Working for a Living

I think I’m a pretty hard working person for someone without a day job. My son is with his father for the week and I haven’t stopped moving since he left. When we moved here over two years ago I had no idea how different life would be. I had romantic notions of off the grid living, of being a robust mother who could do the work of two parents, of creating a homestead filled with the laughter of guests, music around our fire and homegrown produce on our table. As with any new endeavor, one knows so little about the reality of it until one is knee deep.

Last summer I fought with the sod for days – probably over 20 hours in total – to create a small garden. It was a humble 5’x12′ and yielded little but the zinnias and arugula I bought mid-season already grown. While those few plants gave my 7 year old son true joy as he ran out of the kitchen to check on them first thing each morning, they gave us so little to put in our tummies. I dug the fresh cut arugula’s zingy flavor, but had only enough to add it to store bought lettuce. Our pumpkin plants, it turns out, needed us to intervene in their sex lives; it looks like our neighborhood is bereft of the already dwindling bees to pollinate such plants. Q-tips in hand, Elihu and I swabbed the pollen from the male flowers’ stigmas and carefully dragged them over the stamens inside the shorter, feminine blossoms. I’ve since read many blogs on the topic, and of course there’s always a little snickering about it, but sex aside, when you see a packet of seeds with a lovely photo of the end result, are you even aware that you may be responsible for making sure your plants are properly knocked up? Really – I haven’t seen one package mention the importance of this missing link. Just another thing you learn once you’re already under way. (We did, after many tries, achieve only one pumpkin, and it only turned orange in one small spot by the end of october.)

Today I visited a neighbor to see if I might barter eggs or piano lessons for some plowing. I had begun to realize the scope of such a project, and since yard had grown in place of the one-time gardens on the property, I gave in to the need for horsepower. That, and someone who has the horse. I’m not proud to say that when I see someone’s beautiful and successful vegetable garden, jealousy and even anger grow inside me. First, I think, ‘they’ probably have a spouse to help (grrr), then I think, crap, they probably sank a couple hundred into it too (who the hell has a couple hundred extra dollars to play with?), then I think they probably own some kind of machine. Then I give up, and descend into a good dose of self pity. I think I threw in the towel today – on pride, on envy, on the despair of feeling it was out of my reach to have a garden of my own. True, I cannot do it by myself. So I approached my neighbor, and he was so very kind to come by and check out my hopeful project. This fellow is farming a good chunk of land himself, plus his grandparents built my place, so I feel lucky he’s in the mix. Now I’ll just have to wait and see what a neighborly kindness looks like here in the country. I already feel a little guilty, because I just can’t pay what the task is worth… I guess part of the ‘takes a village’ thing means accepting that you can’t do it alone. It means learning to accept help.

You can’t put in fences alone either. Nor is it so easy to dig a post hole (this town really should be named “Stonefield” and not Greenfield, as thousands of fist-sized rocks lie everywhere just inches beneath the surface). Lucky I’m not on bedrock (or am I?) as many in the area are. That would mean no post holes or gardens. My neighbor was the first person to offer me encouragement about the post holes. While I was unable to dig even a 6″ hole last summer with my shovel, perhaps with a post-hole digger, time and determination, just perhaps, I can do it. I will certainly try.

Onto the coop. It is now a foot deep in the detritus of winter. Poop, hay and wood chips have packed down to make a dense, spongey floor which when loosed with a pitchfork springs forth with the most horrible smell. I’d always heard about how smelly chickens are, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m thinking, cuz up until that moment when I broke the seal with those long tines, nothin much was all that smelly. That’s perhaps because I ain’t done my proper maintenance. I had clearly opened Pandora’s box. I considered the job ahead for a moment. The day was sunny yet cold, and it rained down tiny droplets of ice all afternoon. It was mid afternoon, and I was already pooped. I just couldn’t make myself address the stink. So I grabbed some more fresh wood chips and covered the open wound. When it’s warmer, I tell myself. Just not too warm….

In fall and spring I try my best to clean up the leaves. With five open acres dotted with mature hardwood trees, this aint easy. I set to work in the transitional seasons making great piles throughout the property and them setting them alight. By the end of the day the place has the feel of a civil war camp, smoldering mounds hither and yon stretching off into the distance. My house is rather leaky I learned, for despite the seasonal cuttings of hyacinth in my kitchen, which usually perfume the whole house so nicely, all I can smell is smoke. Ok. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with a lot of things these days. There’s a teeny mouse poop in the bottom of my olive oil jar. I regard it as the worm in the bottom of the tequila bottle. I sleep in a bathrobe over my pajamas – which are not pajamas but sweats – and then go out to let the chickens out in the very same. I’ll go a few days in the same underwear and socks – and long underwear is part of my wardrobe til May. Am I saying too much? I would have had great disdain for such habits a decade ago. Back then I would have been choosing a hair extension and dress for the night’s gig, my biggest concern being to successfully apply my false eyelashes without incident. I do believe that all is in its time and place. I have no regrets. But I do have a lot more to do, so I’m off to make hay. (Hmm, hay? I wonder if I could actually make my own hay one day?…)

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