Hay and siding and calves and milk and gardening. Hot and sweaty and dirty and tired and sore and damaged. Hollyhocks and hilling corn and tying tomatoes, and squash and yogurt and cheese and bread and pizza and hamburgers.
How do people who farm ever write during the summer? I have been thinking how convenient it would be if I could simply use the hours given over to sleep for some other purpose: throwing cups and bowls, or writing this book, or watching a romantic movie. Priorities. Six in the morning to ten at night, and around again, rise, skim yesterday’s milk, wake children, wash milk jars, wake children again, make hash, shower, dress self and others, go to mass, fry eggs, eat breakfast, plan day. Work, eat, work, eat again, work, pray, shower, sleep. Start over.
The middle two bays of the new barn are almost completely sided. Before the siding was up there was already hay in the loft, stacked in the middle of the floor so rain couldn’t reach it. The red roof and raw poplar siding look beautiful together, and S-3 has made a work of art of the doors, damaging his left hand in the process so that he is presently out of the milking rotation, drat. The men cut Barry’s horse pasture on Wednesday, knowing they were taking a chance with rain predicted for Saturday afternoon. Friday it was dry enough to bale, so they did, lifting the first load of bales into Barry’s barn, and leaving the others to be picked up Saturday morning before the weather broke.
Never leave bales on the ground overnight. Never. Never, never, never.
Saturday as the men headed out the door to clear the white barn loft for a load of hay, the first drops made dark spots on the front walk flags. Light but steady for fifteen or twenty minutes. Our men seldom break out of a comfortable slouch in the ordinary way of things – off the playing field, that is – but those dark spots on the walk had both trucks loaded and up the drive in about two minutes and fifteen seconds, and Mom praying for instantaneous droughth. One hundred and six bales – nothing to the big operator, but to the one cow revolutionary, about one sixth of the winter’s hay – came off Barry’s horse pasture. It is not of the best quality, being rather twiggy with Queen Anne’s lace – which used to be Lady Mary’s before the Blessed Mother fell out of favor with the British sovereigns – and milkweed, but hay is to be treasured, and we are grateful that it only got a slight damping sprinkle. Salted in the stacking, it should keep just fine. Some of the hay went to Barry’s barn, and the trucks were back home bringing bales and relief of spirits within the hour.
Four new calves occupy the stalls in the white barn loft, and Isabel’s milk production has just barely stayed ahead of their needs. Friendly neighborhood dairyman who starts our bulls talked mom into taking four baby bulls instead of the two she had been positively ordered to limit herself to, and the colostrum we had frozen was just barely adequated until Mama Cow began giving the requisite gallon apiece a day for their needs. Now, almost three weeks after she freshened, Isabel is giving something like six gallons a day and increasing, and finally we have enough milk for drinking, yogurt, iced coffee (gallons of this are needed to lubricate a hot day), and, today, a four gallon cheddar. Excuse me while I go encourage the curds.
Rereading the last entry I hear the voice of Sandra C., Queen of Country Mamas, reminding me to tell about how fun it all is. Because this is intended to be instructions for the revolutionary-in-embryo, we do usually limit our entries to observations about our work, but as Sandra so aptly observes, there is lots of fun in our farming lifestyle, fun, and what is perhaps at least as important to the human soul, lots of beauty.
Sitting next to the water trough in the high hill paddock, waiting for the hose to fill it from the spring tank, we are shaded by one high cottonwood bough on the ridge above us, just intercepting the hot June sun. The light and shade in the deep grass next to the tank is at our eye level, and defies adequate description, glancing on daisy and achillea and fleabane white and yellow, purple and red of clover, textures of green, green and red, green and purple, green and pale green on the leaves and stalks of myriad plant species. Incredible geometric patterns on the wing of a tiny leaf hopper, and one brassy copper-winged butterfly touching down on a finger like a Liliputian crash landing, boldly stretching and folding his wings until we turn him for closer examination, when he leaves in as much haste as he arrived. Beauty of this sort fills our chest with cold coruscations of joy, and feeds like a week’s seaside vacation. Man-made beauty generally costs money, but nature’s beauty costs time. Long have we prayed always to have more time than money, prayers which have never seemed in danger of going unanswered.
We find things to laugh about in the course of ordinary days. The boys laugh at accidents, at inconsistencies, at what a creature a little girl is. We laugh at P. G. Wodehouse and “Calvin and Hobbes” and Hank the Cowdog. We laugh when the cussed calf who has been leading the steers through the hotwire fence all afternoon finally draws a good spark and jumps a foot, then comes back with a littler calf and pushes him into the fence to see if it was a one-time phenomenon or a law of nature. We laugh at the startled, offended squawk of the guinea pig calf. We laugh to think maybe the danged steers will stay in a while after this.
Hot afternoons in the field or garden are often broken by an hour in a private pool generously made available to us, and where we meet friends who sometimes entice us to extend our stay with hot dogs and watermelon and cold beer. Evenings may find Mom and Dad in the gardens, weeding, tying up tomatoes, enjoying the satisfaction of squeezing one more accomplishment out of the day, and enjoying at the same time the sound of guitar and mandolin and voices raised in song and argument and song again falling down the steep hillside from the apparently unoccupied house. Sometimes on very hot evenings we move up the cool current of air which pours out of deep creek hollows like ours, where we find seats in deep shade and watch the younger children, and sometimes the older ones as well, catching crawdads and newts among the wet stones, or kindling a fire in the stone oven there and roasting marshmallows.
Sounds like fiction, don’t it? Gospel truth. Cross our hearts.
Oh, we fight too. We argue and blame and hector, get fed up with the heat and the broken machinery, the accidents that befall ourselves and the animals in our care. We gripe, and irritate one another, and worry and regret and brood over things done or undone. We feel stupid when we make mistakes, and are sure when we don’t it was sheer luck. We go from self congratulation to depression in sometimes distressingly little turnover. In fact, the emotional climate around here runs the same gamut as it does pretty much anywhere else.
But what a background for it.