The recent heavy rainfalls and resulting heavy mosquitoes are the topic du jour around here. The buggers are making up for the lost time of a dry spring and attacking with indiscriminate abandon. When their densities can be described as “cloudlike” it adds a degree of difficulty to the farm operation, but it also keeps things focused. It eliminates meandering and stimulates efficiency. The mosquitoes are the price we pay for having all the water – no irrigation or rain dances necessary – and none of the strip malls. But that’s not always easy to remember, not when you are sweating it out in a hoodie in July, milking with one hand, swatting pests with the other.
I spent a lonely 4th of July weekend on the farm. Alison and the kids are off at a faraway family reunion and I stayed back to keep eyes on our Guernsey heifer, due any day now with her first calf. I make it a point to check her every few hours even if I don’t have much of an idea of what I’m looking for. I assume the process to be similar to delivering goats or lambs which we have done several times now. It actually has a similar feeling to waiting out a newborn baby. There is checking, hoping, and prepping. Wondering. A twinge of anxiety too, that same familiar feeling, albeit much less powerful – maybe 4% worth – welling up in the gut. You want everything to go okay, your loved ones to be safe.
While so far it has proven challenging to feed our whole lot of 11 from this plot, I am finding that caring for one person is actually fairly easy. Ten days out and I still haven’t had a need to run to the grocery. Not with the farm producing more eggs, garden greens, milk, and meat than I could possibly eat. I will run out of dog food long before I run out things to feed myself. Yes, they are basic eats, but delicious and beyond fresh. Most mornings it has been bacon and eggs plus something sautéed from the garden, a zucchini or squash. Lunch has been a quick Clif bar or leftovers. Dinner is a salad made from garden greens and a piece of pork cutlet or ribeye steak. The young, tender lettuce melts in your mouth every bit as much as the beef does. My big cheat so far was swinging through town on Friday night to pick up a carne asada burrito.
The pictures from Alison’s family reunion speak of pure recreation. All the good times you expect and deserve if you are getting a big family together. Swimming, fishing, jet skiing, and cave exploration. Mountain lakes, fireworks, milkshakes, and adrenaline. Cool Ranch Doritos by the pallet. All very honorable stuff, though I admit living here has changed me somewhat. I have become more conscious of the inputs of nearly everything we consume. A burger isn’t a burger anymore. It is the culmination of a lot of work. So too is the milkshake, the wool sweater, the maple syrup on those pancakes. Even the Doritos. Everything we consume comes from somewhere and from somebody. So whenever I emerge someplace in society I walk around gingerly, feeling a little like the guy reluctantly walking in to see the Hollywood production after long being a fan of the book. Somehow the movie never seems to live up to the hype. The book is always better.
The house feels lonely. It’s is literally never this quiet around our place. I lay in bed at night and marvel how anyone could live this way every day voluntarily. I miss my people. Their voices. Their laughter. Their moist, squirming, restless bodies in our bed. The only upside to them being away: fresh towels galore.
I think the house also feels lonely. Like it’s missing out on something. When everyone is home the dust literally never settles, instead it is continuously stirred by the nonstop mixing and movement and tumult inside. But now the house feels dusty, like a film of loneliness has settled over the place. Every time I enter it feels as if I were walking into a recently-deceased grandparent’s home. The septic, laundry, electrical, and plumbing systems can certainly use a little time off. But the house itself – the wood and plaster and brick – is counting the days.
I cut hay late last week knowing I wouldn’t have a crew to help me bring it in. It was a smaller second cutting – more tender, more palatable, more nutritious, more valuable – and I figured I could do it by myself. I almost did. But my Venezuelan neighbor showed up just as I was running out of steam with 50 bales still in the field. His timing was immaculate. We finished up in an hour or so and then headed out for a celebratory ice cream.
On the way we noted the roadways clogged with hay equipment. Trucks and trailers and balers buzzing from field to field, the big wagons fully-loaded, headed down the road to eager and waiting barns. The hayfield is like a football stadium. Stately and dormant most of the year, holding all that latent energy with dignity, until released in a manic flurry of activity those handful of days each year. Cathedrals are like that too.
Luis and I sat outside the store on a rickety bench, across from the mammoth feed mill, ice creams in hand, watching the early evening traffic go by. Burly guys running hay equipment and rusty, dented Dodge Caravans bouncing into the parking lot in search of summer 6-packs. The sun was blood red in a light purple summer sky. Heavenly fireworks. After all the silence the conversation felt good. The sing-song linguistic quality of the Spanish was soothing too. We sat there awhile, looking like “vagabondos” covered in grime and sweat and hay. I carried that good feeling of genuine, proper muscular exhaustion. After about 15 minutes it was time to get back. Duty called. We have a heifer about to calf and I wanted to check on her before dark.