I just recovered from a morning of home-schooling and crazy toddler interactions which typically include repetitive games, multiple readings from the same storybook, and wiping of butts after poohs. (And you thought you were reading an ordinary farm post). I love my kids, but damn, sometimes I need a break in the other room, while they play outside or do anything that doesn’t involve the crazy din that regularly overwhelms my senses.
It’s not them; it’s me. It’s this year. This crazy year of losses and giving up and holding out hope. It eats at me.
I’ve never had trouble admitting vulnerability. This year, as I watched trees and garden die from drought and voles, had to deal with a run-away flock, and lost our broilers to two different predation incidents, then some of our layers, too, then my back, I began to feel vulnerable. I shared. I told our story. Didn’t hide from it. Tried to embrace losses with lessons gained. I’m strong; I can take it.
Then came the alpaca. The four gentle souls, who though timid in their new surroundings, walked beside me in trust. Something in my soul reignited. Something I felt with the sheep and in planting each of the nearly two hundred apple trees by hand. It was a feeling of hope. And I think I had lost it somewhere in the settling dust of this season.
This year highlighted many beautiful things about the people who visit the farm. Visitors helped carry buckets up the long hill to water, volunteers worked to plant and tend guilds, friends and family came on my birthday to whitewash the entire sheep barn, and I wasn’t alone in planting those 200 hundred trees.
What went right: This year we planted an orchard with more than 31 antique apple varieties, then planted two hundred apple whips within the orchard, which we also helped graft, that will become part of an orchard restoration project within the boundaries of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore (80% of the grafts took and are thriving). We raised sheep, chickens, processed our own fiber from start to finish, helped plaster the farmhouse, hosted multiple classes and workshops in fiber and permaculture, worked with the Edible Trails project to design the DeYoung Trail garden, launched the Permaculture Progress online publication, and had a little courage left over for alpaca. This doesn’t account for the time we volunteered on other farms, or the work unrelated to farming, the parenting, and the balancing of two properties.
And yet, I was constantly reminded of what I did not do. By people who were probably well-intended, but unaware. Comments that, isolated, do little to affect, but in sequence are grating. The one that surprised me the most – brought me so close to the edge – always came on the heels of my admittance to the awareness of where I fell short of my own expectations. It was the question that punched my gut every single time. “Oh yeah? When is your lease up?”
Vultures? Or maybe they’re intending mercy. Hard to say. But it did nothing to encourage. I found myself second-guessing, trying to appease others, worrying and slipping into a haze of overwhelming depression. Had I failed?
How could I even expect to answer that question?! It’s far too soon. The trees are newly planted. I am a student of my own process. I am one woman shouldered by a wonderful many. I am vulnerable, but I am also strong. I am the pioneer who is near starvation seeking out that one last chance at growing grain. Maybe not so desperate in reality, but in heart.
When asked at the fiber conference what it was we needed as farmers to get a fiber-shed off the ground, I answered simply, “Courage.” It’s the common theme interwoven within the vulnerability. I rely on courage to say yes to opportunity, to try and fail and try again, to be vulnerable in the face others. This is not a race. This is not about the speed in which I accomplish the most; it is about the goal that lay at its finish and the slow and steady process that unfolds to achieve its end.
Really, it’s about knowing those noisy children who look up to me see me follow this dream with every bit of energy and might, to seek out joy, to share. I owe it to them more than to myself. Because my daughter once said the thing she liked about me best was that I never give up.