On those sweaty late nights, when all the ceiling fans are all running full-speed and the clock marches double-time past midnight, when the kids are all finally in bed but the still unwashed piles of dishes and laundry are a serious threat to our mental stability, Alison and I sometimes talk about going somewhere exotic on vacation. We start talking about places with warm breezes, sumptuous food, and plenty of interesting stuff to look at.
But, who will watch the kids? Who will take care of the farm? What about all the projects we need to do here?
We bat it around a bit, go to bed talking about it, and then the conversation sort of peters out as I fall asleep waiting for Alison to finish brushing her teeth. By morning the conversation is a distant memory, a victim of both renewed optimism and more pressing issues.
So, in the interim at least, I take vacations in installments. A day here, an hour there. Like yesterday, when I took a lunch break out on the deck off the second floor of the carriage barn. I set out a chair and cracked a package of bagel chips and an ice-cold “hecho en México” Coke. The same, in theory anyway, as any working chap taking leave from the din and electromagnetic pulse of the office to grab a sandwich and pick up the dry cleaning.
I really enjoy the view from the deck. You can survey most of our 23 acres from up there. It’s where I take first-time visitors for a quick orientation. I think it makes them tired.
It was a beautiful day. Warm, but not overly so, with a significant breeze blowing out of the southwest, keeping the bugs away and hinting at an eventual, needed rain to the hayfield. I smelled something in bloom, lilac perhaps, that made the new, heavy spring humidity taste like something out of ‘Travel + Leisure’ magazine. I’m getting better at identifying scents, but still have a ways to go.
Dozens of sparrows and robins darted around, busy scraping together lunch for their squealing, hungry young ones back in the nest. I felt a fleeting kinship with those busy moms and dads. Alison and I can identify.
Just beyond the clean lines of the old ’73 Ford the sheep were out mowing pasture in precise, tight formation, like an all-natural farm implement, their busy rumens starting the miracle work of converting lush, green grass I would otherwise need to cut into rich, red lamb shoulder and warm, snow-white Merino wool. Our big hairy Pyrenees, Polar, lay dozing in his shed, exhausted from another long 3rd shift. He’s been spending his nights barking at coyotes, either real or imagined, just beyond the enclosures.
A bumblebee the size of a large jellybean, clearly efforting against the stiff, variable winds, happened by, surveillancing my snack. After a quick look it buzzed off, apparently unimpressed by the manufacturer claims – “made with REAL ingredients!” – causing me to reconsider my plans to polish off the rest of the bag.
While the animals were out working the neighbors were inside taking lunch, reading the paper, and watching reruns of ‘Cops.’ It’s a rare moment out here without any droning hint of nearby power tool use, but the farmers had already planted, the loggers had already harvested, and no one was mowing or cutting or drilling or blasting anything. Even our yard was quiet – Alison had taken most of the kids on an excursion to find more flowers and plants. And the normally ultra-free-range hens stewed impatiently behind wire, banished to their narrow run for the next several weeks so as not to damage the delicate shoots of new garden plantings.
The only evidence of man was the periodic hum of airplanes passing by several thousand feet high, where passengers busied themselves ensuring seat backs and tray tables were in their full, upright positions as they gradually descended into the business hotels, conference rooms and funeral parlors of metro Detroit.
While I didn’t see much in the way of work, I did see a lot of projects. The fun kind of projects that involve equal parts old tools, sweat, cold drinks, and excuses to buy new tools. The kind that induce equal parts bone-toppling fatigue and the near-extinct sensation of deservedly holstering a brand-new old-timey skill.
Beneath the deck sat a one-car-garage-sized pile of oak and cherry to be split and stacked. Just beyond lay a still invisible, 300-some-odd foot fence line that would create one more acre of pasture, one fewer acre of cutting, and six months of entertainment for our growing herd of Nubians. If we get that right, there’s another 1,700 feet of fencing project beyond that could double our beef and lamb capacity. And the sooner we got that rain, the sooner I could start thinking about tuning up the old haying equipment, and the sooner I could start baling the seven-hundred bales or so of forage we would need for next winter’s beef and lamb.
The three-point tiller sat idle staring at me from the tall grass, silently reminding me of my promise to Steve to come around someday and till up the old pasture he’s fixing to plant with clover. Next to the tiller, the King Kutter brush hog cowered, fully-aware of my intention to do everything possible to render it 100% obsolete.
Down in the haybarn – the one that sorely needs a new roof and gutters – cattle lounged in the shade, enjoying their brief breezy respite from the bugs, calmly chewing cud even as they lay on some three feet of winter poop and straw. We’ll need to get every shovel full of it onto the compost pile. Soon. Hopefully later in the week. Behind me in the carriage barn were 600 square feet of framed space to finish into the homeschool hangout room Alison envisioned two years ago when we moved in.
There were lots of little, highly-visible things too – a spot or two of decking peeling loose, barn doors in seasonal need of readjustment, damaged fence railings – at least four, but probably more – to be replaced. An antique pedal-driven toy firetruck was parked atop the woodchip pile, still in need of a drivetrain replacement since garage-sale acquisition last year.
Just as my hour was coming to a close a neighbor opened his barn and drove out with a tractor and mower, breaking the hydrocarbon silence as he waved and arced toward the untamed rear of his property.
I reciprocated waves, leaned back, scratched a trio of mosquito bites on my elbow, took a long swig of now-warm Coke, and an even longer lilac-laced drag of fresh, heavy air. Two thoughts came to mind:
Who needs an exotic vacation when everything is right here?
And, more importantly:
How can I afford to take a vacation when there’s so much to do?