I forgot to step tall over the hot wire.
I felt my rubber muck boot catch the bottom wire of the horse fence. My ankle caught the strand that I had strung there this summer. My knees hit the snow. The five gallon bucket I had been filling at the spigot fell forward out of my hands and spilled into the stark, white snow, soaking my hands through my gloves, emptying in a mockery of the small task I was trying to accomplish.
I was wearing too many layers to injure myself in the fall: my legs were insulated against their snowy landing spot by two pairs of pants and a pair of heavy duty coveralls. Rather, the -15 degree windchill made the possibility of frostbite through my wet gloves my most pressing concern. I stood up slowly–the only possible way to stand in coveralls–and, swearing at the wind or the weather or my own clumsiness, began to refill the bucket. Ponies need water. It is my job to make sure they have it, whether the process for getting it is pleasant or not.
The spigot in my horse barn has managed to remain unfrozen this year, thanks entirely to my father’s handiwork, wrapping it in heat tape and insulating it against the cold, so I haven’t spent this year’s Polar Vortex hand filling a 100 gallon trough, carrying buckets one by one up my icy lane. Rather, when the arctic temps settled in over the midwest a few weeks ago, I found myself battling frozen auto waterers on one side of my barn, frozen furnace lines in my barn furnace (the one that heats my feed room and tack room), and frozen pipes in those same rooms. I’ve been filling water buckets by hand, heating my rooms with space heaters, and hoping for the best. Winter will move on eventually; it always does. And when it does I will have a good idea of what will need to be fixed before the cold strikes again. And something else will break next winter from completely out of left field, because that’s how farms work.
I remember when I was fourteen, walking up the barn lane in the summer, and thinking to myself that “I want a place like this someday.” I remember that moment clearly, though there was nothing significant about it, walking the same steps on the same path that I took everyday to begin work in the morning, but something about it stuck.
I constantly hear people remark that I’m “living the dream.” And, honestly, being here, in this place, with these animals is the culmination of years of dreaming. For so many, myself included, land is “the dream,” horses are “the dream,” eggs from your own hens are “the dream.”
I think about that sometimes when I’m fighting sub-zero temperatures wearing soaked through gloves. I think about it when the manure in the barn stalls is frozen to the ground and can’t be cleaned up. I think about it when my hose lines freeze, or an animal gets injured, or a llama chokes and has to be driven to the University Livestock Hospital two hours away on the night that I’m supposed to be at my Nana’s birthday party.
This is just another reality of “the dream.”
And yet, I could take a thousand photographs and never capture the way that the snow glitters out here in the light of the full moon. I could try to describe the way sunset paints the sky from pink to orange, then to blue and purple fading black, in every post I write from here on out and never do it justice. I don’t know how to express the calm that settles over the horses when I feed them their evening hay, or the glee that overtakes the alpacas when they decide it’s time to play, prancing from one hill in their front pasture to the next and then erupting into bucks and a mad run.
That’s probably more what people have in mind when they decide that I’m “living the dream” out here.
The beauty. The calm.
Dreams aren’t usually what we think they’ll be, and I think some people get discouraged when they realize that their dreams aren’t all sunshine and roses. But, having known any number of people, myself included, who are truly living their dreams, I’m not sure this world ever offers a lifelong dream without difficulty. It always comes at a cost.
It’s usually worth it anyway.
Right now, even though I’ve just about had enough of the cold and all the problems that accompany it, even though the cost is high, it’s worth it.
With that in mind, I’m going to go slip on boots and wander out into the snow. I will feed horses and llamas and ponies. I will brave the cold, again, and try not to slip on the ice. And I will remember that winter will end soon enough, and that anything worth doing is worth doing even when it’s really, really hard.
After all, I’m still living the dream.