Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A day in the life of a lonely homesteader

Somebody is making me think really hard about what I want to be when my kids grow up. I was home alone again on Tuesday. It started snowing around 11 a.m., and for more than an hour, I waffled about whether to take a shower or go outside and do chores. We don't normally do chores around noon, but it was supposed to snow all day, and I knew the goats would not leave their little three-sided shelter to paw at the snow and find grass. That's what the sheep do, but then they have 3-inch thick wool coats. Still, fresh air is better for goats than being cooped up in a barn.

What finally got me off my tush and outside was seeing Star and Lil heading for the barn. You see, Lil is short for Lil Dipper. She's Star's baby, the one who was born very small and with a sucking disorder. Although she did learn to nurse properly, she has stayed tiny, and it is for this reason that she is still here. Once I realized she wasn't growing normally, I honestly did not know what to do with her. She is still the size of a chihuahua and can walk right through any kind of fence, so I worry that she'd escape from her new home. She is also so small, that unless she has a miracle growth spurt at some point (not likely to happen after six months), she should not be bred. So, when I saw Lil following her mom through the snow to the barn, I figured I should get out there and let everyone into the barn.

I tried to ignore the odor coming from my underarms as I pulled on my camisole, turtleneck, and hooded sweater. The goats wouldn't care, right? Just as I got my boots pulled on over the wool socks that Margaret made for me, I realized that I needed to throw a couple more logs on the fire so it wouldn't go out while I was outside. No one was ever meant to be alone on a farm, I thought. A century ago, people had big families, and the kids stayed nearby even after starting their own families. A hundred years ago, I would not be looking at an empty nest, ever. My youngest would not be 15. I would not have stopped reproducing at age 30. I'd probably have a 12 year old, a 9 year old, and at least a 6 year old, if not also a 3 year old. And yeah, they would be well spaced. I've been into this natural stuff for a long time, and by merely breastfeeding, my babies were nicely spaced almost three years apart. But I digress . . .

After throwing a couple more logs on the fire, I headed for the barn. I nearly slipped on the powdery, snow-covered ice a few times. I filled all the hay feeders with hay and dumped the buckets that could be dumped and refilled them with fresh water. Those with solid blocks of ice were left in the storeroom with a heat lamp so they could melt. As for the goats, all I had to do was open the door, and they came running.

As I was fixing lunch around 1:00, I looked out the window and saw the horses running through the snow. The silly things have decided they do not like their shelter, but I thought that if I took some hay out there, they'd follow me to it. So, I put my casserole in the oven and bundled up again. As they were following me down a hill, I started to think that it might be easier if I just plopped on my butt and slid, but common sense ruled, and I continued taking baby steps. As I headed up the next hill, the horses galloped past me, and I worried that they might slip and land on top of me, which would mean that I would die. Although we don't have big hills around here, they are very steep. I briefly considered crossing the creek here, instead of going up and down another hill, but if the creek wasn't frozen, it would be too deep to cross.

As I headed down the next hill, the horses balked. I kept going, thinking they'd eventually follow, but they refused. I got to the creek and saw that the water was still running. Even though it is not very deep, I wondered if that was their reason for refusing to go to their shelter. So, I admitted defeat and headed back up the hill to the chicken house, where I dropped the hay. At least the chicken house provides a wind break for them, and they were close enough to the barn that I could come back later and bring them in. I went inside to have my lunch, and as I was finishing up, I saw them around the pond back where our adventure had begun. [cue primal scream]

By now it was 3:15 and time for afternoon chores. I stood by the chicken house and called to the horses. I recalled my father telling me about having a horse that would come when he called it, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. Right? My father was a genuine Texas cowboy. His first job as a teenager was breaking horses on a ranch, but by the time they adopted me, he had given up his wild ways and settled for more normal blue-collar jobs. Midknight looked at me when I called his name. I hollered again, as if I were calling a big dog. He stared at me hard, then finally turned and headed down behind the pond's berm. Merlot started after him, and I continued to call as I waited faithfully, not seeing any sign of progress. Finally, I saw Midknight come galloping around the berm and up the hill to the chicken house.

I led both horses into the barn, which is no small feat for me. I am not into horses. They are here as a compromise for Katherine. Rather than buying her an expensive horse, we allow people to leave their horses here for free. Merlot has been here for about five years, and I think his owner has now officially deserted him. He is 17 and has EPM and severe arthritis in one leg, so he can't be ridden. He's just one beautiful pasture ornament. Midknight has been here for a year and a half, and he's younger and completely healthy. His owners don't want to sell him, but they can't afford to board him anywhere. Katherine rides him two or three times a year. Now that she's already counting down to leaving in two and a half years, I'm asking myself if I want to be responsible for these horses. If they had not been here, my Tuesday would have been a piece of cake, almost.

I did have to figure out how to get hay out to the sheep. What was I thinking when I put their pasture so far from the hay storage? Pushing a wheel barrow full of hay was out of the question, as I would be walking into the snow, and I could hardly see when walking short distances. Finally I tossed a bale in the van and drove down the snow-covered road to the sheep. I loathe driving in snow, but I figured I could easily walk home if I got stuck or went into a ditch.

At 4:15, with the sun going down, I walked back into the house, pulled off my coat, scarf, and hat, and ran my fingers through my cold, sweaty hair. At least Margaret would be home tonight to milk the goats. I went upstairs and took my shower, happy that my children will be here for most of this winter.


melanie said...

Even with completely different animals, your post resonated with me! I am so often pulled these days by more passive pursuits like reading, knitting, or the computer, that I often wonder about the sanity of solitary farming!

No wonder in all the classic films the old farmer or homesteader is often portrayed as a nut who talks to their animals...

Jody said...

Taking care of animals sounds like it has to come before taking care of yourself. I admire you very much. Alot of self sacrifice is needed. I know it can be hard letting go of one's children. I miss my little boy at Christmas the most. He is still coming 'home' for Christmas but not a little boy anymore.

Deborah said...

Oh, Melanie, your comment made me laugh! I felt like a nut yesterday as I was talking to my animals. I moved the horses into the barn one at a time, and they protested loudly about being separated. I was talking to them just like a mother would speak to a child about something scary like going to the dentist. "It's going to be okay. I'm just going to put you in the barn, and ..." all said in that soft, high pitched voice that you use with a toddler.

Jody, so glad your son is coming home for Christmas! We're not even done with our house, and I've already told my husband that we have to build on a proper dining room, because we won't have room for the three kids, spouses, and grandkids when they come back for holidays!

Sharrie said...

Next time you have to transport hay, consider a ice fishing sled. They are made of plastic and a bale of hay fits in them perfectly. Very easy to pull over the snow. I totally understand about all the animals. Winter is hard.

pedalpower said...

Wow, that is a lot to think about...makes my empty nest look easy!

The breastfeeding worked to space your babies better than it worked for me. I was still breastfeeding my second one on his first birthday and I was already pregnant with the third...yeah he was still nursing. I loved nursing my babies. Nothing more content than a baby happily nursing.

Deborah said...

Thanks for the sled suggestion, Sharrie. I think we actually have a plastic sled around here from when the kids were younger.

Ya know, pedalpower, I am thinking that my body being so sensitive to hormones caused by breastfeeding might be similar to my overly sensitive reaction to modern drugs. I can't take narcotics, NSAIDs, or sulfa drugs. Basically, my reactions are off the charts ... side effects gone wild. NSAID stomach upset for me means that I can't sleep for days because the pain keeps waking me up. Narcotics dizziness means I can't even sit up -- forget standing. I'd love to know if I'm on to something here, but I doubt this has ever been researched.

Susan said...

But don't you love it?

I love being outside when I didn't think I really wanted to be outside. I hear geese flying over or a heron that's still hanging around or the crunchy quiet when there's quite a bit of snow on the ground.

I love listening to the animals fuss or bark and see the tracks from all the little critters that we never see.

Deborah said...

I do love being outside in winter, just not during snowfall, and not having to deal with horses. I don't like dealing with horses on a nice summer day. Ever since that cow tried to kill Jonathan four years ago, big animals have sort of scared me.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

You have taken on a lot more there than we have here, but I plan to always have animals. I love them and their care, and I like being solitary. But I wouldn't want to live in any harsher a climate than we have here. The occasional snowfall is welcome and beautiful; an entire snowy winter would get old.


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