurry...then I heard her again. On the other side maybe...

I skirted back around and down the path that leads to the pond and opens in the meadow. I stop and listen and hear her again. I continue. “I’m coming,” I whisper, but just as I reach the edge of the woods I see her fly, a tiny glimpse of her brown body and wide wings swooping down from a dead tree, out over the pond, away.

Her flight leads me to the water’s edge. The pond is down some, but full of algae and muck. It looks ugly and fetid in the full sun of day and I’ve avoided it for weeks, but tonight the owl led me there to stand on the edge, to watch turtles surface and eye me with suspicion, to see the snake who makes the brushpile home, to hear her distant call again...saying slow down, stand still, breath deeply, listen.

There is never enough time in the farmer’s day and I never give myself permission to just walk away from what needs to be done. But the gift the owl gave me tonight was a tiny respite, a moment of peace and as I walked up to the buck barns I had more spring in my step. I spoke to and touched every goat. I gave them what they needed, because I had been given what I needed.