One morning we woke up and there were lambs. Two small, creamy white creatures that were clearly finding their footing had appeared where the day before there were none! It was definitely a lesson in “unLambing” as I’m calling it. Despite my lube and tube feeders, and my huge pile of old towels on standby, mama needed nothing. Thank GOD! Two weeks later, the babies are running along with the flock and have a thick, beautiful curly coat of white hair keeping them warm. No helicopter parenting here — they’re nursing with voracity (you won’t believe how hard they punch their noses into their mamas udders!) and they are even eating grass already! I have to hand it to Mother Nature and Mama Sheep, you had the home birth I was always hoping for…didn’t even have time to fill the birthing tub. 🙂 We are expecting more lambs to appear over the winter as they had a long mating season with their man, Ramy (hope you’re enjoying your new home, big guy!). This spring, we’ll be finding a fresh, new Ram! The first wild birth is still coming, I know…I won’t be putting away my emergency kit just yet, but for now, I remain amazed and grateful for the awe inspiring work of birth.
My little boy has said this to me on several occasions in the last few weeks; sun beating down, crickets jumping in the grass we tread on. Usually it is when we are walking down to the barns to tend the sheep, or when we are on our way back to the house from a little jaunt, feed buckets in hand. I must admit, I’ve been a bit surprised to hear it from him. I think to myself, wait, how can it be, that he already thinks farm life is hard? I haven’t even asked him to pitch in on all of the chores I had in mind for him!?!
First, I should back up…part of the reason we moved on to the farm, well at least the inciting incident, was our son’s need for something different. School was not working out – even Waldorf School, which you think would be more forgiving, and yes, it is, but we were looking at a kid that clearly said, NO, this is NOT what I need. Teachers, friends, family alike agreed with our gut instinct — he needs a calmer environment, more down time, more nature, and he needs every opportunity to do meaningful, hard work. We took it as a strong sign from God that our yearning for farm life and our finding of a farming partner in beautiful Virginia (which we had admired each and every time we drove through) aligned. It also coincided perfectly with our need to find something different for our son. We’d had countless meetings with one of the most respected learning specialists in the country and she was adamant, “Oh yes, get him working on the farm, the physical labor will feed his yearning for movement and satisfy his sensory seeking tendencies!” It was like Occupational Therapy for free. I could hardly wait to get a bucket in the kid’s hand!
Fast forward now to our being on the farm and slowly working into the lifestyle we’d been looking forward to – for all of us, and for him, and we were in for a surprise. I don’t know why I did not anticipate a sort of learning curve with the childrens’ love of farming chores, but I was hook, line and sinker expecting all smiles and dirty fingernails! Well, that isn’t exactly what I’ve found. Yes, the children are happy to be on the farm – they love the aura and they take pride in being “farmers” even before we’ve earned the title. Things as simple as reading the promo materials on the carton of milk and exclaiming that “we are at the heart of the milk we drink – look it says so right on the container! They love farmers! And we’re farmers!” Thanks, Horizon, I totally love that. And we don’t even have a dairy cow. The kids are learning about animals and slowly picking up the farmer lingo (for example, the kittens, the other day, were so excited to get their “feed”). But there are some shockers – Mira does not seem to adore the donkey, nor does Mason. The kids do not run out to see if there is a lamb every morning like I want to. Both of them proclaim their favorite farm animals to be…….the kittens.
As time passes and being a farmer becomes more like life and less like some kind of dream, I am sure these realities will shift. What comes next will be a completely new paradigm. Mason may not find the walk to the barn and back with buckets in tow so tiring. He will eventually rise beyond that and begin to connect with the farm in a whole new way. Mira may develop a fondness for Oscar the donkey (I think she resents his not being a pony). My suspicion is that with the soon to be arrival of the dairy goats – (the Nigerian Dwarf Goats aka, cutest animals in the world), the farm will take on a whole new life for all of us!.
For now, however, the individuals receiving the “therapy” are the ones that didn’t fully realize they were signing up for it – mainly my husband and me! I’m finding myself entirely captivated by the animals, each having their own particular behaviors and attitudes; it is colorful and hilarious and I get to be a part of it every day. On the part of my husband, he has told me he appreciates the quiet, slow sunrises that greet us each morning and the general feeling of serenity that envelopes you in this valley of ours. Also, I suspect on a whole other level, he is having a lot of fun playing with so many wonderful toys — between the ATV (yes, we are stuck with the yucky one), the chainsaw, the riding mower and the new, improved ‘farm style’ weed whacker, he is in full on gadget-geek mode most of the time. Also, he’s becoming a pro at fixing fences (something I realize now is exactly what the Eagles in “Desperado” were talking about when they sang of being, “out riding fences”). We have more to do than physically possible for two persons…thus, it is now our job now to figure out how to build a community around us to help the farm reach its fullest potential.
My mom would probably quote that corny Kevin Kostner movie now, “Build it, and they will come!” Well, mama, here we go!
So, we have been here at the farm now just over two months. It has been quite a wild ride (of course it has! could it have been any other way?). Thinking back to the day we unpacked the Uhaul, it seem like we’ve been here something more like 6 months, rather than just two. We had a calf born basically the day we arrived, her mama had suspected mastitis which turned out not to be, however unfortunately the calf had not been nourished well and thus the first calf that my children touched and hugged and named, was the first calf that we lost.
The Chicken Saga
Our poor chickens spent several days in a cardboard box, first while they waited for their coop to be assembled, and then second, because they could not get along with their new, smaller and very annoying (to them) roomates, given to us by a friend. Cardboard does not do well soaked in ammonia, I have learned. The chickens are solidly in a state of shock, and so am I. They now have forgotten all training they ever had and are laying eggs in the garage and begging to roost in the trees. Blow #2.
Chickens were going to go HERE for a while, right?
Surely we can finish this coop in one week, right?
Looks like this coop will have to do for a while, girls, sorry!
Have you ever smelled a skunk? No….really, really ever smelled one? Like, it is under your house, burning your nostril hairs, dead, falling apart and decomposing smelt one? Whoooo! I was in Florida when this chapter began. A skunk had been sighted manging around the yard. The kids were delighted with the sight of yet another wonderful farm creature and named it Frederick (Mira probably holding out hope that the skunk might have babies nearby!). While we were gone visiting family, Bret was left to hold down the farm and the skunk sprayed in the yard, under a window, such the smell permeated the whole house. A week later, when we returned, it still smelled (poor Bret). We set traps and planned out how we might borrow a gun to shoot it. Note: we could tell the animal was in pain and lunging instead of walking, it would have been the kind thing to do. A few weeks go by – no skunk in the trap, no skunk anywhere! Well, the next part of the story is where things really get gross, if you are queasy, skip ahead. Bret had to open up the crawl space to investigate a water issue. While he is army crawling, he sees a small white furry lump bump on the ground. Ah, this is why we had not seen Frederick. So, Bret grabs a garden hoe and tries to pull it out from under the house…but, only half of the animal comes, and it is wet and gooey. The smell came in parts: first, a mental bracing, then a subtle hint, then a gigantic wave of hot, chocking nastiness that made you feel like you could faint if you weren’t so busy gagging. Let me tell you, I was out of the door, in the car, driving down to the general store to buy candles, spray disinfectant, glade plug ins, baking soda and whatever else I could find so fast! The smell of skunk is a long lasting, lingering kind. It hides in your bathroom cabinets and pillows and comes out, just when you think it is gone. This was about a month ago and we still uncover pockets of air that remind us of Frederick. Blow #3.
Cute aren’t they? No. They are not cute.
Nothing about a skunk is cute.
I wrote a post about this on Facebook a while back when it happened, but I now realize how much I have been taking for granted the amazing thing that is plumbing. Water in my sink, from a faucet whenever I turn it on! It took merely one day without water for this point to be driven home to me. A splutter in your well water is NEVER a good thing…and then, you turn the faucet, and – nothing. On the farm, living without water not only means doing dishes by hand out of a bucket and creative flushing, it also means – “how are you going to provide the 40+ animals that are depending on you with fresh water?” Neighbors brought by gigantic containers of water (as big as a truck bed) and hooked up PVC pipe to pour water into the troughs. We got hooked up with a friend of a friend who knows something about wells, and two hours later, Lester and his sidekick show up in a beater truck loaded up with myriad strange tools and pipes in the truck – with all due respect, the duo looked a bit like Jerry Garcia and Kid Rock (and they did totally rock their styles!). They were helpful, masterful, fast, cool, funny and talked with an awesome drawl. Our worst fear was a well gone dry, but no, thank goodness! We needed a new pump and $700 later we had one and Bret had a beer with the men. Blow #4.
The latest bummer is that we just bought an ATV on Craigslist because we do not have the money to buy a truck. And the very night the guy who sold it to us drove away, Bret is down in the field and the thing just up and dies. $1500 cash gone? We shall see….he says he will undo the deal if we want (which we do want) but we don’t know him and he has $1500 cash in his pocket! Let’s hope that honor will win out and he will do the right thing.
Plenty of nice things have happened too. I’ll have to spend some time writing about those as well. But I know some of you have said how you are picturing me frolicking through fields singing with cows and sheep like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. I feel like part of my duty as I’m living the dream, is to tell it like it really is including the good, the bad and the ugly. I do think of doing that by the way (and Julie Andrews is what I want to be when I grow up!). We have faced an interesting streak of tough challenges so far, and the hurdles keep coming.
Being a beginning farmer takes as much grit as it does anything else. Get knocked down? Take notice of the dirt down there…study it, sample it, send it in to be analyzed. Likely it will happen again tomorrow or next week and then you’ll get to compare the soil quality in your fields. With any luck, you’ll have a better idea of what to plant where and what you can bring to the earth!
When the term, “farm school” first originated, it meant a place that took children away from their family farms, to learn something other. Isn’t it ironic, then, that the current “farm school” trend is a total reversal? Now we want to bring children back to nature, back onto the farm: learning about plants, animals, seeing how we grow food, gaining self sufficiency, and doing hard work with their bodies – something that is grossly absent in our kids’ (and our) lives today. What of that? Is this turnabout fairplay? I am so grateful for the swinging of the pendulum. I am a firm believer that not all humans are cut out for pure analytics, especially to the exclusion of creativity and expression.
Somehow we seem to have collectively lost the plot in the last 150 years, amidst the hullabaloo, the shiny aura cast by the devil that is progress unchecked. Trading away time-honored traditions and hard-earned survival skills for Christmas in October, ‘sorry kids I only have time to cook Hamburger Helper’ and ‘here, just sit down and take a test’ was NOT a good idea. What I wouldn’t give to have my grandmother / mother teach me how to plant a summer garden, milk a cow and can tomatoes! It seems there
was (is no?) room in our lives for that anymore. I have Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf Education to thank for waking me up enough to notice this very simple idea…we don’t have to keep sleeping through our decisions, making the same mindless mistakes, we can take back our lives. Ok, then!
So now, all there is left to do is roll back a sleeve, crack open a few ancient books on homesteading, befriend some farm animals, dare to plant hundreds of seeds, cosy up my big, historic famhouse with all of the loveliness of silk, wool and beeswax and wait for the children to arrive… Love it and they will come.
In 6 short weeks, our lives will change forever. I will officially have no job. My kids will no longer be enrolled at a school. My husband will be, for the first time, working solely from home. All of us, in 6 weeks, will commence our new lives at home, on our new farm. One day, driving from Florida to Cape Cod, a funny thing happened. Perhaps road trips, especially long ones, have a strange effect upon us. We typically converse about all of the interesting places we see – wonder how it might be to live there, or here, or anywhere. Driving through Virginia, we feel nostalgic, inspired, we admire the cows and the farms. We had been thinking of a move, and why not Virginia? Asking that one question turned out to be a veritable Pandora’s box, and our future came hurtling at us faster than we could ever imagine. What about Charlottesville? Why yes, they have a Waldorf school (important since I am a current/former Waldorf teacher). Lively, liberal, college town? Yup, just like Gainesville, dear Gainesville. Mountains? Check. (1/2 hour from Blueridge Parkway). Ocean? Close enough for a day trip. The very same week we went looking for a farm, we found one – complete with a kindred spirit / mentor who was looking for us – a young family, wanting to homestead and shepherd the land, protecting it for future generations. Serendipity? OK. We feel passionate about the food we eat (we buy organic and local when we can), we want to make positive change in our country with regard to farming / food security, we thrive when we spend time in nature, we love taking care of animals, we wanted to spend more time together as a family…and these things converge in one word/plan/crazy goal – FARM! don’t they? don’t they? I have to admit, I am nervous. I feel like I am about to give birth to 20 sheep and their 40 lambs, 15 cows and 15 calves, and 5 goats…all at one time. I feel like maybe I don’t have enough onesies and I haven’t even tried on the crib sheet yet. What if I can’t keep up on the laundry? Where did I put Elizabeth Pantley’s book on sleeping? Breathe! Breathe! I might need to listen to my old hypnobirthing cd again. Who said I was done having children? LOL!