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Fledgling Barn Swallows

Fledgling Barn Swallows

If I had a blog, today I would write about home. As I went about my chores yesterday I noticed the purple martins and barn swallows getting ready to start their migration to their winter homes in Central and South America. I will miss their cheerful voices in the barn and along the lane and I wonder if they miss our farm, The Greenwood, during their long journey to the south. What it is like for migratory birds, those who spit their time between two vastly different geographies. Do they consider one place home and the other a sublet? Do they long for one place over the other or does it matter as long as they fulfill their biological destiny? I think about these things not because I am a traveler, but because I am a homebody. I don’t like to uproot my life and flit from one place to another, like a hummingbird sampling the flowers in a garden. I am more like the chickadees and titmice, who stay in one place the whole year-round. I want a permanent place, somewhere I can let my roots grow deep, so deep that I am part of the land and it is part of me.

Mockingbird Hill

Mockingbird Hill

To those who revel in the new and unexplored, we homebodies are something of a mystery. They often assume we are dull, uninspired, and timid members of society. After all, we aren’t circumnavigating the globe or filling our Facebook page with photo albums of France, the Swiss Alps, and Antarctica. So what are we doing with our lives? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you I have discovered a world of adventure waiting just outside my own back door.

Blackberries

Blackberries

I don’t need to climb Everest or plumb the depth of the Marianas Trench to be fulfilled; my days are full trekking through the uncharted landscape of my own little world. I know my 200 acres like the face of a lover: I know the steep hills where dogwood blooms in the springtime, the deep valleys, hidden within the oak-dappled forest, where salamanders live among the rain-damp rocks. I know where to look for morel mushrooms in the spring, where to find blackberries in the summer, and where to collect bittersweet on brisk autumn afternoons. Each hill and valley have a name: Hawk Ridge, Turkey-Trot Pasture, Mockingbird Hill. They are the friends with whom I share my life, my solid ground in a world of ceaseless change.

Ancient Stones

Ancient Stones

Every so often, I’ll find something new: An outcropping of ancient stone, standing in the woods like an idol from a bygone age, or a the remains of an old spring-house, the rusted pipe still flowing with icy water on a summer’s day and I feel an explorer of old, charting unmapped territory, uncovering the stories buried by time. There is always something waiting to surprise me, even on the most common sort of days and I seldom return from my excursions without a new story to tell.

Blue Lobelia

Blue Lobelia

Every so often I question my need for the familiar. I wonder if I’m missing out by staying home. It’s true, I would like to see Paris in the rain and stand in the arc of rocks at Stonehenge, but somehow that isn’t in the cards for me. I wasn’t put here to embrace the world at large, but rather to be the caretaker of one small piece of land. In those moments of doubt, all I have to do is step out on my porch. I hear the wood-thrush’s tremolo from the forest and see the last of summer’s flowers blooming in the glade. The season is turning and there is much to be seen before the coming of frost. The Greenwood is calling and I must go.

The Joy of Self-Delusion

My Little Red Hen House

My Little Red Hen House

If I had a blog, today I would write about cleaning the chicken house. This is no slap-and-dash, sweep-and-dust undertaking.  This semi-annual event is pitchfork-wielding, back-breaking, good old-fashioned farm work.

Essentially, there are three phases to cleaning the chicken house: The Preparation, The Endeavor, and The Recuperation. The first phase, The Preparation, takes four to six weeks. During this time, I attempt to drum up motivation for this onerous task by constructing a tissue of lies, similar, I imagine, to those employed by women who have decided to have a second child. It goes something like this:

  • It won’t hurt as much this time.
  • It will go faster this time.
  • It won’t take as long to recuperate this time.
Inga, The Silver-Spangled Hamburg

Inga, The Silver-Spangled Hamburg

The list goes on, but you get the general idea. Once I am happily lost in my delusions, I am ready for Phase II: The Endeavor. This phase takes four to five hours. I use the tractor to dislodge the solid “material” under the roost and use the bucket to transport the dirty straw et al to the manure pile in the barn lot. After I clean under the roost, I tackle the feeding area. Chickens are notoriously messy eaters and, as yet, I haven’t been able to curtail their feed-flipping. Under the straw by their feeder is shovel after shovel of discarded feed. I would try to recycle it, but chickens “drop load” where they eat and I wouldn’t feel right giving them dirty feed, so I heft the stuff into the tractor bucket and off to the pile it goes.

After the feeding area comes the watering area. Chickens are fairly tidy drinkers, but some water inevitably seeps into the straw and forms a fetid layer of oily black goo that weighs more than concrete. This is the hardest part: Lifting a ton of nastiness while holding my breath. Ugh. Happily, after the gooey straw, I get to the back of the chicken house and am dealing with loose straw that is just slightly dirty. This part goes faster and, since my shovel-loads are lighter, I use the pick-up truck to deliver the straw to the manure pile. I load it high, then have to unload it with a pitchfork in the barn lot, but that part isn’t too bad. The worst part is the sheer volume of material that accumulates in six months. How do I keep my spirits up? You guessed it: I sprinkle my thoughts with bonus delusions:

  • I’m sure I only have one or two loads left (when there are fifteen).
  • I don’t have to finish today. (Of course I do have to finish, because I won’t be able to walk tomorrow).
  • My knees always sound like this (when I get in and out of the tractor six million times).
  • My hand will quit going numb in a few minutes (or after a week of wearing a carpal tunnel splint).
  • Nausea is absolutely normal in these situations.

It keeps my mind busy while I work and, in time, the project is complete. Then I move on to Phase III: The Recuperation.

01202012 111340 copy webIn contrast to the previous two phases, Recuperation is all about honesty. I have worked hard and now I deserve everything I want. For a few days, sometimes up to a week, I have the perfect repartee to the annoying voice of common sense. The voice says, “You should eat a salad for dinner,” but because I cleaned the chicken house, I can silence it with, “Yes, but I burned 8 billion calories today. Ice cream it is!”

“You should get up at 6:30 and get a jump on the day,” becomes, “I cleaned the chicken house. I need my rest. How about sleeping until 9:00?”

“You really need to dust and vacuum,” is rationalized into, “I need to take care of my knees. I should spend the afternoon watching movies.”

I can get a lot of mileage out of this and, in the process, I allow myself the freedoms my ego says I don’t deserve. It’s a lovely interlude in my otherwise structured life.

Bliss

Bliss

As evening settles in on The Greenwood, I walk down to the chicken house to close the girls up for the night. I peek through the window and smile as I see the girls scratching in the straw, singing the “Happy Hen Song.” Like a new mother with a babe in her arms, the blood, sweat, deception, and tears it took to get here are irrelevant. I’d do it again in a heartbeat because it is an act of love; love for the innocent lives that have been entrusted to me. In the end, the only motivation I need is the image of my sweet little hens reveling in their lovely house. Here’s looking at you girls. I love you all!