Last week I was in a rush to get my farm in order so I could travel to Southern California for four days. Spring is an insanely busy season with a myriad of tasks to do but my daughter-n-law was presenting her dissertation to receive a hard earned doctorate at USC. We were adamant that we were going to be there so; there was nothing else to do but get things in the best order we could before we left.
It isn’t easy to leave 28 ducks, 24 chickens, 8 goats, a rabbit, a cat and a farm dog in someone else’s care. No matter how much you plan, organize and prepare it isn’t enough. You can make lists and try to imagine every scenario but eventually you have to set those work gloves down and go. Leaving really isn’t the hardest part for me, it is setting aside the cares to really be present and enjoy the moment. It has been my goal to slow down, be aware and conscience of the lessons to be found in my daily tasks and endeavors.
The day before we left I still had a long list of to do’s, which in the past might have been the cause of an emotional breakdown. Since I didn’t have the luxury of a good cry I chose to put on a smile, pull on my boots and set out to overcome my mountain of chores. It was when I was unloading hay bales from the back of my pick-up truck, the realization of being a legitimate farmer hit me. Hay hooks in hand I lifted each bale out and placed it in a nice stack with the same simple joy my children had with their building blocks when they were young. I was a enveloped in a moment of complete happiness.
We live in a world obsessed with labels, brands and titles that define and give us value. We can allow others to choose what we are called and how we should feel about ourselves. At least that is what I used to do when I stumbled along in search of a validated identity. I know now I am a farmer, I always have been in my heart. I am a planter of seeds and a guardian of the herd. It no longer matters to me if anyone agrees with me or the fact there are others who have done it longer and have more experience, for that is not the point. I am a farmer, I am also a wife, mother, friend, artist and so much more. We do not need to define ourselves, we are, who we are. I do what I do because I love it and sharing it with others is fulfilling.
I left for my trip with a new found assurance and a peace which enabled me to relax and enjoy my time away. I think farmers understand that there are too many factors out of one’s control to ever fully prepare for. You should work hard to do what you are able to and then take the time to enjoy what and who you love. Life is an adventure to embrace and experience fully without being afraid of what could happen or the opinions of others.
While we were away we did lose a chicken and a goat got her head stuck in a feeder but I gained so much more by learning to give each moment the full attention it deserves.
It’s May! Yay! Those April showers certainly have brought the flowers and with them the blackberry bushes. I have a love/hate relationship with those vines. Yes, they do provide the most wonderful berries in which I will gather and devour along my morning walk in the next few weeks. Those same vines are viciously cruel, leaving me looking as if I was dropped into a pit of wet and angry feral cats. It does not matter how careful you are, those beastly thorns will find the most vulnerable unprotected patch of skin to torture.
When we purchased our property two years ago it was wildly overgrown, there are still areas on our five acres that we have yet to set foot on. It’s been a battle with hedge clippers and a lawn mower but I am gaining ground. I am using all the tools I possess to claim my land and my future. Along with the multitude of scratches, cuts, and painful thorns embedded in my tender flesh are the lovely hidden surprises uncovered as I subdue my little plot of earth. Yesterday my prize was a tiny purple flower standing defiantly lovely in contrast to it’s prickly confinement. This kind of beauty is what compels me forward despite the pain I might endure.
Farmlife, as in all life is, is full of these moments where joy and pain walk hand in hand. Last month we watched as one egg out of twenty miraculously hatched after 46 days of not so patient watching on my behalf. I had finally given up and decided to discard the last two eggs from the nest when I heard peeping coming from one of the eggs. I rushed to replace the egg to the nest before it’s mama returned and the next morning I was rewarded with the smallest little fluff of yellow I had ever seen. Joy! My hope fulfilled! I made the decision to leave the duckling and entrust it to the faithful duck who had set there so long for this little lone survivor to hatch. I returned to find it’s tiny form cold and lifeless on the ground, it appeared to unsuccessfully follow it’s mother outside the shelter. Death and loss is always painful, even a tiny duckling not fully one day old can have an impact on one’s heart. Life can be brutal as well as beautiful.
It wasn’t even a full week later that another lone survivor duckling hatched , this time from our incubator. We had started with ten eggs but only four started developing. I had begun to lose hope when a mistake on our sensor placement caused the temperature to rise higher than it should. Against the odds, this little one made it and the joy of this triumph was made just a little sweeter in contrast to the dismay I felt earlier in the week. Trials, pain, disappointments and such are the black lines in a painting that define and enhance the colors of our life. Hope and patience to wait for beauty in the midst of pain and loss is the intrinsic nature of a farmer. It takes faith to place those costly, diligently thought out seeds in the ground and wait for the fruit of their labor. So many factors are out of our control and yet there is no victory in life without taking risk and doing the hard work. Our labor may be painful and the risk come with a cost but we will not gain anything of true value without it.
I may be tenderly typing this entry with sore, berry bush thrashed hands but; I do have a renewed passion and gratitude for my life and that my friends is worth it.
The last four weeks of my life has centered around ducks. I really didn’t mean to go from 7 ducks to 28 in less than a month but “hey, things happen right?”. We were on nest watch 2018, (as our Call Ducks hens were sitting on their eggs) when the brilliant idea to take home 6 ducklings from our local Tractor Supply popped into my head. We were actually at the store to purchase an incubator for some of our fertile Pekin eggs but 28 days was just too long for me to wait for ducklings to hatch. To be honest we weren’t even sure if the Call Ducks would be successful. So, little peeping box in hand I arrived home with my first batch of ducklings and set them up in our bathtub.
It was just a couple days later that I realized I needed some additional females for our adult Pekin duck males. My poor girls were just overwhelmed with the overabundant ardor directed at them and needed some relief from those two Don Juans. We got up early last Saturday and took the hour drive to a poultry auction with the task of finding our guys some new ladies. There was only one cage of females and they were dirty and definitely needed some care. The compassionate and competitive part of my nature squashed any of the practical aspect in my decision making process, I knew without a doubt that lot #3134 would be coming home with me. With a steely no-nonsense expression I raised my wrinkled index card with number 143 written on it and battled another bidder until for $7 a piece those 4 scraggly ducks were mine. In addition, I also took home 6 more ducklings and a Welsh Harlequin drake to solidify my status as a crazy duck lady.
In farming as in all endeavors it is best to be practical and think things through before acting. There are, as in all decisions made, the consequences of those actions. From the beginning of this Smith Farmhouse experiment I have brought home animals before we were fully prepared for them. These choices have contributed to some crazy, pull it together moments I won’t soon forget. I am learning to slow down and plan more thoughtfully through the details. It is best to do your homework before the you take the test if you know what I mean. Doing so makes the process less stressful for everyone. Farming has taught me to plan wisely with the future in mind and not entirely with my emotions in haste.
With that said, there are those special times where you have to listen to your heart and take a chance on a long shot. If you do, you might find yourself a lucky duck.. or four or even more!
I recently pulled into my driveway to find my four Pekin ducks napping in a perfectly spaced out row. For a person such as myself who likes things orderly, I was first delighted and then equally dismayed. I had the realization I would definitely not get a close up without at least one duck head popping up and ruining my shot. Knowing time was of the essence, I quickly grabbed my phone (with the still shattered screen) and snapped two fast shots before the ducks became aware of my surveillance and decided to move on to their next activity.
Farmlife is amazing, so far it is all I ever dreamed it would be and more, it is also a constant battle to stay focused and organized. There is always a new problem to solve, a mess to clean and something that needs my attention. It is not much different from the days of homeschooling my three kids when they were children. I remember the feelings of inadequacy and unpreparedness I had then. They often rose up within and had the capability of sending me into a spiral of excessive activity and frenzy in an attempt to overcome the fear of failure that always seemed to be chasing after me. I admit it…I struggle with wanting to be perfect, but I know I am not. I hate making mistakes… but I have made many and I still do… a lot. I wish I could tell my younger self to relax and breathe; to not worry so much about perfection but to embrace and enjoy the process.
The lessons I have learned from my many failures, mistakes and blunders have been so valuable in my journey to get to where I am today. I no longer allow fear to restrain me, I am taking risks and pursuing the endeavors I have put off for so long. I can’t take back the time wasted in mindless worry and regret but I can look forward to what is ahead : being a grandparent for the first time, finishing my first children’s book , growing our farm and whatever other new and exciting adventure comes our way.
I may have ducklings in my bathtub, a farm dog sleeping in my bed and straw showing up in the strangest places but; I finally got all my ducks in a row.
I got the picture to prove it!
Sunshine, a delightful gift to the soul. After all the rain and mud throughout our Pacific Northwest winter, a beautiful spring-like day in mid March is like seeing a beloved friend return after a long trip away. We have had two such days and everyone on the farm has a dreamy, eyes half-closed expression on their face. The goats are standing in the field slowly chewing their cud, the ducks and chickens are dozing in sun lit patches of dry ground and we all seem to share a corporate gratefulness of the moment.
The rain will return and I am compelled by the thought that I should make the most of this opportunity to do something productive. Even though I love being responsible and getting things accomplished; I really just want to lay on a blanket and dream of the wild daisies that will be popping up shortly. Spring will be here in a couple weeks followed by the long days of summer. Projects and activities will fill morning till night and I will find myself once again dreaming of the those cozy winter evenings cuddled up with a good book.
The cycle of seasons can affect us like a merry-go-round or a ferris wheel; we can get caught in a whirling spin that makes us dizzy or we can permit them to lift us up and give us an elevated perspective. As much as I enjoy the crazy, knot in your stomach feeling from spinning; I think I am going to take a cue from the animals around me and enjoy the moment. It is a lovely day to sit in the warmth of the sun and reflect on the wonderful things I have absorbed from a variety of life’s experiences. I have learned, time taken for reflection and rest is not wasted time; It is a rewarding endeavor that can enable us to move forward with a new inspiration or renewed purpose.
Now, I think I will go find that old blanket.
Buttercup has to hurry up wherever she goes;
she misses the flowers right under her nose.
I was recently asked a question regarding what kind of legacy I was leaving to the next generation. This simple inquiry of life’s purpose forced my mind into a hyperactive state of self-examination and evaluation, which honestly overwhelmed me. I can’t remember a time in my life I wasn’t pursuing a way to accomplish some type of great achievement. I know now this compelling drive was fueled by a desire to feel valuable, which meant most of my life was engaged in an exhausting race to attain self-worth.
Moving to our little farmhouse has allowed me the opportunity to step out of the always discouraging pattern of striving to achieve “Something Great” in order to feel worthwhile. My pace of life is slower on the farm and I am able to see the beauty around me much more clearly. There are new discoveries daily which inspire a natural passion and creativity to flow from a place of authenticity. The quest for self-worth has been replaced with a journey of joy in expressing the awesome wonder that surrounds me.
I now have the time to write and illustrate my children’s books; I am able to pour myself out; and into a worthwhile expression of my heart. I enjoy being creative but I have been so often discouraged by feelings of inadequacy in the past. My current motivation is different than before I had my farm, I actively choose to participate in what is truly valuable instead of pursuing the feeling of importance. I once chased after ideas trying to grasp at doing “Something Great”; I am now choosing to live “Something Great” and just BE……………. Be grateful, be joyful, be loving and kind. I want to notice the flowers in front of me and magnify the wonder in that simple moment. It may seem a small thing but if it is my legacy to pass on, I will be greatly satisfied .
A couple weeks ago I hurried inside to grab my iPhone so I could get a picture of one of the animals doing something funny or adorable, a normal thing I do quite often I confess. Unfortunately, right after taking the photo, I set said phone on top of a slanted rabbit cage and walked away. I am sure my thought was to complete whatever task I had been doing before I had been distracted by a silly farm animal a moment before and then come right back. I don’t know how long it took before it hit me, the stop dead in your tracks, gut clenching realization that I had done something really stupid. I ran back to where I had left my phone to see it lying screen down on the rocks where it had fallen.
For a just a split second I held on to the hope it could possibly be unscathed and reached down to retrieve it. Oh but there it was, the inevitable consequence of my lapse in good judgment: a spiderweb configuration of cracked glass across my screen. A deep sigh escaped from the pit of my being and then came the stages of grief in quick waves of anger, denial, and acceptance. It is an annoyance to be sure when something we use so often is lost or damaged but when it is the result of carelessness there is a distinct saltiness added to the wound.
It has been my nature to steam roll through things in the past, to rush and get things done. In setting my mind towards being productive I have missed so much along the way. When I decided to document here the experiment of following my dream, I purposed to slow down and pay attention to the details. I don’t enjoy failure, but I am learning there is a beauty in the perspective you can gain from it. A few days after my phone incident as I was waiting (somewhat patiently) in our truck for the windows to defrost, the warmth of the sun created a familiar cracked pattern to cross my view. I captured this photo of the cracked ice window with my shattered phone to remind myself that the right perspective can reveal to us, the true beauty in our lives.