By The Skin of My Teeth

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The sump pumps churn in the basement alternating forceful, consistent blows of water from the concrete foundation, up and out of the house. Ten inches of snow melt seeped into the November soil followed by two days of consistent rain, asking too much of the ground below to hold. Freshly emptied water buckets under the dripping roof have been poured into the sink and returned to their kindred tile homes eager for new collection of earth which spills inside. I boot up and take a light to the basement examining the streams that press in from the walls, remembering salamanders dwelling there during flooded days of early spring when the water ceased to keep from the walls. One half brick and two lengths down in the corner on the north wall is a mental note I make to myself where water pours in. Under the chimney boiling up from the floor. Another hole high up above one sump pump where water cascades down the wall, three holes apparent building a stream, and one room of the basement ankle deep with too much water to assume there is only one culprit spot allowing in the flow.

The kitchen is filthy and frigid, my belly hungry with cold in my bones. I take a hot shower first so that the water will warm my fat allowing me a more pleasant mood to cook a hot egg and warm some bread in a pan which will warm me from the inside. My skin begins to cool the longer I cook, but thoughts of the hot yolk slipping down my throat are promising. There is still no insulation in my ceiling, and when the heat kicks on part of me sickens visualizing dollars I do not have evaporating out of the cracks and through the roof. I part the blanket separating the living room and kitchen to get under blankets and a heating pad to eat my steaming egg and rosemary bread.

There are moments on this farm where I feel like I have the help of the world, and this is a truth. It is also a truth that I am a single woman, and all of these trickles of water and slips of heat are burdens all my own. There is no one beside me hustling pastries, sewing goods, planting for spring, making soap, or caring for babies to make an income to put into the roof or the walls. My saviors are my two hands, my hurting legs which still allow me to move and walk, and a sense of capable self worth and gratitude which prevents me from wallowing in disbelief in the power to accomplish and provide for myself.

This is no plea for pity. It is a truthful analysis of my days. They are both sweet and tart. “Three things of joy, one of grief, that makes a living thing,” I keep this statement alive in my brain when I feel simultaneous gratitude and truthful pangs of struggle. I am alive. My shower curtain is weeping with hard water, stained from the family who lived here formerly, and never replaced new when I moved in. Lady bugs cluster together on the ceiling in the bathroom where there is still insulation and the steam of the hot water enlivens them again, and they start to skate around the ceiling resurrected. Who am I to kill them when they cluster for warmth as I would if there was a belly to my back? Seeing their shells meet I feel an affinity to them as though we are in this together. I thought to myself how to so many people this house is unsavory and gross with its many issues and the wildlife it tends to harbor. To me, it is my home.

“As long as you’re in no hurry, it doesn’t matter how much work your house needs,” a neighbor once said to me among a corn field. With certainty, there are many accomplishments that will come in slow time. In the meantime, it is imperative that I fight for each dollar in the jobs I take on because my time is worth it, my skills are worth it, and my heart is pure in every job I take on. If I make you food, it is with a yolk colored of the sun down, rich, and labored by a hen who mustered what she could with the dwindling light of the season. If I care for your baby, I give them my heart and my hands, and if my body was willing I would lend them my breast. When I give you my time, I give you my life. When I give you my word, I give you my heart.

Just now, I am supposing I simply wish the world knew. I wish that all of our employers, all of those in positions of power with dangling dollars, could see what our individual lives hold, and how hard we are working to put those dollars into warming our walls. And in so, perhaps those employers would limp their wrists and let down the dollar easy and say, “I see how you love my child. I see how cold your kitchen is. I see how your work is the earth’s work. I see how you nurture life among the land and life among our homes. I see you are trying. And because I am in this position of power, and because I honor what you give to my family and what you give to the world, and how you honor your word, I, too, will honor my word and will stay true and giving in the reciprocity you provide for my family and the sleep I collect because your hands and heart are at work in my home, in the heart of my child, in the heart of the earth wherein I am absent. I cease the negotiation of your time.”

But what more to do, than to speak the truth, illuminate what we can, and move on where our light is not seen. Praise be for strong friends who remind us of our capacity and our worth. Praise be that I live among these lady bug companions who remind me that all I ever wanted were simple walls that I would enliven into a Home, and land wherein I could be free. So be it that the sump pumps wanted one more workout before the coming again of spring rains, and so be it that the kitchen has yet to keep its warmth. I am grateful for all I have, for I have much more than I have not. I have life, freedom, mobility despite pain, a warm bed, myself and animals fed, my praise of days, loving friends and family, capable and hardworking hands, and a heart so full that it only continues to multiply in love for all the earth harbors.

I might be making it by the skin of my teeth, finding it difficult to ask for what I need, but I am asking for what I need, and by the skin of my teeth, I am making it and fully alive, a living thing.

Abby Juanita Rodriguez, November 2015.

The Land, She Provides.

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Scrawled in many-a-journals lies the repetitious message that each In-Between merits authoring. I can be prone to mulling in my days, wondering what is worth it to mark with words with a document that will last throughout time. The fact of the matter is that each day we go through is significant because it is a place where we have never arrived before. The day might be wrought in pain, but it is a different pain, or confusion, or celebration unique unto itself.

Now is the time of a great In-Between for me, filled with a plethora of unknowns, frustrations, surprises, insurmountable gratitude, hope, and faith that is growing from seedling to solidifying sun grown stalk. I am the sunflower with its seed hat still cusping the tender small leaf and it is no doubt we mirror one another right now. The sunflower may be asking itself in the field, “Am I going to grow? Seriously? What if I don’t? What if my flower is weak? What if I never get a flower? And if a curious and derisive wind pummels me in a snide fury?” and the ever popular follow up question, “…then what?!” is the caboose of each question mark. And the flower says, “I don’t know. This is my first time being a flower. I still have my seed hat on. In the meantime, I’ll just get some sunshine and water, and we’ll see how it goes.”

And likewise in my own days follows the internal dialogue that of a self questioning seedling. A litany of uncertainty followed by self mentoring that this is my first time farming by myself and I will just have to give it my all, give it lots of sunshine and water, and see what happens above all else. I spend a lot of time in my own company and lately I have been instating mental laws like, “If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, then you can’t say it to yourself,” knowing that if I am going to accomplish anything flower farm wise or creatively, beating myself up and questioning if it is all going to work out or not does absolutely no good, and is in fact energetically combative.

The last two weekends have brought me my first solo farmers’ market experiences as well. I have been selling bouquets and sewn handmade goods. I have included hyacinths in many bouquets, alongside muscari, and the errant non deer chomped tulip. I coupled those flowers with some apple and cherry blossoms, newly budding branches, phlox, lilacs, sprigs of evergreen and cedar, and elements of dried grasses that still linger tall in the prairie. I felt those bouquets resembled the true world of spring. The last couple of weeks have exemplified that glorious sweet spot of spring where the whole world is in bloom and nearly each specimen in nature is first a flower before a leaf, before all else. There are pent up buds moments away from unfurling at any moment. What seems so compact and days away from emerging its wild show of color and true form only takes hours, an evening, a piece of day. You forget to check on something in one day and the following day the world reveals more of its natural progression and surprises.

Now is an especially exciting time because this farm home of mine is new. Though I visited the place contemplating buying it last summer, much was already green and leafed out. I never got to experience each living thing blossom and become. And indeed, there were many features of this land that I knew nothing about and have made themselves known to me only now. Not until spring began to thaw the fields did I know that there was a huge strawberry patch out in the field. Tonight I had the pleasure of weeding the patch of still green berries and flowers as the sun set. Two geese flew by sounding the pastel melt of night on the horizon, Venus a’glow from behind. I stood tall with old daisy flea bane stalks in hand and a clump of rogue grasses plodding soil below from its hanging stance. “Some great force is on my side,” I felt. Overwhelming peace was among me in the strawberry patch, thinking, “The land, she provides. Don’t be afraid.”

I turned to look back at the house and could see the reflection of the lingering bits of orange cream sun pastel and milky in the windows, warming the view. My ram stood silhouetted in the distance, watching with quiet. I stood awash in a gratitude resounding in my body. There in the strawberry patch lied no need for fear. “Everything you need to eat will come from this soil. Sow seeds each day, and you will be okay.”

I have not mowed any part of the land since I have moved in, and in doing so I have found many surprises that would have been dormant, unknown, and destroyed had I taken the shears to all that grows in the name of “keeping a nice lawn.” Last week revealed lamb’s ears and salvia. Today revealed many tiny maples, the beginning sprigs of a rose bush, and an entire peony eager with buds! With glee ridden bones I smiled and hollered a pleasant “AWWW!” aloud. The raspberries and blackberries are getting bushy bottom leaves. The apple and cherry blossoms are long spent and now preparing their fruits. And since many of the trees are fully leafed the air lends itself to a percussive sound that was absent in the hanging winter silence. The breeze hushes a new tune between the trees, soft harping among the leaves. I rise with dirty paws, bulbs in tow, and watch the beauty spread through the pasture with a praise that never tires my eyes with old. I could watch the silver backed leaves chime the live long day and never cease of its unexpected silver, nor would the sheen that rivers in the wind ever reside predictable.

Sunny was also sheared for the first time over this past week. He was so round appearing to have no neck. As I clipped his jacket off he appeared youthful and relieved to be unburdened by a year of wool. The wool closest to his body was a deep, silken black, saturated with a musky lanolin that I would put my nose to over and over again. I massaged the lanolin into my skin and repeatedly brought my hands to my face, breathing in. The large masses of wool clipped were placed into a bag and the smaller pieces attempting tumbles and release in the grass were tucked into the top of my summer dress for collection. My chest was coated in lanolin, grit, and bits of wool sticking to my sweat and oiled skin. It was a day that warranted a good shower at the end but I refused simply so I could go to bed smelling myself and rolling over catching scents of lanolin and sweat in the night.

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And so here I am, writing in the wavering depths of the unknown, with a sometimes alarming sense of peace. There is fear, oh there is fear. But fear has no space allowing its rule of me. I am feeling the love and support of my friends, family, and new community members I am meeting through the farmers’ market and feeling there is no option other than for good things to come on this farm. There will be trial and error, there will be failures and successes, good weather and the poorest. There will be everything, because that is living.

And to be living is so, so good.

Strawberry-Vanilla Goat Milk Ice Cream!

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“All we need is here on Earth, about every other day…”

My love of homesteading sprawls at the root of persistent creativity and spur of the moment living. I wake up to a smattering of orange on the wall, or pink tangerine sherbet, and as my eyes flutter to keep open I examine the palette in an attempt to accurately guess what time it is based on the color scrawl. I look over to see Ben’s eyes closed and hear his breath is still rested deep in a dream some place. Before we have murmured good mornings with lips meeting, before our feet have smudged the wood which will carry us, we are met with a day which already welcomes us with great opportunity. “What will I make today? How will I honor this day of life which flourishes before me?”

Homesteading is a craft of ultimate creative living. Each day my people and animals need to be fed, we all need love, and we all need to work together to keep the ship not just afloat but thriving. At the center of it all is the gift of free will and a question which begs of us, “What will you do with this time alive?” Will you let it whither by the wayside? Will you spend it contemplatively among the corn? Do you need extra rest to help fuel you later in the day, or to prepare for another project? Will you roll around in the pleasure of simply being? Will you let the lamb fall asleep nested on your thighs? How deeply will you live and love? What will you do driven by desire?

Any day I spend creating, to me, is a day well spent. That does not have to manifest itself in what others may measure as greatness. Greatness often sweeps its way of pleasure through the conduit of sweet simplicity in my life – an adoration for the common. My most treasured moments and textured elements of life are the low lying fabrics of detail typically passed over by the casual eye that is too busy roving onto the next field of sight to appreciate the veiny splendid underbelly of what lies before us in the moment.

“All of this for an ice cream recipe?” is what you may be thinking, and the answer is yes. All of this for an ice cream recipe. When I make anything, love is the greatest fuel behind it. I love the grain of the strawberries in my hand as they seed onto the board. Their tartness enlivens the juices of my mouth. As I handle the stem I recall the excitement of what it is like plucking them fresh and taste the anticipation from when I once saw them a pale green waiting on time to ripen them crimson. I get enraptured by how the fresh goat milk ice cream will make Ben feel when he comes home with muscles sore, for that moment when he gives a deep, “Mmmmmmmmm!” – and how he needn’t say more for me to truly know. I get excited that our roommate Sam will be able to pause in her day from rescuing animals and farming to come in and let the sweetness be an accent to her day. If I can make folks feel better in a day, in a moment, or cared for at all, then I figure I have done a good job as a human.

Making food, fibers, prints, scents, and so much more from the ground up (truly, from the ground) is infinitely more rewarding than a quick purchase, ready made from the store. Living my life by hand is a way I intentionally thrive in order to weave as much creativity into this time I am blessed with and I am fortunate to be living. It is a great weaving of love. The more time and love I invest into any project sustains a savor so rich it cannot be plucked from a shelf. When you taste this ice cream, I hope you feel similarly and that you are in touch with the gifts of the Earth and animals. Remember you are creating for yourself and those you love. Indulge in the pleasure and treats of the world!

 

Goat Lovin’ Ice Cream!*

 

1.5 lbs fresh, unfrozen strawberries

4 cups raw goat milk

1 cup heavy cream

1.5 cups sugar

1 (long) vanilla bean

3 eggs

*The ingredients I use are farm fresh, raw, organic, or locally produced. I encourage you to support your local farmers and seek similar supplies for a more natural, healthy, and high quality treat for you and your loved ones; however, if any of these resources are more difficult to find near you, you may substitute as needed. 

Chop up your strawberries to a degree in which they will blend well. We have a Vitamix which blends everything quite excellently but I still chop into small pieces. After you are finished chopping the strawberries pile them up in the Vitamix or blender.

Add the raw goat milk and heavy cream in with the berries in addition to adding the sugar and eggs. Blend on a low speed until everything is mixed in well together.

Take your vanilla bean and split it lengthwise down the center. With your fingers, uncurl the sides of the vanilla bean while taking a spoon and scraping out the granulated beads of the vanilla bean. Smell your fingers. Isn’t that delicious?! Mmm…You may now add it to the blender and mix well after enjoying the smell.

Blend it all up together.

Using a thick bottomed pot (so as to avoid scalding the milk) set the heat on low and add the mixture into the pot. Gently stir the milky magic mixture to keep any ingredients from settling to the bottom of the pot. Do not let the mixture boil or burn – keep the heat low and gentle as it marinates all of the flavors together.

Let the mixture sit in the fridge until it cools.

When your mixture is cooled it’s time for the ice cream magic to ensue!

I use a Cuisinart ice cream and sorbet maker which uses a frozen canister for churning the ice cream. Use whatever machine or hand process you are most comfortable with to complete your recipe. Get the ice cream to a consistency you like the best and then it is ready for enjoyment by all!

I like to cut up extra berries to serve on the side or on top of the ice cream. Sometimes I like to chop up different varieties, simmer the fresh berries in a little bit of sugar, and then add to the side. Today’s version is clad with a sour cherry grown from my Momma’s tree and hands.

Cheers! Taste the Love.

Mmmmmmmmm!

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Don’t forget to thank the goats, the ground, and your strawberries! 

Company of the Country Wave in Wellington, Illinois

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The country wave keeps me company in these transitions of days. This morning I stood on the lawn braiding my hair and a man took it upon himself to pull over and grant me kind words about my twisting red hair before continuing his country cruise.

I repositioned the fuscia-mauve foxgloves three times contemplating  the best arrangement for passersby to catch visual hold of their spotted middle splendor. I could not succeed at pleasing each direction though they bounce now in the soft Wellington, Illinois breeze with their freckled middles bare to anyone caring enough to focus inward. Their bells are a delightful burst among the acres of greening growing corn which lays in rows at my feet. With my legs stretched outward I can see a rowed home for each of my thighs through the corn sprouts that seem to stretch on forever- even past the silos in the distance, past that other homestead, and the other; further through the prairie my body runs on. Last night we traipsed through these thigh high grasses with Sunny bouncing in between while we breathed in the sunset.

Within my hour and forty-five minute drive from Antiquity Oaks in Cornell, Illinois to Wellington, Illinois I attempted digesting where I have been, what was, and where I was headed – which, of course, was too dense of a meal to chew through in a minimal amount of time. I found it more advantageous to find a neutral space between the clouds, crepuscular rays, and the weather systems far reaching their dance among the fields. Contagious weeps of sun touched down to the fresh green fields while tornadoes of dust kicked up a previous season’s forgotten corn husks, catching and whipping against my vehicle writhing in the wind. The strength of the atmosphere threw birds backwards in flight. I watched them struggle forth before submitting to the current, but they all eventually swung back with the greater rhythm of the earth. There was a nervousness in the grip of my steering wheel and how I would swallow my saliva. It was as tenuous as the rest of my surroundings.

Each time I find myself in a new space the first week is what I refer to as The Million Year Week. Routine is null, everything is new. Exhilaration, terror, and delight co-create a stretch of days to garble time. The bruises of my body linger from the goats and awkward stumbles working at Antiquity Oaks. The indigo turned tertiary islands and continents are a physical stamping reminder of the path walked for months before arriving to this space. The hearty spinach in my bed of eggs, grown from these nearby Iroquois County fields, are a reminder of how I got to Wellington yet again. It is a place I never thought I would return to, yet is now a place where I rest my head at night. The interconnection of this life and world is sometimes too eerie and synchronicity too bold to ignore. With the pull of a heart it is absolutely why and how I find myself here today with thighs extending into the rows of corn.

For me, it is easier to live guided by the heart when there is a great pull in one direction or the other (as I am sure it is easier for all of us in this way). When the frequencies get fuzzy, however, so can the inner turbulence of the path traveled. The pressure rises to make a decision, to make the Right One. I have learned that all steps lead to another and so in this way each heel in the dirt is the correct press, even if it leads to discomfort or pain, it is part of one’s path. Sometimes all you can do is make stillness your move and listen in again for how the frequencies have settled and reevaluate direction of path. One of my quotes is from Lao Tzu, “If you are depressed you are living in the past, If you are anxious you are living in the future, If you are at peace you are living in the present.” (I know this quote is not apt for every situation, but sometimes it helps me to realize if I am wrapped in a negative mental pattern born of habit.)

My coffee shines an oil from the buttered egg that met my lips at breakfast and it swirls with me now. Each time I find my heart and mind in that space of Problem Solving I cycle through a series of questions and meditations for self soothing – back to my inner core of comfort, a consultation of the gut, focus on the present moment. Or, I engage in an externally peaceful activity like planting flowers with my fingers in the dirt, weeding, or catching Sunny’s chocolate eye color in a decisive ray destined for his face to glow outward to me and melting me in the middle. These moments of presence connect to my contentedness, even while feeling many other emotions simultaneously. These moments are my breath in the whirlwind of change.

I met a woman this week who bestowed us with flowers to plant, seeded from her own; buckets of bulbs that will be five or six feet by autumn with bright red caps, irises, columbines, and so many others I have forgotten the names of. What I do remember is her tight hug and how our bellies touched as we gripped one another like we both really needed it. Her body felt known to me, like a great Aunt who has taken me under her wing for years. She said that no church could bring her as close to God like she feels when she is in the dirt. I told her this week I bent over the soil saying to myself, “Weedin’ is good for thinkin’, weedin’ is good for thinkin’,” and that’s where I find my universal comforts – among the land and animals, and tending to Love.

I do not have any big answers right now. I have a mixture of insights and inquisitions as garbled as time. I have one foot forward and then another. Some periods of time are not meant for figuring out, but instead require only our simple observation. Stillness and observation are some of the greatest steps despite their perceived companion of inaction.

A cloud drifts across the cornfield and its shadow darkens the greening leaves and deepens the off kilter yellows. It grazes the prairie and wildflowers and touches down its blanket across the cottonwood trees. A train sounds its incoming and unfurls like a prayer flag across the prairie, antiqued with imprints of cross country travel. With its double stacked shipping containers it ribbons like the making of a quilt through the corn. Riffs from a country version of Spanish Harlem blare from a vehicle as the driver throws me another neighborly wave while I check the blooms on the newly planted flowers and smile at their hard work of blossoming overnight, or perhaps opening early morning to give us an early reward for the day. Two bees hover forth sensing new nectar, and Sunny bleats his still young song as a request for chest rubs and companionship with his mama – which I answer to with satiation. He falls asleep in my lap as a result making small nasal whimpers like he did in the rocking chair as a baby. I start soaking the lentils for supper and thawing the meat for others to eat. I cut quilt squares to prepare as a gift for the woman who gifted us beautiful flowers.

Step by step, meal by meal, chore by chore, conversation by conversation, love by love, making by making, observation by observation. Inquisitions will always remain, but simply being present in these moments is my guide for now. In the distance, someone plays a harmonica, which feels like a hug from my Grandpa Coleman, a moment in which I can just sit and sip the nectar thereof, while life continues on.

 

Sunny’s Big Skip

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Yesterday I took Sunny, the little lamb of my heart, to the large animal clinic at the University of Illinois at Urbana. It was a big experience for both of us as we had never been to a vet that specializes in livestock animals. He had never been in a vehicle and I never drove a lamb anywhere. We took to the highway as an odd yet fitting couple under a cloudy morning. As we pulled out of the driveway I stopped shortly to put some grass in his basket to nibble on the way. I kept the music at a soft level and smiled when I looked over to see a long piece of grass being nibbled at the root and hanging out of the side of his mouth as we wheeled away. The cloudy light struck just enough in his eye to reveal their chocolate nature as they peered up at me.

Since taking him into my room in attempts to sustain and encourage his life to thrive we have formed a remarkable bond. He gets cozy on my chest and folds his legs underneath him, rests his chin upon my clavicle, and falls asleep making the slightest of breathy sounds. I have retired the notion that death is an option and have continued to love him deeply and nourish him whenever he cries in the night and day. I have been very pleased with his gradual improvements and caring for him is a practice in patience. I have never expected him to bounce up like a completely healthy lamb because that was not the start he was handed in life. He was handed a different set of obstacles from the beginning and so if I expected anything it was slow progress. I have been so happy to see him make improvements while continuing to research lambs, conditions they may be susceptible to, and illnesses that follow suit to the symptoms Sunny appears to hold. There were many markers of health which indicated positive growth; he had continued to gain weight, his eating had been more vigorous and steady on the bottle, and his lethargy improved bit by bit but in the most incremental of ways. The latter of which has been the prime point of my concern.

It worried me to see him gaining weight but remaining relatively still for most of the day. His joints appeared stiff and difficult to move. I began to wonder if he suffered from joint ill, polyarthritis, or a bacterial arthritis which would explain why he would get up, take a few steps, and lie back down. I have learned that some lambs suffer this condition, continue to gain weight, their joints become so stiff that it is painful and they remain lame while only getting larger. Sheep as such end up needing to be put down due to their illness. If caught early, however, a simple antibiotic treatment would prevent all of that. I felt the joints in the front of his legs which seemed to be slightly swollen and I wondered if he was in pain.

The veterinarian, students, and vet techs were all fantastic and knowledgeable. Upon entering the clinic everyone fell in love with Sunny immediately and fawned over him as they donned their baby animal cooing voices. I loved to show him to everyone as he shined so brightly and made everyone flourish with happiness. They would say, “Look at that little sprout of white hair! Little Sunny! Are you the sunshine?? You sure are!” and I would say, “I call him my little Sunshine Sprout!” and kiss him on the head. There was not one person that we passed who did not fawn over him and give him their special voice.

I brought a bottle and jar of extra milk for our road trip and brought it into the clinic with me as well in case the doctor wanted to see how he nurses. After bending his joints, feeling around, assessing his walk, watching him lie down after a tiring small walk, taking his vitals, and watching him nurse, an assessment was made. The doctor did not assess that Sunny suffered from joint ill, specifically because of the way he would lie down when tired as he would lay with pressure on the joints- whereas a lamb with polyarthritis or joint ill may lay to the side or completely abandon use of a limb. He did agree that Sunny’s joints did feel swollen, his gait was entirely stiff and guarded, and appeared to have more hampered movements of his front right leg. So, we ran some blood work to see what his vitamin levels are and how much colostrum he received from mom shortly after birth (I am still amazed that this can be assessed by blood work!), and to check for any other potential infections that may be occurring to cause his symptoms and developmental delays.

Sunny was given an anti-inflammatory for his joints and potential pain in the meantime while we wait for blood results. The veterinarian said that if he had inflammation and pain that was preventing him from walking, and contributing to his lethargy, that the medication would show immediate results within a day. I felt it imperative to write now to say that today has been Sunny’s first most healthy day which was filled with such remarkable vitality! Although he sleeps in a playpen in my room, I take him outside during the day to get fresh air and to give him the opportunity to be among his natural elements and walk around. Typically he will just lie in the grass, get up to take a few steps, plop back down, nibble around, and will not leave the area from where he was originally placed. It is as though you sat a turtle down, came back to check to see how far it had surfed 20 minutes later, only to find it moved a few feet. Today he followed me around the barn as I did chores! He would still stop to rest in little nooks as needed but he would get up and move around on his own and he would sometimes follow in a tiny gallop!

Just this weekend I said to a friend, “I hope to see the day where Sunny skips like a lamb in the pasture.” He said, “You will. Your love is keeping him alive!” That made my heart soar and buoyant with more hope as we fed him. Today was the day of Sunny’s great skip. He had a delightful little trot with momentum and gained speed. He rose energetically to follow me multiple times, wiggling his tail as he followed suit, and even braved the slippery tile of the living room to follow me entirely into the kitchen! I laughed because it delighted and surprised me to see him speeding behind me to catch up, moving with abandon of such lethargy I had been used to seeing in his movements. Simply nursing from the bottle used to tucker him out so much that he would lie flat on my thighs after suckling and immediately fall asleep. When the doctor mentioned immediate results should be seen if inflammation and pain was his issue, I thought to myself, “In Sunny-Time that means it will be at least 3-4 days to see any differences,” but after two doses of medication he is quickly becoming a spritely young fellow.

Today, Sunny turned an entirely new leaf. It warms my heart immensely to see him easing out of pain and growing into himself as a healthy lamb. The doctor said, “It seems to me that the persistent nursing and love has treated Sunny quite well, Mom,” which all felt so good to hear. I have cherished my moments with him in the rocking chair feeling in my heart that it was a special time for us, knowing that he would not always be so tiny, and knowing that in time he would be so big that he could no longer knee up on my chest, nor would he cry for me in the night to feed. He is sprouting before my very eyes and I savor exactly where we are, not wanting to miss a beat in his development. Sunny’s flowering hour is upon us. 

Love wins. It always does. Sometimes, it even gives us new legs and new leaves.  

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How The Body Tells A Story

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I woke up this morning bleeding at dawn as the sun crawled to the rooster’s crow. As my eyes roused, I realized I began menstruating in my slumber and so I went in search of underwear and absorbent supplies. “A good sign of fertility,” I thought, as I touched my tummy and thanked my body. Once the baby lamb saw my feet teeter from the bed to the floor, however, he began his moan of hunger which took over any primary response I initially had to take care of myself as I rose to the day. In the night when I scoop him up to feed him, I throw a towel over my shoulder which runs lengthwise down my body, sloping inches off of my shoulder, so that I can swaddle him snuggly making sure to secure his bottom in the towel in case he starts going to the bathroom as he nurses. I figure it might save me a few night gown changes in the twilight of a long evening. Before I could find any underwear I scooped him up the same way in a towel and got an extra one for myself, placing it under me in case I bled more as he nursed. He laid on my lap and took the nipple all on his own, suckling with vigor, and I told him what a good job he was doing, each day, getting better and better, “My little big boy.”  I told him that mommy needed a towel this morning, too. He sniffled in response flaring his top lip and rubbing his head under my chin. I kissed him over and over on his forehead rocking him as he sniff-sniffed. I liked us there as an animal pile in raw forms. I could feel his heart beating on my thighs as he snuggled his head below the weight of my breast.

We’ve not known all week whether or not he would make it, leaving me with no other option than dedicated hope and faith in nature, love, body warmth, loving words, and especially those of belief. He has not sprung to life hopping about like the other new lambs in the pasture and he has days of living ahead of them, but I remind myself to be patient. His first days were not easy. In fact, I would say it’s amazing that he is still alive at this point, and so his slow progress is rather victorious. His mother, Godiva, has had problems nursing her lambs in the past. This time around the story is similar and her kids were not getting the nutrients they needed. Over the weekend one of them died. Godiva and her surviving lamb were put into their own pen in the barn, but she still was not taking great care of her baby and he just lay in the straw in a little ball. She made it very difficult for me to bottle feed him in her presence as she lunged at me with her forehead after backing up to stamp and gain momentum. The little guy was then moved to a pen with the baby goats that formerly lived in my room. There, he balled up under the heat lamp looking only to sleep as the other goats were curious of his scent attempting to figure him out.  Then, that afternoon he came to the nursery of my room so that I could feed him more frequently and try to nurse him to better health.

He is black with dense curls and loosened tendrils of white atop his crown which circles his left ear. The span of his face and bridge of his nose is much wider than that of a goat. His eyes are sweetly chocolate in the sunlight and his eyelashes are distinguished by their long drape against all other hairs which swirl. Little nubs of horns emerge among the curls. When I first brought him inside to nurse I would gently pry open his mouth with my fingers and insert the nipple which would rubber around and milk would spill out the corners of his mouth. Our first night together I stopped counting how many times I got up to feed him; his belly was so small and unaccustomed to taking larger quantities of milk that he could only take half an ounce at a time and I was impressed when he would take 1-1.5 ounces. That was the night of the full lunar eclipse, the Blood Moon. I wrapped him up in the towel and we would gander at the different stages and hues of murky crimson, contemplating the complexities and beauties of the universe in half sleep. Another milky awakening would disclose the moon’s dance arching the trace of a former star’s path and reveal a swollen umber russet. A moon moan later he would drink under a rosy illuminating surface. By 5 AM the sky began to clear to cerulean and the moon shined an effervescent white light which illuminated the spring snow anchored to the budding trees and glinting reflections down below on the pond. I laid him back down in his crib and was able to sleep for an hour and fifteen minutes before his next feeding and my departure to prepare bottles for the rest of the babies and spending time outside to care for the rest of the animal friends in need of food and water. The moment I was done with everyone else, I warmed his bottle, and brought him right back to the rocking chair for another suckle of sweet milk.

Each time I would feed him I felt pangs in my heart. His heart beat and blood warmed his body but his demeanor indicated the opposite of health. I felt my heart and mind riding the cusp of motherly love and self-protection. The desire to give to him fully was rampant but my worry for him rode my brain all the same, and as I held him I was realistic in accepting that his then warm body may not make it, and that maybe one of his night cries wouldn’t indicate a desire for food, but would instead expel a parting breath. The morning after the bleeding moon I took him to my chest in the rocking chair and fed him, picking the mucous from his eyes, and I sang to him, “This little lamb of mine, I’m going to see you shine…This little lamb of mine, I’m going to see you shine…See you shine, See you shine, See you Shine…” Warm tears welled in my eyes and I knew it was the moment that I was committed to the full belief in his life and that I would fully love him for whatever moments he would be here to let me try and help him out of the rocky start his life was grown with. People always think there is a great division between humans and animals and that the same things that comfort humans cannot be felt by animals, but I don’t believe that either. The warmth of an animal is the warmth of an animal, and the tune of one cry can still be felt by the animal with another cry. I remembered how warm my eyes felt when my mother sang to me as a child and I only hoped that inside his tiny body he felt comforted.

Godiva was not doing a great job of cleaning off the little lamb either, and so he smelled like a mixture of a newborn baby and clots of feces. I got a glass of water, towels, and wash cloths, and I laid him upon my desk up against my chest as I began to soak the soiled matting of his curls. I worked through chunks bit by bit, warming the crusted pieces with dabbles of water, waiting for the chunks to soften and then picking them out with my fingernails. I worked through his body this way and then towel dried his curls to make sure no lingering moisture would leave his body chilled. I never knew I could become so acquainted with a lamb’s butt, but there I was, sponging and picking at the little guy in an attempt to make him more comfortable. He has since peed on me twice and pooped in my lap countless times which I immediately take care of and dispose of. I accept all of his fluids, all of his smells, all of his baby lambness, and his little details swell my heart with their endearing nature.

Within a week prior I was driving around gazing at neighboring farms, daydreaming, and I came across a farm with white lambs grazing in the pasture. “I wish we had lambs,” I thought, mostly because I have never been graced by a lamb in my life – only adult sheep here on the farm. Within that same week we were surprised by the sudden and unexpected sprouting of lambs in our own pasture which indicated that one, or many, rams were not castrated properly. There have been many additional lambs born ever since. I see them out there bouncing around forming friendships with other newborn lambs, or skipping at their mother’s side over tree roots, coasting down a hill, and I know how young they are. They are younger than this little boy in my room. Their spritely enthusiasm makes me realize how much tender care this little guy needs, and gives me hope for the day I will first see him skip, should I be graced with that day. For now, we just take things not even day by day, but piece of day by piece of day, by peace of day.

Yesterday, I scooped him up into a towel and a favorite woven blanket. I put his bottle in my big sweater pocket and a vile of lavender essential oil in the other. We lumbered down the stairs and out among the big hickory trees in the soft sunned grasses and lied down. His ebony curls absorbed the sun rays and he bobbled his head around and gummed at the grass and a dead leaf. I massaged him and we talked. I dabbled small bits of lavender oil into curls that could not be reached by his mouth, and as the oil dispersed into the air it was soothing. I lay on the woven blanket and I was glad that he opted for the natural element bed of grass, seeds, twigs, and the fallen half-life of the previous autumn’s leaves. We both took in the healing sun rays, the whistling birds, and the distant gobbling of turkeys. He and I stayed outside until it was again time for me to load up the other bottles with milk and visit the baby goats to nourish their bodies.

This morning as I laid him back in his crib and changed my clothes to begin the daily cycle of bottles and hay runs I paused at myself in the mirror and in mind. I have spent two lunar cycles here on the farm, and my body has followed suit with its own cycles of life. Above my underwear and crescenting above my hip are tracks of bruises which are all from tiny goat hooves anchoring into my body for stability as they nurse. Within these lunar cycles, they have grown and been nourished, cherished, and loved – the very imprint lies beside my belly. My thighs are peppered all the same with dark circles and knots from adult goats perching upon my muscles as they jump up to curiously taste my hair; others are from falls on uneven ground, marks where I have tripped over maple roots; some are from opening gates with my knees while my arms are full of hay; others have origins that are entirely unknown. There are calluses on the underbelly of my knuckles where the weight of water buckets hang heavy with friction. Standing there with red braids folding down my shoulders, amidst my second lunar cycle, listening to the lamb knee down into cozy post feeding comfort, seeing myself flecked with bruises, I was able to see a woman from the outside, mid-story, flower sprouting, some clearly maternal version. There stood a body that answered a call, and in turn, has gotten a world of meditations, teachings, comforts, insights, and an avenue to express unconditional love which boils from within. My work with animals and people is for life, and there is no way I would rather live, than at home in the world with hoof bruises as a mark of another creature’s nourishment. It is a cycle of giving so fair that I feel for the rest of my days I will spend nurturing such relationships – for the joy of the creatures, the joy of myself, and introducing that joy to as many others as possible. Animal stewardship consistently expands my heart and funds soulful contentedness. You pay duty to another creature to assist them through their point of path but what you receive in return of this relationship is multifold and “duty” becomes the wrong word entirely. Ah. The lamb is in my heart.

Animals heal us in myriad of ways and touch us across many spectrums. It is a truth I feel significantly and so I have spent many of my adult years learning how to bring more animals and nature into my own life and into the lives of those I love. The relationships and teachings of each are so rich that you do not find yourself begrudging lack of sleep when you find yourself nursing every 45 minutes to an hour, and it is how you find yourself picking poop out of lamb’s butt as it cries, and it’s how you laugh when it pees all over you.  Today my heart swells with what is known: that I am already a mother of many, and I am strong enough, and independent enough, to bare the bruises and glory of a homestead. This is my mother body. This is my life’s work. And each day the sun rises is another opportunity for me to dig my roots deeper and carve out the homestead of my future while I work at the one I am at now, in service to the animals and land, here at Antiquity Oaks. Beautiful dreams and plans coalesced this week in my heart and mind and I felt that glorious CLICK which comes along with my desire to jump into my next big plan of life adventure. Last night as the little lamb fell asleep yet again, sweetly tucked under my chin after exploring my face, my heart felt as warm as my eyes did to my own mother’s song as I rocked him gently into slumber.

I felt how glorious it is when you sway in a gentle moment of All Things Coming Together, just like the little constellation of hooves as a reminder on my side.

 

Death on the Pasture

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There were two ladies at the homesteading conference on the way to the potato line with me who said, “Are goats always dying? She was talking about goats always dying so I don’t really know if raising goats is right for us.” In my mind my first thought was, “Well, that’s just part of it all…you have a homestead, you’ll have a lot of death.” My first week on the farm led me to a dying chicken who was egg bound with liquid seeping from her mouth, her breast still warm, her breathing slow. Her cause of death was revealed with a bloody egg which could not pass; her attempt at life was the end of hers. There was a dead baby goat that fell pale against a wall; we had only hypotheses as to how he could have died. His body was still warm but his baby body hung limp.

I was buzzing with life and inspiration during and after the conference. I came home prideful to do all of the animal chores, letting the family know they could go celebrate and eat together while I held down the fort solo. The sun was setting low and reflected the emotion vibrating within me, the clarity of being and the clarity of my direction forward. Questions were answered. Knowledge was stirred and passion discovered. Soul enlivened. Perspective gathered. Gratitude peaking. I was feeling at home in my animal body’s place in this world – feeling quite calm surrounding what Is. I was open hearted and minded, at peace in the pale yellow grasses as the stars began to curtain down the night.

I delighted in the view of the sun lowering behind the walnut trees. I gave extra flanks of hay to all of the goats as I would rather their bellies be overflowing than baring scarcity in the moonlight, crawling with hunger. We all made eyes at each other, my love widespread and direct, sharing my gratitude and appreciation for their very selves. I chunked in a flake of alfalfa in a feeder that is between the sheep and the goats. The sheep always love to gather at this feeder because they enjoy stealing bits of alfalfa which is missing from the simple grass they receive in their troph within their section of the pasture. I got one flake in and below the feeder was a dead sheep. Her horizontal eye was pale with a grey gelatinous coating. I palmed her belly to see how stiff it was. Ungloving my hand I felt the coolness of touch on the fat of her belly. I moved my hand to her heart and found warmth near her chest and shoulder. It had not been too long; the movements of her bending knees and limp neck also indicated a narrow amount of time since last breath. I tried to pick her up and fluid dripped from her mouth and the dead weight of her body proved too heavy to cradle in my arms and haul her to the barn.

I went into the barn to find an old sheet that I had used to help our ailing llama, Katy, to stand up. I dead lift her every day from her back end and hoist her back into standing position. Once Katy falls she cannot use her back legs to get up. She is paralyzed of sorts. On a bad day I lift her 6 times before the end of chores in the morning. When she falls it is like seeing a giraffe take a spill, or watching a foal walk for the first time, a baby deer, a baby cow. The difference is that watching Katy stumble strikes a grim feeling in the heart because her wobbling is not due to new tender steps. Her difficulties are born of an illness due to meningeal worm that she has not been able to heal from. I know she will die. And soon. But, I lift her and I hold her until she can get a steady stand, her back leg trembles against my palm, and I tell her I love her. I dig my hands under her bottom in a pile of pebbles and urine soaked straw and dig my heels deep and lift with my back and my core trying to make her vertical again. When I absolutely cannot lift her, I tell her that I am sorry. I am sorry. I place hay in front of her because she cannot make it to her feeder, despite how much she swivels that long neck or tries to scoot with her front legs. I think if all I can do that time around is to give her a snack to keep her content, then I have done my job, and I have loved deeply. Tonight her shadow on the wall looked like a child’s shadow puppet up against the plywood; the one where you rest your middle and ring finger on your thumb, while raising your pinky and your pointer. Cobwebs draped where her lashes might hang. The shadow looks like Katy the llama. When I help to bury her, I will rest knowing I at least loved her in the ways I could. I have honored her in her days.

I took her sheet which was already doused in the grit of care. I took the white cloth back to the field and lifted the sheep onto the sheet and proceeded to tell her I was sorry, too, and that I hope she slept well. I soothed her forehead and tried to relax her lid down over her gummy eye. The lid would catch but would only rise again. I folded her head down in a way a sheep might sleep, relaxed on its own.

Later in the pasture I thought to myself how much my initial impulse of thought in conversation with the ladies at the homesteading conference indicated a piece of healing surrounding the issue of death which has been looming in my brain and life experience repetitiously over the past year, aching deep within me, a fear. Part of my reasoning to farm and homestead is to lean into that fear instead of turning an eye – to more deeply immerse myself in the cycle of nature. I came not just for the beauty but the realities which are less soft in our world as well. I teetered my rubber boots through mud clumped paths and rolls of mole mounds, like caterpillars thigh wide cusping out of the earth.

My heel rolled into the softness and I thought of the peace I felt about death, thinking of the sheep’s eyeball and how I could not get the lid to shut. I looked out among the chilled sunset behind naked rows of a walnut grove and thought of the eyeball dancing above the trees, spirit of the sheep. We have to accept this body which fades but we can always love the essence that is a soul when we know it and honor it; how our minds and hearts can enliven that, how we never have to let anything become completely dead, though we must simply learn to let go. Over, and over, and over again. We will get better with it in time; it will destroy us some of the time; we will feel it more difficult sometimes than others; we will repeat patterns and let lessons fester until we truly learn from them; we won’t always get a chance to fully heal from things, or understand them, but yet we still have to let go.

A beautiful component of death is that our physical selves, our meat and our bones, are recycled back into the earth as we pass. I honored her spirit in the field while also accepting that I took her into the barn office because she is going to become nourishment for our sweet guardian livestock dog, Lucy. The spirit of the sheep has passed and its eyeball was roving elsewhere, but her meat will become part of another creature and sustain her life, too. Lucy honored the sheep already; when others gathered nearly tromping over the sheep to get to the alfalfa, she roared and told them to all get away. She knew what I was doing, it seemed. Lucy knew it was a moment of honor, and she chased away those who were not echoing the sentiment. Last weekend Lucy hovered over a newborn baby goat that was rejected from its mother, and she hunkered down over the kid in protection and care. Birth occurred just on the other side of the sheep fence, not even a full week ago – she was harboring life. And tonight, as the sun faded and the stars crawled, she alerted and honored death. It will cycle through her and give her longevity. Until she is physically gone, too.

I wrapped up the sheep and tied it so that I could pull her through the field and to the barn. I sailed her through the muddy patches. We coasted on bumps. We dragged on through the mole mounds and caught on the linoleum when we finally arrived to the office. I opened the sheet again to try once more to close her eyelid, unsuccessfully, and so now she sleeps peering. My high feelings fell somber, but with acceptance. It is part of it all.

I had to continue on. Many other living mouths were hungry and many more eyes were enlivened and in need. I treated the pigs to some whey byproduct of making mozzarella. They squealed and ran around the mud castles with white whey beards and snouts. Corn and oats peppered their noses as they chortled through the field; all was right in their world. In this way, you continue to care. It is important to keep caring, to not let your care die. You accept you cannot care for that particular eye any longer, but you turn to all of those that you can, and you do, and you let it fill you with joy and you let yourself feel the vastness of different types of joy. Even in the face of death, you find the smiling pig.

I struggle at times because my heart is so open and I pour it out to those who cannot accept it, do not want it, and my impulse is to withdraw my care as though my emotions have been spilled into a gelatinous eyeball. These days are teaching me to wrap that heart up with the same honor, let go, and let that love cycle into a new heart home for another who is robustly waiting to receive and reciprocate. When I speak my heart, living and loving with intention, it is the way I honor a life which neglects regret. Despite the pain of love fallen pale, or finding a cold body in the pasture, I would always rather honor my truth my giving my full self than to fall silent, unmoving, apathetic. It is within me to quilt what has fallen and thread anew in the life cycles which prove themselves throughout every grain and body of nature.

I came in to nurse my babies, scooping up their little bellies which have grown over the week. Their contentedness and health is a source of my pride. Little Maya makes a gentle snorting breathy sound as she nurses, as though she will never tire from suckling and each pull of the teat is as good as the last. Her doe eyelids flutter downward, contented with the warm milk, and I kiss her behind her eye and before her ear as she eats. I pick up Louie and watch him reach hungrily for the teat, his mouth agape and gumming like a turtle reaching for cantaloupe. He sucks vigorously and I kiss him all the same. A tail wiggles between my breast and armpit, another flicker in thanks of nourishment. It is part of it all. Their towels went in the wash and I replaced their soiled crib towels with fresh warm ones to nest in for sleep before they would wake me in the night for another nip at the warm milk.

As I put them down for the night they each took one more suckle at my chin. Despite the death before me in the night pasture I felt my swelling love recycle anew for the little babies at my breast, feeling at peace that there is a place for me here and now to pour from me that of which flows as generously as the sap from our neighboring maples.