> jumping into life.


I'd like to take a moment to endorse my personal favorite treatment for menstrual cramps. You can see the Swiss-Bob in action over at farmtime. I don't know why it works, but it does. Really.


We're supposed to get a major thaw on Tuesday - 58ยบ and raining! - so we're going to spend today sledding. Horray!


The door is frozen shut.
We pray for thaw. We pray
for sap, for anything green,
for the gauntbellied deer
who carefully, thoroughly,
remove each bud from each tree, we pray
for a wind that will warm us,
we pray for warmth.

The wind
turns my fingers useless. I fumble
tack after tack into the straw,
wield a hammer like the bludgeon
it is, strike my fingernails, the wood
everywhere but the target,
cursing the wind, the winter,
the chickens too stupid to stay in their pen,
the straw that spills out of my socks
every night, cursing the barn
and its thousand states of disrepair,
cursing the damn fool who thought
she wanted to be a farmer -
and the chicken still escapes
to lay eggs that freeze
in the hayloft.


The apricot sunset reflects dark spires of fir trees in the newly-open water just past the shooting range. On sunny days, the flies in the windowsill have been coming back to life. There is an indefinable but undeniable haze of color on the bare-branched trees: some red, some yellow, some green. Like anything made of magic, you can't see it straight-on.

The cows barrel outside, yelling their fool heads off and tugging bites of hay out of the bale I'm trying to carry to a clean patch of snow. The southfacing slopes are shaking themselves free, baring their breasts to the sky. The deer browse very close to the road and do not look up from their work as we pass; they knock the lids off the sugaring buckets and drink the sap.

Lacking dust, the chickens take snow-baths.

At the top of the fire-tower, the wind blows cold and wet and hard. It is terrifying and it smells like spring.


In my dream I did nothing but stand still amidst a forest in full leaf, blinding green, birdsong and running water and sweet hot air. I held a basket of peaches. I breathed deep. It lasted a long time.


Though I am suspicious of the thinking that maintains that all things old and folksy are superior to all things newfangled - as much as I am leery of the idea that all things new and shiny are better by virtue of shininess - I do have a warm feeling toward the revival of old-timey skills that seems to be unfolding, at least here in Vermont.

Or, perhaps more accurately, I have a warm feeling towards the unfolding of my own collection of old-timey skills.

The farmwork is satisfying in the way I'd hoped it to be: I use my body, I figure out problems, solve them or work to solve them. I have a concrete result at the end of most days. It is messy work, uncomfortable often. Yesterday we cleared six months' worth of shit - two feet - from the chicken coop. But then we laid clean sawdust and straw, and let the chickens back in, where they set to scratching and discussing immediately. The sugarhouse smells like steam and smoke and sweet, but the wind comes right through and it takes three days of boiling before we get any syrup. But we get syrup. One calf dies and breaks my heart, but the other leaps around his pen, bronco-style, bouncing off bales of hay and my laughing self.

It feels like a quiet rebellion. Today I learned to darn socks, and spent the morning doing it: two pairs of socks that were on their way to the trashcan, saved. No great thing, but a good one.

We've been making some nothing-bought-in-a-store meals: black-bean soup, with tomato sauce, corn, and a zucchini relish I made last summer; and potatoes, carrots, onion, dried hot peppers, and beans from the farm. Lots of scrambled eggs. Latkes with potatoes and onions from the farm with applesauce I made in the fall. Sauerkraut with the last of the root-cellared cabbage. I've been amazed at how corn-y the canned corn is - I swear to god you can barely tell it isn't fresh - how good the potatoes are, how good the eggs are, fresh from the hens.

It isn't anything like self-sufficiency, not yet. But it feels good.


The snow is six inches deeper outside. The calendar and VPR told me spring is here, but I ain't seen her face, yet.


The day is just past dawn. Early sun shines on a new inch of snow, shimmers across the greenhouse roof. The bottle is warm in one hand; the handle of the compost pail frozen in the other. The path from house to barn is short, but windy today, and cold. The cat follows me in.

Already the chickens are chatting to themselves, or each other. The yearlings bellow in greeting, watching with interest as I heave open the side door. They've been getting frisky, and seem particularly to enjoy charging the manure bucket while I muck. They aren't so big - still a few months off full-grown - but big enough when four of them are bucking and chasing each other around what suddenly seems like a very small pen.

We suspect at least one of them has a retained testicle.
I'm getting very good at jumping the fence, quickly.

After the big boys are outside jostling each other for hay, I take the calf his milk. (Once I did the calf first, and the yearlings all stood at the fence demanding their share. They remember the bottle, and the sweet starter grain, and they aren't so interested in their pile of dried grass afterwards.)

The calf grows so fast. When I first got here - two weeks ago - I could straddle his little body while I brushed him and hold him still with my legs. Now he hits me right in the belly when he head-butts me after he's done with his milk - he's the size of a great Dane, now. When I scratch him under the cheekbones, under his jaw, he stretches his neck out and his eyes roll back in his head. When I brush him, he is constantly trying to see what I'm doing, trying to find the udder that I must have, somewhere, he's sure.

All the while, the cat watches from a hay bale under the heat lamp, purring.


The rhythm of it all is coming together. It'll change, of course: in a month, the livestock manager is leaving and we'll be taking over the animal chores, and spring will finally come and then summer, and the blood will rise in our veins and the sun will rise earlier and earlier, and heat and growth will take over.

But for now, we are finding a rhythm of grey skies, boiling sap, mucking pens, and baking bread. We've each secured off-farm jobs -- the apprenticeship is only half-time -- and much stress has been lifted with the infusion of a little dependable income. (We can buy groceries now! Horray!)


There is a calf in the compost pile.

There is an anger so sharp I can barely hold it, and grief setting her star-points into all my soft places.

Somehow, this is the death I cannot accept.

The calf was always going to die; we were always going to kill him. We were raising him for beef. The yearlings will go to slaughter this fall, and I was planning to eat them.

That didn't seem gruesome until now.

I sat with him, I don't know how long, crouched awkwardly in the narrow hay-bale pen, rain hard on the roof. A dozen times at least I thought he'd died, but I would stroke his cheek or throat and he'd flick an ear, or blink an eye. Once he lifted his nose, moved as if trying to stand. I cradled his head on my lap. For a long time I watched the pulse in his throat after everything else seemed to have stopped, when all my petting and cajoling could warrant no response. For a long time after I watched his throat, hoping.

The second calf - the bigger, stronger one from the start - seems fine. He nearly knocked over the hay-bale wall trying to get at the colostrum I was feeding the little one, and afterwards head-butted everyone he could as we moved him to clean the pen. This morning he was mouthing the bedding straw in imitation of the big boys next door, even though he hardly even has teeth.

I'm so sorry, baby cow.


I come in hungry
from the barn.
Wash my hands.
The eggs in their basket
are the colors of sky,
bare branches,
and snow.

The window faces east.
Morning comes easier
than I've ever known it
before. (Morning comes,
even, with joy.)

The calves' slick-sticky noses
crowd against me,
instinct directing them
to the wrong places:
They nuzzle my armpits,
my crotch. They suckle
each others' ears.
The ends of my arms
seem only to confuse them.

(They are easily confused.)

These days,
everything smells a little
like cow. I wash my hands
a lot.

(I'm happy.)


The calves are the size of collie dogs. They stumble up from their knobby knees to greet me when I hop the split-rail and hay-bale fence. Their tongues are lapping and their throats working before we even have the bottles ready, their sideways eyes rolling in excitement. After they've drained the bottles dry - and after we've finished tossing hay to the yearlings, feeding and watering the chickens, fighting off the rooster, mucking, and breaking up ice with a sledge - I climb back into their pen. With a coarse brush I sweep down their spines, across their ribs, along their cheeks and necks. I run my hand down each leg, squeezing gently. I scratch under their chins - the little one likes that the best - behind their ears, on their soft foreheads. While I'm working on the little one, his brother tongues my sweatshirt, head-butts my hip, chews gently on my elbow. When I do him, the little one curls up under the heat lamp and watches us intently.

Outside, the yearlings are lowing at the spring-feeling rain, chasing each other around piles of hay and softening slush.

[Plus! Check out J's new blog!]