> jumping into life.


A good mouser,
and he gets fed in round with
the cows and chickens, but not too much:
a working cat, so keep him hungry. And the barn
is undeniably mouse-free.

But then what?
The small bodies pile up:
moles, chipmunks,
baby squirrels,
just-returned songbirds
caught in mid-song.

Twice a day I scruff him,
and the fear-frozen thing drops
paws up, shaking,
and I throw him in the house and hope.

Of course he doesn't know
the difference between pest
and wild. To him, they are the same:
a swift-beating heart with sweet-tasting blood,
a bright dark eye, a game to play out slowly
to its end.


After the first thunderstorm of the season (of the year!) the frogs in the marshy field sang their cold little three-chambered hearts out. The weather report issued flood and fire warnings both yesterday, but that was before the storm, when a week of hot weather brought up the grass and dried all of last year's fallen leaves. Today the mud sucks softly at my boots - which J's mom bought me for my birthday last year, and which I've already nearly busted, as they are designed to be very cute and not necessarily to muck an entire barn - and when I let the chickens out they get busily to work finding the earthworms that came up for air.

Before the storm yesterday, we built an egg-mobile for them and set up a few hundred feet of fence. (Couldn't find a good link - the egg-mobile is a portable coop so we can move them about and let them graze.) Then we herded them all into the smallest part of the coop and set to chicken-catching. Chicken-catching involves being faster than the chickens, who are surprisingly fast, and/or sneaking up on the chickens, who are prey animals and therefore pretty sensitive to being snuck up on. Alternately, and especially when you've got the whole flock to choose from, it involves wading into the middle of them, and grabbing. Best is if you can get both legs at once, but one'll do if you can get the other real quick. Once they're upside-down, they mostly go quiet. I can catch and hold about three at once; N. the garden manager can get four or five. They're heavier than you think.

Catching the mean rooster comes about by accident when he flies at your face and you just grab him - feet in one hand and neck in the other. Catching the other rooster is much easier than you expect because it turns out he's a scaredy-rooster and he runs and hides in a corner and is very easy to grab. (I tried to think of another word so that I wouldn't use "grab" three times in a row, but really that's the only word for it. And scroll down a bit to the video on that link up there to see the second rooster do his thing.)


For the past four days the farm has been ours. All of the six people who live here are currently away, and so is the garden manager who doesn't live here but ends up here pretty often anyway. He said, "take care of the greenhouse and the chores, I'll be back Monday." And then here we were, with a farm to take care of.

We mucked the barn, as has been previously mentioned. We had some help at the beginning, but the brunt of it was just the two of us and our pitchforks (we each broke one and then had to go down to the hardware store, covered in stinky muck, to get another). We watered the seedlings, opened and closed the sides of the greenhouse at appropriate times. We fed all the animals and made sure they had lots of clean water. We watched the calf -- there's no other word for it -- frolic. We came inside at the end of the day tired and hungry and happy, all our muscles whispering good work.

And nothing died, so I think it was a success.


I come in from the barn, hungry for words. They sing themselves all day in my mind, while the pitchfork rhythm lugs my shoulders into strong knots and the sun burns me brown. We mucked almost all of the barn in the past few days, moving sheets and snarls of shit, piles and piles of wet-brown straw and the winter's worth of four cows' shit into the pickup and back out onto the compost heap. And all the while, the words spin up and around and out. I come in from the barn, wash my hands, change my clothes, feed my belly, sit in front of the screen, and then there is quiet. The words are gone. I want to tell you about the calf running mad circles when we let him outside for the first time. I want to tell you about the full orange moon above the twilight hills, the feel of good work in my muscles, the wondering about that question of husbandry, of herdsmanship.

Is it always wrong to kill? Always cruel? A good life and quick death may be all we can ask for in this world; done right, fear need never enter into it. Can you make a trade for death? I'll have spent twelve hours and more just shoveling shit for these cows; I spend an hour or two every day on their care. Today, calf-deep in it, blistered and burnt, I thought yes, I'm going to eat these cows, and that's fair.

But my parents spent a lot of time on the care of me, and mostly nobody thinks that entitles them to my death.

I want to tell you how I love that calf. I've been told that I'm supposed to keep him afraid of me, but I don't buy it. Anyhow, I can't. And so far, he'll follow me around the pen, let me pick up his feet and clean them, let me pull the baling twine out of his mouth, let me clean the shit off his tail. I don't know what happens when he gets big - the yearlings are half-nice and half-stupid, but they weren't really socialized when they were smaller and I don't know that much about cow behavior. Sometimes they all crowd me into a corner and then, yeah: I want them to be afraid of me.

But the little guy? My baby cow?

I want to tell you about the robins, and the flies, and the soft evening smell of dirt road. I want to tell you about how utterly I sleep these days, how easily I wake. I want to tell you about my hunger, how much I've been wanting poetry and green leaves. I want to tell you everything, but I can't find the words.


First peepers and first sunburn of the season. Spring is officially and undeniably here.


We're changing farms! Check out farmtime for the scoop.


We chant a continuous stream of blessings for our future farm. On our farm, things will work. On our farm, things will be in order. On our farm, we will do it right the first time. On our farm...

On our farm also, he suggested today, we should label by scientific name. I tried to point out gently that, while I appreciate the sentiment, it wouldn't work out so well in practice. A little stick that says Solanum lycopersicum - for instance - wouldn't cut it for the several kinds of tomatoes a body is like to grow in one season; Brassica oleracea wouldn't help us distinguish between brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and broccoli. But think of all the time we'd save on writing labels!

On our farm, we probably won't have cows. There is a sweet rhythm to the twice-daily chores, but also a slightly panic-inducing feeling of monomania. They are constantly getting into where they shouldn't be and out of where they should; eating or trying to eat objects as varied as plastic buckets full of manure, gloves, pants, elbows, and four-inch bolts; shitting in their (50-gallon, heavy, and difficult to move) water tank; eating their bedding hay instead the feed hay I just put out for them; deciding that the mucking fork is a terrifying enemy that must be vanquished; deciding that the water tank I just emptied by five-gallon bucket and hauled outside to hose out is a terrifying enemy that must be vanquished; deciding that if I'm wearing a hat they don't know me and I'm a terrifying enemy; and generally being a pain in the ass. Also, I'm pretty attached to them and I'm unsure about my ability to shoot them in the head when the time comes.

Though if they get out into the road again, I might reconsider that.


We open the windows
let air in. The smells come in.
(There are smells
again now.) Robins are everywhere.
The compost stinks.
I sink into mud past my ankle
lose my boot pulling out,
lose traction, but
(but the ruts never throw you
off the road, only take you home
in a way different than you thought
you were going. It isn't like ice),
it isn't like winter.

The ground sighs beneath me,
opens beneath me. The cows are mudded
nose to tail, the calf kicking,
the chickens sunning themselves
on the final banks of snow.

The robin perched in the compost pile