Every night I make a list. I star the necessary, place tentative question marks next to the aspirational, and mark routine tasks with good old-fashioned dashes. With that, I put my mind at ease, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow is planned. I have succeeded in completing exactly three of these daily lists. Yesterday’s list was short, but seemed destined to meet the fate of more than seven hundred other similar lists…because pigs do not care about my plans.
With a slight spring in my step, I started chores, first rearranging the fence for the pullets before heading down to what I have termed “field number one” to take care of poultry and our twenty-one, newly weaned terror piglets. I ought to have known what to expect. I had capped off evening chores the night before by kicking a plastic bucket in the general direction of these, admittedly adorable, little piggies. They had determined that the “pig training area”—an electric fence surrounded by a sturdier impenetrable(ish) metal fence—was meant for considerably fewer pigs than I had placed within its secure confines. Over the past 24 hours, they had persisted in shorting the electricity by rooting fresh mud on top of the lowest wire.
Obviously, they got the message. As I watered the ducks, the thought occurred that the pigs’ electric netting looked decidedly more horizontal, the fence posts a few more feet distant and considerably less attached to it than had been the case the evening before. Pigs rooted to either side of the limp, now useless, wires. There was a time, not so long ago, when this state of affairs would have resulted in curses towards the gods and no small amount of managing to break something expensive, not to mention a fair degree of panic at the largely uncontained piglets. “Well shit,” I muttered as I changed the tuning on my phone from NPR to The Sword’s Age of Winters and stalked off to find an intact fence.
I moved the pigs without incident. They are still in place…I think.
After a 9-10 hour day the farm, I headed into Memphis to teach my first 4½ hour section of “Contemporary Moral Issues” for the semester. Arriving home at precisely 11:44pm, I left the ignition on in the truck long enough to snag the 5 gallon bucket of water that Claire was thoughtful enough to refill for me before going to sleep, and headed to “field number two”. I had not completed my afternoon chores and was in for just a bit of midnight farming. The goats would need more water before morning. Their hay-based winter diet results in a healthy thirst. And, goat thirst (or hunger/boredom/curiosity) + time = goat jailbreak.
There are times where farming reminds me of the title Jennifer Senior’s book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (which I absolutely have not read, but I did listen to at least two interviews with her on NPR). Honestly, though, those times are relatively fleeting these days. I am having fun. As I enter year three of farming (I did that math more than once), more and more my attitude towards the hard parts resemble my reaction to the pigs causing havoc this morning: mild frustration, slight chuckle, resignation to fixing the problem. That’s not small feat. Year two was damn hard. We were flooded in February, but had only two inches of rain between June and November; stray dogs killed 80 of our new laying hens two weeks prior to their beginning to lay; we lost our matron dairy goat, and decided to sell our dairy business; and we brought on meat goats and ducks all while, for some reason that I am yet to comprehend, still worked off farm.
Despite the many frustrations and the blood, sweat, and tears (none of which are figurative, mind you), I still end every single day on the farm with a profound sense of gratitude and a modicum of euphoria and disbelief that all of this is real. After the frustrations of the morning, I managed to complete my rather short ‘to-do’ list and spent the afternoon losing track of time, not in a good book, movie, or record but in building a new fence. This is my idea of a good time these days. In my previous life, after a long day in the office or at school it was all I could do to open Netflix and turn on Battlestar Gallactica for the umpteenth time. Now, I’m thrilled by those rare, quiet afternoons when I can clean out a shed, work on a fence, or finally get in some quality chainsaw time.
I walked into field number two tonight for my after hours chores—still wearing my “city jeans” and “teacher shoes”—and was greeted by two snow white polar bears* and a dozen curious goats. By all logic the former ought to be trying to eat me, not begging for attention, and the latter would look more at home in Narnia (or at least New Zealand) than in Saulsbury, TN on a farm where I call the shots. These moments, ideally at twilight but often times much later, always remind me of a sunset scene in the Robin Williams/Dustin Hoffman classic Hook, my favorite iteration of the Peter Pan story. The film gorgeously depicts that fictional world where the laws of physics are subservient to the laws of imagination, where time is irrelevant, and you can learn to fly as long as you let go of your ‘grown-up’ cares and hold onto that happy thought. Sappy though it may be, there is something purely magical in discovering that you’d rather be putting up a fence, chasing pigs, or (for some reason) still carrying water by hand, than sitting in any other office doing any other thing. For this, my last thought and prayer as I say goodnight to my menagerie is (and God-willing will always be) “Goodnight Neverland.”
*okay, by daylight Fred isn’t exactly “snow white”