Monday, November 12, 2012

31 Days to Green Acres - Day 25

Welcome.  This is one of many entries as part of a 31 Day series.  To read earlier posts, please click here.

We're at it again.  You know, another one of our massive, all encompassing, exciting, draining projects.  And, while we're at it, life still chugs along here with it's regular and harvest time activities. I am grateful to be here today, to serve the words and the story that is still developing.  Thank you for coming back and for patiently walking alongside.  You make the journey more full.

Neither Weekend Farmer Husband nor I had any intentions for animals on the farm beyond a couple of laying hens and a cat.  The house restoration consumed all our energy until we moved in, and once we could camp comfortably in our own home, we quickly moved on to repairing the roof on the animal barn and installing a 44 panel solar array.

An aside - if you have read the Little House on the Prairie books or any other stories/series of the USA's early frontier and settlement days the idea of squatters sort of captures what the moving to the farm experience felt (and sometime still feels) like. The departure is that we have legal rights to occupy the property, but at some level I feel like we still have to earn the privilege of being here.  Do we have what it takes to save this house, bring new life to the land, and preserve the buildings? Somehow this relates to camping on our own home...and proving our mettle.

The old board and batten wood sided animal barn is probably original to the property.  There are no nails holding the structure together, just solid wooden pegs, and the dimensional lumber and support beams appear to be hand hewn, massive markers of an earlier time.  At some point in the mid 90's, near as we can tell, a concrete floor was added, electricity was upgraded, and a pole barn added on to form a "T" to the north.  There are multiple animals stalls, a water source, and a hay loft.  Clearly this structure was built to shelter animals.  Off to the side there's a lean to constructed of (no kidding), old wooden grocery store and wine boxes, covered with metal siding and a slapped on metal roof.  It made the perfect "shop" and likely held larger motorized equipment sometime after the upgrades were completed.

Weekend Farmer Husband noodled long and hard burning through notebook after notebook of scribbled details to prepare for the roof tear down, rebuild, and solar installation.  Until our current project (yes, yes, I'll tell you eventually), I've never seen him think so long and hard on any one thing.  Thinking soon became implementing, and we were up on the roof tearing away and tossing aside wooden shakes that had weathered better than a century.

If we'd known then what we know now, we'd have anticipated that this was another pre dawn to post sunset project.  Every weekend, evening, and any other conceivable other "free" time was dedicated to the barn.  And, no matter how much planning, there is always the unexpected.  But, we persevered  not just because snow would fly soon, but because we have a contract to sell the power we produce and our consumer expected us to complete by the agreed upon deadline.

In hindsight, it was a crazy dangerous thing we did. We wouldn't repeat it - at least not without changing a number of practices.  After all, we were 26 feet in the air at a 33 degree pitch - imagine a metal playground slide a little better than two stories high and you are handling costly, fragile, and dangerous tools and supplies while holding steady at the very top of the slope. Even with harnesses and safety equipment you are exposed and vulnerable to mistakes, poor planning, harsh weather, and the plain old randomness that we call accidents.

We passed inspections, hook ups were completed, the basic installation was finished and the snow came.  Literally, we laid our tools down, came off the roof and didn't revisit the project until the following spring.  Most of our tools got put away, but some of those tools we laid down brought a good chuckle the following season as the thaw revealed their whereabouts.

Finally, some rest.  We'd occupied Libby for seven months, and between Christmas and New Year's we installed the bathtub in the lower level bathroom.  Oh the bliss of a long soak and the relief of warm after the brutal cold of the barn roof.  And, I should be very clear, I never went on the roof.  This project was completed entirely by Weekend Farmer Husband, our offspring, and friends from church.  One of Weekend Farmer Husband's clients lent us some valuable tools and heavy equipment that made the job so much easier, but when I say "we", I really mean "them".

We watched lots of movies at night in the ensuing months.  Tired doesn't even begin to describe the lethargy we felt.  The indoor and screen time was fun and restorative.  After unrelenting work, work, work it was bonding and settling to sink into the couch after supper and veg.

When we ran out of comedies, family, and adventure type movies to share I started watching documentaries.  Both Weekend Farmer Husband and I gobble up that genre of program with the key difference his interests run to giant squid and deep sea type things (no, I'm not making that up), and I am drawn to social commentary type films.

After watching a number of compelling programs about food, nutrition, and food production by myself, I invited Weekend Farmer Husband to watch with me.  At first he wondered why I watched, "such depressing movies".  His kindness kept him at my side and I could see that he was warily engaged in buy in on the surface of the issues.

It was Food, Inc. that had just concluded when I caught his eye and said, "We should get a cow."

He didn't say no.

Friday, November 2, 2012

31 Days to Green Acres - Day 24

This post is one in a 31 Day series.  To find other entries, please click here.

I think you've gotten a pretty comprehensive and overwhelming view into the total renovation of our farmhouse.  One friend says I made him tired.  We actually hear that quite a bit.  When people visit and get "the tour" they are often astounded at the before and after.  And, yes, you too will have a tour.  We just have quite a bit of recovery to do after a week of illness (and did I mention a broken washing machine...?), before I'm willing to take pictures.  I know it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, but I always clean up before I invite guests in, be you friend or family!

I don't know how it happened.  In the broadest sense I'd like to view it as God's gentle leading as He taught me a greater reverence for creation. That's sounds a little hooity tooity - what I'm trying to say is this.

I was, at best (before we moved to the farm), tolerant, bordering on indifferent, toward animals.

To meet me now, you'd think I'd been an animal lover for the whole of my life.

There were 3 failed attempts at pet ownership during my growing up years, and one doesn't even really count for me because I was away at college when a puppy came home for one of my siblings.  When I was a preschooler, we had a duck and sometime around late Kindergarten/First grade a golden retriever.  Neither "experiment" lasted too long, and although I have warm memories of Chatterduck and Chava, I don't have any sense that I especially longed to have them back once they were no longer part of our home.  Maybe I shed some tears when we put Chatterduck in a brown box and released her at a local forest preserve - or was it a park - I can't recall.  I was four people.

I never really "got it" - you know - animal people.  In fact, I probably used that term in my high school english class as an example of an oxymoron.  I was willing to accept that other's passion for all creatures usually defined by a kind was exactly that - a passion, and although I didn't understand it, I could see that it was real and ran deep.

Early in our family life,Weekend Farmer Husband and I brought home a really nice golden retriever, McKenzie.  She was a beautiful dog with a very sweet temperament, and she added a lot to our family life. Until the very last months of her life however, I was only capable of measuring her contribution in terms of stink in the house, mud on the floor, and epic hairballs in every nook and cranny.

She moved to the farm with us and spent her last days in doggie utopia.  I am pretty sure she smiled for 15 months straight.  One day she stopped smiling and we knew it was the end.  No one was surprised.  But everyone was shocked when I cried.

Something in my heart had started to connect with her, with the chickens in the coop, the kittens in the barn, and the cows in the field, and even the skittish, yippy, goofy dog who was her companion in the last months.

If you noticed that this indifferent to animals person had a partial barn and property full of warm blooded creatures before she began to identify an affinity to them, you've caught on.  It came late and caught me unawares.

The chickens came first.  It just made sense that with all the space in the barn and the 4-6 dozen eggs our family eats in a week that we should have chickens.  (This should settle it once and for all you folks who want to know what came's always the chicken)

And then, we had lots of feed - and lots of mice.  So we got cats.
I watched my children fall in love.
Even the big burly man boys were and are smitten.
I felt myself warm.

I was bowled over by my affection for the cows.
Their presence in our pasture was a source of joy for me.
They have distinct personalities and they're very social and mostly sweet.
(Disclaimer - we have a weird one this year.  We'll be glad to see her go, but the other three are quite nice)
I search for them every day, feel deeply responsible for their well being even though I do none of the associated chores, and yup, I actually talk to them.

No time, no particular event, no revelation stands out as the clear moment when I began to "get" animals and animal people.  All I know is that it's been delightful.  The richness of experience and the sense of abundance that animals on the farm have produced is both real and perceived.

Real because as robust omnivores, we provide for our pantry, freezer, table, and our need for food by the work or our hands.  The abundance is evident in our larder.  (Does anyone even use that word anymore?).

Perceived because the ambiance, atmosphere, and level of relationship that the animals bring to family life, the land, and their role in this redemptive journey is difficult to capture in words or image.  A producing farm yields and overflowing cup - at least for us.

Now, it's not always rosy.  There's many a cold night that we're out in the barn keeping chicks from freezing when - it's no lie - we'd rather be under our cozy electric blanket.

And, yes, cows do run away and take years off of one's anticipated  lifespan for the stress of it all.

It's true- some chickens aren't very smart, (but some are...), and the meat birds are particularly smelly.

Have I let you know how much work this all is?  It's hard, and it's constant, and there's nobody else to do it but you.

But at the end of all the work and even in the middle of it, there's joy.
Getting a glimpse of what God might have been thinking when he fashioned a cow is such fun.
Learning to "think like a chicken" is funny and in the end proves to be effective!
Observing and participating in the complete life cycle of a meat bird helps you to see just how intricate life is, and that drumstick on your plate represents thousands of little life events to form the whole product you bring to the table.

We're almost to the end of our production cycle for this year.
I find myself lingering at the fence a little longer, gazing out the window to drink in the view of a full pasture more often than usual, and counting the days until it's done so that I don't fail to savor any that remain.

This is still so new.
I don't know when it'll feel normal - like it's "always" been that way.
But it is very welcome.