I thought I’d try to summarize our daily routine here for those of you who are interested in the details. It’s a bit hard to do, though, because the routine changes a lot from day to day. We don’t always know until breakfast what our agenda for the day will be, determined in part by what the weather looks like, in part by our moods, and a little by each other’s “real life” schedules, such as they are. It’s also incredibly easy to lose track of time here. I really have to work each day to remember the day of the week – it’s even more of a stretch to actually remember the date itself. I can tell you with confidence that it is mid-May, but that’s about it. Without a 40-hour, 9-5, 5 day workweek, specific points on the calendar or clock lose their gravity and significance. The chickens don’t know that it is precisely 9 o’clock. We just schedule things in vague, but more useful notions of time: “around 9”, “in the morning”, “mid-afternoon”,“in a couple of days”, “before you feed the calf”. The landscape here – sort of elusively like New Mexico, but also so, so inexpressibly different – leaves us further disoriented.
There is also something about being away from the thrumming, circadian rhythms of a large town, or even suburbia, that bends one’s sense of time. We barely even leave the borders of the house, garden or pasture all day. It’s a rare day I’m near enough to a major road to even see a school bus go by, to tell me it is around 3 in the afternoon. All the usual signals are missing – rush hour traffic, neighbors watering their lawn, cars lining up in the drive thru, weekend soccer games, that jerk’s dog that always barks at supper time. Of course, nature and the farm have their own signals of the passage of time – but they aren’t part of my own rhythm yet. I guess it is a little like learning a foreign language.
Anyway – we do have a bit of a schedule that guides our days, and some new habits that I can share. I hope this isn’t too much minutia, and I’m afraid it is going to be long. If you get bored, you know what to do.
We typically wake up between 7:30 and 9:00. I was very surprised by this – I had steeled myself for the pain of having to become a morning person for those legendary break-of-dawn farm chores. I’m sure this lovely situation will change if our schedule becomes complicated by paid employment – which is eventually the plan. We put on work pants, muck boots, and work gloves, and head out to do chores. Though we gear up for messy work, both T and I have commented on how little gross-out factor there is in our responsibilities. I expected to have to really grit my teeth through much of our work, but everything just feels really natural and earthy. Yeah, things are mushy and runny and get under your fingernails and have a strong smell. I wouldn’t want to wear a sundress and heels out into the pasture. But nothing is repulsive, and all of it has a use and a purpose.
Our first task is usually the chicken coop. T and I have been doing this together, because the rooster was so mean that one of us (always T) had to be on watch, ready to beat the thing off with a broom or stick, while the other tended to the chickens and chicks. But since we slaughtered the rooster yesterday, and blended the chicks with the chickens, there will be less to do, and without the need to watch your back. So probably the task will not require a team approach any more. We collect any eggs that have been laid, fill up food and water containers, and usher the chickens out of the coop into the pen.
Next we let the horses out to pasture, which involves navigating a few electric fences. We try to pet and talk to the horses a little to get them used to us, and visa versa, but they are usually very focused on getting to the grass, and kind of uninterested in us.
Now that we have the calf, who we’ve been calling Rosa Lila, we have an extra morning chore. We mix up milk substitute with colostrum and warm water, and then bottle feed her. (Another side note: I have to say, it feels really weird to be drinking raw, fresh cow’s milk every day, and to be feeding this calf artificial milk.) This is a highlight of my day to be sure; she is so adorable, with these beautiful big black eyes, the longest eyelashes I could believe possible, and a big soft wet black nose that makes these funny little sucking noises when she takes the bottle. It occurred to me today how many of my friends are experiencing that with human babies right now – falling in love with all the sounds and expressions and gestures and smells that happen when a baby is learning how to use all the different parts of its body, that other people might think are weird or gross, or at least uninteresting. Gypsy always barks at us sharply and jealously when she hears us cooing and talking sweet to the calf. We also bring the calf a little grain, water, and some minerals.
That seems like a lot to do before breakfast, but it really doesn’t take much time. Breakfasts have been simple but delicious, fresh, filling and sustaining (as mentioned before, I’m going to devote more time to food in a later post). We eat with H, and usually M, and chat amiably about how we slept, our dreams, whether the calf’s mooing woke us up, and politics. We discuss the things we’d like to accomplish for the day, and M inventories the foods we have and we discuss ideas for lunch, snacks, and dinner. We wash our dishes by hand immediately after eating. With four adults living in a small space, we can’t afford to let dishes sit in the sink till we get around to washing them – a bad habit Taylor and I indulged in prior to this.
During the week, M goes to a nearby town for her paid work. After breakfast H, Taylor and I get going on whatever project we’ve planned for the day. Weeding, mowing the pasture, clearing weeds off the electric fence (or other fence maintenance), tending to an animal, turning compost, cleaning house. We (H, T, and I) break for lunch between 11 and 1, and take our time. Sometimes we re-group for more farm tasks in the afternoon. Usually we spend a few hours in the afternoons on non-farm and paid work stuff.
Around 5 we bring the horses back in to the paddock, usually just by calling to them, but sometime luring them with grain, and sometimes having to get out the harness and lead. We let the chickens out of the pen and into the yard for a couple hours to scavenge for bugs and greens. Depending on how draining work has been for M, we either cook dinner for ourselves in our kitchenette, or collaborate on dinner upstairs. If scraps from our meals fill up the bins, we dump them into the compost or chicken coops. After dinner we feed the calf again, and close the chickens back into their coop, to keep them warm and protect from predators. They have usually put themselves there, and all we have to do is check for eggs and close the door.
Some evenings we hang out with H&M chatting, planning, or playing music (T & H both play guitar, M & I will sing along). Usually, though, we’re exhausted, and we’ll go to our room to read or watch a movie. We are usually in bed by 9:30, though sometimes not asleep until 11:00.
There is a bit of a weekly schedule as well. Sunday evenings we go to milk the shared community dairy cow. Monday evenings H attends a meditation group, and I plan on making this part of my regular schedule as well. On Tuesday evenings there is a group of community members who get together to play music, and Taylor plans to do that. Somewhere in all of this we plan to schedule time to look for paid work, visit family, work on our own creative projects. I still haven’t figured out how (and where) I’m going to fit in my yoga practice and sewing.
I’m sure I’ve left some things out here, and I’m sure much of this will change over time, since we have only been here about a week and a half. But I hope this gives a little clearer idea of what our days look like here. Its hard to believe we are doing so much after just a week and half here! – Z
For those of you from/in the South, you know just what I mean when I talk about the aqueous solution of air that blankets you day and night. By day, it’s more a bodily presence–sweat that fails to wick off your skin, leaving you like a damp sponge, especially if you’re a heavy sweatin’ person to begin with. It’s made even worse when wearing any form of modern, synthetic wicking fabric. You sit around and sweat buckets. You run and sweat buckets. Then your shirt soaks and clings to you like wet leaves. It is the definition of torpor: a state of motor and mental inactivity. But by night, when the air is cooler, the presence is more in the air itself, a character in its own right. Owing to long, nighttime country drives with my good friends in my youth, I associate nighttime humidity and fireflies with some of the finest nature has to bring. But during the day, I dream of the cooling drylands of New Mexico, its air so efficient at stealing my heat and moisture.
Tonight, Wednesday, we took a walk through that thick torpor into the pasture. Fireflies suddenly twinkled about in every direction, both of us delighted and struck by the silence in our lives we hadn’t yet noticed, produced by the void of not having fireflies around for so many years. Suddenly, you’re walking down a rocky road at night and there’s a second layer of stars, pulsating and moving about. Enchanting.
All of this the final part of a day of intense work and activity, starting with the slaughtering of the rooster to John Prine, which works out quite well, if you follow. If you’re gonna take a life, at least have a great soundtrack on the killing floor. But the whole thing was very simple, to the point, even mechanical, which makes sense since we were processing an animal. You do A, which involves knives and windpipes, then B which involves refilling coffee while a bucket catches blood, then C which involves finding and removing the crop (carries the grit), and so on. We all completed elements of the job, and I can mark it as something I could probably do again with minimal guidance. I’ll tell you, if don’t already know, that without the feathers to puff themselves up, roosters are scrawny. So now we have scrawny rooster cuts in the fridge, for some future stew. Thanks, old rooster.
Almost immediately after rooster, I put together the calf’s milk mix and fed her via bottle. Calves drink greedily, and will attempt to suckle any protuberance (don’t think on that phrase too long) within several feet of their mouths. It’d be funny, if you weren’t busy protecting your own protuberances. And they’re strong, damn, a 4 day old calf is strong! This one happens to be very sweet, and possibly named Lila, or Rosa, or maybe even Rosalila. Whatever we end up calling her, she’s a little joy that we end up talking about, the four of us, throughout the day and evening. A young life that we collectively nurture and worry over. Did you check on the calf? She eating any of the grain mixture?
We got a lot done today, and I could recount it in great shades of detail, but what really stands out for me so far is how well we’re working with H&M. We meet over breakfast every morning, Z and I stumbling up a ladder and through a hatch (we call it the Kiva) into their house from our little casita. We drink tea and coffee and look at priorities and divide them up, and then get to it. Sometime later we eat lunch, talk about what’s been accomplished, and either revise our plan, or continue doing what we were doing, sometimes all together, sometimes just me and H, sometimes just H & Z, and sometimes all separately. Usually by 3 or 4, we pack it in, take some time to our selves, prep dinner either in our area or in their kitchen, and eat these wonderful, rich meals.
In the afternoon, the four of us planted basil, tomatoes, and flowers for a couple of hours. It was nice to just good old get my hands in the dirt. The soil here is so healthy that our gardens in Albuquerque seem like they were just sandboxes with some vegetables clinging to them for dear life. Much of appalachia is really deciduous rainforest, and green clings to everything, giving the mountains that distinctively overgrown look. I do love that our ridges are rocky at the top, thus our preoccupation with their similarity to northern New Mexico mountains. I suppose its common to stamp what you know into that which is new or unfamiliar.
Beer. I ran out, and figured it would mean a special trip to Asheville for a finer beverage, but it turns out that just this year, Yancy County, NC repealed its dry county status. So I was able to pick up a six pack of oatmeal porter and abbey style ale from Highland Brewery (an Asheville microbrew) at the local Ingle’s grocery 12 miles away in a town of 1700 people. So much for privation in country living. We also went to see Iron Man II (which was boring) last week in that same town, and you could tell that the movie was a social event, and that everyone knew everyone else, except us. But it was a friendly seeming place. The vet there, like a lot of country folk whose essential struggle was getting OFF a farm and into a good paying job, clearly thought we were crazy when we told her that we left jobs, are unemployed, and work for room and board on a farm.
“So how do you live…you surviving on love?” she asked.
Yeah, I thought, that sounds about right.
Off to Atlanta for the weekend. See some of you soon. – T
* John Prine “(We’re Not) The Jet Set” on In Spite of Ourselves 1999