What To Do?
I took my new garden gloves for a walk this morning, for two reasons:1) there was a lovely frosty chill to the air, and 2) I always find something I need to pick up that I’d prefer not to touch with my bare fingertips (sludgy tires stuck in the creek bank, feathers dropped from a sharp shinned hawk, the most interesting fungi on the ribbed bark of a fallen black walnut). Around here, walks are as much about tidying up as they are meditative excursions. Now, tidying up 41 acres one walk at a time has about the same impact as tossing bricks in the Grand Canyon, but, with enough bricks…we do what we can in the space and time we’ve been given.
If you’ve ever lived on a farm, you know that the view from the front porch or just out the back door is a project in every direction. That’s caretaker security in the short run, and it feels good to be needed. Those tangles of grapevines aren’t going to unwrap themselves on their own, and there’s something immensely gratifying about giving a particularly stubborn one a strong, final tug and feeling it cascade down around my head and shoulders. Lesson learned: don’t look up. You can’t blink fast enough to dislodge that flake of vine bark from inside your eyelid. And your fingers will be too dirty to go digging in there to move it to the inside corner of your eye where you can nudge it away. When you’re on the job, you don't have time for such delays.
The garden gloves kept my hands warm enough, and it was nice to grip the cold metal handle of the scoop for the chicken feed with just a canvas degree of separation when I arrived at the coop to let them out for the day. Farm chores by nature aren’t known for the comfort they give, but whenever I can make them less uncomfortable, I’m there. Gloves are a rural necessity, and it’s not foolish to own a few styles (nitrile-dipped for gripping, brown jersey ones that are almost a nickel a dozen and disappear like socks in the dryer, thick leather ones for field fence work). Boots are also non-negotiable, and I like to line up the ones I have according to height, popularity, and season. Patrick bought me a nice pair of green knee-high muck boots when we first moved here, and their first time out on a walk right after a heavy rain, I nearly lost the left one in a soggy leaf-covered gopher hole that caught us both off-guard. Water from a nearby depression in the grass poured in as I pulled my foot up, and to this day, I can hear that suction sound clear as a bell.
As I surveyed the late winter landscape this morning, it was clear we wouldn’t be wanting for something to do in the weeks and months to come. Here’s our short list of projects that promise to deliver on sore muscles, weary bones, and that incomparable sense of accomplishment that only hard work can bring:
Tear out the chicken run and rebuild it as a fully-enclosed structure.
Drag the old chicken run pieces and parts up to the old turkey pen, and repurpose the lot of it into a new meat chicken pen, complete with fully-enclosed run.
Set up a new raised garden bed using bales of straw, and reinforce the cattle panels that have been staked into curved trellises for vining tomatoes, runner beans, and cucumbers to climb.
Clear out all the wood in the old old goat barn, sort and discard what’s un-usable, and restack the balance on the other side of where we currently keep the straw and hay bales, atop which rest a tottering assortment of antiques that MUST GO.
A full-on rabbit hutch cleaning and re-fortifying with hardware cloth and my trusty staple gun.
Add to these the daily and ongoing tasks of clearing and cutting up fallen trees to haul out to the sweat lodge circle and stack according to size and purpose, picking up branches before getting the mower out for the first cut of the season, cutting back those hopeful and tenacious blackberry vines that line the paths in the field, tamping down mole mounds around the front deck, sweeping twigs and stones and branches off the bridge, and relocating the lawn furniture throughout the meadow so visitors have places to stop and rest when we go for walks after brunch.
I am not complaining. In fact, writing all that down is actually planning, and I've just included you in our first farm project staff meeting of the season. This sliver of land we call home and paradise offers us a nearly-endless buffet of usefulness; it would be rude and ungrateful if we didn’t accept her invitation to tend to our responsibilities with a measure of joy mixed with “let’s do this” determination. We have no need to join a gym and pay for what she holds out to us in her generous green and brown hands: regular exercise, stronger and more elastic muscles, a free-flowing lymphatic system, and the best sleep we’ve ever had. I’m not sure I know what “bored” is anymore. And while I’d love to wake up each day without the framed yoke of the 8 - 5 work schedule resting squarely on my dutiful shoulders, I am fairly certain the non-scheduled phase of my life will not fit neatly into a traditional interpretation of the word “retirement”. As my late father-in-law Larry used to say, “retirement has nothing to do with doing nothing.” Patrick and I are in training for that now, as a cluttered mud room awaits, and, while the sun is shining this afternoon, the wood in the old old goat barn whispers a promise of reorganized satisfaction we simply can’t resist.
Now, where’d I put my gloves?