Homesteader’s Dilemma: “Don’t Have Time”

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms

I hear the phone double ring.  That means someone is paging from another building on the farm.  This time of year it usually means that Kara is paging from the barn.  And that usually means that another ewe is about to give birth—or has already started well into the process, with the first lamb presenting.  Ready the towels, the crew may be up all night…again.

It comes every year.  Most folks are happy to see spring, and I am too…most of the time.  That is, when I have time to think about it.  Most of spring I don’t have time for much of anything outside of the demands of the season.  Relaxing, laid-back, and springtime just don’t end up in the same sentence around here…ever.

Time.  It’s our most valuable commodity.  Time and attention.  Spring can be tough that way.  Just when you’ve really gotten to stretch out into winter, to find that still, quiet space inside (away from the frenzied noise of the high season of summer), then spring comes knocking on the door.

Taxes, lambing…did you order the seeds?  Did you send in the water sample?  Did you book the Summer Music Series yet?  Did you get the high tunnel planted yet?  Did you clean out the chicken coop again?  Did you pay the bills—and how are you going to pay the bills with the tiny trickle that comes in the door this time of year?

Spring is incessantly demanding, like a baby.  It can’t do it on its own—you have to be all-in, all-available, up all night lambing or hatching chicks.  Up to your elbows in mud in the garden, planting peas in soil still so cold the bones in your hands ache for hours afterwards.

Spring is finicky, like a fourth-grader.  Sometimes hot, sometimes cold, but never satisfied any one way for long.  It’s full of questions with no answers.  Where is that leak in the barn roof coming from?  What happened to all the pitch forks?  Do I have enough oil for the utility golf cart for its spring maintenance?  When will the weight restrictions come off the roads?  Does our supplier have enough straw for us to get a load to bed down the ewes with their lambs?  Will the clouds clear enough to help dry out the mud?  When will we see the red-winged blackbirds again?

At least it’s a little better than an incessant string of “Why?  Why?  Why?”

Spring is moody like a teenager—wanting to tempt the apple blossoms from their buds, only to freeze them off in a fit of spite.  Begging you to bring out the seedlings on a sunny day, then blowing fiercely from the north or west, threatening to break off the tender stems.  It’s icy early in the morning, then sluggish and muddy mid-day, then full of freckled stars at night before the moon rises.

It can be a rude interruption to the peaceful rhythms of winter.  Yes, the days are lengthening, but I feel that time is shortening, encroached upon by yet a longer and longer to-do list.  Chores take longer as the number of animals on the farm steadily increases.  Now the garden is thawing, and soon all those slumbering tasks will awaken and demand attention.  I’ve been at this long enough to know that it won’t be slowing down until late November—watching the growing season coming on like an unstoppable freight train. 

I love it and I hate it, knowing it’s invigorating and exhausting at the same time.

So Many Choices and Decisions

There are so many projects I want to tackle yet—art, music, writing, sewing.  Part of me needs to find a way to keep that winter internal peace long enough to make them happen, bring fruition.  I can’t allow myself to cut my wintry dreams off at the knees, promising myself (like I do most years) that they’ll grow again next cold season, like bulbs.

They can, but it’s painful getting chopped off, and the regrow process is agonizingly slow and yields less than could be hoped.  Pruning is one thing—choosing which to nourish and which to let go to make room for the nourishing.  Mowing it all off it yet another.

An example of this on our farm is mirrored in Grandma wanting to have a stand of pompous grass near the roadside.  Every spring, she’d dig up a clump and they’d stuff it into the trunk of their Buick, and Grandpa would dutifully dig a hole in the yard and plant them, marking them with a steak.  But by mid-summer, with a million other tasks having come and gone, there he’d be out mowing.  And when Grandpa’s mowing, his German meticulousness comes out in force.  What’s that steak for?  Well, who knows, better mow right up to it, then come back with the trimmer and get it all.  That poor pompous grass never did make it.  And, after a while, Grandma gave up trying to bring up any new transplant clusters with her.  Wintry dreams of waving pompous grass gave way to summer’s reality of too many irons in the fire to keep track of each initiative.

And I’m honest with myself about spring.  If I linger too long in winter’s time luxuries, I’ll miss it.  And then summer will be on in full swing, and I’ll be woefully behind and unprepared.  I can’t abandon or deny spring’s right to be, but I don’t want to lay my passions on its pyre and watch them be consumed into the vortex of “I don’t have time.”

Time is really 100% about priority.  It’s where your attention goes that your time goes.  Attention is the food we give to what happens in our life.  What we do not give attention starves.  When you’re raising livestock, this can be quite literal.  I don’t think any of the animals are happy when someone is down with a cold and chores happen a bit on the late side or another member of the crew gets to be the substitute chore-meister.  They like everything to stay regular, and they loudly let you know if you’ve not given them the attention in feeding they feel they deserve.

I recently saw an interesting TED talk on time management.  The speaker stressed that it’s not about shaving off a little time from this task, then a little time from that task, and bundling that saved up time together to do something you care about later.  It’s about what you feel is worth your time.  Often “I don’t have time” really means “it’s not a priority for me right now.”  She encouraged listeners to really look at how their time gets spent in a week and redirect that towards what really matters to them.

Attention is the currency of life, spent on time.

I need to continue to be mindful this spring so that “I don’t have time” isn’t misplaced on the important things or upsets balance.  I need to keep my vigilance so that “I don’t have time” means that things like happiness, creativity, sleep, and dreaming towards the future don’t get squeezed and crowded out—leaving grumpiness, futility, and the day-to-day endless treadmill of tasks in their wake.  It’s a difficult balance to make, especially when the lives of animals are in the middle of it all.

That’s why it’s so important, as an interdisciplinary homestead, to get your placement of attention right.  Time to check the barn cams again and see if another ewe is in labor.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Twin baby lambs, newly born.  They may be incredibly cute, but they also herald the onslaught of springtime’s workload.  Photo by Kara Berlage.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

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