Saturday, February 4:
After little back-and-forthing at the breakfast table over the question of whether or not the mud in the barnyard was too deep for pushing a wheelbarrow full of manure and straw through it to the compost bins, some of the men donned insulated overalls and muck boots and cleaned out the pig pens. By Mom’s – head gardener’s – request, they forked the soiled bedding into the furthest north of the compost bins, layering it in with the dryer waste hay from the little bull’s stall. That stall had not been cleaned for some weeks, and the baby bull had been gazing phlegmatically at passers-by from an increasingly elevated position, until his cud-chewing was about at the level of a tall man’s ear. Father finally insisted that his bed – which was dry and clean, just for the record, or we’d have changed it sooner – be lowered a couple of feet. The pigs at Barry’s had to be tidied up as well, and, analogously, indoors the weekly cleaning of bathrooms and bedrooms occupied the morning. After lunch we spent several hours in the woodshed, docking the long pieces of firewood so they will fit in the short firebox of the new wood furnace, and out in the garage cajoling the small tractor to run.
We ventured out this afternoon in a thick, smothering snowfall to renew our stock of wheat flour, apples, chocolate chips, and vanilla extract, and to collect those items requisite for our annual post-solstice bacchanal: avocadoes — which, we give thanks, were only forty-nine cents apiece — Mexican imported beer, frozen orange juice for smoothies, and crunchy dills. Tomorrow six-thirty pip emma Eastern Standard Time will find us lined up five on the sofa, two perching on the arms, and three on the floor, bathing our faces in the light of a lap-top screen like Neanderthals crouched around a cave fire, or characters from Dickens driven from their homes and living under a bridge, gathered around a fire of broken staves in a trash barrel, warming their cracked hands and rejoicing that cruel poverty, although it may reduce them to begging our bread in the streets, cannot tear their family bonds asunder.
In other words, we will be watching the Super Bowl.
We live astraddle two cultures, one foot on the gas pedal of our battered F-one-fifty and the other ankle-deep in oozy barnyard. Hauling a stock trailer two hours away to purchase a new Jersey cow, we make a clandestine halt at a truck stop to buy sixty-nine cent, forty-four ounce soda pops, and revel in the rattle of crushed ice. After working all summer long in the sun and heat, when winter comes we hibernate with our books and pencils and musical instruments , venture muffled into the mud and snow to move firewood or repair a tractor or tend to the unvarying round of chores, and in the evening check out the local library’s hesitant copy of Patton to enjoy George C. Scott’s portrayal of that man of the hour. We absorb the culture of Hank the Cowdog as we absorb our organic, grass-fed meats and dairy products, pastured chicken eggs, and fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.
We may occasionally feel stretched by the tension between our cheap twenty-first century extravagances and the rhythm and beat of a pattern of life essentially unchanged for some thousands of years. After a Sunday afternoon in Heinz Hall among the fashionable folk of Pittsburgh, the heaps of muddy boots in our entry can jar upon the sensibilities for a moment; but we live in a pleasant equilibrium of blessings. The principles by which we try to direct our lives are catholic, inclusive, welcoming good where it is to be found, but committed to the demands of our farm and the tenets of our beliefs about the eternal. Living so may sometimes be like trying to cross a stream by leaping from stone to stone, earnestly hoping the piranhas are lunching somewhere else today, but to be human in brotherhood with humanity requires that we grope in the mud while we aspire to the divine.
It is not, at any rate, boring.