Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
It is a regular occurrence, a question we're asked:
Why do we do all this work?
A night in a deep January, I’m lying on my side in six inches of snow, the temperature at 3 degrees. I have a heat gun in my hand and have been trying for 30 minutes to thaw out the well pump. The little electric pump sits on top of the well shaft and pulls the water up and pushes it on to the house. The pipe has frozen at the juncture before it reenters the ground. The epiphany comes when the ice audibly breaks and the water flows. I lay back in the snow and think, What a lucky man.
Riding through the woods on the tractor on an early-spring morning, redbuds and dogwoods in bloom. Delicate wood sorrel and rustic little brown jugs scattered across the lane. I have eight hours of work with the chainsaw ahead of me. Lunch taken in the shade of the tractor. Both Lefty and Tip grovel at my feet, doggy grins displayed, hoping to be favored with yesterday's pizza. I finish the day dragging felled trees to a central brush pile, then head home. Back through the woods, the evening light, as peaceful as the morning's, signals a slowing down.
Next morning, I head back out. Enjoy the sheer pleasure of turning out the cattle onto a pasture of rich spring grass. Another day, this time spent repairing the fencing the trees have dragged down. Lunch, again under the tractor, of leftover chicken, cooked to what my friend Jack refers to as “mahogany brown." What we call burnt, and delicious whatever the nomenclature. I finish the new fencing. The cattle are content and well secured. Again, the fields, the lane through the woods, and I'm home.
Or, the drama of discovering a goose is laying her first egg, that quickly becomes a clutch of 12. The snake-like hiss of the goose on her nest. The gander aggressively signals your immigrant status in his world. Noting the calendar day that begins the 30-day march to goslings. The real sense of sadness as the hatch day passes and inexplicably nothing arrives. A note of betrayal in the goose's voice as we shovel up her eggs and consign them to the burn barrel.
A better spring: The delight in hearing that first peep under ruffled feathers. The goose telegraphs the event 24 hours prior by spreading out over the nest like a hovering angel. Hearing or feeling, she knows the time is near. Catching glimpses, I count six goslings. With long-sleeved shirts to protect from bites, Cindy gingerly pulls the goslings from underneath. We place them in the brooder.
The gander — we call him Uncle — takes up a guarding position outside the cage. Regardless of parentage, he is the chosen sentinel. He will stay by the goslings' side for the next three months. He has developed a style of fighting that would be quite effective against children, and is against dogs. Flapping his wings, he levitates off the ground. Hissing, stationary, he signals his determination to protect and serve.
Midnight skies, a flock of wild turkeys heard but not seen on the opposing ridge, the uncontrollable spread of wild mint, the loveliness of peach trees in bloom, the muscle ache from setting 30 fence posts. The giddy delight in admiring our equipment shed, the morning sun throwing a splash of color through the Victorian stained glass window in the tack room. Collecting persimmons from a wild tree to make beer, not knowing or caring what it will taste like. Breathing in the smell of hay drying in the field, gentling a rooster before butchering, approaching cautiously as I move an irascible bull. Buzzards in a tree dreamed up by Tim Burton, staring at me sweating in the garden in eager expectation. The barn at 3 in the morning as Daisy calves.
And still we get the question.
Read more about Brian's daily adventures farming at his Winged Elm Farm blog.
Photos by Brian Miller