Jeremiah pulled the covers back and kissed me goodbye at about 7:30. I was still in bed, unmotivated to get up and start my Sunday.
“I put fly masks on the horses and scrubbed the trough. The stalls are clean, and the water buckets are filled. The chickens are fed. The barn cats are let out. And don’t let our cats convince you to give them second breakfast” [for those of you who haven’t met them, our house cats are basically hobbits…] “because I just fed them too.”
I rolled over to say thank you when a rooster crowed in the distance, as though he knew he’d been left out.
“Oh, right,” Jeremiah continued, “I let the chickens out too.”
Jeremiah is gone a lot for work, especially lately, but when he has time, he does a sweep of the barn before leaving so that I don’t have to worry about such things immediately. He will be gone for four days, another trip east. This one is to outfit his shoeing trailer and ride with a fellow farrier for a few days. The last trip was for three clinics. The next will be for a clinic and a number of distant consult cases and closer client stops. While he’s gone I’m here with the creatures, and the property, and my job. Everyday looks like sixty-two creatures, two barns (eight stalls), one very big chicken coop, and that’s just before I go to work…
Usually, it’s fine. I love this place and these creatures, and, I’ve said it before, there is a certain zen to cleaning stalls that I have yet to find anywhere else except maybe a yoga studio. (Like yoga! But with manure!!!)
But, if I’m telling the truth, the yoke of this place is heavy, heavier to carry alone. And there is always uncertainty in it. The skid steer is broken right now. It needs five-hundred dollars worth of repairs. And we will get it done. We always do. But my car needs tires too, and the house needs a new roof desperately. And the propane bill is coming due…and, and, and…
And a few days ago, this happened:
Jeremiah walked into our guest room two nights ago to check on our hedgehogs (something we do every evening), and found this. Apparently the ceiling in this room, a casualty of the roof, collapsed while we were away that day. We didn’t even have an indication that this room was a problem, but water has been an issue since we moved in, whether seeping through the foundation or around the windows or through the roof, we have a lot of sealing up to do.
I called my friend Lauren just after it happened while I walked out to the horse pasture.
“Lauren, please remind me why we do this.”
(We have this conversation a lot. We both are in our late twenties, both running farms that require endless hours of work and the ability to stretch quarters into dollars.)
She answered without hesitation.
“Because we love it. We do it because we would be unhappy with anything else.”
I told her what we had just found in the guest room…that, for the very first time, I was questioning whether I could make this work. For the first time since we moved here, I questioned whether we would fail. I told her that I found my mind jumping to darker places, wondering what would happen to my creatures if I wasn’t up to this. I mean, who would take my stupid pet chickens and not eat them??? (She told me she would, and a llama or two if necessary; I truly have the best friends.)
Lauren stayed on the phone with me for a while, until I calmed down a little, telling me that it’s worth it, that it gets better, and that, hard as it is to see sometimes, this is my dream. She had been there too, wondering and feeling like it was all crashing down, and it works out anyway. Things will get better, she told me.
Jeremiah and I talked about it later, the weird way this place is everything: our biggest stresser and our source of peace. How, in the back fields at night, we feel centered in ways we can’t describe, as though the property were destined from the beginning of all things to be ours one day. As though maybe we were created to care for it and all of these misfit creatures who live here with us.
I truly feel that way, most of the time. And then sometimes, like the other night, it feels impossible. Too much. Like maybe I was ridiculous for dreaming the dream of this place…
Ten days ago, while Jeremiah was away, I walked out to do morning chores and found our youngest alpaca dead in her stall with no indications as to why. I was on the phone with Jeremiah when I found her.
“Oh my God. Ewok’s dead.”
It made no sense. She was only six and perfectly healthy. And yet, there she was.
Later that day, with my dad’s help, I loaded her in the back of the truck. We needed a necropsy, and I needed to take her to the vet to have one done.
I usually don’t have any attachment to my animal’s bodies when they pass. There is something about how they look in death that is so very foreign to who they were in life. And I felt a little detached as we picked her up. I was stunned that she was gone, and worried that I might have missed something. I always worry when we lose an animal that, perhaps, if I had done something differently, they could have been saved.
In truth, she had always been one of my favorites, full of sass and always a good source of comic relief. She was definitely one of Jeremiah’s favorites. When I hung up the phone that day, too stunned to feel, he sat down and cried.
The next day, I got a phone call from the vet saying that she had been struck by lightning. Nothing we could have possibly done. I had no warning. I hadn’t missed anything.
In a way, it was a relief to know it wasn’t our fault. In another way, it felt cruel, like some form of cosmic punishment.
Yesterday, I stood at my kitchen window watching hummingbirds chase each around the feeder. Just behind them, a small flock of goldfinches had landed on my cone flowers and were helping themselves to a bounteous supply of seed. A hummingbird hovered just on the other side of the window, looking into the house, straight at me, as if to say “hello” or “thank you for the endless supply of sugar water.”
I smiled the sort of smile that starts deep within your soul. We’re all connected out here, me and the hummingbirds and the finches. Along with the llamas and the horses and the stupid little chickens. We all call this place home. And I think we’re all exactly where we’re supposed to be.
And yet, it’s so hard sometimes. Lately, I’ve picked up on Glennon Melton (of Momastery)’s mantra: “We can do hard things.”
I need it on a magnet. Or, more appropriately, on signs, one for every room of the house. One for the feed room. One for the tack room. One for the outside of the barn.
I repeat it a lot, in my head or out loud.
Loading my favorite, now deceased alpaca into the back of my husband’s truck: “I can do hard things.”
Making dinner at 10pm because that’s when I finally finished with work and chores and taking care of all the creatures I so adore: “I can do hard things.”
Going through bills and hoping for the best: “I can do hard things.”
Looking into my attic through the rafters where I should have a ceiling. “I can do hard things.”
“We can do hard things.”
I think that’s what all of us really need to hear most of the time. Because the best parts of life are hard. Really hard. And sometimes those hard things feel impossible. And we can do them anyway.
Because the best things in life are hard. And they’re worth it….
So, today, I’m going to pick myself up again. And I’m going to do hard things. And so are you.
And it’s going to be great.
This almostfarmgirl is cheering for you.