Befores and Afters

I read a book once that pointed out that life tends to divide itself into befores and afters.

It’s true, when you think about it.  Some are obvious milestones: Before high school.  After high school.  Before college.  After college.  Before and after your first job.  Births.  Deaths.  We, all of us, all our lives, are just a mess of befores and afters and how they changed us from one version of ourselves to the next.  We have ceremonies to celebrate or mourn the changes.  Matriculation.  Funerals.  Christenings.

Marriages.

Divorces.

Sometimes, even though one day you’re a person of before and the next day a person of after, it feels like little has changed.  Some befores and afters fade into one another like the colors of the sunset meld from one to the next, and suddenly the sky has gone from blue to orange to purple without you noticing.  The easy changes are like that.  You don’t realize things are changing until they have, and then, before you know it, you’ve made your way from a before to an after.

Other changes fall like a sledgehammer.  No matter the slope into it, no matter the warning or preparation, the change will always be abrupt.

Like death.

Hopefully followed by rebirth.

For me, 2017 was a sledgehammer year. 

2017 felt like falling off the edge of the world.  Tumbling into the unknown with no way of catching myself and hoping against hope that I would manage to find some yet unknown footing.  And it wasn’t just the divorce, though that was a large part of it.   It was losing all faith in the person who I used to consider my best friend.  Honestly, before I found out about his affair, if I had been asked whether I had more faith in him, or in the sun’s rising in the east and setting in the west, I would have, without a moment’s hesitation, said him.  But after?  I felt worthless, thrown away by the person who had promised to love me no matter what.

When my marriage fell away, I realized that I had defined myself by my relationship and that I didn’t entirely remember who I was outside of it.  And I was so numb that, for quite a while, I couldn’t figure out what to do to fix that.

2017 was a lost and found year. 

When my life fell to pieces, I really thought that I was destined to live a half-life.  I couldn’t imagine my world without my ex.  I couldn’t imagine being happy again.  I know that it sounds crazy, but for a long while there, it seemed like joy was a thing of my past.

I lost who I had been.  I lost who he and I had been together.  I lost the person I had depended upon the most.

But then, hidden in the wreckage of my life, cowering and lost, I found myself again.

I was surprised to learn that you can always find your way back to you.

2017 was my year of Women Reading Aloud.  (Yes, Julie, I’m talking about you.)

The series of events that brought me to the South of France this August, sitting in a room full of lovely, beautiful, talented writers, is complex and uncanny.  It was almost an accident.  It was almost intentional.  I almost didn’t go, feeling almost too heartbroken to function.  But, somehow, the universe brought me to a little retreat, near a little town, that I almost couldn’t find on a map.  Weirdly, I started to find pieces of myself in a place that I had never been with people who I had never met.

After that, I started to find pieces of myself all over.  My friends and family helped remind me of who I had always been.  My creatures reminded me of what I had always done.  My half-life grew, and it was as though those people and places and creatures dearest to me had been holding pieces of me for safe-keeping: pieces I had forgotten about. Pieces that they handed back once I was ready to begin putting myself back together.

The thing about befores and afters is that they never really leave you.  Rather, they change you.  If you let them, they can change you for the better, even as you mourn what you lost.

I was recently sent a message by an old college friend who reached out to me, asking what she could do to help someone who had recently discovered their spouse was having an affair.  My heart broke for this person, who I had never met, because I know what it is to renegotiate yourself through that sort of brokenness.  I gave her some advice.  A list of books that had I found helpful.

And I started thinking, not for the first time, about all the people who find themselves living in an after they never expected.

If that’s where you are right now, negotiating an heart-wrenching after, you’re not alone.  You’re growing.  And you’re changing.  And you’re probably breaking into a thousand pieces.  But you’re not alone.

You’ll change.  You’ll grow.  You find yourself all over again.  And you put the pieces back, maybe a little differently.

All of this to say, you’ve got this.  I believe in you.  Go live your after

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Just a quick trip…

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Lauren, Jeremiah, and me, riding at Cavalli.

It was the 29th of July.  Jeremiah and I were sitting down to dinner, and a good friend shot me a message on Facebook.

“Do you guys know when you’ll be able to come out?  I need Jeremiah’s help.”

The message came from my friend Lauren, a teacher and ranch owner in Maine.  We met about six years ago while working at a summer camp.  She ran the horse barn; I ran the llama barn.  We bonded over our willingness to get our hands dirty and get shit done.  (That and the mutual dislike of a few of the other employees who didn’t have that same willingness…)  Since that time, we stayed in touch on Facebook and realized that our lives were moving in creepily similar directions. She became a teacher. I became a teacher. I married a farrier. She married a farrier. She bought and renovated an old house. I bought and renovated an old house. Most recently, we both bought ranches and spend most of our lives keeping them running. We joke that we live the same lives in different states.  It’s uncanny.

Continue reading “Just a quick trip…”

Because God Put Him in my Way…

My husband is prone to mayhem.  I’m not sure why (though I do have a theory that’s loosely based on the Percy Jackson novels) but weird things happen to him, or around him, almost daily.  (Want an example?  He’s been dead three times…)  Nothing surprises me anymore.

So, Monday morning, as we drove out towards the highway on our way to Wildlife Prairie State Park with an injured Turkey Vulture in the backseat, I found myself in a state of disbelief that this felt so completely normal.  And when the vulture sharted on my backseat cover, I just took another sip of my coffee.  We rolled the back windows down.  And we kept trucking.

dante2

We called the Turkey Vulture Dante.  Jeremiah had nearly hit him with my Jetta the day before; the poor thing had been stumbling around a road, nearly blind and dazed by a brush with an automobile.  Jeremiah had watched him in the rearview mirror for a few moments before stopping the car and going back for him.

I found out about Dante when Jeremiah posted this on his Facebook business page:

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Dante the Turkey Vulture

“Well, sometimes God puts obstacles in your way that are rather hard to avoid. Like, you will take out the ditch trying to avoid them kind of obstacles. Everyone, I would like you to meet my obstacle of the day, the injured and blind turkey vulture that wandered out into the road. His name is Dante, and we will traveling together today.”

He gave Dante his lunch and they began the drive back to the ranch together.

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Dante with Jeremiah’s lunch

On the ride home, Jeremiah learned some new vulture facts.  For example, when a vulture poops in your car, the only course of action is to evacuate the vehicle…and wait.  Also, vultures (or maybe just Dante) grow agitated when listening to Taylor Swift, but they chill out and jam to Johnny Cash.  (They listened to Johnny Cash all the way home after making this discovering, because no matter how much you enjoy listening to “Blank Space,” it isn’t worth an agitated vulture in the backseat.)

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Dante during the Jetta evacuation

Jeremiah planned to find a rehabilitator or rescue for Dante, but it was Sunday evening, so the search had to wait until the next day. In the meantime, Jeremiah laid down some straw in our feed room, hooked up a heat light, and gave Dante some food and water.  We left him there through the night, basking soundly in the glow of the heat lamp.

Dante basking under the heat lamp
Dante basking under the heat lamp

I know this may sound strange, but I’m a fan of vultures.  A few years ago, I attended a information session about birds of prey that featured some rehabilitated birds.  Though not nearly as striking as the eagles or the owls, the turkey vultures stole the show.  They were funny and interactive and seemed to really enjoy showing off for the people.  Vultures get a bad rap, but they serve a vital purpose in the ecosystem.  Rather than kill prey, these birds feed on what has already died.  Their digestive systems sanitize what they eat, preventing the spread of disease throughout a population.  They are nature’s clean up crew, and they really are very cool animals.

The next morning, Jeremiah began the search for a rehabilitator, planning to look locally first, then start to work through a list that my blogger friend over at Day by Day the Farm Girl Way sent me.  Fortunately, Wildlife Prairie Park (less than an hour away) agreed to take him, so we loaded him up in the backseat and drove out.

We pulled around at the front entrance where they were expecting us.  They had a small kennel set up for Dante, where he would wait until their bird keeper picked him up.  We made a small cash donation towards his care and left, feeling grateful that someone was willing to give him a shot.

Unfortunately, Dante had to be euthanized later that day.  He had more injuries than we knew, and he went into seizures.  I was saddened by the news, but glad that Jeremiah had picked him up off the road, that the old guy hadn’t died slowly on the side of the highway, scared and confused.  The night Dante spent in the barn, it had brutally stormed.  Trees came down; thunder crashed so loudly that I woke halfway through the night.  And I was glad that the old guy was tucked in safe and sound and warm.  Even though no one could have saved him, we helped make his last night far more comfortable, and that is something that all God’s creatures deserve.

I emailed my blogger friend when I found out that Dante was euthanized.  I knew I would post about it, and I wanted to tell her via email before she read about it on my blog.

I wrote, saying,
“I plan on posting about this whole experience, but I wanted to let you know first.  We got an update from wildlife that they humanely euthanized Dante yesterday.  He was apparently very old (the zoologist used the word ancient) for a vulture, and he had a head trauma.   By the time she saw him, he was having seizures.  There was nothing they could do beyond give him a peaceful end.

I wish it would have turned out better, but I’m glad he didn’t die alone, terrified, and confused by the side of the road.  There was a massive storm across the Midwest the night he stayed with us, and he got to spend it in a dry room with a heat lamp instead of dying in a ditch.

Thank you for your help.  Thank you mostly for your reassurance that we did the right thing.”

Her reply was sweet and thoughtful.  I asked her permission to share it with you.
“Cherity, I’m so sorry. I had a feeling he might have been old by the looks of his head. I’m also not surprised at his injury. Many large birds are hit while feasting on roadkill. Especially this time of year when parents are looking to feed their young. Forrest and I have transported many male owls and hawks to WildCare during the spring and summer months… hit by vehicles. I suspect since the males do most of the feeding of the young and the female (after the eggs hatch), they are very busy looking for meat to feed all of those mouths!

Dante was a magnificent bird… and you and Jeremiah are fortunate to have shared in the last of his life’s experience. You are the benefactors, and his life was not lived in vain (not that it would have been in vain at all – we are all here for the experience of knowing God/Universe). When you write about him, and your experience, you will have made his life all the more influential on humans. It was his gift to mankind to be a cleanser of the earth all of his life… and in the end, he was a gift for all of us, to understand showing kindness to those who need our help.

I believe that animals/birds/all life forms, read or sense energy. Dante knew the kindness of humans. He felt your touch, and your energy. Wouldn’t that be the best way to have the ending of life here on planet Earth? To know the kindness and love of another? Gentle hands placed on you with soft words and a sense of being cared for? When Jeremiah removed Dante from the chaos and terror of the pavement, he had to have known or sensed that something greater was happening. He probably knew his end was near… and death was imminent, but because of the kindness of you and your husband, and the people at the wildlife rescue, he knew goodness and kindness.

I am so proud of both you and Jeremiah. Thank you for including me in this experience. I look forward to reading your blog post about Dante. It is a beautiful story that should be shared with others.”

My husband was asked why he bothered to pick up a wounded buzzard. Jeremiah simply replied, “Because God put him in my way.”   I think God puts opportunities to show kindness in our way, and I think Dante was one of those opportunities.  And no kindness is ever wasted, even if it is just shown to a wounded buzzard.

Thanks for a year of almostfarmgirl!!! (And my trip to Costa Rica)

Hi Everyone!

It seems I’ve been gone for two whole weeks!  Weird.  And unintended.

Also weird?  It’s been just over a year since I started almostfarmgirl.com.  Since then, almost 200 of you (between Facebook and WordPress followers) have started following this crazy ride on the ranch, and I am so thankful to each of you.  (I’m especially thankful to those of you who interact, and who I’ve gotten to know a little bit.  You guys know who you are.)  I just paid for another year of hosting, so here’s to the start of another year of this blogging adventure together.

To celebrate a year of blogging, I went to Costa Rica for a week.

Actually, that’s a lie.

I went to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday.

You see, for Christmas this year, my mom gave me and my sister a trip to Costa Rica; she had earned the trips in her independent consultant work with Norwex, a company that specializing in environmentally friendly cleaning products.  (Just FYI, their dusting mitt is awesome, and I have never found a better way to clean windows and mirrors than with their enviro cloth and polishing cloth.)  She chose to give the incentive trips to my sister and I, partly because Chas’s 30th fell just on the other side of the trip.

So we traded this

The woods are lovely dark and deep

For this
Costa Rica

Between seventy-five and ninety degree temperatures in Costa Rica.  Between 20 degrees and negative twelve degrees back home.

I did feel bad leaving Jeremiah with the ranch, but I loved seeing the rainforest, and volcanos and the ocean.

Volcanos in the distance
Volcanos in the distance
Waves breaking on the beach
Waves breaking on the beach

I was playing in the surf wearing SPF Vampire to protect against the tropical sun…

Playing in the Surf
Playing in the Surf

Costa Rica

And my poor husband was shoveling the barn out of nearly a foot of snow.

Guys, I actually zip-lined through the Rainforest.  I saw Scarlet Macaws, and a Toucan, and Iguanas.  And I barely got sunburned at all, which is kind of a miracle.

Costa Rica

Swim up bar!
Swim up bar!
How cool is this tree?
How cool is this tree?

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Chas and I toured an organic coffee plantation.  (Seriously, don’t take your morning cup of coffee for granted; it’s loads of work to get it in your cup.)  We spent five days in Central America on the Pacific Coast and somehow managed the escape all but the very last harsh winter days of the season.

At the Rainforest Gala
At the Rainforest Gala

We spent our last night at the Norwex Rainforest Gala, before packing up and heading back to the states.

And, one delayed flight, one missed flight, one redirection to Chicago, one lost bag, and a three-hour car ride later, we made it home safe and sound…and completely exhausted.

I was ready to be back home.

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Because as awesome as that trip was, there’s nothing quite like watching my ponies and alpacas grazing from my kitchen window.

Thanks again for a great first year, everybody!  And, as always, thanks so much for reading.